The Message of Masonry to the Modern World
From: Ron Blaisdell [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Sunday, June 13, 1999 7:02 AM
This ringing, stirring speech was delivered by its distinguished author before the first of a series of Educational Meetings held in Washington, under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia. Brother Poteat doesn't mince his words; he has convictions and chooses the strongest syllables he can find in which to express them. There is nothing of the fence straddle, the "perhaps, on the other hand" style, about this talk. It should strike as responsive a chord in the hearts of all lovers of our great Fraternity, as it did in the ears of the enthusiastic audience which heard it delivered. THERE was a time when Masons were content to sit in the tiled seclusion of the lodge and bid the outside world go settle its own problems. What little sense of obligation they felt toward society was entirely satisfied when some silver-tongued orator arose and emitted certain glittering generalities and diverse flowery, platitudes about the glories of the Order. Even now, sad to relate, many Masons either do not realize or refuse to admit that Masonry has anything important to say to the world at large. Masonry to them means only sundry ritualistic performances once or twice a month and the contribution of a few pennies to charity. And to all too many it means even less than this - merely the right to sport a button and to invent new excuses for non-attendance every time the lodge meets. I believe that such alleged Masons are doing more to retard the progress of the fraternity than all its outside enemies combined. This statement is made without the slightest thought of casting aspersions upon our beautiful ritual, which I love as well as any man can. But Masons in general are slowly, surely, awakening to the indisputable fact that in this day of whirling, riotous activity, of turmoil and strife, of selfishness and the mad scramble for wealth, of irreligion and unbelief, Masonry must produce or quit; that every consideration of right and justice demands that an organization as large and as powerful as ours should be felt mightily in all good works; that, in short, Masonry has a message for this age and time. And I am, rather of the opinion that the world, in which there is need of all the ability and talent and energy and consecration which can be had, has every right to ask, "Why is Masonry, anyhow?" We have expended time in the shaping of the Order that might have been employed in planting crops or in pushing forward the outposts of civilization; energy that would have won battles against organized wickedness and driven vice farther back toward hell; money that would have purchased milk for uncounted millions of babies, put an end to famine, plague, and pestilence and educated thousands of youths and maidens. Have we given the world value received? If not, we stand convicted of hypocrisy and false dealing. Have our time, energy and money given the world a higher and purer manhood, a wider altruism. a loftier level of spiritual attainment? If not, our high-sounding titles are a bitter mockery; our expenditure of money a robbery of the poor and needy; our time and energy, given so lavishly in Masonry's cause, a sin against humanity and against Jehovah God. I repeat: the world has every right to ask, "What have you to say today?" I shall attempt herein to present to you briefly my conception of Masonry's answers to that question. I PREFACE a series of affirmatives with one negative. Masonry is not a religion; never has been and never will be. That Mason who sees in the Order a substitute for the Church and for his duties thereto has failed utterly to comprehend the aims, purposes and spirit of this brotherhood, and has never caught even a faint glimmer of true Masonic light. Consider now with me those great principles which embody Masonry's message to the modern world; those principles which every genuine Mason strives to practice in his own life and to propagate; those principles for which true Masons are always ready to give of their time, energy, means, and, if need be, of their life's blood. FIRST, then, Charity - or, as I prefer to think of it and to call it - Duty to the Unfortunate. Masons differ more or less widely on many matters, but here they are a unit. That man whose heart is not stirred by human need is no Mason, no matter how many degrees he may have received or how many honors he may have won. But Charity has a further and higher meaning - brotherly love and affection. In a day of sharp practices, or suspicion, of whispered accusations, Masonry's voice rings out clear and strong: "One is your Father and all ye are brethren. Vows have ye taken at mine altars, binding yourselves together in sweet fellowship and accord. A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another." Has there ever been a time in the world's history when enmities needed more to be soothed, discord to be healed, strife to be vanquished? Masonry's voice falls upon our jangling world like an echo of the angels' song: "Peace on earth, good will to men." SECONDLY, and growing out of the first point, Masonry preaches a broad spirit of Altruism, of deep and genuine interest in the welfare of all men. For she bids her sons to spend eight of the twenty-four hours in the service of God and a distressed worthy brother; teaches her votaries that the finest and most godlike pursuit under the