True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On tolerance and Intolerance

One of the principle teachings of Freemasonry is tolerance. We don’t speak of it in lodge much, but it is inherent in the way a lodge operates, it is custom. The most “visible” evidence of tolerance in lodge is the unwritten custom of not allowing proselytizing or the discussion of politics.

The teachings on prudence, justice and temperance, though, it could be argued, are directly related to tolerance, as is brotherly love. But the most definitive discussion on tolerance can be found in Morals and Dogma by Wr. Br. Albert Pike, Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction.

…it (toleration) inculcates in the strongest manner that great leading idea of the Ancient Art, that a belief in the one True God, and a moral and virtuous life, constitute the only religious requisites needed to enable a man to be a Mason.

Masonry has ever the most vivid remembrance of the terrible and artificial torments that were used to put down new forms of religion or extinguish the old. It sees with the eye of memory the ruthless extermination of all the people of all sexes and ages, because it was their misfortune not to know the God of the Hebrews, or to worship Him under the wrong name, by the savage troops of Moses and Joshua. It sees the thumb-screws and the racks, the whip, the gallows, and the stake, the victims of Diocletian and Alva, the miserable Covenanters, the Non-Conformists, Servetus burned, and the unoffending Quaker hung. It sees Cranmer hold his arm, now no longer erring, in the flame until the hand drops off in the consuming heat. It sees the persecutions of Peter and Paul, the martyrdom of Stephen, the trials of Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin, and Irenæus; and then in turn the sufferings of the wretched Pagans under the Christian Emperors, as of the Papists in Ireland and under Elizabeth and the bloated Henry. The Roman Virgin naked before the hungry lions; young Margaret Graham tied to a stake at low-water mark, and there left to drown, singing hymns to God until the savage waters broke over her head; and all that in all ages have suffered by hunger and nakedness, peril and prison, the rack, the stake, and the sword, - it sees them all, and shudders at the long roll of human atrocities. And it sees also the oppression still practiced in the name of religion - men shot in a Christian jail in Christian Italy for reading the Christian Bible; in almost every Christian State, laws forbidding freedom of speech on matters relating to Christianity; and the gallows reaching its arm over the pulpit.

No man truly obeys the Masonic law who merely tolerates those whose religious opinions are opposed to his own. Every man's opinions are his own private property, and the rights of all men to maintain each his own are perfectly equal. Merely to tolerate, to bear with an opposing opinion, is to assume it to be heretical; and assert the right to persecute, if we would; and claim our toleration of it as a merit. The Mason's creed goes further than that. No man, it holds, has any right in any way to, interfere with the religious belief of another.

It appears that, in Wr. Pike’s opinion, we are called upon as Masons to demonstrate more than simple toleration. But, what does that mean?

Merriam-Webster defines To Tolerate as:
… to endure, to put up with; akin to Old English tholian to bear, Latin tollere to lift up, latus carried (suppletive past participle of ferre), Greek tlEnai to bear
1 : to exhibit physiological tolerance for (as a drug)
2 a : to suffer to be or to be done without prohibition, hindrance, or contradiction b : to put up with

To endure… to put up with… to suffer it to be done without prohibition… so, in essence, to simply tolerate something is to endure it in silence. That is brotherly?

But what is the next level? If we go beyond simple toleration, where are we? Acceptance? Well, that certainly seems correct, so let’s examine acceptance for a moment.

Merriam-Webster defines to Accept as:
1 a : to receive willingly b : to be able or designed to take or hold (something applied or added)
2 : to give admittance or approval to
3 a : to endure without protest or reaction b : to regard as proper, normal, or inevitable c : to recognize as true : BELIEVE
4 a : to make a favorable response to b : to agree to undertake (a responsibility)
5 : to assume an obligation to pay; also : to take in payment
6 : to receive (a legislative report) officially intransitive senses : to receive favorably something offered.
To give admittance or approval to… to endure without protest or reaction… neither separately is the correct Masonic position, but together, these two might suffice. Two brothers may vehemently disagree on a subject, but if each brother accepts the other’s right to that opinion and the brother’s right to believe differently, then we are closer to the Masonic ideal.

