The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.


What Is Man?

Bro. The Rev. H. W. Reid

A current story has it that a half-demented man was seen rushing wildly from office to office in a government building in Ottawa. He was flinging open the doors of closets and steel filing cabinets, hunting in waste baskets, crawling under tables, peering under rugs. When finally seized by a detective and questioned on his frantic search he said, “I am looking for me. I am trying to discover who and what I am.” A witty reporter, commenting on the story and the confusion in the national capital, said that if he should go crazy he would want it to happen in Ottawa, for there no one would know the difference. It may be that the man wasn’t crazy. Perhaps that is what every one wants to know in the city of Confusion. Can anyone tell us who and what we are? The Psalmist who asked rhetorically long ago, “What is man?” would discover today that the answer is highly debatable for some have a very low opinion of man.

Arthur Kostler has written a vivid autobiographical novel called Scum of the Earth. It describes brutalities which he experienced as the unhappy inmate of a French Concentration Camp. He said that those who survived “wear the old school tie in the shape of some scar on the body, or an ulcer in the stomach, or at least a solid anxiety neurosis” (p.85). The victims, who were drawn from many nationalities, were treated as “the scum of the earth” in the strongly contemporary phrase of the Apostle “the filth of the world and the off-scourings of all things.”

Kostler describes the daily indignities and sadist brutalities. Many were beaten and battered to death, so that there was a mounting daily toll of suffering and suicide. The camp cemetery, Kostler says, probably contained the most cosmopolitan collection of skulls since the mass graves of the Crusades. Peter the Great subscribed to the view that men were “dung and scum”. He was reproached for the prodigal waste of human life in the construction of St. Petersburg. He made the laconic reply “We must break eggs to make an omelette”. The question is whether men are simply eggs to be broken irrespective as to whether men are good or bad eggs. For Peter the Great as for the dictators of our day, men were expendable material “manure to fertilize the ground for the future.”

Today we are beginning to see how important this question of man really is. Is he a little less than divine, made in the image of God, or simply an object to be used by those who control him? Says J.S. Whale, “What is the truth about the nature and the end of man?” This is the ultimate question behind the vast debate, the desperate struggle or our time. Ideologies, to use the ugly modern jargon — are really anthropologies they are answers to that question man has not ceased to ask ever since he began question at all. Namely, “What is Man?”

One thing that emerges sharply in the Bible is the belief in the dignity and infinite worth of the human soul. The Old Testament Poet summed it up, “Thou hast made him a little less than divine”. We grant that this is not an easy faith to hold. how easily, by paraphrasing the poet’s own words against him, “when I consider the heavens” the new expanse of them that the telescope has opened up — what is man? When we consider the ideologies of collectivism, totalitarianism — what is man — a pawn on a chess board to be pushed around? Said Dr. Iddings Bell, “Man is about to perish because he has lost the vision of his true greatness.” “O Lord,” said a Scottish Divine, “Help me to have a high opinion of myself.” Said the Psalmist, “Thou hast made him a little less than divine.”

See man’s greatness in view of the materialism of our day. He towers above matter. to be sure he has kinship with the earth, the chemical elements in him are the same as all other creatures, worth about 95 cents at the 9 o’clock special, but they are there to help him become more than dust. Edison said the chief function of the body was to carry the spirit around. Ideas leap around within his brain; emotions stir within his breast; imagination leaves the dust of the body to see into future cities and patterns that nature never dreamed. Like the ancient mariners, who do sailing over the sunken islands of Atlantis, hearing voices rising from the long buried city, so also are there ideas, hopes memories, buried in the subconscious depths, now and again sending up mysterious voices to remind man of his lineage with the invisible world of the spirit. In the words of a current observer of life “Man may wonder at the extent of the material universe, but man is still the astronomer, and the greatest wonder is still at the small end of the telescope.” Says Tennyson, “Here he sits, shaping wings to fly, his heart forbades a mystery, he names the names of eternity.: Man created in the divine image has in the range of the finite similar powers to the infinite powers of the Divine. This likeness of mind and spirit can think God’s thoughts after him, feel his presence, know his will and spirit with spirit can meet. What is man? The religious (Christian) answer is that he is a restless child of earth, but a child of eternity too, with “eternal longings in him”, longings that move him to seek fellowship with his fellows and be found by his Creator and his God.

Years ago a story was in circulation about a Russian girl who took a Civil Service Exam and when it was over was fearful about passing. On question especially she kept worrying about: “What is the inscription on the Sarmian Wall? She had written what she thought it was — “Religion is the opiate of the people” — but to be certain she walked the seven miles from Leningrad to the Sarmian Wall. There it was, exactly as she had set it down in the paper — “Religion is the opiate of the people”. Falling on her knees she crossed herself and said, “Thank God”. Ah yes, as Francis Bacon remarked, “atheism is rather in the lip than in the heart of man”. The reason is not far to seek, Thou hast made him a little less than divine. As Augustine summed it up a long time ago, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O God”.