canopy of Heaven is that followed by the Man of Galilee, who "went about doing good." And when the decadent Socialist prophet, Oscar Wilde, declares that "The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism," Masonry gives him the lie straight from the shoulder, and proclaims to all the world that altruism is blessed of God, was taught and practiced by the Master, and must live and flourish more and more gloriously, or the world perishes. THIRD, what our brother, President Roosevelt, called The Square Deal, The oldest of all our symbols is the set square. It has been employed in all ages, as far back in the past as civilized man can be traced, to teach uprightness and what we know as the Golden Rule. The Greek word for square, ??????, also means a rule or guide of life; the Latin normal, square, also carries the significance of pattern, precept. The square is the foundation of the Forty-Seventh Problem of Euclid, a discovery, we are told, of Pythagoras in the sixth century before Christ, whereby he sought to present to a pagan and polytheistic world a comprehensible picture of Deity, and which suggests strikingly to us the conception of divine justice tempered with mercy - the Deity setting to His creatures an unbelievably wonderful example of the square deal, and bidding them follow it in all their human relations. If our modern world had given heed to this Masonic principle, hardly one of the problems which face us now would exist. The fact that they do exist is unimpeachable proof of the failure of Masons to exert that influence in our social and civic life that they ought to exert and can exert, if they will. Suppose men everywhere guided their conduct by this principle. The Negro problem would be a forgotten nightmare, strikes, would no longer paralyze American industry, Socialism would never have been born, Bolshevism Would have remained in the depths of hell, its home, nations would not plot to oppress and rob other nations, and the World War would not have spread misery and devastation and ruin over the face of our earth. Surely we Masons have spent too much time philosophizing and ritualizing and not enough time in applying our beliefs and tenets to the alleviation of the world's suffering and the solution of the world's problems. And, as has already been suggested, unless we speedily and wholeheartedly set about this divine task, we shall perish, and before God we ought to perish! FOURTH, Respect for law. It has been said, more or less correctly, no doubt, that if church members would stop drinking blockade liquor, the blind tigers would soon be compelled to go out of business. I presume the statement would be equally true if "Masons" were substituted for "church members." Now, we believe in toleration of other men's opinions, as I shall point out presently; but there is nothing anywhere in Masonic law, history or tradition, which teaches us to gloss over and excuse violations of the plain statutes laid down for the guidance of American citizens. We are told: "You are not to palliate or aggravate the offenses of your brethren, but in the decision of every trespass against our rules, you are to judge with candor, admonish with friendship and reprehend with justice." Also, "In the State you are to be a quiet and peaceable citizen, true to your government and just to your country. You are not to countenance disloyalty or rebellion, but patiently submit to legal authority, and conform with cheerfulness to the government of the country in which you live." This is surely plain enough to be comprehended by even the dullest intellect. Masonry has no room, for example, for the blockader, for he is a deliberate offender again the law of the land. But this is not the end of the matter. Masonry not only teaches her votaries to respect the law; she also demands that you and I constantly do all in our power to develop, in and out of the lodge, such an alert, sensitive and imperious public opinion as will put the blockader where he belongs, that is to say, among the pariahs and outcasts of society. I have discussed this particular form of contempt for law purely as an illustration of the duty and privilege of Masons to spread abroad this fourth trumpet call of the Order: "Liberty is founded on Law, on obedience to Law, on respect for Law: when Law is despised, ignored, forgotten, Liberty trembles on her lofty throne, and anarchy and chaos prepare to issue forth, to tear down mangle and destroy." LET us pass to the next phase of Masonry's message, namely, Americanism. We talk at length of our great melting pot, and of the fact that this nation offers a hospitable welcome to men of all races. This is, no doubt, very fine; but no person with an ounce of brains can deny that we have within our borders large elements, wearing all the liveries of citizenship, who have no more right to enjoy the blessings and the freedom of this fair land than the devil has to direct the angel choir. Our estate is broad, but it has no room in it for men and women whose souls are bound hard and fast to some foreign court, and who bring an ineradicable hyphen among their baggage when they land on our shores. Masons, it seems to me, have been fearfully remiss in their duty as apostles of allegiance and loyalty to their country. It is high time for us to awake out of sleep and heed Masonry's imperious call to the sublime task of driving out forever disloyalty of whatever kind, and of bringing in the day when every man, woman and child all