Vol. XXXIX No. 7 — July 1961

As a Man Thinketh

Conrad Hahn

This address was delivered at the religious services at the opening of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina, April 27, 1961, by R.W. Eugene G. Beckman, grand chaplain.

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As he thinketh in his heart, so is he. — Proverbs 23:7

It is much less what we do than what we think, which fits us for the future. — Philip J. Bailey

Both the preacher and the poet have put their finger on one of man’s greatest difficulties: squaring his actions with his thoughts. The modern science of semantics has revealed to us a part of the problem: the affective connotations of words produce different reactions in people because of their differing backgrounds and experiences. Both the Russian and the American say with conviction, "We have a democracy.” But even if they could agree on a definition of that form of government, they still wouldn’t mean the same thing, because the “democratic” institutions that they have created and the experiences by which they have arrived at their “way of living” are so different and so easily misunderstood. While it is only part of the truth, it is still a fact that climate and diet affect the way men think about government.

Most of us are prone to use “large, divine, and comfortable words,” like honor, love, and freedom, to stir within our own bosoms those feelings that we regard as laudable and uplifting. But at the same time we do not stop often enough to ask ourselves whether the experiences to which we are applying those words are truly honorable, amiable, or liberal, in the original meaning of that word.

What most of us really do, when we say "I think,” is to clothe in language those feelings that are paramount in our experiences. Modern students of language refer to this habit as “thinking-feeling,” a term that the ancient preacher and the modern poet intuitively described in the quotations above. “As he thinketh in his heart” certainly refers to the emotions as well as to the process of combining words into concepts and ideas. A greedy man thinks greedily. A lustful man thinks lustfully. A benevolent man thinks benevolently. And a real Builder thinks constructively.

This problem of semantics, the problem of what words actually do to us when we hear them spoken by others or frame them with our own lips, should interest every Mason — and especially every brother who is seriously concerned with Masonic education.

Masonry’s great tenets of morality and brotherly love are universally significant words that suggest a dynamic demonstration of personal and individual integrity for “the general welfare of mankind,” as well as a sturdy hope for the improvement of society by means of a genuine Brotherhood of Man.

But does everyone who has knelt at the altar of Freemasonry really believe that his personal standards of morality are important to the world as a whole? Does every Mason really envision the day of universal brotherhood, when “the war-drum throbb’d no longer and the battle flags were furl’d / In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world”? (Tennyson)

In a period of history that is characterized chiefly by fear — the fear of man himself — one would be judged of unsound mind if he answered such a question positively. Masons are men of their times; many of them think, feel, and act like the men of a world in ferment. They too are troubled by a civilization that is quivering with new "alarums and excursions.” They too are afraid of the destructive power that man’s growing knowledge has placed within his grasp. They too succumb to a materialistic interpretation of life that gives up hope in the moral improvement of the races of mankind and faith in the ultimate goodness of the plans laid down on His trestleboard by the Supreme Architect of the Universe.

But if it is true that “as a man thinketh, so is he,” may we not be touching here on one of the most important problems facing the Fraternity today? Freemasons must know that their Society has a purpose that aims much higher than mere sociability. And if it is also true, that what we think is far more important than what we do in determining our future usefulness and influence, should we not reexamine the “articles of our faith” and evaluate our “thinking-feeling” concerning them?

Every Speculative Mason has promised to conform to the principles of the order, but does he truly translate into action those fundamental tenets that he is charged to support and maintain? Does he truly make them a part of his “thinking-feeling”? Let us examine just one of these, a cornerstone of Masonic philosophy.

The design of the institution is to make its members better men, by teaching them the moral nature of life in this mysterious universe, and by arousing in them the positive principle of benevolence through brotherly love and friendship in all the activities of daily life.

This is not a new idea. Its expression in Masonic philosophy and ritual goes back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when modern science began to break the shackles of traditional dogmas and supernatural beliefs. As a matter of fact, it is now so old an idea that it has become “old-fashioned,” and in some sophisticated types of modern thinking, it is “out-of-date” to the point of uselessness.

