The Masonic Forum, Executive Summary
Brainchild The Masonic Forum was the brainchild of W. Bro. Datuk Dr. M. Vijendran, the President of the District Library & Museum Committee and W. Bro. Ahmalu Rajah Rajagopal, the then presiding District Grand Secretary, with the support of the Deputy District Grand Master V. W. Bro. Alan Tang and the President of the Board of General Purposes W. Bro. Nirmal Singh. It wasconceptualised to lend a fun educational element to the District Annual Communication 2019 weekend in Ipoh ahead of the Fellowship evening, while inviting involvement from the Brethren and their Ladies. Towards that end the overarching topic of “Is Freemasonry Still Relevant In the21st Century?” was chosen.
Event & Concept The event was produced by W. Bro. Datuk Dr. M. Vijendran PAGDC who led multiple brainstorming sessions. The idea of theming the event into a Masonic Parliament was mooted by W. Bro. Manoj Sharma of The Zetland in the East Lodge No. 508 & W. Bro. John Matheson of Centenary Lodge No. 7629. In keeping with the theme W. Bro. Hew Gill, the then DG Orator from the J.W.Y. Eu Lodge No. 9572 and W. Bro. Rajash Singh, PAGStB from The Eastern Gate Lodge No. 2970 were to play the roles of the Party Whips (moderators), W. Bro. Saptak Santra, DDGDC from the Lodge of St. George No. 1152, W. Bro. John Matheson and W. Bro. K. Jeyaraj, the DGReg from Makepeace Lodge No. 3674, the roles of Honourable Members of Parliament for Singapore, Phuket and Kuala Lumpur (presenters) and W. Bro. Datuk Dr. M. Vijendran and W. Bro. Manoj Sharma the Speakers Of The House (to provide concluding and summarising remarks respectively). The Citizens (audience) role was to share their thoughts as well as make enquiries of their Honourable Members of Parliament through the Speakers Of The House. The Masonic Parliament started with the ladies present being served Champagne (courtesy of W. Bro. Rajash). W. Bro. Rajash then introduced the concept and house rules to the audience of more than 200 ladies and Brethren. He contextualised the event by saying long gone are the days of famous Freemasons such as Benjamin Franklin, Simón Bolívar, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Andrew Jackson, Voltaire, Winston Churchill, and George Washington. He suggested the authoritative figures in Freemasonry today seem to be shy of the visionaries and revolutionaries of yesteryears. He questioned if Freemasonry had become dogmatic, unprogressive and if it was keeping at the forefront of the times. He hoped we have not been relegated into being one of many charitable organisations and that we remain attractive to a younger population.
He asked the audience if we as Freemasons even understand Freemasonry. He feared if we keep degrading our standards, how are we to get back to our former glory. He suggested unless we change, we might be doomed to fail. He quoted that the top 20 influencers, billionaires and inventors in the world today are not Freemasons.
Next, W. Bro. Hew Gill introduced the Brethren on stage in his inimitable quick witted manner and invited the Honourable Members of Parliaments to speak.
Intent of Executive Summary The topics presented, opinions, question & answers, summarisation and concluding remarks were as follows. It should be pretty obvious, it would be virtually impossible for the following executive summary to capture the entire vibrancy, fun, good natured coming together of hearts and the candid sharing of perspectives. They can only serve to provide what we hope is a tantalising glimpse into a marvellous event, and to encourage you to attend future Forums and lend your voice to the important issues on all our minds.
1) “Are We A Fraternal Organisation?" by W. Bro. Saptak Santra, the Honourable Member of Parliament from Singapore. W. Bro. Saptak started his eagerly awaited presentation by stating he will Define, Examine, Test and touch on the Relevance of the proposition before providing his Conclusion to the House.
He Defined a “Fraternal Organisation” from the tax code, the dictionary and from a lay persons perspective. Since there was no exclusive definition he proposed our version of a fraternal
organisation had legal, social and ceremonial requirements as per our initiations, public face and rituals.
He then Examined if we practice the values we preach. He brought to the attention of the House and Citizens the “snowflake effect” or the modern idea of entitlement, in which we blame everyone including the organisation but not ourselves. In the process he turned the proposition around from it is not “Is Freemasonry a fraternal organisation” but “are you a fraternal person?”.
