The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.
WHAT IS OUR MASONIC PURPOSE
2. As We Go Forth to the World
Bro. Justice J. H. Laycraft
Again on this weekend of study and discussion we ask ourselves: What is our Masonic purpose? We have reviewed that purpose as it relates to our activity within the lodge. The chief point of Freemasonry, says our General Charge, is to endeavour to be happy ourselves and to communicate that happiness to others. I have called your attention to the qualities of Man which will enable him to be happy — the personal perfection without which no happiness is possible the personal perfection which is the goal of our pilgrimage as Masons. Let us now consider what is the role of Freemasonry in the world beyond the lodge, if indeed it has any role. Perhaps as some critics say Masonry has no part to play in the world or in any event, has failed to play it.
Let me tell you of an experience which almost caused me to miss being a Mason. The pre-occupations of World War II and years of education had delayed me but I had always vaguely intended to seek out the Craft. My father and grandfather had been Masons and many other fine men I admired as a child had been Masons. But soon after I arrived in the city in which I now live to begin practising my profession, I became acquainted with a young intelligent man of a profession different than my own whom I admired very much. He was extremely active in community affairs as a member of one of the service clubs. He devoted much time and energy to serving others. He was a really useful and public spirited person. One day Masonry was mentioned. He said: “I was a Mason but I left it”. I expressed surprise and asked why. “The trouble I had with Masonry”, he said “is that it looks to itself. It does nothing but serve its own.”
Soon afterwards, he left for another part of Canada and I have not known him since. Then I became acquainted with an active Mason and sought his assistance to join the Craft. I have often thought however, of my friend who joined the Craft but left it because he said: “Masonry looks to itself. It does nothing but serve its own”. Is his criticism true or did he misunderstand? How did Alberta Masonry fail him?
There are many people outside our Craft, and even a few within it who would agree that Masonry focuses on itself. They say that the solution to the myriad problems of mankind will come only from political action and social agitation. Causes they say demand action and when they call upon the Masonic order for action they are told that we do not take part in the world’s events AS MASONS. For such people, we must realize, if they learn nothing more of the Craft, Masonry is a useless thing viewed with contempt and then ignored.
I recall seeing a television interview with a great Canadian, a somewhat formidable lady, who has devoted her life in an effort to enlist the support of Canadians for relief programs in the starving Third World. She made it plain that she simply couldn’t understand how any person could fail to share her complete devotion to that overwhelming need. For her, and for many such people, there is a fine simplicity to things. She tells you of the need so no longer may you plead ignorance. Then if you do not at once come forward to equal her wholehearted enthusiasm you stand self-condemned of the most callous inhumanity. And of course there are many, many such worthy causes which clamour for our attention. There are literally thousands of registered charities in Canada. Each of them undoubtedly has some person just as dedicated as the lady whom I have mentioned, with the same single minded attention to that one cause.
The United States Senator, Daniel Moynihan, a former ambassador to the United Nations once used a striking phrase to describe this competition for our attention. He said:
“We live in a world of competing sorrows.”
Around us are so many desperate needs, so many plaintiff calls for our attention, so many worthy causes to invoke our compassion and our sense of charity, so many evils to erase, so many wrongs to be righted that our senses become overwhelmed. Soon we develop a kind of mental scar tissue which covers our sensibilities and enables us to pass by the beseeching hands which stretch beneath us. How then can Masons say: we do nothing as Masons in this world of sorrows?
One answer to this query which we frequently hear, and which would be voiced by my friend who left Masonry because of its inaction is that the Craft should abandon its policy of refraining from political action — that we should go forth into the world to do things AS MASONS. Moreover these persons will say that we should see that we are recognized as Masons as we do good works.
There is in my Lodge a dedicated brother who disagrees with the Masonic thesis, that within our lodges we should avoid controversy and political dialogue. He says this is a time for builders. He says this is a time for us to do and to serve and that we should do and serve AS MASONS. He says that serene and tranquil men are not thinking men. He says we should be ashamed of our inactivity. He would have us serve as Masons in the world of sorrows.
My brother will also join in the second part of this clamour, that we should not be invisible any longer. Not only, say these voices, should we start to be active in world events as Masons but we should let the world know we are doing it. My brother does not advocate this course, out of any wish for personal publicity. He simply thinks that such a policy would enable us to be more effective in attracting good people and then using them to serve mankind.
I hope I have expressed my brother’s views fairly but I hope I have not sold them to you, because I profoundly disagree with this frequently expressed thesis for Masonic action. Over the changing centuries, a great strength of Freemasonry has been the fact that it is not simply one more of the clamorous groups calling attention to themselves.
Of course Masons do not ignore the problems of the world. Good men who have been made better, men who seek perfection, simply could not do that. But that which we do, we do as individuals and not as a united identifiable group of Masons. It is the function of the Craft to send from the lodges, men who possess a system of morality, men whose constant search is for personal perfection, men who are strengthened in the religion which was theirs when they entered the Craft. When good men return to the community as better men surely they will take part in its affairs. Surely you will find men who are Masons in the positions of leadership taking their places in the world of competing sorrows. They will do that BECAUSE they are Masons but they will not do it AS MASONS. They will serve because the Craft has emphasized to them the sense of duty and compassion and charity and brotherhood which is the essence of Freemasonry.
