A man has in his own being a number of ways of action which we call by the names truthfulness, goodness, honor, honesty, bravery, courage, purity, and righteousness; together, taken as a whole, they are called character. Character belongs to a man as a whole; it helps to constitute him, is born in him, and like seeing and hearing is inherent in men and women everywhere. Since it thus belongs to man, character is not entirely a set of habits, or a system of doctrines, is not learned at school, and it is for the same reason that the terms for character are found in every one of the more than two thousand languages in the world.
A man can maim himself; he can blind himself, as Hindu beggars sometimes do. He can destroy his hearing; he can cut off his own hands; he can refuse to think, or to speak, or to use his own mind until he finally loses the ability to do so. Similarly he can destroy character out of himself, and when he does he is described as criminal, or wicked, or sinful, or wrong, or unrighteous. Regardless of what he is called he is a mutilated man who lacks something in himself which belongs to every normal man or woman. By a convention of speech we say of a man who possesses normal character that he is righteous, or of a woman that she is moral; the two words mean the same thing; in either event it is no more a "struggle or painful endeavor for a normal and healthy man to be righteous than it is for him to see, or hear, or breathe."
A Man's own character is in himself and to himself and for himself what it is to others, and is so in toto, as a whole, and down to the last detail. To be truthful to himself and about himself differs not an iota from being truthful to others or about others. When a man is good to himself his goodness is identical with what it is when he is good to another. There is no such thing as "private" character, or "personal morality," still less is them any difference or conflict as between private ethics and public ethics using the word ethics as a loose and large term for the whole realm of character.
Neither is it true that the external world in which we live and move about is "indifferent to character," or is "morally neutral," or is "non-moral" because the world as it is in itself, apart from a man, and independently of him, is such that if he is not righteous he will suffer and the world will see to it that he does. History is full of instances where whole peoples have perished because their men and women had destroyed character out of themselves.
That world is everywhere the self-same world it would be a contradiction in terms to suppose that there could be man, "worlds" because the word means "everything there is." Men are everywhere the same, they belong to Man, and it would be as impossible for more than one Man to be as it would for more thaw one world to be. By the same token character is everywhere selfsame; it "does not alter when it alteration finds," or change with the seasons, or become one thing in one country, another thing it: a different country. It would be as absurd to suppose that arithmetic is not the same today that it was ten thousand years ago or to suppose that it is one thing in China and a different thin, in the United States, or to suppose that truthfulness, goodness. honor, honesty, courage, bravery, purity, or righteousness are not the same everywhere. If they were not the same we could not travel from one country to another; one people could not undo stand another people; languages could not be translated into each other; one people's history would mean nothing to any other people; there could be no common civilization.
Does Freemasonry have "a system of ethics" peculiarly its own. It does not be cause no society can have one, any more than on. people, or religion, or language can have one. What truthfulness is everywhere else is what truthfulness is in Masonry; its honor differs from no other man's honor because honor cannot differ. It takes character for granted and accepts it for what it is, just as it accepts manhood for what it is, or work, or geometry, and it has never fallen into the absurdity of fancying chat a Mason might have a character invented by the Craft and peculiar to himself.
When a youth presented himself at the door of a Lodge of Operative Freemasons to petition for admittance into apprenticeship, its members made no more ethical demand on him than that he should be righteous, by which they meant normal in character. When they inquired to see if he was "under the tongue of good report" their only purpose was to discover if others, in the past, had found him to be righteous. If he was not righteous they refused to accept him, and that regardless of what talents he might appear to have, because their Craft was not a reformatory. It did not occur to them that character could be different inside the Lodge from outside it. Their work was trying and difficult therefore they had to have courage, it was hazardous and sometimes deadly therefore they had to have bravery, but they did not chink of their own courage or bravery as being different from ocher men's. They knew that an apprentice would have to be loyal because they would encrust their lives and limbs to him, but there was nothing peculiar or occult in this loyalty.
Almost every Monitor in the United States quotes a definition of Freemasonry which has (and whether rightly or mistakenly) been accredited to Dr. Samuel Hemming, who had charge of the attempt to devise a uniform ritual when the Modern and Ancient Grand Lodges in England united in 1813 A.D.; according to its familiar words "Freemasonry is a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegories, and illustrated by symbols." The sentence possesses the quality of great literature because in it are verbal beauty and a high poetry, and it could without affront be incorporated in the text of the Holy Bible. But however beautiful it is, it suffers from a fatal defect: it is not true.
