Vol. XLIV No. 4 — April 1966

Permanent Values

George Parkinson

This Short Talk Bulletin is a revised version of a paper by Brother George Parkinson, which he read before the Wisconsin Conference for Masonic Unity in Milwaukee on December 11, 1965. It was originally titled “Are Our Masonic Mysteries Valid in Today’s World?” We are indebted to Brother Parkinson and his grand master, M.W. William J. Kahlenberg,for making this message available “for the good of the Order.”

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We are living in the most fantastic age the world has ever seen. There is every evidence that the rapidity and magnitude of changes taking place in our social, economic, educational and industrial life will increase in both speed and amplitude in the decades ahead. In that period we will bring to fruition our careers, and help to guide the development of our children and grandchildren. Our lives and theirs are in the crucible that is today our great American society.

One of the most disturbing effects of the rapidly changing world in which we live is the uncertainty about values that is being expressed everywhere. Theologians, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, even political leaders express doubts about the underlying principles that have guided our society for centuries.

It is important, even with the long-range objectives that all of us have, to pause for a few minutes occasionally, to evaluate those events that are happening around us, and to take a look into the future. Truly, “The future is heir to the present.”

At the same time, it is important for us as members of the Craft, to see whether or not the lessons that we learn here, the lessons that have been taught us in our ritualistic work, have validity and meaning for men in this age. Volumes could be written about this question, but the sun will soon set and it will be time to go from labor to refreshment; so it is better to say just three or four things that you may remember.

Let us start where we are now and ask, “What kind of people are we today?”

Let me paraphrase a well-known author, as follows:

Our people now love luxury. They have bad manners and contempt for authority. They show disrespect for others and love idle chatter in place of exercise. Our children are now tyrants, not the servants of our households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize their teachers.

How many times have you heard such statements among parents and even in the press? The fact is, however, that this is not a quotation from a modern speaker. It was said by the great Greek philosopher, Socrates, nearly 2,500 years ago. So our conclusion is that the young people of today, and, in fact, most people today are very much the same as they were 2,500 years ago.

While there are many similarities, there is at least one major difference. Both the ancients and our contemporaries were born ignorant, without any knowledge or education; but the education necessary for a person today is many hundreds of times as extensive as all the things the Greeks had to learn 2,500 years ago. And the amazing thing is that both young people and adults today are actually accomplishing this phenomenal development.

What are some of the essential characteristics of our modern society? We are living in a society that seems to be more religious than any other society of this age. More people belong to church and more people participate in formal religious activity than ever before. We have a higher moral code today than any civilization has ever had before. It is true that an amazing number of our people do not live up to the ethical principles to which they give lip service; but the fact is that moral ideas are deeply imbedded in our thinking, in our society and in our lives.

Further, we are the immediate heirs of a rural pioneering society. Our society has, in the last half century, moved from rural to urban, and from an agrarian to a highly technological and automated state. This has been accompanied by a tremendous upsurge in the formal educational requirements for all of our people. We talk a great deal today about eradicating illiteracy, and this I think must be done. But the fact is that the illiteracy of today was the normal standard of educational achievement a century ago. Our scholars and our scientists have reached intellectual heights that were unthought of at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and even our skilled and semi-skilled jobs require a degree of “sophistication” which is almost impossible to conceive.

Keep in mind the rate at which this change is actually taking place, because the rapidity of change of any cultural or industrial pattern is directly related to the ability of individuals and groups to adapt themselves to this change. If there is one unique characteristic of the modern age, it is this rapidity of change. Let us see how rapidly this change has actually taken place, how rapidly it is going on now.

Here are some quick figures about the population of the United States: 87% of our people do not remember when there was no income tax; 71% of our population was born since World War I; 56% have been born since the time of the 1929 stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression: half of our entire population is too young to recall World War II; and 22% have been born since the Korean War ended. These figures are basic to our problem.

Now just two or three facts to indicate the rapidity of this change. Thirty-eight years ago, Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris in The Spirit of St. Louis in 33½ hours. Last summer, I flew across the Atlantic Ocean in approximately 6 hours, at an average speed of 600 miles per hour; and this past year astronauts have flown in space at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour. Lindbergh flew at an altitude of from 50 feet to a maximum of 10,000; our average flight altitude to Europe was 42,000 feet. Astronauts are now preparing to fly 240,000 miles to the moon.

