"I am much troubled. A very good friend of mine asked me for a petition to this lodge, but when I took him one to sign he refused to do so, on the ground that he couldn't answer the question as to his belief in God."
"Well, I don't see that that's anything to be troubled about," answered the Old Past Master. "What he believes is his business, isn't it?"
"But you want him in the Order," smiled the Old Past Master. "Well, it's not hopeless, my son. A lot of men say they don't believe in God, and mean something else entirely."
"How can a man say he doesn't believe in God and mean something else?" asked the Young Mason.
"What they usually mean is that they don't believe in the particular kind of God some one else believes in!" chuckled the Old Past Master. "I sometimes think such men are born just to give the angels something to smile about. Personally, I never found any necessity of defining God. But there are people who think they must measure Him with an idea, and fix a definite concept of Him in their mind before they dare say they believe in Him."
"But my friend," interrupted the Young Mason, "says he doesn't believe in any God, or Great First Cause, or Cosmic Urge, or Life Principle, or anything. He discusses it very well and seems unalterably fixed in his ideas. Yet he is a good man."
"Oh, yes, that's very possible," answered the Old Past Master. "Lot's of very good men are very egotistical and conceited and..."
"But he isn't egotistical- why, he is very modest."
"There I differ with you. Any man who attempts to argue God out of the universe is certainly an egotist."
"But he doesn't argue Him out of existence; he just denies He exists."
"My friend," said the Old Past Master, "my little grandson tries to argue with me that the end of the rainbow is over on Park Avenue, and won't understand why daddy don't let him go and find it. He often explains to me how near the moon is, and I dare say he'd laugh if I told him the earth was round. He'd be perfectly sure we'd fall off the underside. He is only five, you know. Well, your friend is mentally only five.
"Have you ever read any thoughts of the great men on atheism? They are rather hard to controvert, some of them. Coleridge said, 'How did the atheist get his idea of that God whom he denies?' A clever Frenchman said, 'The very impossibility in which I find myself to prove that God is not, discloses to me His existence.' Bacon said, 'They that deny God destroy a man's nobility; for certainly man is like the beasts in his body, and if he not like God in his spirit, he is an ignoble creature.'
"No, my friend I very much doubt that your friend's atheism is real. It is a pose. He doesn't know it; doubtless he thinks to himself as very courageous, standing up and denying Him out loud. The very fact that it takes courage shows that the 'brave man' believes his statement outrages Something, Somewhere, Which may call him to account. What your friend probably means is that he doesn't believe in a God who sits on a cloud surrounded by a lot of angels playing harps, or that he doesn't believe in a God with a book in front of Him, saying to souls as they arrive, 'You go over there with the angels, but you get out of here and go to hell.'
"Yet both of these are perfectly good ideas of Deity, which satisfy a lot of people. There are millions and millions of people alive today who believe that God is called Allah. There are others who worship their Deity under the name of Buddha. To some God is a God of wrath, a stern God, a just God, but a God who may be appeased by sacrifice, pleased by song, distressed by sin. Man sees God in his mind according to his lights. The God one man believes in does not fit in with another man's ideas. And when he hears too many other ideas and likes none of them, he often says 'I do not believe in God.' What he really means is 'I cannot think clearly enough to visualize any conception of God which will do with what I know. I can't stand for the visions others have; therefore, I can't believe in any God,' never realizing that the very fact that he reasons about God, thinks about God, denies God, is very good proof of what he, nor no other man can get away from- the existence of God. Voltaire says, 'If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent Him.' Man can no more get along without God in his mind and heart than he can without air."
"Well, you don't think I should persuade my friend, do you?"
"Oh, certainly not. Masonry wants only those who know their belief well enough to state their faith in a Supreme Architect. Those other unfortunates who haven't struggled up through their own conceit and ignorance enough to understand their own belief in Some One, Somewhere- call Him what Name you will- must wait for the blessings of Masonry, even as my little grandson must wait until he is older before he can chase and capture the end of the rainbow.
"I do not argue that you should persuade your friend. I only tell you not to be distressed."
"But I am distressed as to what will happen to him. Won't God punish him for his atheism?"
"It is not for me to say what He will do," was the reverent answer. "But I do not think I should want to punish my little grandson for not believing me when I told him the end of the rainbow was not on earth, or for believing that the moon is near and can be reached with a ladder. I know he is but a little child and will learn better as his eyes grow clearer and his brain develops. Perhaps He thinks of us as just little children, and understands even when some deny Him."
"Where did you learn all this? Is there a book?" asked the Young Mason.
"I learned it from Masonry, my friend; what I have said is Masonry. Yes, there is a book."
"Can I get it?" asked the Young Mason eagerly.
"You can find a copy on the Altar," was the smiling reply.