This is not to say that we must each accept the others POSITION, for we do have right to our own thoughts, and it could be argued that it is quintessentially Masonic for brothers to work out for themselves that which is right, fit, mete and proper. It is, however, entirely unmasonic to try to suppress a brother for having a differing opinion. It is wrong to go out and try to change a brother’s opinion, or to convert him.

Discussion of issues and the exchange of positions, while it may seem contradictory, is not intolerant of non accepting, for it is by the exchange of ideas and thoughts that we all grow. However, pushing your onto a brother is intolerant… for instance, the prohibition against proselytizing in lodge is quintessentially a Masonic virtue, for if a brother is interested in your position on religion, he will ask… outside of lodge.

But the whole issue of religion and tolerance is a thorny one. I recently made the point to a brother that preaching to someone, going door to door, bracing them in the workplace or in the street, or sending “missionaries” to another country is, on its face, intolerant. Masonically, it is intolerant, for it is a failure to accept the other person’s beliefs (or lack thereof), and a pushing of one person’s opinion onto another.

If group A sends people door to door to “share” their version of faith, those folks going door to door are intruding (literally trespassing) to push their views, and are, by definition, being intolerant of the views held by the people they are intruding upon. If a group sends people to another country to “feed and clothe the poor”, and of course, share their faith with them, those people are being intolerant of the beliefs and customs of the people they are feeding and clothing.

If they were truly interested in just feeding and clothing, they wouldn’t take as many holy books with them as potatoes…

The difference between mere toleration and acceptance of another’s right to his views is a simple matter of intent. If you go to a man and ask him his opinion on a subject, be it religion or politics or the shape of the clouds in the sky with the intent of sharing with him your own view then you are not being tolerant of his views.

This is an extreme interpretation to make a point, but it is no less true for that. Some feel it is the nature of their religion, the call of their faith, to share with everyone the nature of that faith. Wonderful, however, doing that is a manifest demonstration of intolerance… done with the best of intentions.

Another example of this is the War Between the North and the South here in the United States in the 1860’s. Examples abound of Masons on each side of the war, stopping to hold joint funeral services for fallen brothers, to hold out a Masonic lodge from being burned or looted, to give shelter or forbearance to a brother… during a shooting war. THAT was true Masonry.

Today, we see a definite lack of tolerance in the lodge. There are issues that have come up, changes in process and procedures of varying natures. As usual, there is one group championing the change, and as usual, there is a group the opposes the change, and there is always they third group that really don’t care and just want to get to the coffee and donuts.

Under true Masonic tolerance, we would accept each other’s right to have the opinion(s) and move on. Unfortunately, we see one side or the other trying to shut up the dissenters. There are claims of divisiveness, “Masonic Civil War”, splitting the craft etc etc as rhetoric to stop one side from holding their own opinions.

Masonic teaching would have us accept the other opinion, and the each other’s right to have those opinions, and seek common ground, but that is not happening. Instead, we see retrenchment, and, frankly, resentment. The issue doesn’t matter, there are several of them facing us today. The Masonic way would be to work together instead of trying to win at all costs. As one man wrote, it is better to have half a pie than no pie at all… that is acceptance.

Masonically, it is not about winning, or shouldn’t be… oh, we have elections, and we have moderated debate in lodge over issues, decorous and brotherly… mostly. Then we vote, and the vote should end the discussion… but it often turns into more than that after the election is done.

So, what is Masonic tolerance? In reality, it should be, in this mason’s opinion about brothers seeking how best to work and best agree. It should be about accepting our brothers for who they are and what their faith is, and how we can best learn to be better men before g-d and our fellow men.

No man truly obeys the Masonic law who merely tolerates those whose opinions are opposed to his own.

As always, I look forward to seeing your comments.

G-d bless


Anonymous said...

