|Against Fanaticism and Intolerance
Multi-faith Moral Precepts
See also:Ninth Degree Lecture
The Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science — Lecture 3
Degree X — Questions
Toleration, holding that every other man has the same right to his opinion and faith that we have to ours; and Liberality, holding that as no human being can say with certainty, in the clash and conflict of hostile faiths and creeds, what is Truth, or that he is surely in possession thereof: so every one should feel that it is quite possible that another, equally honest and sincere with himself and yet holding the contrary opinion, may himself be in possession of the Truth; and that whatever one firmly and conscientiously believes is truth to him are the mortal enemies of that Fanaticism which persecutes for opinion's sake, and initiates crusades against whatever it, in its imaginary holiness, deems to be contrary to the law of God.
Education, Instruction and Enlightenment are the most certain means by which Fanaticism and Intolerance can be rendered powerless.
No true Mason scoffs at honest convictions and an ardent zeal in the cause of Truth and Justice. But he absolutely denies the right of any man to assume the prerogative of Deity and condemn his Brother's faith and opinions as heretical and deserving to be punished. Nor does he approve the course of those who endanger the peace of great nations and the best interests of their own race by indulging in a chimerical and visionary philanthropy — a luxury which they can only enjoy by drawing their robes around them to avoid contact with their fellows and proclaiming themselves holier than they.
For he knows that intolerance and bigotry have been infinitely greater curses to mankind than ignorance and error. Better any error than persecution! Better any belief or opinion than the thumbscrew, the rack, and the stake! And he knows how unspeakably absurd it is for a creature to whom he himself and every thing around and within him are mysteries, to torture and kill others because they do not think as he does in regard to the profoundest of these mysteries, which it is utterly beyond the comprehension of either to understand.
In the North of Europe, the Druids taught devotion to friends, indulgence for reciprocal wrongs, love of deserved praise, prudence, humanity, hospitality, respect for old age, disregard of the future, temperance, contempt of death, and a chivalrous deference to woman.
Listen to these maxims from the Hava Maal, or the Sublime Book of Odin:
"If thou hast a friend, visit him often; the path will grow over with grass, and the trees soon cover it, if thou dost not constantly walk upon it. He is a faithful friend who, having but two loaves, gives his friend one. Be never first to break with thy friend: sorrow rings the heart of him who has no one save himself with whom to take counsel. There is no virtuous man who has not some vice, no bad man who has not some virtue. Happy he who obtains the praise and good-will of men; for all that depends on the will of another is hazardous and uncertain. Riches flit away in the twinkling of an eye; they are the most inconstant of friends: flocks and herds perish, parents die, friends are not immortal, thou thyself diest. I know but one thing that doth not die: the judgment that is passed upon the dead. Be humane towards those whom thou meetest on the road. If the guest that cometh to thine house is a-cold, give him fire; the man who has journeyed over the mountains needs food and dry garments. Mock not the aged, for words full of sense come often from the wrinkles of age. Be moderately wise, and not over-prudent. Let no one seek to know his destiny if he would sleep tranquilly. There is no malady more cruel than to be discontented with our lot. Rise early, if thou wouldst become rich or overcome an enemy: the wolf that sleeps takes no prey; the man that sleeps gains no victory. The glutton eats his own death; and the wise man laughs at the fool's greediness. Nothing is more injurious to the young than excessive drinking: the more one drinks, the more he loses his reason; the bird of forgetfulness sings before those who intoxicate themselves, and wiles away their souls. Man devoid of sense believes he will live always if he avoids war; but, if the lances spare him, old age will give him no quarter. Better live well than live long. When a man lights a fire in his house, death comes before it goes out."
