Masonic Membership Challenges Reflected in 2023 Wall Street Journal-NORC Poll
According to the Wall Street Journal, “[p]atriotism, religious faith, having children, and other priorities that helped define the national character for generations are receding in importance to Americans, a new Wall Street Journal-NORC poll finds.”
Question: what else has receded during the same time period as covered within the poll (1998–2023)?
As reported by the Wall Street Journal “[t]he share of Americans who say that having children, involvement in their community and hard work are very important values has also fallen. Tolerance for others, deemed very important by 80% of Americans as recently as four years ago, has fallen to 58% since then [emphasis added]”.
Freemasonry is muti-faceted. It contains both esoteric and exoteric facets, the latter of which include involvement in the community. For decades, freemasonry (both in terms of masonic lodges and masonic buildings) acted as focal points within their local communities. Freemasonry was relevant to the communities in which it was located and involved therein. Many joined freemasonry to be involved in the community.
Within a masonic lodge, there will be members of various faiths and political affiliations (along with various economic, social, and health backgrounds). Tolerance is not simply a masonic tenet, it is a masonic necessity.
Is it surprising that masonic membership faces challenges as involvement in the community and tolerance for others declines in importance?
Another challenge reflected within the poll: the growing importance of money.
Per the Wall Street Journal “[t]he only priority the Journal tested that has grown in importance in the past quarter-century is money, which was cited as very important by 43% in the new survey, up from 31% in 1998.”
Freemasonry does not provide the opportunity for financial growth. Freemasonry does provide the opportunity for community involvement and tolerance for others.
As money increases in importance, and community involvement and tolerance decreases in importance, the challenge upon masonic membership is obvious.
For long-term masonic membership, a particular challenge is found within the poll’s age breakdown.
Per the Wall Street Journal “…all age groups, including seniors, attached far less importance to these priorities and values than when pollsters asked about them in 1998 and 2019. But younger Americans in particular place low importance on these values…”
The combination of the low importance younger Americans place on the aforementioned values and the declining American life-expectancy create an additional membership challenge (a challenge that will grow in the coming decades).
The causes of the poll’s findings are complex, but also connected to masonic challenges.
Per the Wall Street Journal “[a] number of events have shaken and in some ways fractured the nation since the Journal first asked about unifying values, among them the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent economic downturn…”
Online commentators noted similar events and also honed in on the increasing importance of money in people’s lives. As Breaking Points (28 Mar 2023) stated:
- “It was easy to be patriotic in 1998…You could buy a house, you could basically sustain a family of four on a single income, so who cares about money?…You are actually becoming rich or richer by participating in general society…[The rise of the importance of money is] about how much you do actually have to care about money today just to get by whereas, in the past, it’s not something that would have been very important to you…We already know that the main hindrance to people getting married today is money…People are having less children than they want to and the main reason they cite is that its too expensive...The reality of even buying a house or any of these foundational things is so out of reach that money has to be more important.”
If men do not feel economically comfortable or secure and if men are not able to buy a home or maintain a family till later in life, will they be particularly inclined to participate within their community or become members of organisations such as freemasonry?
Pessimism more generally is becoming a trend. Per NBC (29 Jan 2023) “it’s not a secret that Americans our losing confidence in their institutions…In fact our new NBC news poll paints a picture of a deeply pessimistic country distrustful of government in general with an overall outlook that is historically bleak.”
Pessimism can and often does subvert motivation by “hijacking the brain’s ability to stay motivated during reward-driven behaviour that involves some discomfort or hardship to receive a dopamine-inducing “prize.” (Psychology Today, 21 August 2021).
This pessimistic trend represents a masonic membership challenge (and a masonic challenge in general). As pessimism increases, individuals are less likely to stay motivated during challenging tasks (such as advancing within freemasonry, being active within a lodge, taking a lodge office). In the face of such pessimism, is it a surprise that many masonic lodges find it a challenge to attain a quorum, attract new members, or advance officers?
While the poll and the other sources cited within this story represent the United States experience, the challenges and concerns are applicable to numerous masonic jurisdictions around the world, including Square & Compass’ home jurisdiction (Ontario).
How masons deal with these challenges and concerns will set the course for both freemasonry for the next century.
All opinions expressed are those of Square & Compass Promotions and the guest(s), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Windsor Masonic Temple and/or any Masonic group.