Today I went to a 150th anniversary celebration for the local Masonic lodge. While San Carlos, where the lodge resides, hasn’t been around that long, the lodge itself traces back to one which was founded in San Mateo in 1863, moved to Redwood City sometime around the early 1900s and then merged with the San Carlos lodge.
It was a very interesting experience, as I hadn’t known anything about the Masons. Except that they figure in a large number of conspiracy theories, I suspect because they don’t share the details of their beliefs with outsiders.
Their basic tenets are simple: temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice are held to be the four cardinal virtues, and need to be practiced in life in order to elevate one’s morals. Which sounds a lot like a focus on rationality, making the additional requirement that Masons believe in the existence of a supreme deity rather interesting (note that the definition and “religious affiliation” of the supreme being are left undefined; one need merely believe in a supreme being, not a particular one).
Symbolism and mysticism aside, encouraging rationality seems like a laudable goal to me.
I also enjoyed my visit for a personal reason. One of my all-time favorite sci fi stories is “If This Goes On…”, a short story written by Robert Heinlein about the Second American Revolution (which overthrew an American theocracy founded when the religious extremist elected as President in 2012 destroyed our current Constitutional government).
In the story, the revolutionary cabal — which has worked for decades towards victory — is an offshoot of an older secret society. There are plenty of hints that it was the Masons — titles of officers, secret grips and the like — but Heinlein never actually names it.
But in the story the response in lodge meetings to pronouncements from the leadership is “So mote it be!”.
Today, when I heard that line ring out during the ceremonies I got a big smile on my face (probably confusing the people around me). Another life-long mystery solved!