Vol. XLIII No. 8 — August 1965
What Does Freemasonry Offer the World?
Alphonse Cerza, PM
A talk given at the 100th Anniversary of Burns Lodge No. 173, Monticello, Iowa, June 25, 1965, by Alphonse Cerza, 33°, Riverside Lodge No. 862, Riverside, Illinois; past master, Waubansia Lodge No. 160, Chicago, Illinois; member, Illinois Grand Lodge committee on Masonic information; Fellow of the Philalethes Society.
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While Freemasonry in its present form has existed less than 300 years, there have always been associations resembling this great Fraternity. Such groups were formed at various times and in many places because man is fundamentally a social creature; he has an inherent need for friendship, love, and association with others.
What is Freemasonry? A brief definition is: an organization of men believing in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, using builders’ tools as symbols to teach basic moral truths, thereby impressing upon the minds of its members the cardinal virtues of brotherly love, relief, and truth that they should apply to everyday activities.
If this description seems out of place in the cynical world of today, let us remember that “Man does not live by bread alone.” There is a real need for what is derisively called “the old-fashioned virtues.”
Last summer Roscoe Pound, one of the great men of this century, laid down the working tools of life after ninety-four years of distinguished labor on this earth. Many years ago he made a significant observation: “Masonry has more to offer the twentieth century than the twentieth century has to offer Masonry.”
Why did he make this statement?
At the dawn of history man was confronted with many problems: hunger, the elements, disease, and other dangers. But God gave him memory so that he could profit from his experiences; later came the gift of communication that enabled him to pass on his experiences from generation to generation. Over the intervening centuries we have increased our means of producing food, conquered many diseases, and have solved most of the problems concerning the practical things of life. Yet with all this progress in technological skills man has not kept up his moral advancement. In spite of all the comforts afforded us in this modern world, we do not find happiness, peace, and tranquility.
As we look around us today, what do we find? Frustrated individuals, unhappy people, everyone demanding more “rights,” everyone seeking more “security,” a desire for more gadgets, an increase in community problems, and undeclared wars in many places. Everyone thinks “BIG” about the production of things, accomplishing a program, or handling community matters.
What can we learn from Freemasonry that will help the modern world?
First, Freemasonry is not a “mass medium.” It works with and through the individual member. We do not have group initiations; each member is taken alone and taught the lessons of a good life. Each new member is prepared as an individual; he is the one important person who is initiated, then passed to the higher grades as he acquires proficiency in the task at hand. Certain members spend time with him alone so that he may learn the lessons exemplified in the degrees.
In Freemasonry the individual is all important. We consider the individual member the most important thing in the world. Bear in mind that in every community we have plural persons; you cannot have a happy community unless the individuals who form that community are each individually happy. Under our form of government the individual is glorified; he is a part of the nations governing body. Unlike other political ideologies that preach that the person is merely a means of serving the government, we as Americans and as Masons say that the government exists to serve the people.
Freemasonry offers to the world today the basic ideal that is being slowly forgotten: that each individual is important and that his personal welfare counts.
Second, Freemasonry is among the agencies that offer the world the principle of the Fatherhood of God. In too many places God is the forgotten element. Many of the prevailing “isms” cast aside the idea of God as old-fashioned, superstitious, an opiate. Freemasonry has God as its sole foundation stone.
Freemasonry does not concern itself with the dogmas, forms of worship, or the theology of any church. A Mason must profess a belief in God and immortality; but Freemasonry does not teach him how God manifests himself to man or how man is reconciled with God. It is true that Freemasonry tries to enrich a member’s belief in God by instructing him in the moral law and the hidden secrets of nature and science. It tries to do that for every member.
Freemasonry therefore offers a tolerance for the religious beliefs of all men, to the point that they can meet together and pray together in complete harmony. There is only one God, no matter what name we give Him. Freemasonry has for centuries afforded men of all creeds a chance to meet together and to understand each other’s belief in the Fatherhood of God. It is the only worldwide organization where there is no political or religious discussion permitted.
Third, Freemasonry also offers the world the principle that follows logically from what has just been said — “The Brotherhood of Man.” If we have a common Father, are we not all brothers? Today we hear too little about this ideal.
At every turn we hear of demands for “rights” of one kind or another. How often do we hear of duties or obligations? Freemasonry teaches the duties we owe to others; it teaches obligations that its members owe to their families, their communities, and their country. With every “right” there is a corresponding duty or obligation. The world today is emphasizing its demand for rights, but is conveniently forgetting its corresponding duties. Freemasonry says nothing about “rights,” but has much to say about the duties and obligations that each member owes. If all of us do our duty, all will profit; and there is no need to discuss “rights” where men do their duty, because there justice will prevail.
We do not know whether Leigh Hunt was a Mason or not, but he certainly speaks the language of Freemasonry in this famous sonnet:
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An Angel writing in a book of gold: —
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?” The Vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow-men.
The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And, lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest!
