The Religion of Masonry 2
Litt. D. The Master Mason - August 1925 Chapter 1. The Mystic Tie WHAT is religion?

From: Ron Blaisdell []
Sent: Friday, June 18, 1999 12:08 AM

Unless we have some idea of its nature and meaning we cannot go very far in the study here proposed, and yet it is not easy to put it into words. Every great thing opens out upon the infinite and asks for unfenced frontiers. A definition is a wall we build around a reality to bring it within reach and range, and a wall has its limits: it shuts out more than it shuts in. The old farmer in the Robert Frost poem was right: Before I build, I would ask to know What I was walling in, or walling out, Something there is that does not love a wall, That wants it down. None of the really great things of life can be shut up within a wall. A man may fence a field, but never the soft winds that blow over it, nor the sunset glow that falls upon it. Yet without the wind, the sun, and the drifting mist that breaks into a blue dust of rain, his field would be of no value. No more can we fence religion with a definition; it breaks through our net of words and escapes. When all is said there remains a margin of mysticism, a spirit which baffles speech. Religion is the meaning of life and can only be learned by living. OBVIOUSLY we must draw a line between religion and theology. One is the truth of life in its warmth and radiance, its joy and pathos; the other is a system of reasoning and conjectures, symbols, and traditions by which man seeks to justify, clarify, and interpret the faith by which he lives. Religion is poetry; theology is prose. It is the difference between a flower garden and a book of botany, a manual of astronomy and a sky full of stars. Theology is valuable but not indispensable. As one need not know the facts of botany in order to enjoy a bed of violets, so we do not have to fathom the mysteries of theology in order to live the religious life. Many a man who has only a dim idea of what it means to love God is really doing it all the time, in the best of all ways, by lending a hand to his fellows along the road. Still, by the very necessity of his nature, man cannot be content with an impulsive and unreflective existence. He is a thinker, a seeker after truth, a philosopher who desires to analyze the mystery of his life and know its meaning, in order to live with clearer vision and to better purpose. So he has made him many theologies, at times more voluminous than luminous, about which he has debated hotly, excommunicating those who do not agree with him - forgetting that without charity no theology is of any value. Manifestly it is an error to mistake the explanation of religion for the reality itself, much less to make our dogmas tests alike of fellowship and salvation. For, according to Jesus, with whom our best instincts agree, we are saved not by what we think but by what we are. Our theology ought to be, as revisable as are all other human ideas, growing as "the thoughts of man widen with the processes of the suns." IN THE same way, temples, altars, creeds, feasts, fasts, and solemn ritual words are not religion. They are efforts, to realize and express the unseen element of thought and yearning which lies at the root of it-attempts to utter by symbol, or to invoke by sacrament, the mystery and meaning of life. Religion is no abstract thing; it is life itself, "the life of God in the soul of man," as Scrougall said, three centuries gone by. The Church has no monopoly of religion, nor did the Bible create it. Instead, it was religion that created the Bible and the Church, and if they were destroyed it would create them anew. Out from the heart of nature rolled The burdens of the Bible old; The litanies of the nations came, Like a volcano's tongue of flame, Up from the burning core below - The canticles of love and woe The word unto the prophet spoken Was writ on tables yet unbroken; One accent of the Holy Ghost The heedless world hath never lost. II There is in human nature a spiritual quality, by whatever name it is described, to express which some contrive theologies, others write rituals, and others sing anthems. It is a part of our human endowment, at once the fountain of our faith and the consecration of our labor. It emerged with man, revealing itself in love and birth, joy and woe, pity and pain and death, in the blood in the veins of men, the milk in the breasts of women, the laughter of little children, in the ritual of the seasons - all the old, sweet, sad, happy human things - adding a rhythm and a pathos to mortal life. Older than all creeds, deeper than all dogmas, it is a voice out of the heart of the world; the account which life gives of itself when it is healthy, natural and free. Every man shares, in some degree, in the great mysticism of the race. By the very fact of his humanity, each man has a capacity for religion, as he has a need of it, whether he knows it or not; just as he is potentially a poet, though he may not be aware of it. One doubts the fact of an entirely irreligious person; but if he exists he is, by so much, less than human. In some men the spark may be dormant and undeveloped, but it is there, along with much else. As radium is found only in uranium, and then only a Few grains of it in tons of alien matter, so "the light that lighteth every man" may burn darkly; but it does not go out. The religious man is thus of many sorts, according to type, training, and stage of growth; but we ought to be able to know him in any garb. NO WORDS may ensnare this elusive, ineluctable quality in the life of man, lending dignity to his dust and luster to his days. It takes myriad shapes - all the shapes which truth and love and duty take - in all true art, all great literature, in the magic suggestiveness of music, in the quest of beauty and the search for truth, in old and simple and lovable things lifted into light and color; no less than in the many forms of piety, from the crude rites of early man to the life of Jesus, It is a tone, a temper, a grace, like "touch" in a musician, like melody which turns sound into song - something deep, tender, haunting, in the