And thus said the Indian books:
"Honour thy father and mother. Never forget the benefits thou hast received. Learn while thou art young. Be submissive to the laws of thy country. Seek the company of virtuous men. Speak not of God but with respect. Live on good terms with thy fellow-citizen. Remain in thy proper place. Speak ill of no one. Mock at the bodily infirmities of none. Pursue not unrelentingly a conquered enemy. Strive to acquire a good reputation. The best bread is that for which one is indebted to one's own labour. Take counsel with wise men. The more one learns, the more he acquires the faculty of learning. Knowledge is the most permanent wealth. As well be dumb as ignorant. The true use of knowledge is to distinguish good from evil. Be not a subject of shame to thy parents. What one learns in youth endures like the engraving upon a rock. He is wise who knows himself. Let thy books be thy best friends. When thou attainest an hundred years, cease to learn. Wisdom is solidly planted, even on the shifting ocean. Deceive no one, not even thine enemy. Wisdom is a treasure that everywhere commands its value. Modesty is the most beautiful ornament of a woman. One is nowhere well lodged but in his own house. Speak mildly, even to the poor. It is sweeter to forgive than to take vengeance. Concord is the finest ornament of a family. First procure the wagon, and then set thyself about finding the oxen. Gaming and quarrels lead to misery. There is no true merit without the practice of virtue. To honour our mother is the most fitting homage we can pay the Divinity. There is no tranquil sleep without a clear conscience. One cannot always have milk to drink: we must conform ourselves to circumstances. He badly understands his interest who breaks his word."
Twenty-four centuries ago, this was the Chinese Ethics:
"The Philosopher said, 'San! My doctrine is simple, and easy to be understood'. Thseng-Tseu replied, 'That is certain'. The Philosopher having gone out, the disciples asked what their Master had meant to say. Theng-Tseu responded, 'The doctrine of our Master consists solely in being upright of heart, and loving our neighbour as we love ourself'."
About a century later, the Hebrew law said, "If any man hate his neighbour ... then shall ye do unto him as he had thought to do unto his brother... Better is a neighbour that is near than a brother afar off... Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
In the same fifth century before Christ, Socrates the Grecian said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself".
Three generations earlier, Zoroaster had said to the Persians: "Offer up thy grateful prayers to the Lord, the most just and pure Ormuzd, the supreme and adorable God, Who thus declared to His prophet Zerdusht: 'Hold it not meet to do unto others what thou wouldst not desire done unto thyself: do that unto the people which, when done to thyself, is not disagreeable unto thee'."
The same doctrine had been long taught in the schools of Babylon and Jerusalem. A Pagan declared to the Pharisee Hillel that he was ready to embrace the Jewish religion if he could make known to him in a few words a summary of the whole law of Moses. "That which thou likest not done to thyself", said Hillel, "do not do it to thy neighbour. Therein is all the law: the rest is nothing but a commentary upon it."
"Nothing is more natural", said Confucius, "nothing more simple, than the principles of that morality which I endeavour, by salutary maxims, to inculcate in you... It is humanity: which is to say, universal charity among all of our species, without distinction. It is uprightness: that is, that rectitude of spirit and of heart which makes one seek for truth in every thing, and desire it, without deceiving one's self or others. It is finally sincerity or good faith; which is to say, that frankness, that openness of heart, tempered by self-reliance, which excludes all feints and all disguising, as much in speech as in action."
The highest intellectual cultivation is perfectly compatible with the daily cares and toils of working men. A keen relish for the most sublime truths of science belongs alike to every class of mankind. And, as philosophy was taught in the sacred groves of Athens, and under the Portico, and in the old Temples of Egypt and India, so in our Lodges ought Knowledge to be dispensed, the Sciences taught, and the Lectures become like the teachings of Socrates and Plato, of Agassiz and Cousin.
Real knowledge never permitted either turbulence or unbelief; but its progress is the forerunner of liberality and enlightened toleration. Whoso dreads these may well tremble: for he may be well assured that their day is at length come, and must put to speedy flight the evil spirits of tyranny and persecution which haunted the long night now gone down the sky. And it is to be hoped that the time will soon arrive when, as men will no longer suffer themselves to be led blindfold in ignorance, so will they no more yield to the vile principle of judging and treating their fellow-creatures, not according to the intrinsic merit of their actions, but according to the accidental and involuntary coincidence of their opinions.
