Freemasons aims to show that there is more to the organisation than arcane rituals.IN A bold move to embrace the modern age – and a desperate bid to avoid extinction due to dwindling membership – Freemasons Victoria is breaking with a 300-year-old tradition of secrecy and humility to launch a promotional series on community network C31.
According to host Wes Turnbull, a Freemason since the age of 19 and a regular on Melbourne radio station 3AW, even the acknowledgment of philanthropic activities goes against the organisation’s strict moral code.
”It was felt that charity that you go telling other people about is less meaningful, perhaps less sincere,” he says. ”Now, if you don’t tell people what you’re doing, not only will they not know, but they’ll possibly be a bit suspicious about what’s going on.”
In an effort to address centuries of bad to non-existent PR, the program promises to reveal throughout 26 half-hour episodes, the historical meanings of the strange symbols and bizarre rituals, and some of what goes on between the men who meet behind firmly closed doors. It should come as no surprise that this ”inside story” produced in-house focuses on the positive aspects of modern Masonry, with stories about Black Saturday fund-raisers and interviews with new members extolling the virtues of what they describe as a men’s support group. If the first episode is any indication, the myth-debunking is likely to be limited to architecture and paraphernalia, rather than the more sinister public perception of the organisation as a silent but influential force at work in government.
Grand Master Bob Jones, the self-professed ”judge and jury” of the editing suite, says a regular vox-pop segment by the membership manager of Freemasons Victoria, Lena Way, one of several women permitted to join the organisation in supporting roles, is designed to air such issues.
As an orphaned 19-year-old ”crazy ratbag” from Melbourne’s western suburbs, Jones found in the sacred men’s space the sort of anchor he believes every young man should have.
”We find that what’s bringing young men to Freemasonry now is that tradition that young people are seeking,” Jones says. ”They see a moral void in the world. Within Freemasonry, you know you’ve got good men, men who like to do things for the community.”
While membership was once attained only through personal introductions, aspiring members can now apply online – provided, of course, that they are male and believe in a supreme being. While traditionally comprised of Jewish and Christian men, Jones says the brethren have expanded to include Muslims.
On the subject of diversity of sexuality, Jones and Turnbull allude to a culture of ”don’t ask, don’t tell”, although Jones says he knows of one openly gay Freemason.
Turnbull says: ”There’s something about an organisation when men of all faiths in this day and age can come together in a lodge meeting and simply share the ideals of improving themselves and doing good for other people regardless of their religion.”
Apart from, of course, continuing to exclude women, who Turnbull insists are not missing out on the ”trivial” private aspects of Freemasonry.
”The main point of the secrets of Freemasonry is a test of integrity,” Turnbull says.
Needless to say, there will be no demonstrations of secret handshakes on the show.
”If you really want to know what the handshake is,” Jones says, ”Google it.”
Freemasons: The Inside Story starts on Monday at 8.30pm on Channel 31.
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