Vol. XXIV No. 12 — December 1946

Appearance and Reality

Man’s only knowledge of the universe comes from his five senses. A man who could not feel, see, taste, smell or hear, could have no knowledge of or contact with any force, phenomena or thing. He could be flung over a cliff and broken in pieces; he would not know it. He would know neither light nor darkness nor color. No noise, speech or music could startle or interest him. An evil odor and a pleasant one would be to him non-existent. Bitter poison and the most succulent of food alike would not be known to him.

Practically all animals have all five senses; perhaps some have senses which humans do not have. Yet animals, as far as we know, have developed no abstractions, have no philosophy or religion, know no systems of thought to account for their situation. Only man has developed the life of the mind, beyond its use as an aid to physical being.

It is from this strange property of the human mind that knowledge has come to us that appearance and reality are different. To the squirrel a tree is a something to climb, which gives nuts and shade and possible pleasure. Of knowledge of the tree as a living thing, a bundle of fibers in which sap flows, a plant organism which sleeps and wakes with the season, the squirrel knows nothing.

To the great majority of men a tree is known only by what it does, and what can be done with it. It can be cut, sawed into boards, used to build a house. It can be put in a retort and made to give forth chemicals. Its sap can be used in painting (turpentine) or in making candy (maple syrup); it is a combination of chemicals which, separated, can be and are made into many other useful forms than that of a tree.

The artist sees the tree as something beautiful; trees in a forest were progenitors of the gothic arch. The forest is a lovely and romantic landscape, the shimmer of light through the leaves and the shaking shadows are a threnody of beauty. To the woodman the tree is his daily bread, to the builder his material, to the fuel merchant his stock in trade, to the hunter the haunt of game.

Is, then, the “reality” of the tree to be found in chemicals or is it in boards and logs? Is its power to hold water in the earth by its roots, give shade, produce with its fellows a forest which is the home of game, be the subject of poetry or painting, provide fuel to sell, the “reality”?

The chemist says none of these is “real” in the sense he uses the word. Fiber, wood, leaves are to him, only “appearance.” The “real” tree, to the chemist is mostly composed of empty space, in which are atoms and molecules. The atom is the smallest divisible particle of one of some ninety “primary” substances; the molecule is the smallest part of matter composed of two or more atoms of the same, or different, primary substances. Molecules of different combinations, then, form the fiber and the sap, the whole substance of the tree.

Comes the physicist who says even these are nothing more than appearances; that the “real” atom is one or more particles of electricity revolving at incredible speeds about a central nucleus; he speaks of “nuclear physics” and talks of protons and electrons. These, which science states to be the “ultimate” substance, material force or entities of which all things are made are the only "realities.” All else - the atoms, the molecules, the chemicals, the tree, the man-constructed structures made from the tree, are but appearances.

Philosophers are equally puzzling and confounding. To the man in the street, thought is a process by which he determines what he is to do in and how he is to look at the appearances which are the visible, knowable world. A thought is something one thinks. But the philosopher wants to know “what is it that thinks”? And, if you attempt an answer, he silences you with "why does whatever it is which thinks, think?"

One philosopher “thinks” up one set of thoughts and calls it a system or a philosophy. Comes a second philosopher who says the first philosophers thought is just an “appearance” system of philosophy, and that the “real" thought is as different as the atom is from the table made from the tree!

Freemasonry is many things to many men; a system of philosophy, a guide to living, a handmaid of religion, an organization devoted to fellowship, friendship and fun; a spur to charity; an outlet for eleemosynary energy; a way of life.

If we continue the analogy, these, too, must be just different appearances — Freemasonry as seen by our “mental senses” and the reality behind may be — must be — something entirely different.

No student, philosopher, thinker, officer, leader, follower of Freemasonry has as yet adduced a sound, sane, sensible reason why her sons love Freemasonry, work for it, sometimes slave for it. Hundreds of reasons are assigned by as many men, but none of these reasons fits all men. Yet there must be some “underlying reality” — some “electron and proton” of a reason which is the same for all, even as actual electrons and protons, regardless of whether they compose matter which is coal or wood or steel or stone, are actually the same.

Where will we look, then, for the “reality” which is Freemasonry, and the “real” reason why countless thousands of men for so many hundreds if not thousands of years, have so devotedly been its champions?

To discover what a tree is made of, the chemist analyzes it and pronounces it composed of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon. Hydrogen is one of two substances which compose water; oxygen is the other. It is also a fourth part of the air we breathe. Carbon is in all organic structures as well as in coal, diamonds, graphite.

The physicist makes of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen but whirling dervishes of “solar systems" of infinitely small electrons revolving at cosmic speeds around infinitely small nuclei. Carbon and oxygen and hydrogen are but empty space in which are a few particles of electricity.

