Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Louie Blake Sarmiento is NOT a Liar! Separate fact from fiction!

A modern insight about the claims against Odd Fellowship
by Louie Blake S. Sarmiento

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
- Maya Angelou

In my efforts to educate people about the Odd Fellows almost a year ago, I have met some degrees of opposition by some people. I have been called a liar because I do not agree with their claims that the ‘Odd Fellows is a copy of Freemasonry’, ‘a brotherhood for Poor men’, ‘a dead fraternity’ and that ‘joining Odd Fellows is very easy’. Almost a year ago, about 3 members in a forum misinformed other people regarding our fraternity. I am not an expert on Odd Fellowship, but as a member, I have tried my best to explain to avoid other people from following unsubstantial claims about our Fraternal Order. Take note that I am not against Freemasonry but, as a member of the Odd Fellows, it is my right to properly inform the misinformed. There have been many accusations and even reached to a point that they tried to destroy my reputation to discredit my character. Here is my stand:

1. Odd Fellows is not a copy of Freemasonry

Odd Fellows and Freemasons may have some similarities but there are huge differences. There is no single author who has given enough evidence to prove that Odd Fellowship is a copy of Freemasonry. Everything is theory and speculation and until now, the so called 'evidences' seem to lack weight and has been called into question by several authors. Even well-known radical writer, journalist and Freemason member Dr. Bob James stated:

“Moffrey (1910), among many others has claimed that the Odd Fellows' were 'founded in imitation of Freemasonry. There is no evidence for this claim, which I address further below.”

It seems to me that any borrowing at all is unlikely, but that, if it occurred, it would be of what Freemasonry had given up of pre-1717 custom, not what Freemasonry 'created.' We will see that Freemason rites themselves were far from stable or uniform across the United Kingdom until well into the 19th century, making even the idea of borrowing very problematic.”

Let us take note that even if Freemasonry was first formally established in 1717 as the Grand Lodge of England, it was only in 1813 when the 2 factions, Antients and Moderns, formed the current United Grand Lodge of England which made the Grand Lodge of England of the 1717 defunct. Just like Freemasonry, Odd Fellowship also undergone several factions such as Patriotic's and Ancient's which formed a partial amalgamation as the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in 1789. However, Odd Fellowship undergone another faction when the Manchester Unity of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows voted their own Grand Lodge officers in 1814. This shows that both fraternal organizations were struggling in the late 1700's and it was only in the 1800's when they finally became stable organizations.

As it happens, apart from that single phrase and what I've already described as basic 'lodge' essentials, what we have for Odd Fellows’ ritual does not resemble known Stonemason's ritual.”

“The 'Most Noble Grand' here is very curious, as it is not a 'modern' Freemason title, but 'Noble Grand' is used by Odd Fellows. Freemason authors assert it derives from the Bucks. Dermott is not necessarily any more objective than anyone else here presupposing that the Freemasonry was the first with the terms 'lodge' and 'Grand Master'. He seems to have been very early in the queue of authors assuming that any society using the same or similar words to that Freemasonry used must be copying Freemasonry.”

“Spry, a key 19th century example, thought it obvious because of common symbolism and the use of an oath and a degree structure. Such claims reflect the ignorance engendered by the lack of research. It should not be necessary to point out that Freemasonry was, and is, in exactly the same position as those other societies - after nearly 300 years it cannot yet explain from where it 'borrowed' its rites, symbols, etc, or when it did so.

Even the use of apron as regalia by other fraternal or friendly societies such as Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows, Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, United Order of Mechanics, Ancient Order of Free Gardeners and several others, are not a proof that they are copies or imitators of the Order of Freemasons because the use of apron is actually also a practice borrowed by Freemasonry possibly from trade guilds and worker’s unions. To use similarities in symbols, regalia and terminology as proof that one is an imitation is like saying "Japanese and Chinese people have similar features, therefore Japanese are Chinese." But in fact, they are two different nationalities.

2. They call Odd Fellows a brotherhood for Poor men

This accusation is an obvious evidence of what we call ‘elitist mentality’ and ‘social discrimination’ by other members of other fraternities. As for Odd Fellow members and maybe even in other fraternal organizations, it is a teaching that wealth should not be the basis for brotherhood. Odd Fellowship does not aim to ‘rub shoulders’ with the rich and famous for satisfaction. Admittedly, Odd Fellows have members belonging to the lower class simply because Odd Fellowship, like many other healthy groups, does not have room for social discrimination and elitism. It aims to cater all people regardless of social status or personal appearance. This connotes that membership in Odd Fellows is really diverse. However, it should not be denied that there are also members who belong to the upper class of the society. In fact, there were several hundreds of men and women of prominence who became members of the Odd Fellows. Approximately five U.S. Presidents were members of the Odd Fellows same as several Prime Ministers and Mayors in United Kingdom. Lucy Hobbs Taylor, the first female American dentist, was also a member of the Rebekahs.