He invited us to Test the new proposition, by considering, that only by us being fraternal will the organisation be fraternal. That only if you are fraternal, can you legitimately expect others to be. Even if others exhibit “non-fraternal” behaviour, it doesn’t stop you being fraternal and finding like-minded Brethren. He conceded that fraternity is not an absolute concept but a sliding scale of improvement.
He touched on our Relevance by asking, “Has the age of fraternalism passed?”. How the common societal vows we made in marriages, jobs and even football teams are no longer fixed associations.
The Honourable Member of Parliament from Singapore, Concluded by saying, if fraternalism as a value is still relevant as an ideal or aspiration, then by definition any organisation that seeks to further it must also be relevant and necessary. That Freemasonry by the examination undertaken this evening is still a fraternal organisation and has never been more relevant and more in need than it is right now. The Party Whips then facilitated comments and questions from the Citizens, some of which were as follows.
i) What do we need to do to make our Brethren more fraternal? ii) How do we address the lack of quality and quantity issue of candidates we are facing? iii) Have we created a conducive environment for existing freemasons and potential candidates? iv) How do we inculcate the right value, conduct the right training and deliver for the millennial? v) Have we in recent history brought in the right people who are now Past Masters in the first place? vi) Why are the remaining 80 plus percent of Brethren who need to listen and be a part of this conversation not here for the Forum? vii) One esteemed Past Master opined, to nodding approval, that we have become a PATERNAL and not FRATERNAL organisation with things being dictated to us. viii) A young Worshipful Master, tongue-in-cheek, pointed out that maybe the only way forward is to cull the old to make way for the new.
The concluding Speaker Of The House requested the audience to give the Honourable Member of Parliament from Singapore another round of applause for this masterfully strong and structured repositioning of the proposition. He reflected that we easily fall into defending our own inadequacies and tend to point out the splinters in others eyes while failing to see the planks in our own. That we may want to consider not playing down our strengths as articulated by the Honourable Member of Parliament from Singapore. He shared something one of the Party Whips, W. Bro. Hew Gill had mentioned to him the night before while preparing for the Forum. That we should think of Freemasonry as a 3 step pyramid. The lowest yet largest layer was made us of Brethren who join for the idea of Brotherly Love. The middle and smaller layer was made up of Brethren who value us being a charitable organisation centred around Relief. And the final and smallest layer, was made up of Brethren who recognise the Truth that Freemasonry has to offer. And that while all the layers of the pyramid made up the whole and were naturally fine, we may do even better as an organisation if more Brethren strive for the pinnacle of Freemasonry, and seek the Truth.
2) “Liberal Arts & Sciences: Where Art Thou?” by W. Bro. John Matheson, the Honourable Member of Parliament from Phuket.
W. Bro. John highlighted how often the 7 Liberal Arts and Sciences are mentioned within the context of Freemasonry. He stated what constitutes the Trivium & Quadrivium, how essential the former was in classical education and the latter to philosophical thinking.
After highlighting where the 7 Liberal Arts and Sciences were mentioned across the degrees, he shed light on the fact that science and spiritual beliefs were not separate discussions, but a continuum, at the dawn of Freemasonry. He lamented while we are directed on their importance, not a nano-second is spent engaging in their study.
He noted while our rituals make unequivocal promises that the masonic journey will enrich us with learnings of the 7 Liberal Arts and Sciences, we proceed to do nothing about it and many Freemasons are left wondering, “what have we missed?”. He quoted from the dairy of Bro. Elias Ashmole on how he was challenged to learn, “worthy craft and curious science” and how Bro. Ashmole went on to be recognised as a leading thinker, founder of the Royal Society, an alchemist, astrologer, advisor to the King, creator of the world’s first public museum as well as an inspiration to Sir Isaac Newton. He then suggested 7 Liberal Arts and Sciences should be taken seriously. He held up as further examples, our early Grand Masters such as Anthony Sayer, George Payne and John Theophilus Desaguliers.
He concluded by saying that while we seem to have lost our way; the solution lies in our hands. That we should rise up to the challenge and embrace the 7 Liberal Arts & Sciences as they are as relevant today as they were to the ancient Greeks. We need to step up to tackle the key issues of our times, and probe the frontiers of knowledge. He put to the Speakers Of The House that we must follow the example of the men he has mentioned, refocus on our core values and continue the search for knowledge.