Whenever we come to treat with entire respect those who conscientiously differ from ourselves, the only practical effect of a difference will be to make us enlighten the ignorance on one side or the other, from which it springs, by instructing them, if it be theirs; ourselves, if it be our own; to the end that the only kind of unanimity may be produced which is desirable among rational beings — the agreement proceeding from full conviction after the freest discussion.
The Knight Elect of Fifteen ought therefore to take the lead of his fellow-citizens: not in frivolous amusements, nor in the degrading pursuits of the ambitious vulgar, but in the truly noble task of enlightening the mass of his countrymen; and of leaving his own name encircled, not with barbaric splendour or attached to courtly gewgaws, but illustrated by the honours most worthy of our rational nature, coupled with the diffusion of knowledge and gratefully pronounced by a few, at least, whom his wise beneficence has rescued from ignorance and vice.
We say to him, in the words of the great Roman: "Men in no respect so nearly approach to the Deity as when they confer benefits on men. To serve and do good to as many as possible — there is nothing greater in your fortune than that you should be able, and nothing finer in your nature than that you should be desirous to do this." This is the true mark for the aim of every man and Mason who either prizes the enjoyment of pure happiness or sets a right value upon a high and unsullied renown. The benefactors of mankind are not the founders of the mighty dynasties, the conquerors of new empires, the Caesars, Alexanders and Tammerlaines; nor the Kings and Counsellors, Presidents and Senators, who have lived for their party chiefly, and for their country only incidentally, often sacrificing the good of their fellow-creatures to their own aggrandisement or that of their faction. They are rather those whose exertions and charities, and perhaps their toils and sufferings, have improved the condition of their species, and who may be permitted hereafter to exult in the reflection that Knowledge become Power has dethroned Superstition and exiled Tyranny.
But it does require and expect every man of us to do something within and according to his means: and there is no Mason who cannot do something — if not alone, then by combination and association. If all the Masons of a State choose, they may, by a moderate but permanent annual contribution levied upon themselves, furnish annually a sum equivalent to the interest on a large capital, and therewith build and endow a college. Lodges can unite and aid in the erection and establishment of a school or an academy: and it is the saddest of all Masonic sights when the Brethren of a jurisdiction rebel against a contribution for these purposes, imposed by themselves through their constituted and accredited representatives, and thus make known to a scoffing world what is their deliberate opinion of the value of Masonry.
And if a Lodge cannot aid in founding a school or an academy, it can still do something. It can educate at least one boy or girl, the child of some poor or departed Brother. And let it never be forgotten that in the poorest unregarded child that seems abandoned to ignorance and vice may slumber the virtues of a Socrates, the intellect of a Bacon, the genius of a Shakespeare, the capacity to do good to mankind of a Washington; and that, in rescuing him from the mire in which he is plunged and giving him the means of education and development, the Lodge that does it may be the direct and immediate means of conferring upon the world as great a blessing as that given it by John Faust of Mentz; by Fulton, or Arkwright or Morse; may perpetuate the liberties of our own country and change the destinies of nations, and write a new Chapter in the History of the World.
For we never know the importance of the act we do. The Daughter of Pharaoh little thought what she was doing for the human race, and the vast unimaginable consequences that depended on her charitable act, when she drew the little child of a Hebrew woman from among the rushes that grew along the bank of the Nile, and determined to rear it as her own.
