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An essay about
Online T
emperance

Whether it's reading material on a web site or reading the posts in a newsgroup, it is SO easy to get upset about what one observes online.

As Brother Preston Burner labored over his hand-built computer trying to unite Masons in the new world of online communications with his Bulletin Board system, we know he could barely conceive what has come to pass in just ten years. Getting a couple of dozen Masons to send messages via computer was quite an accomplishment in 1990!

Things changed rapidly, and now messages sent from Boston are read in Sydney within a nanosecond. However keeping up with the instantaneous flow of thoughts and ideas is overwhelming. So too can be addressing the various issues relating to online behavior.

As Masons first began to meet each other in online venues, they discovered something unknown to all but a few: freemasonry is practiced in many different ways in different parts of the world - and even in different parts of one's own country.

What they also found was something they had heretofore never experienced: other Masons expressing their views on matters of politics, religion, and more.

Because of the strong admonition against allowing discussions of religion or politics to occur within a 'mainstream' Masonic lodge, there developed considerable 'confusion amongst the Craft' and demands would frequently be made to "...behave as you would in a Lodge!". Yet in reality, the Brethren were not in a Lodge and because of that, did not always feel the strong constraints imposed by the threat of a stern, reproachful look from the Master or the obligation to keep things offensive or defensive outside the door. They were in the world and expected that they could behave as they wished.... generally within due bounds.

To this day, those new to online venues (and even some 'grizzled veterans') wonder why other Masons don't keep more of their personal opinions to themselves. Any discussion of a political nature, for example, is not (in most Grand Lodges) considered appropriate and thus when Masons, representing themselves as such, express strong, partisan positions, it's an uncomfortable situation for those more conservative. Why do they not take such discussions to political venues where their membership in Freemasonry is irrelevant? Perhaps because they wish to remain amongst brethren and friends - but fail to recognize that the constraints which keep them such extend beyond the obligations and are constantly buttressed by the prohibitions they now ignore.

What happens? Some go stomping off with words about un-Masonic conduct thrown back over their shoulders as they leave. Vowing to find other, more 'lodge-like' online locations, their behavior - like that of the creator of the problem - is similarly embarrassing since it is often seen as a childish tantrum. Ignoring their own pleas for temperance, their anger over unmet expectations causes them to lash out - and sometimes creates problems for their further participation in Freemasonry.

May we humbly suggest a
Time Out!!!!!

Online Freemasonry will never be like your local lodge for several reasons:

bulletYour local lodge is unique! Even other lodges within your Grand jurisdiction do things different ways and have different levels of tolerance for behavior 'outside the norm'.
bulletDiscussions with Masons online is not a Lodge! There is no Master, there are no Wardens, and there is no Tyler outside the door to keep off cowans and eavesdroppers.
bulletYour Masonry may be different from someone else's. What you know as 'the rules' (landmarks, obligations, etc.) may be quite different in other jurisdictions and will likely be different in other 'obediences'.

There are Masons to whom Freemasonry means much. When a Brother whispers in their ear, "I don't think that's very Masonic....", they get the message quite quickly. Regretfully, though, there are others who - for whatever reasons - may not be as attuned to the strong significance of such a statement and have lost its primacy to their world view or their politics or religion or whatever. Those are the ones who far too often find kindred souls online - and regretfully, we as Masons see the impact of it by their wearing of our symbols!

Despite the many (now) online venues, there are ALWAYS going to be those who get their 'nose out of joint' from something someone else has said. Without the visual cues etc. of our 'normal' lives, this becomes such a sterile and "black and white" environment (unless you use colored text! <smile>).

In the final analysis, whether we find friendship and fellowship in online venues or whether we come to abhor it as a vilification of all that's right about Freemasonry, it's our individual judgment to make - and one we all must live with. Neither we nor our supporters nor critics should judge the fraternity based only upon a small group of posts or a particular page on a specific web site.

The final point which must be remembered is that the picture you have in your head of what these people are or what they might think/behave like is probably FAR different from reality. No Mason today learned to communicate online when we were growing up and although our successors will consider this a 'natural', for those who are older, it's still pretty new and unique. Heck, most of us have enough problems trying to communicate in person and part of our unity and fellowship comes from NOT saying anything rather than expressing our views!

So if you're tempted to 'jump the gun' about what's going on online, please take a moment to consider.... You may find that in time, you'll really come to enjoy it!

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