hushed awe of an agnostic or in the life of a saint; in the grave and kindly Lincoln who walked under a sky as gray as a tired face, and in Francis who went singing through the world. Some men seem not to be aware of this fine thing in their lives, and even deny that they have it, yet they "live by the fact the lips deny, God knoweth why." All of us know men like Hankin in "The Mad Shepherds," of whom Snarley Bob observes: Shoremaker Hankin were a great man. He'd got hold o' lots o' good things, but he's got some on 'em by the wrong end. He talked more than a man o' his size ought to ha' done. He spent his breath in proving that God doesn't exist, and his life in proving that He does. The greatest of all Teachers of faith did not use the word religion at all, but always the word Life instead, saying that He had come that men might have life, and have it more abundantly. So far from limiting life, He sanctifies it, lifts it to a higher octave, sets it free, shakes the poison out of all its wild flowers, and reveals its eternal values in the arts and acts of every day. With Jesus, religion does not consist of a few acts of prayer, worship, and alms; it is not one thing, but the spirit in which we are to do everything, if it be only to give a cup of cold water to a brother man. Many kinds of life have to be lived, and no one kind has a right to be called religious, to the exclusion of others. The humblest labor, no less than the highest, if done with reference to the whole, has the sanctity of a sacrament. Every task is sacred which offers opportunity for growth and service; all things are holy which draw men together in fellowship and promote justice and beauty in the earth. RELIGION, to repeat it once more, is not a thing apart from life; it is life itself at its best - the meaning of life by which we live, the art by which we learn how to live: how to be, how to do, how to do without, and, finally, how to join our fleeting lives with tone vast Life that moves and cannot die," which Jesus called the Eternal Life. III BY THE same token, it may be said that in the view here set forth, if religion is everything it ceases to be anything. Or else, if all thoughts, all feelings, all acts are, or may be, religious, it embraces what we include under morality, art, and even sport, and we are using more words than we need. Of course, for purposes of study and analysis we may separate religion from morality, but in actual life they blend, they intermingle, they are interwoven. Indeed, my point is that religion, as the Latin word for it implies, is the unifying spirit of all life. Cicero preferred the meaning "to think back," to think over again, to reflect on the meaning of life - to recollect. Augustine liked best to define it as meaning "to rebind," to tie together; that which unites man to God and to his fellows, They are two aspects of the same thought - the idea of a tie by which things are held together, a thread on which things are strung; a power of cohesion and coherence. Recent studies seem to arrive at the same insight. More and more religion is regarded, not as a separate faculty or interest or instinct, but rather as a unity of interests - the organizing spirit among the values of life. If this seems at first a little hazy and fine-spun, a picturesque example of what it means may be seen in the life of Anton Tchekhov, the Russian novelist, to whose art we owe so much. Something happened in him, whether real or imagined, to cut the tie which gives unity and continuity to life, scattering ideas and events like beads in disarray when the thread is broken. It was an appalling experience, as he describes it, leaving him a sad, weary, bewildered man. In one of his letters he writes, giving us a glimpse of his inner chaos: In all the thoughts, feelings, and ideas which I form about anything there is wanting the something universal which could bind all these together in one whole. Each feeling and thought lives detached in me, and in all my opinions and in all the little pictures which my imagination paints, not even the most cunning analyst will discover what is called the general idea, or the God of the living man. If this is not there, then nothing is there. NO WONDER he is a specialist in hopelessness, a great artist of loneliness - like a tiny island in a vast sea. Each man stands by himself; fraternity is a fiction. Facts pile up Pell-mell, without sequence or significance. Things have no relation to one another; they just happen. He knows "the comfortless conglomerate of finite events." He sees each thing clearly; he etches vividly; he can fasten a fleeting impression in a flashing phrase. But life has no plan, no purpose, no meaning; it is just a jumble. Events fall at haphazard, as in the colors of a kaleidoscope. Ideas are deceptive; ideals are a mirage; work is unmeaning monotony; each day is an idle tale, ending in ennui, futility, and the fatigue of despair. So dismal does life become when the mystic tie is cut. What a fate to be thus marooned on a desert island in a world where there is truth to seek, love to win, and beauty passes with the sun on her wings! Such a man is sick; something has hit him and he goes lame. Yet his experience, if it be only imagined, does show us that the basis of life is a sense, vague or vivid, of the "something universal" which unites things into a whole. As Bruno said, God is the principle of connection in things, and things are connected by the Meaning to which all their partial meanings contribute. Nature and events, as Goethe held, are the language of God, silent and incessant, of which we can read here a line and there a stanza. They are facts, but they are also symbols, and have meaning beyond the facts. That is to say, everything is somehow the voice of God, if we have ears to hear. To find meaning in the world is to begin to live in it and to love it, and where love is there God is. IV TWO EXAMPLES will make the idea plainer, one in the field of psychology and the other in the facts of recent history. In his fine, closely packed study of "Man and Culture," Dr. Clark Wissler finds' what he calls two great complexes