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The Millennials

Good morning, Brothers. I’m here to speak to you about the next generation of American men, who are now coming of age.  I’m talking about the group of young people born from the mid-eighties to the early two thousands.  I’m talking about my generation, the millennials. You’ve probably heard a lot about this generation, and may have even formed some opinions about them already. However today, I’m hoping to separate the fact from the fiction, tell you a little about their demographics and beliefs, and, most importantly, share why I believe these men can benefit from Masonry, and why Masonry can benefit from these young men.

There are many characteristics that distinguish the millennials, and make them unique from any other generation.  Millennials are the world’s first “digital natives;” while other generations have had to adapt to the digital revolution, this generation was born into it, and has been formed by it in many ways. They are the most educated generation in American history; 47 percent of millennials aged 25 to 34 have received post-secondary degrees. The millennials are also the most diverse generation in American history, both racially and religiously.  Forty percent of all millennials are racial minorities. Forty-three percent of all millennials subscribe to a faith other than Christianity, or define themselves as “spiritual” rather than loyal to any one religious tradition.

 

Millennials respect diversity, value education, and possess faith, though they may not demonstrate it in a traditional way. In short, they may not look like you, pray like you, or think like you. However, this generation may still be the key to unlocking a renaissance in Freemasonry in the United States.  The question is, how can we embrace this change?

 

First, millennials are the least likely of any American generation to patronize organized religious institutions. Sixty percent of millennials do not attend religious services other than weddings or funerals. In a country demographically dominated by Christianity, only fifteen percent of millennials hold beliefs consistent with Christian dogma. Thirty-five percent of millennials declare themselves “unreligious,” or unaffiliated with any religion.  By comparison, only fifteen percent of baby boomers are unaffiliated.

 

So, according to these statistics, one might believe that millennials are unfit candidates for initiation into our brotherhood. After all, belief in a supreme being is one of the few requirements needed to begin a Masonic journey.  However, I believe the exact opposite is true. Although millennials may not be traditionally religious, only a very small number of them, fewer than 5%, profess no belief in a supreme being. One of Freemasonry’s greatest attributes is its insistence on a nonsectarian model and its emphasis on striving for personal growth and spiritual knowledge. Much of what drives millennial dissatisfaction with modern organized religions is their insistence on the exclusive nature of salvation. Almost all organized religions essentially imply or outright state that only they possess the correct route to spiritual fulfillment. Freemasonry, however, encourages each to be steadfast in the faith of his acceptance.  Amongst millennials, there is also an increasingly popular perception that organized religions are more interested in power and material gain than peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.

 

Millennials explore their spirituality outside the confines of traditional religion. Forty-eight percent of millennials pray once a week.  Seventy-two percent believe that God is a real being as opposed to an idea or metaphor. And it bears repeating that the overwhelming majority, over 95% of millennials possess a belief in a supreme being, though most describe themselves as “spiritual” rather than “religious.” This is a potential asset to Freemasonry, as millennials enter our Lodges seeking an answer to this spiritual gap in their lives. This call, in my opinion, can be answered by Observant Masonry. The idea that a Masonic lodge room, Masonic ritual, and Masonic ideals should be held as something sacred, is the reason why Observant Lodges are generally younger than other Lodges. They fill the gap left in the absence of organized religion.  This restoration is already in an active phase, with Lodges all over the country adopting the time-tested values that have recently congregated under the Observance mantle.

 

The second restoration needed for this new renaissance to occur is only in its infant stages, and has to do with Masonic education. It has long been known that Masonic education is important for membership retention.  It is often said that Masonry lends itself to more educational subjects than we could ever exhaust. And yet, my observation is that Lodges tend to have a problem coming up with Masonic education programs, and often default to Masonic history lectures.

 

Have you ever wondered why our ancient brethren were so busy making history, and yet we are so busy only reading it?

 

What did early Lodges discuss before history and famous past Masons existed?

 

What attracted young men of such passion, vigor and intelligence to Freemasonry?

