What is Truth?
See also:Degree XXIX — Questions
But Masonry teaches, and has preserved in their purity, the cardinal tenets of the old primitive faith which underlie, and are the foundations of, all religions. All religions that ever existed have had a basis of truth, and all have overlaid truth with errors. The primitive truths taught by the Redeemer to the first of our race were gradually corrupted and intermingled and alloyed with fictions. Masonry is the universal morality which is suitable to the inhabitants of every clime, to the man of every creed. It has taught no doctrines except those truths that tend directly to the well-being of man; and those who have attempted to direct it towards useless vengeance, political ends, the Kabbala, Hermeticism, Alchemy, Templarism, and Jesuitism have merely perverted it to purposes foreign to its pure spirit and real nature.
Mankind outgrows the sacrifices and the mythologies of the childhood of the world. Yet it is easy for human indolence to linger near these helps, and refuse to pass further on. So the unadventurous Nomad in the Tartarian wild keeps his flock in the same close-cropped circle where they first learned to browse, while the progressive man roves ever forth "to fresh fields and pastures new".
The latter is the true Mason: and the best, indeed the only good, Mason is he who with the power of business does the work of life; the upright mechanic, merchant, or farmer; the man with the power of thought, of justice, or of love; he whose whole life is one great act of performance of Masonic duty. The natural use of the strength of a strong man or the wisdom of a wise one is to do the work of a strong man or a wise one. The natural work of Masonry is practical life; the use of all the faculties in their proper spheres and for their natural function. Love of Truth, justice, and generosity as attributes of God must appear in a life marked by these qualities: that is the only effectual ordinance of Masonry. A profession of one's convictions, joining the Order, assuming the obligations, assisting at the ceremonies, are of the same value in science as in Masonry; the natural form of Masonry is goodness, morality, living a true, just, affectionate, faithful life from the motive of a good man. It is loyal obedience to God's law.
Not more naturally does the beaver build or the mocking-bird sing his own wild gushing melody than the true Mason lives in this beautiful outward life. So from the perennial spring swells forth the stream, to quicken the meadow with new access of green and perfect beauty bursting into bloom. Thus Masonry does the work it was meant to do. The Mason does not sigh and weep and make grimaces. He lives right on. If his life is, as whose is not, marked with errors and sins, he ploughs over the barren spot with his remorse, sows with new seed, and the old desert blossoms like a rose. He is not confined to set forms of thought, of action, or of feeling. He accepts what his mind regards as true, what his conscience decides is right, what his heart deems generous and noble; and all else he puts far from him. Though the ancient and the honourable of the Earth bid him bow down to them, his stubborn knees bend only at the bidding of his manly soul. His Masonry is his freedom before God, not his bondage unto men. His mind acts after the universal law of the intellect, his conscience according to the moral law, his affections and his soul after the universal law of each, and so he is strong with the strength of God, in this four-fold way communicating with Him.
The old theologies, the philosophies of religion of ancient times, will not suffice us now. The duties of life are to be done; we are to do them, consciously obedient to the law of God, not atheistically, loving only our selfish gain. There are sins of trade to be corrected. Everywhere morality and philanthropy are needed. There are errors to be made away with, and their place to be supplied with new truths, radiant with the glories of Heaven. There are great wrongs and evils in Church and State, in domestic, social, and public life, to be righted and outgrown. Masonry cannot in our age forsake the broad way of life. She must journey on in the open street, appear in the crowded square, and teach men by her deeds, her life more eloquent than any lips.
It 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-screw, the rack, the whip, the gallows, and the stake; the victims of Diocletian and of Claverhouse, 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 Irenaeus; and then in turn the sufferings of the wretched Pagans under the Christian Emperors, as of the Papists in Ireland 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, while the more savage Claverhouse looked on; 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 practised 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.