I believe we gain profound strengths from this policy. Perhaps the greatest of these strengths is the great diversity of our membership. We send forth from our lodges men whom we hope have one common quality — their belief in the system of morality taught by the Craft. But that is all they will necessarily have in common. In political and religious belief, in philosophical or social outlook they may differ greatly. One may believe in what the world calls left wing social agitation. Another may be at the opposite pole of political belief. If the Craft has improved the men who form the parts of this wide rainbow of diversity, then the Craft will have served mankind as it has done in all ages.
There is an interesting little game you can play if you find an idle moment in lodge, particularly if you are visiting an urban lodge other than your own. Cast your eye along the rows of brethren attending. See if you can guess the occupation of each — printer, merchant, teacher, policeman, salesman, lawyer, engineer, farmer, banker, accountant. A good lodge will have an astonishing diversity of occupations of political beliefs and of religious persuasion.
When men go forth from a lodge in Canada, they go to many different occupations, to many different churches or synagogues and with many different beliefs of what is proper political or social action. Often in the world outside the lodge they will strive against each other as business competitors or as political opponents. It is a common occurrence to see the situation in which political rivals are both Masons. I recall years ago making an argument on behalf of a client before a city council of seven men and two women in which I knew that five of the seven men were Masons. Let me say that they knew of my affiliation too, but that didn’t prevent me from having a rather bad day.
What we hope the Craft has done is to send forth from its lodges, good men, true men with lofty ideals and heroic integrity. But in doing so, Masonry does not seek a stereotyped political or social view. Whatever be the cause for which the Mason strives, he will if he has truly grasped the teachings of Freemasonry, strive for that which he believes to be right; he will strive honourably and mightily. From that diversity of men and beliefs will come the greatest good for society. That is the contribution which Freemasonry has to make. Joseph Newton wrote over sixty years ago in his book “The Builder”:
“Time has shown that the House of Wisdom must be founded upon righteousness, justice, purity, character, faith in God and love of Man else it falls when the floods descend and the winds beat upon it.”
If as my brother proposes, Masonry was to take up the cause of some particular social philosophy or some one specific political belief, it would soon lose the diversity which is its strength. The adoption of one political belief over another would polarize the Craft in controversy and drive from our ranks all other good men than those who could accept that one belief. Again I turn to Joseph Newton who said:
Therefore when Masonry, instead of identifying itself with particular schemes of reform, and thus becoming involved in endless turmoil and dispute, estranging men whom she seeks to bless, devotes all her benign energy and influence to ennobling the souls of men, she is doing fundamental work on behalf of all high enterprise. By as much as she succeeds, every noble cause succeeds; by as much as she fails everything fails. By its ministry to the individual man — drawing him into the circle of a great friendship, exalting his faith, refining his ideals, enlarging his sympathies... Masonry best serves Society and the State.
Masonry is judged by the community by the quality of men it sends forth into the community. Most of us were impelled to join the Craft by knowing and admiring men whom we knew to be Masons. Thus each of us must be ever conscious that on each day of his life, in each of his actions, noble and ignoble, each Mason represents Freemasonry. The Craft will be judged by its greatest members and by the finest of their works. But this remember: Masonry will also be judged by the meanest of its members and by the meanest of their deeds.
Let me turn to my brother’s second theme that Masonry would be more effective if it let the world know what it was doing. I must at once confess that I have never been very impressed by the public relations committee. Seldom does it do other than convince the already convinced members of the very group it seeks to publicize. We have trained our eyes to pass over news stories of other groups.
Yesterday I expressed to you the view that Masons are far too secretive when they are asked about Masonry. I said that the teachings of Masonry are not secret — only the symbolism and the dramatized presentation of the teachings are secret. That secrecy follows from the desire to preserve the freshness of symbol and the drama of presentation so that for each new member, the old lessons will have a fresh impact.
Though I do not advocate the formation of active public relations committees I do perceive a difference between actively publicizing ourselves as opposed to being prepared to articulate our beliefs in response to genuine interest and reasonable inquiry.
If you were to ask most Albertans, what is their understanding of Masonry, you would find that they have only the vaguest idea of who we are or what we are. Many would profess hostility. Some would say we are a secret society and, like small boys at play, derive some satisfaction from possessing secrets to keeps from others. Many would confuse our order as a whole with some of our more visible members who have formed what we delicately call a “concordant body” and who do go before the public in identifiable regalia.
Few Albertans could answer if you asked them what we stand for and what our principles are. Moreover all too often when they seek that information from a Mason, they find he is not prepared to articulate his beliefs; he may even fear that the beliefs themselves come within the pledge of secrecy. The Mason will therefore feel that he must leave his questioner with no answer and strengthened in his belief that here must be something peculiar. When he receives no answer at all, the questioner must be thinking something he is too polite to say aloud:
If your Masonry is something you are proud of, why do you keep it a secret? If, on the other hand, there is something to hide, what are YOU doing there?