3. They call Odd Fellows a dead fraternity

It is admitted that Odd Fellows suffered a membership decline during the 20th Century because of social changes such as technological advancement. Let us take note that this decline is not just experienced by the Odd Fellows but by all fraternal organizations in general, even the Freemasons, Knights of Pythias and Elks encountered membership problems especially in the United States due to several factors, e.g. technological advancement. There may be a number of Odd Fellow lodges with very few members or some lodges that closed down but this should not be the basis to label the ‘Odd Fellows as a dead fraternity’. This is because there are also lodges that are still growing and there are actually Odd Fellow jurisdictions with a lot of members. Proof that Odd Fellows is still a living fraternity would be that of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Europe and Cuba. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Sweden alone has some 40,000 members. In Finland for example, some lodges have more than a hundred members that they decided to breakdown their lodge into smaller lodges by creating more than than one lodge in one City.

In some cities, even in the United States, some lodges even hold larger membership than the Freemasons and other Fraternal Orders. In fact, One Odd Fellow lodge in Finland even sold their smaller lodge hall to the Freemasons to purchase a much larger building because their Odd Fellows membership are more numerous in that City.

While the exact number of members is not certain because not one jurisdiction holds the statistics, the claim that the Odd Fellows only have a quarter of a million (250,000) members was actually exclusive to those jurisdictions under the United States. Take note that Odd Fellows in United Kingdom is not counted there and possibly, the quasi-independent jurisdictions of the I.O.O.F such as those in Europe, Cuba and several other Odd Fellows Orders were not included. In 1994, the total membership in the I.O.O.F was said to be about 400,000. But according to newer sources which I just found out, the current membership of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows is nearly 600,000 members in more than 26 countries. This is an enough proof that the Odd Fellows is not a dead fraternity but still alive. Not the same as in the past during the 'Golden Age of Fraternalism' but still trying to survive like any other fraternal organization. Also, a number of lodges are now being revived while some are exerting effort to increase their membership.

4. They said joining Odd Fellows is very easy

In their efforts to discredit Odd Fellows as an Honorable fraternity, they call it as an organization that is ‘very easy to join’. This may be true in lodges that are in the state of ‘reviving their membership’ or ‘starting up a lodge’. And this may be true since many Odd Fellows do not agree with the 'violent' and ‘snobbish’ procedure of admitting someone to membership. Because Odd Fellows are promoters of friendship, love and truth, it has been the practice of many Odd Fellows to be ‘approachable’ and ‘friendly’ to its applicants, pledges and to non-members as they are to their brothers and sisters. Odd Fellows follow the Golden Rule: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.

In reviving areas and new jurisdictions, it is true and possible that one can receive more than one degree or even all three or four degrees in one day. However, this should not be used to generalize that joining Odd Fellows is easy as the procedure vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The truth is there are actually several jurisdictions that would at least take one year or more to finish all three degrees such as those in Cuba. In a number of lodges especially in Europe, some members there actually informed me that an applicant for membership in an Odd Fellow lodge will need about 3 years to reach the third degree. In addition to the lodge, a third degree member will wait several years, some even up to 10 years, so they can receive the Encampment degrees - a higher branch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows which offers three more additional degrees. But as said, the length and procedure of joining varies depending on the jurisdiction.

Also, it should be noted that the Odd Fellows is not a competition of the Freemasons nor any other fraternal organizations since Odd Fellows do not aim for 'supremacy'. Odd Fellowship believes that all people are brothers and sisters. The two are totally unrelated and independent fraternal organizations with different traditions, purpose and principles. Historically, the two fraternities have good relationships with each other. In fact, it was not uncommon to find men who were members of both, and also not uncommon for the two to split the rent or share a single building such as the I.O.O.F, J.R. Scruggs Lodge 372 in Orangeville, Illinois, United States. There are also Freemason lodges that meet in Odd Fellows Halls and Odd Fellow lodges that meet in Masonic Temples.

This hopefully educates the misinformed that Odd Fellows is not a copy nor a part of Freemasonry rather it is a different organization with different traditions, purpose and goals.

“Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. education and free discussion are the antidotes of both.” - Thomas Jefferson

(Note: Writings are based on an educational research and does not aim to disrespect anyone or serve as official stand of the writer or his affiliations. This study is based on liberal and modern approach in research.)

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