Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Freemasonry and America, Part III

What is at stake in the argument over how influential Freemasonry was to the American founding? What if David Jones is right in suggesting that America really is a Masonic Experiment? I think if that question is brought to the fore and discussed, everyone will then be able to consider the evidence as to the facts more calmly. There seems to be a certain anxiety at work in the discussion that is muddying the water.

For myself, I cannot imagine anything more natural than that rich and powerful people would conspire together to protect their riches and power, at least, once each has accepted the fact that he can't have it all himself. I also think we naively believe that having the external forms of democracy in place preserves us from the machinations of power that seeks to covertly manipulate them. But how worried should I be by this possibility, this inevitability?

The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Mammon have always been at odds. If I want to belong to the Kingdom of God then I must make that choice, build my house on the foundation of rock, and wait for the storms to come. The weapons of our warfare are the same as they have ever been. Even if the Trilateral Commission or the Scottish Lodge or the Politburo or (God forbid) the Roman Curia were in power behind the scenes, it's not ultimately those poor sots we should worry about. We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers who, though still prowling and roaring about, have been dealt the death blow by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. No longer need the fear of death hold men captive for Christ has come shattering its power, as the Byzantine Troparion declares.

The danger comes, I suppose, in the form of schemes of pretended truce between God and Mammon that suggest we don't really have to make a choice after all. I think this is a very common temptation for Americans. Truth, Justice, and the American Way make a very alluring package. We want to do good, but we also hope we'll do very well.

I cannot help thinking that with Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans we have witnessed God's Judgment on our country, not in the sense that the bad guys are getting their comeuppance (on the contrary), but in the sense of a Parable that reflects back to us what is really going on all around us all the time in our land. The rich leave the poor behind and take law and order with them because their only purpose is to protect the rich anyway. (I think there is more the Parable can teach us, but that's the most obvious lesson.)

What difference, then, does it make whether there is a real conspiracy of Masons or simply the Invisible Hand working through our individual acts of greed and indifference? Isn't the answer the same?

For our part, let us put on the whole armor of God. Let us love one another and the poor in our midst. Let us seek the Truth, and defend it when we are given the grace to find it. Let us be conformed to Christ and him crucified. So doing we will unleash a force that the Masons, or the Illuminati, or whoever, will find difficult to manage.

Joel I. Barstad, Ph.D.
St. John Vianney Seminary, Denver, CO

---

Earlier posts on this topic include the following:

Freemasonry and America, Part II

Freemasonry and America

The American Dream

17 comments:

Christopher said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Toledo said...

What does this mean in terms of practical politics?

What are the concrete actions that one should take, according to this article?

Complete withdrawal from the public square, a life similar to that of the Amish?

To participate in a democracy is to implicitly endorse the system. To participate in a democracy while at the same time working against it seems to me to be dishonest.

Christopher said...

[Joel I. Barstad, Ph.D.]: . . . The danger comes, I suppose, in the form of schemes of pretended truce between God and Mammon that suggest we don't really have to make a choice after all. I think this is a very common temptation for Americans. Truth, Justice, and the American Way make a very alluring package. We want to do good, but we also hope we'll do very well.

The love of money is the root of evil, and I'll concede that the pursuit of material wealth for it's own sake is a persistent temptation in a land of opportunity like America. But I'm inclined to ask Joel I. Barstad for further clarification as to what is meant by "pretented truce" between God and Mamon.

Does John Paul II's qualified affirmation of capitalism and the "market economy" in Centesimus Annus count as such? Can we speak of a distinction between avarice and the legitimate acquisition of wealth -- as, say, Pope Pius XII did in his addresses on the Social Function of Banking (April 25, 1950) and Vocation of Businessmen (April 27, 1950) -- anticipating issues that would be dealt with some decades later by JPII? Or is this merely an exercise in futility?

How should we regard successful Catholic businessman like Tom Monaghan, co-founder of Domino's Pizza? Is he to be commended as a good steward of his wealth (building Catholic colleges and the like), or is the very acquisition of such wealth to be condemned as the pursuit of Mammon? Or how about a million-dollar publisher like Ignatius Press?

Not trying to be smart or anything, but merely raising the dichotomy of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Mammon begs the question of how do we apply this teaching when it comes to the daily affairs of man. Thought and clarification are needed if we are to make this relevant.

[Joel I. Barstad, Ph.D.]: I cannot help thinking that with Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans we have witnessed God's Judgment on our country, not in the sense that the bad guys are getting their comeuppance (on the contrary), but in the sense of a Parable that reflects back to us what is really going on all around us all the time in our land. The rich leave the poor behind and take law and order with them because their only purpose is to protect the rich anyway.

I suppose we can make on a very crude level make Katrina a case of class or race warfare, resigning ourselves to what seems to me a very cynical and postmodern contempt for the law ("law as that which is made by the powerful/rich to protect the powerful/rich").