Perhaps this idea can be summarized. About a year ago, at a meeting in Washington, D.C., Phillip Riley, Vice President of the Atlantic Research Corporation, made this statement: “The half-life of modern education is about eight years.” In other words, if a young person finishes his education today, whether it be at the technical level or whether it be at the baccalaureate level of the university, or a Ph.D. degree, eight years later he will have lost half the value of that education in terms of its usefulness in our society. This is fantastic! What is even more startling, is the fact that of all the great scientists who have lived throughout the entire history of civilization, approximately 90% of them are alive today. A few moments ago, I mentioned that a Greek 2,500 years ago had much less to learn than we have. Do you see why we have to learn many hundred times more than he did? Do you see why the psychologists tell us that the average American child will ask 400 questions per day during the most rapid learning period of his life, which is from 4 to 12 years? Do you see why a person must plan to continue to learn throughout his entire life?

Let us also explore the origin of the ideas that produced this rapid cultural, industrial, and scientific change. A study made several years ago by the Richard King Mellon Foundation of New York City covered all the significant inventions made from 1750 to 1950 — scientific, technical and social. In this entire 200 year period, which covers the Industrial Revolution, the beginning of the Atomic Age, and the Age of Automation, there were 1,012 inventions classified as significant; that is, inventions that had a major impact on our society, our business and our industry. Sixty-seven of these came from the smaller Atlantic communities, 22 came from European Russia, 12 were scattered throughout the world, but 911 (90%) came from the following five countries, and in this order: United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. None of these significant inventions came from the following countries: South America, Japan, Africa, the Arab countries, China, and India. For those of us who are citizens of the United States, and whose ancestry in large measure came from what we call the Western European countries, this is a fact that stirs our pride as the leading nation in this development. There is every evidence to indicate that in the next 20 to 30 years such changes will continue to occur with increasing magnitude. We are riding an avalanche and we cannot get off.

Yet this disparity between the material inventiveness of the West and the lack of it in the rest of the world underlines one of the largest problems facing mankind today. The “population explosion” is increasing the numbers of people far more rapidly in those non-inventive countries than it is in the United States or Western Europe. By the year 2000 the populations of our Western culture will probably be an insignificant minority in the global statistics. What the inventive peoples are creating becomes more and more the necessities of life for other cultures, who challenge us on the non-materialistic principle of our own inheritance, “Are ye not your brothers keeper?”

If we Masons are truly seekers of the Light, of all that will illuminate the universal meaning of brotherhood, we cannot rest on our pride of accomplishment. In the scientific and social revolution that is taking place, with all the fantastic changes to which we have to adjust, we must ask, “Are there any eternal verities?” “Are there any fundamental truths?” “Are there any guideposts by which we can gauge the true stature of a man?”

Masonry has always asserted, yes, there are such truths; they are the truths that are revealed to us in the mysteries of our order. They are the lights by which we can plot our position and by which we can guide our course throughout our lives without losing our bearings in this dizzying kaleidoscope through which we must live.

Charity, compassion, tolerance, love — these are the things we learn in Masonry. These are the things that have been revealed to all true initiates since “time immemorial,” wherever men have associated themselves in fraternal groups “to seek after Light,” “to find that which was lost.” These are the things to which we can tie, which are fundamental, and that are eternal. These are the values that we have received from the master builders of all ages.

Last summer I visited one of the ancient churches of Norway, the Nidaros Cathedral at Trondheim. Part of this building dates back to the ninth century — something like 1,000 years ago — and there on the stone walls I saw a mark. I asked our guide what that mark was. She said it was the mark of a masonry foreman who had charge of the construction of this wall. This mark had lasted for 1,000 years. It was the mark of the master builder — the master mason.

Today, as we pick our way through this dizzy, giddy whirl of modern change and development, let’s give thought to leaving our mark on the walls we build, so that someone a thousand years from now may see what we have done. If the works of our life are to last, we must build in accordance with the truths and precepts of our order.

If Masonic influence is to continue to be felt long after we have passed through the corridors of the temple, we must take these truths — these mysteries to heart; to believe in them and to practice them; and to make them an integral part of our lives. Masonry is a way of life, not merely a series of ritualistic performances. Masonry is a set of virtues, of fundamental truths that must be a living, vital part of our existence. These are the only mysteries for which our symbols have eternal value in the midst of bewildering change.

The Masonic Service Association of North America