 

The ability to have vibrant and open debate on the philosophical underpinnings that make up our society was, in the past, an essential component of Masonry. It should be so once again in the modern era.   We would do well to remember that Masonic ideals were at one time not only unpopular, but also at times downright dangerous to voice. The idea that men of all ranks, races and religions could dwell together in harmony was a bold and radical one. It countered much of Western scientific knowledge, political theory and religious theology that had been firmly established for millennia. Meeting an observant Mason in eighteenth century America was as jarring to the sensibilities of the average citizen as meeting a fanatical anarchist or communist in the twenty-first century. In that context, it’s easy to view Freemasonry as a reformist revolutionary organization. These young revolutionaries needed safe areas to meet like-minded peers and develop their ideas of equality and freedom. What better place than a Lodge guarded from “cowans and eavesdroppers?” Lodges in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were great forums for ideas and discussions. Masonic Lodges were veritable training grounds for the democratic civil society that replaced monarchial courts after the age of democratic revolutions.

 

The ability to have vibrant and open debate on the philosophical underpinnings that make up our society was, in the past, an essential component of Masonry. It should be so once again in the modern era.   We would do well to remember that Masonic ideals were at one time not only unpopular, but also at times downright dangerous to voice. The idea that men of all ranks, races and religions could dwell together in harmony was a bold and radical one. It countered much of Western scientific knowledge, political theory and religious theology that had been firmly established for millennia. Meeting an observant Mason in eighteenth century America was as jarring to the sensibilities of the average citizen as meeting a fanatical anarchist or communist in the twenty-first century. In that context, it’s easy to view Freemasonry as a reformist revolutionary organization. These young revolutionaries needed safe areas to meet like-minded peers and develop their ideas of equality and freedom. What better place than a Lodge guarded from “cowans and eavesdroppers?” Lodges in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were great forums for ideas and discussions. Masonic Lodges were veritable training grounds for the democratic civil society that replaced monarchial courts after the age of democratic revolutions.

 

Freemasons elected their officers, freely and civilly discussed weighty ideological topics, and developed leadership skills all by just attending Lodge. This was unique because many of these activities, such as elections and free debate, could only be found in Masonic Lodge rooms at that time. Being a good citizen of their Lodge actively prepared those Brothers to be good citizens in a greater society.

 

Unfortunately, this concept has all but vanished from our Lodges. The prohibition on conversations regarding politics and religion, a noble and worthy rule, has expanded and become an umbrella term for any topic that may create “disharmony” amongst the brethren. The result is that while discussion is universally deemed a worthy goal across the country, in all our Lodge rooms it consistently escapes our grasp.

 

We fail to realize that for us to have discussions, at a very basic level there must be a difference of opinion. We should not fear this.  As Masons, we are commanded to master rhetoric, logic and grammar.  Skills only gained from intelligent discourse and dialogue.   Joseph Fort Newton in his seminal work, The Builders, once declared that Masonry should act as a “ministry to the individual, and through the individual to society and the state.” When the Fraternity once truly believed in this mission, young men from all over the western world flocked to join the Fraternity, inculcating our values, and then spreading them throughout society and eventually to the highest levels of government.  This is how the cruel and archaic medieval values that were once pervasive eventually were replaced by the more democratic, egalitarian and tolerant values of The Enlightenment Period through the 1700’s, 1800’s and beyond.

 

In the 2000’s, with the ascension of the millennials, young men are once more gazing at a turbulent world and asking themselves how they can make a difference. In the past, they may have become involved in some of the other pillars of American society. But many millennials have lost faith in government, charities, organized religion and the media. They are desperately looking for an avenue whereby they can change the world.   And that is a role we once served my Brothers, and one that I hope we can serve again.

 

So, my Brothers, the question is, “Why would a young man join the world’s oldest Fraternity?” Or, perhaps the question is, “Why would the world’s oldest Fraternity want these young men to join it?”  And I submit to you that the answer to both questions is the same: to fill a void.  For the young man, that void is spiritual and civic engagement, intelligent debate, and brotherly love. For the Fraternity, that void is of men who will engage in the ritual, patronize events, and ensure that Freemasonry will subsist forever. And I believe that as long as both parties recognize the wants and needs of the other, then Freemasonry will enter a new renaissance, and be restored to its former glory.

 

W\Adam Schoepflin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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