In reading about the events in NOLA over the past week, I would suggest other issues come to the fore: pre-disaster: a gross neglect on the part of NOLA's city government to properly execute an emergency evacuation plan they already had in their possession, as well as failure to address glaring problems in emergency response it was aware of over one year ago (in the advance of Hurrican Ivan in the Gulf); and, post-disaster, the subsequent failure of state and federal government (FEMA) to coordinate a swift rescue response.

I had read somewhere -- and unfortunately I can't verify the source at this time -- that NOLA did spend funds on shoreside casinos which could have been designated for maintenance of the levys protecting the city. If this is the case, I agree with you that the welfare of NOLA's residents was indeed subordinated to the pursuit of Mammon.

Christopher said...

Apologies for the typos/mispellings in the above post.

Christopher said...

Incidentally, I applaud the fact that one of the biggest retailers in the U.S. -- and one most subject for criticism on other, legitimate issues -- has taken the lead in offering $15 million in charity as well as promising to establish "mini-Wal-Mart stores in areas impacted by the hurricane. [Distributing free of charge] items such as clothing, diapers, baby wipes, food, formula, toothbrushes, bedding and water". This display of generosity was made even while its stores in New Orleans were looted and ransacked.

But who cares? -- Given that this gesture came from a Wal-Mart CEO, we're entitled to dismiss it as feigned sympathy for the poor, since obviously they don't give a damn.

Chris Burgwald said...

I think Dr. Barstad's comments are pretty straightforward, in that they reiterate what all of us in this discussion believe; in short, the First Commandment: no false gods, including wealth.

I don't think he would have an issue with the pursuit of wealth per se, within limits, of course (it cannot be the end-all and be-all, etc.). But I don't think that's a point of contention here.

What I found most interesting was his opening comments:

What is at stake in the argument over how influential Freemasonry was to the American founding? What if David Jones is right in suggesting that America really is a Masonic Experiment?

Indeed. Why does the suggestion that Masonry/Enlightenment principles were a (or the) major contributing ideology to the worldview of most of the Founders bother so many of us? I think it's a good question, one worth pondering over.

As I've made clear, I do think that the Enlightenment worldview was a principle intellectual factor in our Founding, and I'd even tend to say that it is the principle factor. That's not to deny that some of the Founders were Christians, and devout ones at that. But one could somehow quantify the intellectual factors among all of the Founders, I think the Enlightenment would easily have a majority. And I think that factor is working itself out in our nation's history.

Christopher said...

Forgive me Chris, if I'm misreading Dr. Barstad. Of course we're all in agreement with the basic opposition between God and Mammon -- nevertheless, I find particularly irksome such statements as "The rich leave the poor behind and take law and order with them because their only purpose is to protect the rich anyway," which I think do more to impede a conversation than contribute to it. Likewise, to refer to "schemes of pretended truce between God and Mammon" simply begs the question of what, exactly, is being referred to, given David's recent posting of Storck's hatchet job on Fr. Sirico.

On the subject of Masonry and the Enlightenment, to say that "the Enlightenment worldview was a principle intellectual factor in our Founding" is something I can certainly agree with.

And to suggest as David has done that the Enlightenment principles influenced the Masons, and that the Masons in turn exercised some degree of influence in the founding and direction of our nation, seems to me a reasonably safe and historically-valid conclusion -- as you said, one worth pondering over.

But as I noted previously, it's the accompaniment of this proposal by grand conspiracies and the suggestion of the occult in every symbol or structure; talk of the Trilateral Commission, the "New World Order," the Illuminati . . . secret orders pulling the strings of government . . . it's this kind of talk that I'm wary (or weary) of. So forgive me for such "resistance to the truth."

In closing, I'll add that I heartily agree with Dr. Barstad's closing advice: For our part, let us put on the whole armor of God. Let us love one another and the poor in our midst. Let us seek the Truth, and defend it when we are given the grace to find it. Let us be conformed to Christ and him crucified -- to which we all, Augustinian-Thomist or Whig-Thomist or simply curious-Catholic, can give a resounding AMEN.

Santiago said...

"the Enlightenment worldview was a principle intellectual factor in our Founding"

But what does that really mean? There was no consensus among the Enlightenment philosophes as to what the human person is. The ideas of Rousseau, Locke, and Hobbes are all dramatically different from each other. Could Chris clarify what he means?

Also: there are many insights that the Enlightenment gave to us that are very valuable. Hobbes's description of "the state of nature" isn't wholly incompatible with a very pessimistic portrait of fallen man. Montesquieu's seperation of powers is an indispensible part of every democracy today. I'm sure there are other examples.

Chris Burgwald said...

Christopher,

I agree on the "rich leaving" comment.

Re: the "pretended truce", I think Dr. Barstad is just warning us about trying to give both the same priority.

My guess is -- and he can correct me if I'm wrong -- that David wouldn't want a discussion of Masonic conspiracies to detract from the question of Enlightenment influence on the Founders/ing. I think that was his overall point to begin with.

Santi, I think we can safely say that none of the Enlightenment philosophes had a worldview which was a Catholic-Christian one, and for the purposes of this discussion, that is the primary point.

