THE BUILDER MARCH 1918
INTERNATIONALISM AND FREEMASONRY
BY BRO. P. E. KELLETT, GRAND MASTER, MANITOBA
LET us now briefly consider the great point of cleavage between Anglo-Saxon Masonry and the Masonry of the Grand Orient of France. This cleavage is based largely on the suspicion, if not on the definite charge that French Masonry is atheistic in its practices or in its tendencies.
The Grand Orient of France was organized in Paris in 1736. Its constitution was of the model of Anderson's original Constitution 1723. The Grand Orient was recognized as legitimate Masonry by the Grand Lodge of England, and in fact by all legitimate Masons throughout the world. At that time in all Masonic Constitutions there was an absolute absence of dogma concerning in which all men agree; that is to be good men and true, men of God and religion, and Masons were bound only to that religion in which all men agree; that is to be good men and true, men of honor and honesty. The aim of the fraternity was purely humanitarian, its principles broad enough for men of every diverse opinion. The desire was simply to unite them, whatever their private religious beliefs, in uplift work for themselves and for humanity.
Changes came first in England. About the middle of the eighteenth century, the so-called Landmarks regarding a declaration of belief in the G. A. of the U. and the placing of the Bible on the Altar, were adopted. Following this, for the greater part of a century the French Constitution adhered strictly to the original plan of the fraternity and did not contain that formula which has since, in some places, come to be regarded as essential. During this time neither the Grand Lodge of England nor any other recognized Grand Lodge took any exception to this notable omission. French Masons were considered neither "Godless" nor "Atheistic." As time went on, the French Constitution was changed to conform to that of the Grand Lodge of England. One writer has said this was co-incident with a closer political approach of the two nations, England and France. The constitution of the Grand Orient of France followed the English copy until shortly after the Franco Prussian war, when they reverted back to what it had been originally. Co-incident with this change, history records political estrangement between France and England which continued until recent years. When France reverted back to her original constitution, the Grand Lodge of England immediately afterwards severed relations with France, and generally speaking, Masonry of English speaking countries followed suit, claiming that the change made by the Grand Orient of France was Atheistic in tendency.
Can French Masonry be said to be atheistical ? Atheism is the doctrine that there is no God. It is no longer considered reasonable for anyone to dogmatically assert that there is no God, and it is a question if such a being as an atheist exists today.
There is no unbelief.
Whoever plants a seed beneath the sod,
And waits to see it push away the clod,
He trusts in God.
Whoever says, when clouds are in the sky,
"Be patient, heart; light breaketh by-and-by,"
Trusts the Most High
Whoever sees, 'neath winter's fields of snow,
The silent harvest of the future grow,
God's power must know.
Whoever lies down on his couch to sleep,
Content to lock each sense in slumber deep,
Knows God will keep.
Whoever says, "Tomorrow," "The Unknown,"
"The Future," trusts the Power alone
He dares disown.
The heart that looks on when the eyelids close,
And dares to live when life has only woes,
God's comfort knows
There is no unbelief;
And day by day, and night unconsciously,
The heart lives by that faith the lips deny--
God knoweth why!
To be atheistic, French Masonry would need to have made the dogmatic assertion, "There is no God." This it has never done. It neither affirms nor denies anything relative to God. To suppose that French Masons deny the existence of God is to totally misunderstand them. They are as much averse to a dogmatic assertion of that kind as to one of the opposite kind. They are simply against a dogmatic assertion of any kind, as Masons, believing that Masonry is antidogmatic. Many, and possibly all, of their members would doubtless declare a belief in God at the proper time; but not as Masons in a Masonic Lodge.
The French Masons found their attitude on the first edition of the Constitution, which obliges Masons only to that religion in which all men agree; that is, to be good and true, or men of honour and honesty.
Let us briefly examine what ground there is for their stand, and see whether or not we are justified in condemning it. For this purpose I want to direct your attention to:
ANDERSON'S CONSTITUTION, 1723
Concerning God and Religion.
A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the Moral Law, and if he rightly understands the Art he will never be a stupid atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be of the religion of that country, or nation, whatever it was, yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their peculiar opinions to themselves; that is to be good men and true men of Honour and Honesty by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the centre of union and the means of conciliating true friendship among persons that must have remained at a perpetual distance.