The comments and questions from the Citizens expertly facilitated by the Party Whips revolved around the following themes: i) What is the relevance of the arts and sciences when Mr. Google tells us everything we needto know? ii) We are experiencing and need to deal with a masonic “FREXIT” - a departure from our focus on the arts and sciences and other traditional practices due to us not being as discerning as to who we Initiate into the Craft. iii) That unlike Lodges of years past we hardly make the opportunity for the sharing of both fraternal knowledge as well as presentations on the arts and sciences. iv) One citizen opined there is nothing left to learn and that all knowledge that needs to be discovered has already been discovered. v) Others felt we need to create a new lodge just for knowledge sharing. vi) We should not advance EAs to FCs to MMs until they are satisfactorily tested and passed and we should act similarly with respect to moving Brethren up the masonic ladder. vii) How do we set Brethren on the proper path when so many Past Masters hardly know anything about the 7 Liberal Arts and Sciences and don’t exhibit enlightened masonic ideals? viii) We should have a proper curriculum for continuous professional development. ix) We need to figure out how to circumvent the fractured attention of Brethren who have a lot of other distractions today. x) Do we really have to be obsessed with doing a degree at every working for it to be considered a successful meeting?
The summarising Speaker Of The House then congratulated Honourable Member of Parliament for Phuket on delivering a deeply passionate and thoroughly encompassing presentation that catalysed such a good response from the Citizens. He summarised the above themes and contributed to the dialogue by adding that the idea of incorporating the 7 Liberal Arts and Sciences into Freemasonry was to improve the moral and intellectual faculties of the Brethren. That it was a theoretical and philosophical pursuit of knowledge, was not designed to build practical workman-like skills, but to instead build the faculty of pure thought which was felt historically to be instrumental to leadership in a man. And it was felt the Arts and Sciences enabled a man to philosophise over the morality of his acts and be more conscientious. It was highlighted that thus far no-one had questioned if there was a difference between the 7 Liberal Arts and Science and the Hidden Mysteries Of Nature And Science. To wrap up the segment, it was brought to everyones attention that the Honourable Member of Parliament for Phuket and the Citizens had just engaged in a very healthy Socratic “co-operative argumentative dialogue” which was one of the original methods to bring forth knowledge from within.
3) “Women & Freemasonry!!!” by W. Bro. K. Jeyaraj, the Honourable Member of Parliament from Kuala Lumpur. With a fair number of women present in the audience, W. Bro. K. Jeyaraj stepped up to the podium with a way too small piece of paper to be worthy of any notes. There was also a high level of expectancy on behalf of the Citizens and some palpable tension due to the subject matter about to be covered. What proceeded was highly unexpected.
He made a strong case for the history and traditions of Freemasonry being established over hundreds of years, if not from time immemorial, and the role women played in it. He pointed out it was a fraternal organisation and the role of women in it was largely peripheral and if involved, secondary. He pointed out how well established our masonic traditions were and why would there be any need for change. He expressed appreciation to the women in a Freemason’s life for all the things they do to support their masonic activities. He stated how wonderful it was that they help to ensure a Freemason is well dressed for his Lodge meetings, and how the gloves are kept spick and span. He reflected on how very nice it is for them to turn up, when invited, for our Ladies Night and how wonderfully appreciative they are when we sing the Ladies Song on those nights. He thanked them for their generosity for the endless nights when we are away from home revelling in our post meeting conversations. At every juncture he kept repeating the theme, “Why change! Why change! Why change!”.
He then stopped and said a friend of his, Lady Chatterley, who was backstage, wanted to chime in on what he was saying. He asked for the Citizens to excuse him, while he got her. After a couple of minutes of the Party Whips filling in the space by engaging the audience, Lady Chatterley took to the stage. Long haired and dressed suspiciously in a way too familiar robe reminiscent of a Principal in a Chapter, she took the podium and oddly spoke in a pitch just a notch above W. Bro. K. Jeyaraj’s voice. Indignant, she berated W. Bro. K. Jeyaraj in his absence. She asked which century he was living in and suggested he was delusional. She pointed out women today are heads of organisation, and in some cases the primary breadwinners of the family. That they are intelligent, sophisticated, have their own lives and he was talking about keeping the penguin suits spick and span. She then proceeded to annihilate his point of view on them playing secondary roles. She questioned after 20 years of attending a Ladies Night if she is genuinely expected to be excited about hearing the Ladies Song being sung for the 20th time, and quite badly at that. She concluded by saying, if you don’t change you will no longer continue to get our generous support. She then left in a huff and said hopefully W. Bro. Jeyaraj has been listening to what she had said.