How often has an act of charity, costing the doer little, given to the world a great painter, a great musician, a great inventor! How often has such an act developed the ragged boy into the great benefactor of his race! On what small and apparently unimportant circumstances have turned and hinged the fates of the world's great conquerors, the Napoleons and Cromwells. There is no law that limits the returns that shall be reaped from a single good deed. The widow's mite may not only be as acceptable to God, but may produce as great results, as the rich man's costly offering. The poorest boy, helped by benevolence, may come to lead armies, to decide on peace and war, to control Senates, to dictate to Cabinets, and exercise influences as vast as those of England's great Statesmen, past and present; as the Great Commoner of our own Country, who was once the mill-boy of the Slashes of Hanover; and the mighty Orator and Statesman, once the son of a poor farmer of New Hampshire, but whose magnificent thoughts and noble words will be law many years hereafter to millions of men yet unborn.
For it is, in all instances, by dint of steady labour, by giving enough of application to our work, and having enough of time for the doing of it, by regular pains-taking and the plying of constant assiduities, and not by any process of legerdemain, that we secure the strength and the staple of real excellence. It was thus that Demosthenes, clause after clause, and sentence after sentence, elaborated to the uttermost his immortal orations. It was thus that Newton pioneered his way, by the steps of an ascending geometry, to the mechanism of the Heavens.
It is a most erroneous opinion that those who have left the most stupendous monuments of intellect behind them were not differently exercised from the rest of the species, but only differently gifted; that they signalled themselves only by their talent, and hardly ever by their industry: for it is in truth to the most strenuous application of these commonplace faculties which are diffused among all, that they are indebted for the glories which now encircle their remembrance and their name.
We must not imagine it to be a vulgarising of genius that it should be lighted up in any other way than by a direct inspiration from Heaven; nor overlook the steadfastness of purpose, the devotion to some single but great object, the unwearedness of labour that is given, not in convulsive and preternatural throes, but by little and little as the strength of the mind may bear it; the accumulation of many small efforts instead of a few grand and gigantic but perhaps irregular movements on the part of energies that are marvellous and by which former alone the great results are brought out that write their enduring records on the face of the earth and in the history of nations and of man.
We must neither overlook these elements to which genius owes the best and proudest of her achievements nor imagine that qualities so generally possessed as patience, painstaking, and resolute industry have no share in upholding a distinction so illustrious as that of the benefactor of his kind.
And so Masonry can do much if each Mason be content to do his share and if their united efforts are directed by wise counsels to a common purpose. A man would wonder at the mighty things which have been done by degrees and gentle augmentations. Diligence and moderation are the best steps whereby to climb to any excellency; and it is rare if there be any other way. The Heavens send not down their rain in floods, but by drops and dewy distillations. A man is neither good, nor wise, nor rich at once; yet, softly creeping up these hills, he shall every day better his prospect until at last he gains the summit. It is for God and for Omnipotence to do mighty things in a moment; but by degrees to grow to greatness is the course that He has left for man.
If Masonry will but be true to her mission and Masons to their promises and obligations; if, re-entering vigorously upon a career of beneficence, she and they will but pursue it earnestly and unfalteringly, remembering that our contributions to the cause of charity and education deserve the greatest credit when it costs us something — the curtailing of a comfort or the relinquishment of a luxury — to make them; if we will but give aid to Masonry's great schemes for human improvement, not fitfully and spasmodically, but regularly and incessantly, as the vapours rise and the springs run and the sun rises and the stars come up into the Heavens, then we may be sure that great results will be attained and a great work done.
Then it will most surely be seen that Masonry is not effete or impotent. It will betoken that it is not degenerated, nor drooping to a fatal decay; but casting off the old and wrinkled skin of routine and inertia, to wax young again, entering on the glorious ways of Truth and prosperous Virtue, destined to become great and honourable in these latter ages. And foreseeing this glad result, we may see in our minds our noble and puissant Order rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks; may see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full mid-day beam; purging and unscaling her long-abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate disastrous failure and ignominious downfall; unstirred by which and untroubled, she wings her strong way towards the stars, and bathes leisurely in the broad light of Divine Truth with ever-increasing knowledge.