Fourth, Freemasonry evolved from the builders’ guilds of the Middle Ages, and therefore the word “work” plays an important part in our philosophy and our ceremonies.
Today there seems to be too much desire to get something for nothing. We have trading stamps, quiz programs, horse races, and other gambling activities catering to this desire.
Wealth is the result of working with natural resources and creating something useful. Wealth is not something that comes from the government. This may sound like a modern heresy to many of you. All the government does is to collect money from the taxpayers and then distribute it; and the handling charge is enormous!
Our immediate ancestors, the operative masons, were workers with their hands. They built structures of wood and stone. They had an apprentice system to teach young men to work and develop their natural skills. The idea of "work” is woven into the very fabric of Freemasonry. The world today needs to be taught all over again that work is honorable, that work is necessary, and that work makes for happiness.
Freemasonry takes this idea of work from the operative masons and converts it into a symbol. No longer do Freemasons build structures that are visible, but we build a symbolical structure of character, that house not built with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Our federal constitution assures us that we are entitled to the pursuit of happiness. Too many persons overlook the word “pursuit” and place the stress on the word “happiness.” This great charter of government does not guarantee happiness; that is an individual matter. It merely guarantees the “pursuit”; or to put it in a different way, it offers opportunity to use your God-given skills so that you can work with them and secure happiness. This also is the aim of Freemasonry.
Fifth, Freemasonry offers the world an opportunity for social contacts and the development of friendships.
The feeling of “belonging” is a vital part of every mans being. No one can be an island unto himself. To be happy, we must belong to a family, a community, a country club, or a large number of associations.
Freemasonry is the best group for this purpose because of its glorious past, the great men who have been Masons, the lessons it teaches to its members, and the opportunity it affords for service to mankind. The constant bringing together of its members in worthwhile activities helps to promote this feeling of "belonging.”
Related to this element is what psychologists call the feeling of "importance.” In order to be happy, each person must feel “important” to someone or to something. Freemasonry affords many opportunities for the development of this feeling, not only from the pride of belonging to the greatest fraternal organization in the world, but also from the many, many opportunities to serve as officers, to do charitable work, to visit sick members, etc., all of which gives the member a sense of being important to his fellow members and to the organization. Here again we are stressing the importance of the individual rather than the group.
This is one of the intangible, subtle, but necessary elements of Freemasonry in making individuals happy. As it has already been observed, if the individual is happy, the community is happy. If communities are happy, the nation will be happy; and if nations are happy, the world will be at peace.
Sixth, Freemasonry offers the world a philosophy of life. The Masonic degrees are designed to teach each member certain basic moral truths. No man ever became a Mason without becoming a better man. The lessons are taught in a unique manner that makes the principles more effective.
Sometimes we are presented with a pertinent question: if the lessons of Freemasonry are so beneficial, why are they taught behind closed doors? The answer lies in the nature of man himself. That which is open to constant view becomes commonplace and attracts no attention. That which is hidden is sought, is searched for, is attractive and creates interest. The idea is illustrated by the popularity of the detective story; who dunnit?
That is the sole purpose of the secrecy of the ritual: the element of anticipation of what is coming, an air of mystery, the feeling of possible surprise. All put the new member in a receptive frame of mind.
Added to this is the fact that all the lessons are taught with symbols. This is an effective teaching method; it causes the student to learn more easily. A moral lesson can be told in a few effective words describing a symbol.
With the use of the builders’ tools Freemasonry teaches moral lessons. Many Masonic expressions have found their way into everyday conversation. We use the square to illustrate honesty in our dealings with one another: “He is on the square,” or “He is a square dealer.” Teenagers have a different conception of the word "square” today, but that is a passing phase.
Each candidate for the degrees receives this philosophy of life in a most impressive manner. Suffice it to say here that this Way of Life contains all the lessons or rules adopted by all good men. It covers the Golden Rule. It teaches us that we are our brother’s keeper. It teaches us that we can best worship God by rendering service to our fellowmen. We are taught tolerance in all things. We are taught that honesty is the only policy.
It is true that these moral lessons are taught in the schools and in the churches, but the method of teaching used in a Masonic lodge is unique. Furthermore, these lessons can be taught without reference to sectarian creeds or dogmas. Masonic teaching is not restricted by practical considerations such as exist in a political organization. Freedom of thought and expression can be taught and practiced without any reference to the results of the next election. Freemasonry has blended together many of the characteristics of churches, schools, social clubs, and ethical societies; but while resemblances with such organizations can be noted, none is exactly like the great organization that the world knows as Freemasonry.
To summarize all this in just a few words, let us answer the question in the title as briefly as possible. Freemasonry offers to mankind an emphasis on the importance of the individual, the belief in the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God, the concept of the dignity of work and its necessity for the pursuit of happiness, the opportunity to realize one’s social aspirations in a morally constructive way, and a philosophy of life that can lead to individual, and therefore community happiness. And the twentieth century really needs what Freemasonry offers.