Suppose you have joined freemasonry recently and are working through the three ceremonies of initiation, passing and raising. You enjoy their uplifting admonitions to personal improvement and want further reading, as it were, to broaden your understanding of the ideas presented in the degrees as well as the intellectual currents that informed them.
Reading, though, is so twentieth-century. You want to listen to easily digestible podcasts that deliver the thinking of top-drawer academics in no more time than it takes walk to commute to work. What you need is BBC Radio 4’s programme on the history of ideas, In Our Time.
What follows then is an entirely unofficial, biased(!) and personal list of IOT episodes you could listen to in the days immediately following each of the three degree ceremonies, with a general category to give a flavour of some of the ideas that inform masonic culture.
If you’re a mason, this is the book to give your friends who ask you what freemasonry is. Well-informed and written with sufficient detachment to inspire confidence, the tone is neither reverential nor apologetic, and makes needed criticism of the institution where it’s deserved.
Familiar anti-masonic claims are debunked efficiently, placing their origins in historical context.
I’ve just returned from a trip to a bookshop in Gloucester. Browsing the history section, I noted that the shelves containing books on German history were dominated by books on the Second World War, the Nazis and the Holocaust. One of the very few books that had significant coverage of Germany before 1933 was itself a highly controversial account by A.J.P. Taylor notable for the extremes of opinion it contains. Moving to the section on Freemasonry, I noted the unusually large number (no doubt boosted by the success of The Da Vinci Code) of books there were dominated by books pandering to the Freemasonry-as-world-conspiracy mythology accompanied by dubious (by academic standards) pseudo-historical accounts of Freemasonry’s origins.
I moved on to the reference section in search of a Welsh dictionary to help me better understand the language of the neighbouring country, a language being taught in schools less than thirty miles from Gloucester, a language that is the descendant of the original British languages spoken throughout this island, long before English arrived and a language whose number of speakers is growing. No dictionary to be found, of course. Only a couple of Welsh course books among the huge array of Spanish, French, Italian….
The choices the shop’s management (or distant corporate HQ?) had made obviously reflect what they believe will sell; choices, one presumes, based on the perceived interests and prejudices of the local marketplace. What might that tell us then about the shop’s beliefs about the typical Gloucester book shopper when seeking information on these subjects? – that Germany has little history or culture of interest beyond the Nazi era – that Freemasonry is a sinister secret society bent on world domination or something equally dodgy – the indigenous language of England’s immediately neighbouring country doesn’t matter much.