The fires of Moloch in Syria; the harsh mutilations in the name of Astarte, Cybele, Jehovah; the barbarities of Imperial pagan Torturers; the still grosser torments which Roman-Gothic Christians in Italy and Spain heaped on their brother men; the fiendish cruelties to which Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Ireland, America have been witnesses; these are none too powerful to warn man of the unspeakable evils which follow from mistakes and errors in the matter of religion, and especially from investing the God of Love with the cruel and vindictive passions of erring humanity, and making blood to have a sweet savour in His nostrils, and groans of agony to be delicious in His ears.
Man never had the right to usurp the unexercised prerogative of God, and condemn and punish another for his belief. Born in a Protestant land, we are of that faith. If we had opened our eyes to the light under the shadows of St Peter's at Rome, we should have been devout Catholics; born in the Jewish quarters of Aleppo, we should have condemned Christ as an impostor; in Constantinople, we should have cried "Allah il Allah, God is great, and Mohammed is His prophet!" Birth, place, and education give us our faith. Few believe in any religion because they have examined the evidences of its authenticity and made up a formal judgment upon weighing the testimony. Not one man in ten thousand knows anything about the proofs of his faith. We believe what we are taught; and those are most fanatical who know least of the evidences on which their creed is based. Facts and testimony are not, except in very rare instances, the ground-work of faith. It is an imperative law of God's Economy, unyielding and inflexible as Himself, that man shall accept without question the belief of those among whom he is born and reared; the faith so made a part of his nature resists all evidence to the contrary; and he will disbelieve even the evidence of his own senses rather than yield up the religious belief which has grown up in him, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone.
The fancies of a lunatic are realities to him. Our dreams are realities while they last; and, in the Past, no more unreal than what we have acted in our waking hours. No man can say that he has as pure possession of the truth as of a chattel. When men entertain opinions diametrically opposed to each other, and each is honest, who shall decide which has the Truth; and how can either say with certainty that he has it? We know not what is the truth. That we ourselves believe and feel absolutely certain that our own belief is true is in reality not the slightest proof of the fact, seem it never so certain and incapable of doubt to us.
Therefore no man has, or ever had, a right to persecute another for his belief: for there cannot be two antagonistic rights: and if one can persecute another because he himself is satisfied that the belief of that other is erroneous, the other has, for the same reason, equally as certain a right to persecute him.
The truth comes to us tinged and coloured with our prejudices and our preconceptions, which are as old as ourselves, and strong with a divine force. It comes to us as the image of a rod comes to us through the water, bent and distorted. An argument sinks into and convinces the mind of one man, while from that of another it rebounds like a ball of ivory dropped on marble. It is no merit in a man to have a particular faith, excellent and sound and philosophic as it may be, when he imbibed it with his mother's milk. It is no more a merit than his prejudices and his passions.
No evil has so afflicted the world as intolerance of religious opinion. The human beings it has slain in various ways, if once and together brought to life, would make a nation of people; left to live and increase, would have doubled the population of the civilised portion of the globe; among which civilised portion it chiefly is that religious wars are waged. The treasure and the human labour thus lost would have made the earth a garden in which, but for his evil passions, man might now be as happy as in Eden.
And 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; to assert the right to persecute, if we would; and to 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 holds that each man is absolutely sovereign as to his own belief, and that belief is a matter absolutely foreign to all who do not entertain the same belief; and that, if there were any right of persecution at all, it would in all cases be a mutual right, because one party has the same right as the other to sit as judge in his own case: and God is the only magistrate that can rightfully decide between them. To that great Judge, Masonry refers the matter; and, opening wide its portals, it invites to enter there and live in peace and harmony, the Protestant, the Catholic, the Jew, the Muslim, and every other man who will lead a truly virtuous and moral life, love his brethren, minister to the sick and distressed, and believe in the ONE All-Powerful, All-Wise, everywhere-Present God, Architect, Creator and Preserver of all things, by whose universal law of Harmony ever rolls on this Universe, the great, vast, infinite circle of successive Death and Life: — to whose Ineffable Name let all true Masons pay profoundest homage! For Whose thousand blessings poured upon us, let us feel the sincerest gratitude, now, henceforth, and forever, Amen!