The Freemasons are a fraternal organization dating back to
Europe as early as the 1400s. The group originated as a guild for stonemasons,
but later extended membership to men of varying trades. Historically,
freemasons have served as leaders in a number of high profile positions.
including president of the United States. Freemasons value integrity, charity,
and faith. Thus, to become a mason, one must demonstrate high character, be
interested in serving the community, and also believe in a higher power, though
not necessarily any one in particular. Due to the organizations secretive
nature, they have been perceived suspiciously by a number of groups. For
instance, many in the Catholic faith have accused Masonry as practicing satanic
worship and the dark arts. Popularly, the Masons face accusations of a
connection to a supposed global conspiracy known as the “Illuminati”.
Masons, however, hold that these charges are in fact false, and that they are
solely a social club with a charitable mission. Freemasonry has seen a
significant decrease in popularity in recent years. While in the 1950s the
group claimed a membership of well over 4 million, today their numbers have
shrunk down to an estimated 1.3 million. Some attribute this to the general
decrease of membership in social organizations in general, while others claim
the decrease in significance of Masons in public life has led to less interest
among potential members. Masons have made efforts to modernize their
organization to appeal to more people, though the details of such changes are
difficult to pinpoint, given the secretive nature of the group.