We wander through a forest and see trees, feel their shade, admire their beauty, love their stateliness — yet the “real” tree is but a mathematical abstraction. We find the “real” tree first by analysis, then by abstract thought.

Can we analyze Freemasonry into its elements and then “abstract” its elements in their “realities”?

Freemasonry is religious, without being religion; philosophical, without being philosophy; kindly and gracious in its philanthropy without being charity; an organization which is at once more and less than a club; a structure in the body politic which sometimes has a legal entity (some grand lodges are incorporated). But mix religion and philosophy, philanthropy and fellowship and incorporate it and you may have the Red Cross, but certainly not Freemasonry!

Well, then, what can we do to find the electrons and protons of, say, religion? Religion is a belief in, and a mode of worship of, a Great First Cause, about the name of which men quarrel and shed blood. Men believe in many ideas, worship many gods, fight about many causes. Belief, worship and strife are certainly not the fundamental “realities” of religion. If religion is a forest, belief and worship may be trees in it, but the molecules and the electrons, what are they?

Psychiatrists have joined hands with philosophers in discovering a universal hunger in all men, whether they know it or not, for a rational explanation of the situation in which they find themselves. We are living beings in a world of earth and sea and air and trees and mountains and rivers and oceans and cold and heat and storm and calm. How did we get here? What put us here? Why are we here? Where do we go from here? Men want to know. Man has answered the question in a thousand ways; the most common way, the way most men understand most easily, is found in religion. There is a God. God made the world and all in it God put us in the world and will take us from it. In another world we continue to live when this world holds us no more.

It may be that this hunger for an explanation, this absolute dependence of sane living on a belief in a Great First Cause is the "electron” of religion. If so, then another form of hunger for facts which for some is partially at least satisfied by the philosophical system of thought may be the "proton.”

If true of religion, perhaps it is true of other systems in which men try to find a way of existence, a reason for life — such a system, for instance, as Freemasonry.

For in all the puzzling thoughts of reality and appearance, one fact stands out inescapably: in the physical world we have appearance (the outward form); chemical structure (inward form); physical structure (electrons and protons).

Appearances have a million outward forms; mountains and ships, people and insects, clouds and rivers, trees and volcanoes; they are all different, each from the other.

But all of them are made up of one or more of some ninety primary elements, which, chemically, cannot be resolved into something else. Put a tree in a retort and heat it and many gasses of many kinds result. But you cannot heat gold or iron or copper and from their vapors produce maple syrup or turpentine or water.

The ninety-some substances are all composed of electrons and protons in different combinations. But the electron which whirls about a proton in an atom of hydrogen is just like the electron in an atom of iron. While appearance in the world is multiform, reality of everything in it is nothing but electrons and protons.

If our analogy holds, Freemasonry is first an appearance; then the thoughts or things which compose the appearance, finally the fundamental primaries which underlie the component parts.

Freemasonry’s appearance is familiar to all; lodges, meetings, homes, degrees, ceremonies, fellowship, entertainment, dues, charity. What thoughts compose or give a rise to these are the religion and philosophy, the charity and the love which express themselves in the appearances.

Love of man for man is a growth and development, aided by necessity, made manifest by religion.

Charity is a manifestation of love in the abstract.

Religion is one of several ways in which men have attempted to account for themselves in the world.

Philosophy is another of those ways.

What is fundamental to them all?

Some inner human need; some necessity which animals do not have, which plants know not, which are not to be found in any other organism, structure or thing upon the earth. The need is common to the atheist and bishop, the criminal and the saint, the woman and the man, the high and low, the rich and poor.

You may express this need as best pleases your sense of logic. Freemasonry cares no whit if you call your conception of Deity Jehovah or God or Great Architect or Buddha or Allah or Great First Cause or Cosmic Urge or Nature. You may name your inherent need of some thing, someone, some power, some entity, some force by any syllables which seem to you fitting. The name does not alter the thing — a rose by any other name will smell as sweet and to call a sunset a bank of clouds does not detract from its glory.

Therefore if that need is here called by one name, and not another, it is only because one pen writes, and not another. Another’s pen and name are as good or better.

Here the inner need is expressed as the necessity to complete a life by acknowledgement that it is not selfcompleted; that life requires something beyond life; that existence can be nothing but an illusory appearance without a conviction of an Unseen Reality.

Your answer will be better than this, because it will the better fit your own habit of mind.

But even as all electrons are like all other electrons and all protons are similar to all other protons, so, though your phrasing of the underlying need may be different, the need itself is the same for all men, in all times, everywhere.

Freemasonry is an appearance; her religion, philosophy, charity, lore are her elements; her electrons and her protons are the same by any name - man’s inescapable necessity for consciousness of, and conviction about, the Lost Word.

The Masonic Service Association of North America