A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the Moral Law, and if he rightly understands the Art he will never be a stupid atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. He, of all men, should best understand that God seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh to the heart! A Mason is therefore particularly bound never to act against the dictates of his conscience. Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believe in the Architect of Heaven and Earth, and practice the sacred duties of Morality. Masons unite with the virtuous of every persuasion, in the firm and pleasing bond of fraternal love; they are taught to view the errors of mankind with compassion, and to strive by the purity of their own conduct to demonstrate the superior excellence of the faith they may profess. Thus Masonry is the centre of union between good men and true, and the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.
Freemasonry, an essentially philanthropical and progressive institution, has for its object the pursuit of truth, the study of morality, and the practice of solidarity; its efforts are directed to the material and moral improvement and the intellectual and social advancement of humanity. It has for its principles, mutual tolerance, respect for others and for one's self, and absolute liberty of conscience. Considering metaphysical conceptions as belonging exclusively to the individual judgment of its members, it refuses to accept any dogmatic affirmation. Its motto is: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
As to whether the Grand Orient of France has departed farther from the spirit and the letter of Anderson's original Constitution than we have is not open to much controversy. The change they made in 1877 rather reverted back to it than went farther away from it. To show the real misunderstanding that has occurred with regard to their position let me quote from the minutes of their General Conventions when the change was made. We can then understand what the real meaning of their action was.
At the French Masonic Convention of 1876, on the proposal of a Lodge in the department of the Rhone, a Committee was appointed to consider the question of suppressing the second paragraph of the first article of the Constitution, concerning God and Religion. The Committee recommended that the proposition be postponed, and in recommending this the reporter of the Committee, Bro. Maricault, made the following statement:
"Your Commission has recognized that bad faith alone could interpret the suppression demanded as a denial of the existence of God and the immortality of-the soul; human solidarity and freedom of conscience, which would be henceforth the exclusive basis of Freemasonry, imply quite as strongly belief in God and in an immortal soul as they do materialism, positivism, or any other philosophic doctrine."
Postponement met with opposition. Bro. Andre Roussell, in advocating immediate action, among other statements made the following:
"I am anxious to recognize with my brother, the reporter of the Commission, that Freemasonry is neither deistic, atheistic, or even positivist. In so far as it is an institution affirming and practicing human solidarity, it is a stranger to every religious dogma and to every religious Order. Its only principle is an absolute respect for freedom of conscience. In matters of faith it confirms nothing and it denies nothing. It respects in an equal degree all sincere convictions and beliefs. Thus the doors of our temples open to admit Catholics as well as Protestants, to admit the atheist as well as the deist, provided they are conscientious and honourable. After the debate in which we are at present taking part, no intelligent and honourable man will be able to seriously state that the Grand Orient of France has acted from a desire to banish from its Lodges belief in God and in the immortality of the soul, but, on the contrary, that in the name of absolute freedom of conscience it proclaims solemnly its respect for the convictions, teachings, and beliefs of our ancestors. We refrain, moreover, as much from denying as from affirming any dogma, in order that we may remain faithful to our principles and practice of human solidarity."
Bro. Minot, in speaking on the same subject, said: "The Constitution of 1865 had realized a transitory progress. The work must be completed and purified by suppressing dogma and by rendering Masonry once again universal, by the proclamation of the principle of absolute freedom of conscience. Let no one be mistaken in this. It is not our aim to serve the interest of any philosophic conception in particular by our action in laying aside all distinction between doctrines. We have in view only one thing: Freedom for each and respect for all."
The recommendation of the Committee prevailed, and action was postponed. In 1877, after a year's study by the Lodges, the change was adopted by an almost unanimous vote. The reporter of the Committee at the time said: "Who is not aware, at this moment, that in advocating this suppression no one among us understands himself as making a profession of atheism and materialism. In regard to this matter every misunderstanding must disappear from our minds, and, if in any Lodge there should remain any doubt in reference to this point, let them know that the Commission declares without reservation that by acceding to the wish of Lodge No. 9 it sets before it no other object than the proclamation of absolute liberty of conscience."
When the proposition of the Committee had been adopted by the General Assembly, the President proposed, as an amendment, the insertion of these words: "Masonry excludes no one on account of his beliefs." Many regarded this as superfluous, but the President was insistent, in order that it might be clearly established in the eyes of all that Masonry is a neutral territory, in which all beliefs are admitted and treated with equal respect. The suggestion was adopted.