over this Union can say from the heart, "America first, last and always." IN THE sixth place, Masonry has something to say to the modern world on the great subject of Education. The public schools of our country, with all their admitted imperfections, are the nursery of our future, the seed-bed of our destiny. Ignorance is the mother of nine-tenths of all human wretchedness. Sorrow and death, tears and misery, strife and war, have always been its fruition. Masonry, therefore, believes in the public school; all good Masons fight for the public school, support heartily every measure designed to further its influence and increase its efficiency, and oppose to the last ounce of strength its vindictive enemies. Moreover, Masonry believes in the widest possible extension of educational opportunity for all the children of all the people - an educational opportunity absolutely free from the lethal drugs of prejudiced opinion, theological formalism, and the stifling, stunting intellectual repression of bigoted and intolerant religious hierarchies. Some one has wisely and truly said that the privilege of freedom carries with it the obligation to learn how to be free. Masonry subscribes to this sentiment without hesitation or reservation, and rejoices in the ever widening spread of education for all men. And if the reactionary, the tightwad, the mossback, the bigot, are looking for a fight, Masonry says, "Here am I; put up your fists!" IN THE next place, Masonry stands firm today for Freedom of Thought and Toleration. Masonic Light, as I understand it, means Truth, the knowledge of God, the apprehension and comprehension of His dealings with men and of the laws made by Him which control the universe "with all its mighty and majestic harmonies." A great philosopher once said: "If God held in His right hand all truth; in His left, the sole inward, active desire for truth, even with the addition that I should err always and forever, and said to me: 'Choose!' I would humbly bend to the left hand, and answer: 'Father, give that to me: pure truth is for Thee alone'." The genuine Mason, therefore, is never content with the light he has received, but presses ever forward in an unwearied search for further and yet further light. At a certain point in one of our degrees, the candidate receives a word which he is informed is a substitute for the True Word. And therein is symbolized the conception I am seeking to bring to you now. The True Word, that is to say, perfect knowledge of the Divine Creator, is unattainable in this finite life, and will be communicated to us only when He raises us to that last, most sublime Degree. NOW, because our minds are limited and restrained by mortality, truth does not appear in the same guise to all men. We interpret and explain the facts of life, economic conditions, philosophical pronouncements, religious speculation and revelation, differently. Hence arise various schools of thought, various political parties, various denominations. Masonry teaches that we are children of a common Father and therefore brethren; that every man has a full and complete right to his political, philosophical and religious opinion; that no man who treads this earth has authority to say to another what he shall believe and what he shall not believe. Intolerance appears to be steadily growing uglier and stronger, though it is surely one of the ugliest of the monstrous brood of old mother Ignorance. It lifts its head proudly and venomously today from pulpits, the columns of newspapers, public platforms. Mortal men boldly assume the authority which belongs to Almighty God alone of consigning their fellowmen to hell for opinion's sake. We have substituted for the pincers and the rack the poisonous and slanderous letter to the editor, the whispered calumny, the fiery denunciation in high places. Driveling ignorance, often - tragically enough - masking its hideous ugliness in the trappings of piety, presumes to sit in judgment upon lofty intellect, disinterested public service and real Christian character and life; swinish stupidity has the audacity to issue instructions to light and learning; illiteracy summons the wisdom of all the ages before its bar. And it is all done in the sweet name of Him who went about doing good! This devilish spirit and all the outrages which grow out of it Masonry sternly rebukes, and asks with Saint Paul: "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?" And she asserts boldly and joyously that intolerance and bigotry are of their father, the devil, that the search for truth is man's sublimest vocation, and that in that search he is and of right ought to be as free as God's sunlight. FINALLY, Masonry preaches Righteousness. "To be good and true is the first lesson we are taught in Masonry." Our Order is founded on a firm faith in the existence of one omnipotent God, and on the belief that only through love for Him and unceasing striving to do His will can man ever attain happiness in this life or Heaven in the world to come. Masonry, therefore, takes her place proudly beside the home, the school, and the church, as one of the means of bringing the Kingdom of God to its glorious consummation. Surely, there has never been a time, since the morning stars sang together at creation's dawn, when there was a greater need for righteousness, for faith in God, for devotion to His will, than now; and these three divine ideals represent the climax and culmination of Masonry's message to modern world.