Chris Burgwald said...

Apropos of this discussion, see Peter Augustine Lawler's "The American Individual Today" in the new issue of The New Pantagruel.

JB said...

I would like to offer my thanks to Chris Burgwald and my apologies to Christopher.

Chris Burgwald understood my intention. I was focused on the question of how we ought to think about the possibility that the conspiracy theorists are partly right. I wanted to set the problem in the perspectives of the basics (First Commandment, God-Mammon choice, etc.) and suggest that even if the worst is true, we don't have to lose our poise because fundamentally our relationship to the civil-temporal order remains unchanged. We should go about our business (including whatever practical political involvement we are called to)in pretty much the same way as we would if the conspiracy theorists are wrong because the spiritual conspiracy is there regardless and that's the one we have to be alert to. How the spiritual armor listed by St Paul translates into the public sphere is an interesting and valuable question, but I wasn't trying to address it.

To Christopher I admit that I can see how my simplistic interpretation of the Parable of New Orleans seemed like a cheap shot. I didn't intend it that way. In fact, I almost never find myself thinking in Marxist class conflict patterns so I don't think it was ideologically motivated. Nor do I think I'm particularly post-modern, but I am rather pre-modern and there are similarities; but unlike the post-mods I've known, I do believe that love and justice are possible and that no matter how real and pervasive the will to power may be it does not obliterate them as norms, ideals, and occasionally as real motivations of real people (as some in New Orleans showed us). I don't think I qualify therefore as a cynic, though my level of suspicion is rising.

I'm a little embarrassed to confess that my judgment about the rich leaving the poor behind and taking law and order with them came as a kind of epiphany. It was suddenly so obvious and helped me name something I have been dimly aware of growing all around me over the past decade or more. It's not unusual in human history but I have been slow to believe it of my America. But it's only a parable. He who has ears let him hear. Multiple, even incompatible, interpretations are possible as long as they yield to charity and to the Truth. Nonetheless, I wish I'd kept that particular one to myself as it did impede the conversation.

One final confession. I used to be very interested in the Enlightenment-and-Catholic-Compatibility-with-the-Founding argument, but I think its quickly becoming irrelevant, except among a certain group of American conservatives. Many of our compatriots and especially the younger generations are becoming post-moderns, which means the Enlightenment is about as compelling to them as Catholicism, maybe less. Turgenev and Dostoyevsky could see it in 19th century Russia; we've been blessed that it has taken longer here in the US. Liberalism is a transitional state, inherently unstable; the end is nihilism. Unless we can re-Evangelize, which was Dostoyevsky's hope I think, we're in for a very rough ride. The levee has been breached.

--Joel Barstad

Christopher said...

Thank you, Joel and I extend apologies for misunderstand / misinterpret your remarks and the intensity of my reaction.

I agree with your assessment of where we are today in your closing paragraph. Being part of the relatively-younger (30-something) generation I'd say that many, perhaps even the majority, of us are not only "becoming postmodern" but have already fallen into that frame of mind.

It's a very rare occasion when I'd actually encounter another who even has the interest in the philosophical foundations of the Enlightenment or the full range of topics that we discuss on this blog. Most I think are victims of the "dumbing down" of education (chronicled in Bloom's Closing of the American Mind for instance) and the mailaise of a relativistic worldview such that they haven't the remotest interest . . . in the end, absent the possibility of truth, it's all chatter to them.

You can probably guess that I'm inclined to question whether nihilism is the inevitable end of liberalism -- to echo Fr. Neuhaus, "I find myself in warm agreement with the indictment of a certain kind of liberalism. The contention turns on what we mean by liberalism", and I'm not at the point where like Schindler I'm inclined to dismiss it wholesale as just another "con game" . . . such is the ongoing discussion here at la nouvelle théologie.

But it's late and I'm off to bed, so I'll thank Joel and Chris (and Santiago) for another invigorating discussion.

Best regards,

Christopher

Anonymous said...

Contra above, the enlightenment (and the liberal state it bequeathed us) is still very much with us. It's "postmodern" form is merely a late-modern "decadent" (per Barzun) manifestation.

Caleb S.

Marc said...

My personal experience is coming from a pagan/Masonic background. Pagan in that I was a practicing Wiccan and Celtic heathen while being a member of multiple Lodges (F&AM, AASR, AAONMS). It is important to remember that the Blue Lodge and appendant Bodies are not based exclusively on Judeo-Christian thought. It is in fact an extension of the Egyptian mystery schools and employs Old Testament stories to emphasize certain moral lessons. The central story - Hiram Abiff and the building of the temple - is itself a myth loosely based on the Bible. However it incorporates multiple pagan practices in the ritual and is not Christian. And as a Christian, I now believe that man cannot elevate himself. That is the sole province of God.

David said...

Marc,

Thank you for your contribution. Please feel free to add any insights (and experiences) that you have on any post on my blog, especially those related to the topic of Freemasonry and the Occult.

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