[Square & Compasses]

My letter to NPR's The Connection

Date: Thu, 25 May 2000 18:40:01 -0400
From: "Gary L. Dryfoos" <dryfoo@mit.edu>
To: <connection@wbur.bu.edu>
Subject: Freemasons in Iran?

During your discussion today about the Israeli pullout from Lebanon, I was a little surprised to hear a caller drag "Iran Freemasons" into the mix. But suspicion of Masonry is often part of the delusion-soup of the conspiracy-minded.

I was more surprised to hear host Chris Lydon refer to Freemasonry as "a secret society". I would have expected he'd know better.

Though I am not an official spokesman of any Massachusetts Masonic body, simply a member of some Boston-area lodges, I wanted to tell you something about Masonry.

Freemasonry is a well-publicized fraternal society with lodges and members in most parts of the world. Its traditions go back to the mediaeval stone-masons' guilds of Britain and Europe, with an infusions of other influences, most notably of Enlightenment-era ideals from the time of the founding of "modern" Masonry in 1717 London.

Far from being a secret society, Masonic buildings are prominently marked, and the ideals, writings, and activities of Masonic bodies are regularly published. The only "secrets" so-called in Masonry are a small number of words and gestures that commemorate the mediaeval rituals of identifying and authenticating a guild-educated craftsman upon arrival at a new worksite. These "secrets" have been exposed and widely published repeatedly over the last two and a half centuries. (In short, they are not secrets, although each Mason promises to treat them as if they were.)

Freemasonry aims to give good men of all political opinions and religions a place to meet together in harmony, to learn to improve their character and to assist each other in that goal. As such it has always forbidden any discussion of politics or sectarian religion within the lodge.

It is true that many committed thinkers and actors upon the stage of history have been Masons (including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, John Hancock, the Marquis de LaFayette, Winston Churchill, Simon Bolivar, Edmund Burke, W.E.B. DuBois, Harry Truman, George McGovern, Barry Goldwater, and Hubert Humphrey) but they did not express their political beliefs in lodge, nor involve their lodges in their political activities.

Likewise whatever activities some Iranians might be involved in, or whatever your caller was alleging, they could only be doing so as individuals. Masonry endorses no political opinions or activity and never has. As an analogy, I don't know the sect or religion of the Wright Brothers, but just as it would make no sense to say "the Baptists" or "the Buddhists" invented the airplane, it is similarly foolish to say "the Masons" are plotting in Lebanon.

Thanks for reading what I am sorry to say is not the short note I'd intended. There are a lot of misconceptions about Freemasonry, and as the manager of a website on the subject, I hear them all the time.

If you'd like to learn more about it, you could start with my website http://web.mit.edu/dryfoo/Masonry/ and if you were ever interested in doing an hour of The Connection on the topic, I would be glad to suggest further contacts.


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