One of the major problems of our time is the extent to which men have lost sight of, or deliberately ignored the ethical and moral realities of life. Man has become extremely skeptical of man and his relationship to a higher power than himself. Science has so greatly increased his power over the physical and the material, and science has so completely focused man’s energies on physical and materialistic phenomena, that many men today deny the validity of any ethical interpretation of life.

That is a negative philosophy that is seriously affecting human society in the twentieth century. All too frequently we are witnessing shocking examples of the irresponsibility of men in high places as well as in low. Everyone who is truly concerned about his community and his nation is disturbed by the widespread indifference to moral principles that we are witnessing today. But is it really science that we should blame?

Dr. John E. Smith, chairman of the department of philosophy at Yale, said to the students of the Virginia Military Institute:

It is difficult in the extreme for an individual to take seriously an ideal of responsibility to his family, his community, his nation, and even himself when it is constantly drummed in his ears that ideals, goals, and moral obligations are no more than man-made conventions, or emotions confined entirely within his consciousness — while the real realities are units of energy utterly different from what we ordinarily know and indifferent to the distinctly human life that goes on in this world.

(As a man thinketh, so is he.)

Masons are bombarded by the same incessant suggestions that life is ethically unreal, if not actually meaningless. Many of them are so subtle and plausible that they are adopted unconsciously. The question that really needs to be answered if the Fraternity is to continue its useful and benevolent existence is simply this: “What answer does each Mason give to the callous cynicism of such a pernicious philosophy?”

Freemasonry asserts an ancient belief in moral purposes and hope for the future when it declares that “the aim of our institution is to make its votaries wiser and consequently happier.” That answer implies a confidence in man's moral potentialities, in his capacity to make knowledge ethically useful, and in a Higher Intellect that has ordained and governs the universe. But is it enough to express such thoughts in a sterile ritualistic recital?

Dr. Smith went on to point out to his listeners that “science, so far from banishing values and ideals from the universe, actually presupposes and requires them. Without them, science would no longer be possible as a human enterprise.” Science is impersonal truth. It requires a universal method or procedure to arrive at such truth. Science was born out of and is dependent upon the activities of human beings devoted to those ideals of truth. Unless there had been individuals who were first loyal to the ideal of truth and to the method of discovering it, science could never have been started. Without men of such loyalty and devotion, it could not continue.

Morality, likewise, is a knowledge of life that is concerned with the truths about man’s, "thinking-feeling” and with methods for achieving harmonious relationships between individual human beings. It requires men who are loyal to that truth and devoted to the methods for achieving its benevolent objectives. It is never new, yet never old. It is always modern, even when it is old-fashioned. Freemasonry was called into existence to proclaim and to demonstrate such ageless truth. Freemasonry must be morality in action.

But since such truth can never be revealed except as it is demonstrated convincingly, Freemasons cannot maintain their tenets of brotherly love, relief, and truth unless they exemplify those ideals in all the relationships of their daily living. Otherwise, those words become mere verbal posturing, without effect and without meaning to those who want to know what Masons are. It is one thing to say, “I believe that life has a moral purpose.” It is quite another to demonstrate to others that a single life achieves such purpose.

To teach others loyalty to the principles of freedom, to convince others that honesty is a necessary policy, to persuade others that brotherly love can win more victories than intercontinental missiles, requires first of all a fully revealed conviction that man is a moral builder whose purpose is to carry out the designs of the Great Architect of the Universe. Freemasons must convince others, not merely themselves, that they seriously believe in and energetically work for a practical Brotherhood of Man. “As a man thinketh, so is he.”

Ideas are weapons, too. The most powerful weapons being used by our faithless, relentless adversaries, the communists, are the ideas by which they seduce the hopeless materialistic thinkers of our world. Their effects are subtle but already widespread. Freemasonry must challenge such an enemy with the most powerful instrument in its hand, the truth that friendship, morality, and brotherly love are more important to our “thinking-feeling” than armaments, political prestige, or the “security” that depends on material possessions. “It is . . . what we think, which fits us for the future.”

The Masonic Service Association of North America