Every Alberta Mason should know that there are many things that can be said to non-Masons to tell them something of the Craft. Indeed the Grand Lodge of Alberta has a booklet designed to be given to prospective candidates who, of course, are not Masons when they receive it. Anything in that booklet can be disclosed. The non-Mason can be told something of masonic history; he can be told and you will find him interested to learn why we are call “Free and Accepted Masons” and not operative Masons. He can be told much about the basic teachings and beliefs of Masonry which after all can be found in any public library. The non-Mason can be told that we believe:
— That all men of all colours and of all creeds are brothers.
— That we owe to all who are less fortunate than we a duty of charitable relief — not merely monetary, or physical relief, but such encouragement, moral advice and assistance as we are capable of giving them.
— That we believe in the Fatherhood of God
— That no atheist can be a Mason, though there is no requirement that he profess any particular religion. They can be told that around the world, men of many religions are Masons, and that the holy book of each religion is revered.
Non-Masons can be told, and if they have made inquiry as a prospective candidate, they should be told, some of the things Masonry is not:
— That Masonry is not a church or religion; each Mason has his own religion.
— That Masonry is not a political society though of course many Masons are prominent in public life.
— That Masonry is not a service club, worthy as they are, though many Masons also belong to service clubs; nor is it an insurance or benefit society.
I repeat that I do not advocate that a dynamic, aggressive public relations society be appointed to tell these facts to everyone in the world interested or not. Rather I suggest that the genuine inquiries of interested people, wives and friends of Masons, or interested men thinking themselves of Masonry, should be met with information.
There is one area where perhaps our information should go beyond the simplistic sort of response I have just indicated. That is the response which should be made to those members of the Christian clergy, who feel bound in conscience, to be in active opposition to the Craft. The opposition to Freemasonry of the Roman Catholic Church is known to Masons and non-Masons alike. There are, however unfortunately many other Christian clergymen who feel bound on theological and other grounds to condemn us. They feel for example, that Masonry often presumes to usurp the function of the Church. As late as 1951, after a series of hostile articles in a church magazine, a motion to establish a commission to study the Craft, preliminary to condemning it, was introduced into an assembly of the Church of England. A similar attack was made at an earlier methodist conference in England.
This is not the time or place for a discussion of the theological questions involved, and of course if it was, I would not be competent to lead the discussion. If your interest is aroused by this subject, or if a questioner raises these theological questions with you, I cannot do better than to refer you to a paper given at the All Canada Conference by Alberta’s own M.W. Bro. Dr. Collett. You will find it reprinted in the proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Alberta for 1965. What then is the obligation of Masons as they go forth into the world from their lodges strengthened by the teachings of Freemasonry? A great American Judge, Oliver Wendell Holmes, when nearing the end of a long life of service, summed up the obligation of every man in these words:
It is required of us that we take part in the affairs of our time lest, at the end, we be judged not to have lived.
For the Mason, objectives of manhood within the lodge become objectives of service outside its walls. Objectives of service become in Masonic terms Brotherhood, Charity, Relief — all of the virtues which lie at the end of our Masonic pilgrimage. One Mason may in the diversity of men who are Freemasons, perceive the need for different actions than another; his goals may be different; in the world of competing sorrows, he has different priorities than does his brother. But for each it is required of him that he take part in the affairs of his time lest, at the end, he be judged not to have lived. His sense of the brotherhood of man makes service a duty.
For the Mason, the term “Brotherhood” is founded upon and includes every great quality of man. Brotherhood is compassion; Brotherhood is the need to serve; Brotherhood is each of the great social virtues: fraternity and equality. Brotherhood is the foe of the demon bigotry which urges Man to deny his brother because of creed or colour or language. Brotherhood extends the hand of true charity. Brotherhood believes that Justice will yet reign. Brotherhood casts out, as unworthy of Man all fear and hatred and unkindness. Brotherhood calls upon each Mason to join all men of goodwill everywhere to say with them: We believe in Man.
Of course Masonry is not the only force which teaches the brotherhood Man. Many, many other men share our ideals and would join our pilgrimage. In the service of Brotherhood, the path on which mankind toils forward has been illuminated by the light from many lamps. Religions and cultures, as different from ours as we can imagine, each have the same goal. A true sense of Brotherhood sees the truth in each of these diverse religions and cultures. Men of narrow minds, of little vision and lacking in the true perceptions of Brotherhood see only the differences.
If we would ask: What is our Masonic Purpose as we go forth from our lodges, let me offer my answer. We are commanded to enter a life of service, for liberty, for Justice, for righteousness. We are required to take part in the affairs of our time. We must join in the Brotherhood of Man. From our of the struggles of mankind; out of the darkest chapters of his history rising from the lamentable catalogue of his meanest deeds, there will yet come the world envisaged by Robert Burns in a poem with many masonic overtones:
Then let us pray, that come it may,
As come it will, for a’ that —
That Man to Man the world o’er
Shall brothers be for a’ that.