Question: What 's This Freemasonry/ Illuminati Stuff?

It seems awareness of the existence of secret societies in the world is more widespread, now, than ever. Talk of Masonry and Illuminati are circulating celebrity gossip blogs everywhere. But what are these societies anyway? What relevancy do they hold in popular culture and why should we even be concerned?

To begin:
"Freemasonry is the oldest and largest world wide fraternity dedicated to the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of a Supreme Being. Although of a religious nature, Freemasonry is not a religion. It urges its members, however, to be faithful and devoted to their own religious beliefs.
 The organization of Freemasonry is based on a system of Grand Lodges, each sovereign within its own territory. There is no central authority governing all Grand Lodges. However, to be acknowledged by others, acceptable traditions, standards and practices must be maintained." (Grandlodge).
So, basically, Freemasonry is just the oldest fraternity. Freemasonry, in and of itself, is not a bad thing at all and is a collection of powerful men above the age of 21 with various religious backgrounds coming together in the good name of brotherhood, charity and progression. But much like any group, whether it be religious or political, it's the extremist sects that branch from the ideas of a group that warrant any concern.

This is where the Illuminati come in. The Illuminati are completely independent of Freemasonry, although many powerful Masons are believed to be Illuminati:
"As far as history can suggest, Illuminati groups from Europe were some of the more advanced thinkers of the time period, reflecting humanism philosophy emerging at the time. They were opposed to power exerted by churches and by the nobility. The organization, as a secret society, was illegal. During its early years, this secret society may have had as many as 10 branches in Europe and 2000 members drawn from the intellectuals in Europe. According to historical sources, the Illuminati fell apart by 1795.
This is when speculation and conspiracy theory steps in to lend a hand. Conspiracy theorists assert that the Illuminati still exists today and has extraordinary influence over governments. One thing considered “evidence” of existence is the presence of the eye on the pyramid of a one US dollar (USD) bill. And most conspiracy beliefs held about the Illuminati consider the order as largely influential on the Freemasons.
Some believe that key members in the early formation of the US government, like Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin were members of the Illuminati, and that the group continues to influence world government. It is suggested that the Illuminati have taken an active role in most major events in history. Some theorists allege that certain Presidents and members of the British monarchy are Illuminati members.
The Illuminati has recently gained some popularity with the Dan Brown novel Angels and Demons. Brown is most recognizable as the author of The Da Vinci Code. He takes the Illuminati on as a subject of interest, suggesting that all major scientific thinkers from the Age of Reason onward have been secret Illuminati members.
Brown depicts a constant war between the Illuminati and the Roman Catholic Church, outlining the conflict between not only Atheism and Christianity but also specifically science and religion. His work, which many acknowledge advances conspiracy theories about the group, suggest the Illuminati is still in existence and in continued warfare with the Vatican. Brown also intimates that the Illuminati have infiltrated every powerful political organization, and is largely composed of the world’s scientific community.
Nonfiction works have made the same contention as Brown’s, that the Illuminati still exists today and is in constant battle with the Catholic Church. Some theorists believe that the Illuminati work toward establishing a New World Order and have influenced most world events in the 20th century. What can be verified is that there are several groups calling themselves Illuminati in the 20th century, based on the principles of the Bavarian and European groups. These include the German Ordo Illuminatorum, the Grand Lodge Rockefeller in the USA, and the Spanish Orden Illuminati" (Wise Geek).
Understand that the Illuminati is a group concerned with power and knowledge. Though it's believed that the Illuminati are no longer in existence, many think the opposite. Stars, like Jay-Z and Madonna, subtly and not-so-subtly allude to the group all the time. We being the second wave of the MTV generation are generally highly influenced by media and popular culture. The entertainment industry is the biggest reflection of a slowly corrupting culture. What do you think?
"Illuminati wants my mind soul and body? Secret society, tryna keep their eye on me"-Jay-Z

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