in human nature, tool- using and ritual-making, which give the clue to the history of culture. The reason why man uses tools is plain enough, but why, from the very beginning, in all ages and all lands, he has made rituals, is a mystery. The writer suspects that at the bottom of ritual-making there is a fact as fundamental, as natural, as the using of tools. Something is there, but he does not know what it is - something profoundly revealing. What he suspects - he does not set it forth as a dogma - is that ritual is the desire, if we may not call it instinct, by which man is led to "seek to complete the sequence of cause and effect' when an effect is experienced." In other words, in his rituals man is seeking to spin and weave a tie uniting cause and effect; that is, trying to find the connection in things. It is a quest after the sequence of facts, the relation of events, as over against the awful miscellaneousness of mere Chance, in which forces move haphazard. Even Fate is better than Chance; at least it implies order, direction, control in the nature of things which, if men follow it, leads to freedom and power. Ritual, then, is man trying to interpret his experience, flinging across the gaps of life a network of meaning - his effort to escape from the most terrifying of all fears, that his life is at the mercy of caprice, the sport of whim. In his ritual he dramatizes what he thinks the meaning of life is, acts out its law as he knows it, endeavoring to bring himself into harmony with the order of the world, and thus to be at home in it. So the history of religion is the story, more fascinating than any tale told in fairyland, of man seeking for the meaning of his life, setting forth in drama, symbol, and sign the truth as he finds it. Always, by an insight deeper and clearer than he knows, he finds the meaning of his life in spiritual reality and value; in Truth, Love, and "that thread of all-sustaining Beauty that runs through all and doth all unite." In short, he is a mystic, and the essence of all mysticism is a sense, a vision, of the unity of things, of the oneness of all life, of the kinship of man with God, without which life and the world are alike unintelligible and utterly baffling. When, in an hour of madness or sin or blindness the mystic tie is cut, chaos comes again. Of this fact we have bad in our own time the most ghastly demonstration in Russia, whereof a great lawyer of Moscow has told us. Writing in the Hibbert journal, in 1920, Eugune Troubetzkoy analyzes Bolshevism in these words: It is first and foremost the practical denial of the spiritual. They flatly refuse to admit the existence of any spiritual bond . between man and man. For them economic and material interests constitute the only social nexus; they recognize no other. This is the source of their whole conception of human society. The love of country, for example, is a lying pretense; for the national bond is spiritual, and, therefore, wholly fictitious. From their point of view the only real bond between men is the material - that is to say, the economic. Material interests divide men into classes, and they are the only divisions to be taken account of. Hence they recognize no Nations save the Rich and the Poor. As there is no other bond which can unite these two Nations into one social whole, their relations must be regulated exclusively by the zoological principle revealed in the struggle for existence. The materialistic conception of society is their method of treating the family. Since there is no spiritual bond between the sexes. there can be no constant relation. The rule is therefore that men and women can change their partners as often as they wish. THERE IT is, stripped of fine phrases and clothed in the gray garb of fact, smeared with blood and mud and lust. There we see what life is, what society becomes, and the pit into which man falls when the mystic tie of religion is cut. Fraternity is as futile as all the vain things proclaimed by the Preacher of Despair. Theology sinks to the level of zoology; the home becomes a brothel; all the fair and holy things that lend dignity and sanctity to the life of man are lost in a dark jungle of slimy greed and blind brutality. Atheism, "the practical denial of the spiritual," ends in anarchy, running wild and running red. As Benjamin Kidd remarked in his survey of Western civilization: "The central feature of human history is not reason, but religion, which has kept progress going when reason would have ended it. Religion is the real cement of society." V RELIGION, then, is the bond that binds us, first, to God, whose is "the something universal" which unites all things into one whole, and gives to the universe meaning and beauty. Second, it is the tie by which we are united to our fellow men in the service of duty, the sanctity of love, and the spirit of fraternal righteousness. Third, it is the thread which gives unity, and, therefore, peace, in our own inner life, without which we "go to pieces," as the phrase has it, describing exactly the spiritual chaos which foretells a physical or mental or moral collapse. It is the life of God in the life of man whereby, as Dante said, we learn to make our lives eternal. So interpreted, our religion is one with our vision of right and wrong, our capacity for joy and wonder, our sense of the mystery surrounding our lives; our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; our latent feeling of fellowship with all creation, and the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts; the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity - the dead to the living and the living to the unborn generations awaiting their advent. There is an unseen cord that binds The whole wide world together; Through every human life it winds, This one mysterious tether. There are no separate lives, the chain Too subtle for our seeing, Unites us all upon the plane Of universal being. (To be continued)


Everyone is entirely free to reject and dissent from whatsoever herein may seem to him/her to be untrue or unsound. - Morals and Dogma Ron Blaisdell, PM Capital of Strict Observance No. 66