Offered Definition:

Toleration - To experience discomfort in any manner or form and not respond negatively toward it.

Best of Intention Comment - these people do not have the best of intentions. They have an intent that they think is best. These are not founded in the same spirit. Should that same intent be exercised by others in their direction, they would be highly intolerant.

Masonry is too about winning! It's not about one person winning over another; it's about everyone winning at the same time. This is what it teaches; this is what it creates; this is what it holds fast to; this is what toleration affords us.

(NOS Admin)

Anonymous said...

I quit attending a lodge after being ganged up on and proseletized by a few of its members. There is no room for such in Masonry and their intolerance forced me to leave.

Eisbär said...

So does that mean that we let anyone join, regardless of their beliefs or actions, in the name of tolerance?

Some say yes.

Also, do all things truly deserve tolerance, let alone acceptance?

Some say yes.

I say no to both personally, but then maybe I am intolerant?

Theron Dunn said...

Br. Eisbär;

No, to be tolerant means to accept that we have differences, and that each is entitled to their differences. It does not change that we make value judgments. It does not mean that we allow anyone to join. That is not being tolerant, that is being foolish.

You ask a good question, do all things deserve tolerance? That is a hard one to answer, but on a certain level, the answer is yes... and no.

Do we tolerate hatemongers? Well, as long as they aren't physically injuring anyone, I would have to argue yes. If the hatemongers were injuring someone, beyond their feelings, then no, we do not have to tolerate that.

We can be tolerant, we as masons are called to be tolerant of others, their opinions, their religious beliefs etc., until and unless they start injuring someone. In a sense, tolerance is like free speech.

You don't truly favor free speech unless you would defend to the death the right of someone else to advocate that which you would give your last dying breath to oppose. Anyone can tolerate that which they agree with. It takes a special man to tolerate that which you oppose.

And of course, tolerate does not mean accept. In the instant case here, I am talking about, and Wr. Pike is talking about opinions, not actions.

There are intolerable actions, of which we should always stand in opposition... but opinions? Opinions are like the breeze, they do no harm.

In my opinion.

giovanni lombardo said...

Tolerance is about ideas, not behaviours.

Eisbär said...

I completely understand where you are coming from and by in large agree.

Perhaps it was my years in the clergy, or perhaps it is my years with Homeland security, or perhaps, I really am intolerant, but there are some things, even opinions and ideas, that I do not tolerate, and believe to be dangerous.

One such idea is those individuals that are into having sex with small children. Even Yahoo chat baned (or has attempted to curb) the chat and discussion groups focused on such things. Also, federal agents are informed of such groups for the purpose of rounding those individuals up.

Free speech? Maybe, but such speech is a symptom of a behavior that is predator towards the helpless. And discussion groups fuel the individuals to act out.

I would like to see the lodge be more intolerant of that kind of thing.

For a while, the world changed drastically because the masons stood up and said, these ideas and what comes from them are crap. And we fought a revolution over it.

In the west, it was the masons who often brought order to western camps and frontier towns.

I am getting long winded, but my point is that tolerance works well for a respectful civilized society, but to those who do not value such things, your just easy pickings.

I would say that not all things should be tolerated.

MasonatLarge said...

So, how should a lodge react when a petitioner with exceptional credentials and references is denied (black-balled) simply due to the petitioner's sexual orientation (gay))?

Sure, when someone is in the closet, it can be easier for someone to gain access into the lodge, but what about openly gay individuals?

Sure, when it came down to an issue of religion, there is a lot of literature on being tolerant of one's religious beliefs... but not when it comes to sexual orientation.

How do and/or should a lodge (and freemasonry in general) deal with intolerance of homosexuality?

As here is my rub... if a lodge is intolerant of a minority group (as homosexuality is also defined as one)... when it becomes known that a lodge is intolerant, then it means that the same lodge is then no longer eligible for grants, as most grant-giving organization do not tolerate intolerant organizations.

So, how does one deal with intolerance of homosexuality?

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