A minute later a sheepish W. Bro. Jeyaraj, strangely with lipstick on, returned to the podium. He looked visibly severely chastised. This time he sang a different song in relation to the ladies. He talked about Kuching and the active partnership women there had in their involvement with Freemasonry. How they used the masonic facilities to help educate children. He touches on women masonic lodges around the world. He suggested each Lodge needs to think about how their women would like to be involved and the change they want to help make. He now quite suddenly felt, we as Freemasons need to harness the energy of women in relation to Freemasonry. He pointed out how important it is for Lodges to invite the ladies in their lives for the masonic interview and how as Brethren we should roll out the red carpet for them in
appreciation and step into the 21st century at the risk of us being stuck in the 20th century.
The comments and questions moderated by the Party Whips from the Citizens revolved around the following themes:
i) Jenny Yeoh was the first to speak. She recalled how our former District Grand Master R. W. Bro. Joseph Eu personally invited her and her husband to tea when her husband, our present ADGM, W. Bro. Dr. Yeoh Sin Hock expressed his desire to be a Freemason. She elaborated that Freemasonry as a whole was possibly not engaging women in the way most women would like it to be and how women could be an asset to the organisation. She mentioned that over the prior weekend she had attended a U2 concert in Singapore and while listening to the song, “I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For” she reflected upon Freemasons and Freemasonry. ii) Another lady expressed that she likes the idea of the morality Freemasonry inculcates in her husband even though she is not at all interested in the ritualistic component. iii) Mariam, shared her personal experience with Freemasonry and how when she first heard her husband was interested, she had the thought that he was going over to the “dark side”. She now feels otherwise. She mentioned she had no desire to be involved with Freemasonry in any intimate way and that she had her own life and circles. She shared that she felt it has certainly made her husband a far more friendlier man. She concluded by saying she will not give up the option to choose her involvement with Freemasonry, on her terms. iv) W. Bro. Santokh Singh’s wife said she appreciates the dinners when ladies are invited. She revealed that one of the ladies took the initiative to create a chat group for all the ladies for them to interact, keep in touch and organise their own activities. She mentioned that her husband’s Lodge’s efforts towards the ladies was appreciated. Her personal point of view was that she did not want to be part of the organisation and was happy to be involved to the degree she presently is. v) The District Grand Master’s wife, Jane impeccably summarised, echoed and added to the sentiments of her fellow ladies. She elegantly encapsulated their points of view and concluded by saying, “Involve us, on our terms” to reflective nodding from her fellow Citizens, the Honorary Members of Parliaments, Whips and Speakers Of The House.
The summarising Speaker of the House then thanked the Honorary Member of Parliament for Kuala Lumpur, not so much for the expected speech he was to deliver but his satirical, thought provoking, and consciousness-raising performance. He added the dialogue was clearly not about Women IN Freemasonry, but Women AND Freemasonry. He brought to our attention that our DGM was constantly reminding Brethren to involve women, be it in activities of their own choosing, at our Festive Boards and District Banquets. He highlighted that if women were interested in Freemasonry there were two women only grand lodges for them to explore - The Order of Women Freemasons and the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons. There was also an additional option of the International Order of Co-Freemasonry. He brought to attention how the United Grand Lodge of England was moving with the times to ensure, “No member should be pressured to resign because they were no longer male”. That Generation Z, or Zoomers, who would soon enough enter the workforce and by that virtue influence the world, predominately believed in the idea of gender and sexual fluidity. That they neither believed in the traditional family unit nor have the historical baggage of race, the nature of jobs and the notion of privacy. He suggested this would require us as an organisation to move with the times or find us left behind. He invited everyone to entertain the idea we might not just want to consider the idea of “Women And Freemasonry” but also the idea of “Freemasonry In A World Of Accelerating Change.”
Conclusion The Party Whips then thanked the Citizens and Honourable Members Of Parliament and invited W. Bro. Datuk Dr. M. Vijendran, the concluding Speaker Of The House to deliver his closing remarks. He thanked the Party Whips for their expert facilitation, the various Brethren for their roles as Honourable Members of Parliaments for their constituencies, his fellow Speaker Of The House and the Citizens for their active participation.
He mentioned to the attendees that this Masonic Parliament had gone very well and he hoped it will be the basis for subsequent themed Masonic Forums. He then invited everyone to enjoy the Fellowship evening and the rest of the District Annual Communication. The Masonic Forum concluded just past 7pm.