It may be interesting to note that the original proposer that the Grand Orient of France should suppress the formula of the G. A. of the U. was a clergyman of the Protestant Church, and he stated, in justification, as follows:
"In suppressing the formula respecting the G. A. of the U. we did not mean to replace it by a materialistic formula. None among us in proposing this suppression, thought of professing atheism or materialism, and we declare formally and emphatically that we had no other end in view than to proclaim absolute liberty of conscience."
I have given the words and opinions of those responsible for the change in the Constitution so that there may be no room for misunderstandings. The Grand Orient of France, in making the change, has done no more than was done by the Government of Great Britain when she admitted members to seats in the House of Commons by allowing them to make an affirmation only when their convictions would not allow them to take a religious oath. The same custom prevails in our Courts of Justice.
Their position will bear a little further examination to make clear its consistency. The story, as depicted by our Ritual, tells of a great loss and a life-long search for this something, which was lost. Masonry ends at the point when something else is substituted to temporarily make good that loss, and at the point where Masonry ends we are expected to begin the search.
Various explanations have been given as to what this is that was lost, and which all Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Gentile, Christian and Pagan, are seeking for. The simplest and clearest explanation of this that was lost is that it was "the way back to God."
"The way back to God." That is the door then to which Masonry leads. Cannot any of us go as far as that door with any, be he Agnostic, Deist, Buddhist, or any other, so long as he conforms to Anderson's original specifications, and is a good man and true, a man of honour and honesty? At the door, of course, we would separate, each to follow on his own way. But happily we can come back to the Lodge again and again for mutual encouragement, and for strength for a fresh start on our several paths, all of which are alike dark and obscure.
It is not the function of Masonry to solve the riddle of life but to propound it and stimulate and encourage each of her initiates to search for his own solution. It takes each man so far, and there leaves him to find the answer for himself. By the very fact that Masonry itself gives no answer, it demonstrates clearly that the answer is not the same to every man. All this would seem to lead to freedom from dogma of all kind and justify France and Belgium in the stand they take.
I do not wish to be understood to say that it is wrong for a Mason in Lodge to declare belief in God. But I would like to be able to accept as brethren any good men and true, men of honour and honesty, who are earnest searchers after the same truth as we are, even though they do not insist in Lodge on a declaration of belief in God. French Masons appear to be worthy men, doing a wonderful work for the cause of progress and enlightenment.
Another so-called grievance against the Grand Orient of France is that they have taken the Bible off the altar. Many of us have imagined that because the Bible is one of the Great Lights according to our Ritual and usage that its place has been in Masonic Lodges from time immemorial. To most the presence of the Bible on the altar is in some way a landmark. Surprising it may be, but the Bible was not even mentioned in Masonic Rituals until 1724, and it was in 1760 that Preston moved that it be made one of the Great Lights of Masonry. One might properly question whether Anglo-Saxon Masonry did not violate a landmark when she introduced religious dogmatism into Masonry in the middle of the Eighteenth Century.
As Masons, we have before us the great object of the fraternal brotherhood of man. This will carry with it peace and prosperity. Is not the attainment of this worth the abolition of narrow intolerance ? Let us maintain, if we wish, our own principles concerning God and religion, but forever banish all dogmatism as to what others shall do in this connection, so long as they are earnestly working to attain the great principles of Masonry. Does not the situation demand the serious thought of every Master Mason?
Should not Tolerance and Fraternity prevail ? France is holding out the brotherly hand to us, saying: "Let by-gones be by-gones, and let us look solely to the future." Should we as Masons hold at more than arm's length an institution which consistently devotes itself to those lofty aims and pursuits which we preach better than we practice?
Even as the Arts, Sciences, and other phases of human activity have benefited by international discussion and concord, so also can Masonry benefit. If Masonry is to sustain in the future its splendid record, and attain the object she seeks, is not world-wide international co-operation necessary? How else can we attain a Universal Brotherhood?
With the present world crisis the time has come when Freemasonry should stand forth, free from all entrammelling influences, in its grand simplicity. Our Lodges should be centres of thought, influence and effort, holding no task alien that will advance the cause of righteousness on earth. To this end we could learn much by confraternity with such an organization as the Grand Orient of France. Is "Brotherly Love" to be nothing more than a label which we carry but which does not properly belong to the goods at all ?