Freemasonry is a fraternity, not "a system of morality" (what could that mean?); it has never propounded a set of ethical doctrines, nor adopted an ethical code of its own; and a Lodge is a lodge, not a school of ethical culture, nor a school room for ethical lectures; and instead of existing to make men righteous it demands that they shall be righteous before their admittance into it. Neither does Freemasonry "veil" anything belonging to character, nor does it disguise them in the form of "allegory" (what could that mean?), but states them in plain languages as forcefully and forthrightly as it is able, and without obscuration by fog or ambiguity; furthermore it states its demands for character over and over, in its questions to the Petitioner, in its questions to the Candidate (and his answers), in the Obligations, in the Landmarks, in the Rules and Regulations, and in the Lectures; if it states many of them in the form of symbols it is not to conceal them but to make them plain, and because a symbol often says more than words can. Neither does it "illustrate" its demands on character, but states them in their own terms, in plain words, without "beating about the bush" if brotherly love, relief and truth are tenets it is they themselves that are presented, each in its own name, for its own sake; they are not presented in order to "illustrate" something other than themselves.
If there is therefore no such thing as "Masonic ethics" in the sense that character is (or could be) not what character is everywhere else, there is nevertheless another possible use for that phrase that leads in another direction which it is profitable to follow. Freemasonry is a world in itself; it has a field of its own, purposes of its own, activities of its own, its own forms of work, its own organization, and its own Landmarks. Wherever that is true, wherever men work in association, their needs require that certain things belonging to character shall be brought to the front, and emphasized, because they are especially needed. In a battle a man has a continual need for bravery, and he therefore emphasizes it to himself and keeps it in his consciousness, because his life as well as the outcome of the battle depend on it; when the same man is at home he has the same bravery in him but does not have the same need for it, but possibly may need to keep goodness to the front, and ever hold it in his consciousness. It would be difficult to think of a man as being in any set of circumstances, or in any form of work, or in any activity or place or association where he would not similarly be called upon to use one thing in character more than another. If this is true in Freemasonry it is not because Freemasonry differs from any other association, but because it does not; it is normal too if its members, being under its conditions and doing its work should, as men everywhere else do, bring to the front and lay more emphasis on some things belonging to character than others. These things of character which it thus especially needs, and therefore especially emphasizes, are the definition of a true use of the phrase "Masonic Ethics," and it is they which are the subject matter of the Masonic books that are classified under ethics.
It is interesting to note the point at which the Fraternity makes this emphasis. The point is nowhere in theory, and is nowhere in words; the Ritual does not ask of a Candidate, "Do you believe in righteousness? What is your opinion of it? How would you define this or that term in it?" Rather, it always raises the question as to what a man does about righteousness whenever he encounters something or must deal with something which raises a question about it. If you encounter a liar, what do you do with him? Do you come to grips with him there and then? If you come upon an act of dishonesty what action do you take? Of what good are thoughts, and theories, and doctrines when some given state of affairs calls not for your opinions and your theories but calls upon you to act? to do? If you encounter ruffians who are there and then engaged in assaulting a friend of yours do you content yourself with saying to yourself "I do not believe in crime," or do you attack them, or knock them down? Of what possible use is it to have the tenet of truth in the mind if when you see a crime being committed before you you back away, and let it work itself out? It is at this point, in this frame-work of doing, that a Masonic Lodge is very ethical is, indeed, surcharged with it. For no Lodge ever asks a member that he shall pass an examination in any history of ethics or in ethical theory, or in the definition of ethical terms, but it insists to the limit of his power that whenever an ethical question arises in Lodge activity he shall take action. Disturbances and disharmony are wrong; every member present is expected to act on the spot to undo a wrong; quarreling is unrighteous, and few things are more so; the Lodge is not interested in a member's theory of quarreling or in his doctrine about evil but it is so much interested in having its members act to put an end to quarreling that if they fail to do so the charter will be withdrawn. It is this quality of ethical action rather than any concern with ethical doctrine or theory which marks the Degrees from beginning to end, and gives to them their feeling of reality and of manliness, because nothing is more unreal than the man whose head is full of powerful ideas about ethics but who is feeble in action. It is for this reason that the Lodge's own ethical life consists of conduct and behavior rather than of codes of doctrine or mere theory. It is not until a Mason sees this to be true that lie can see how ethically sound is a Lodge and how ethically powerful are the Degrees, for in both the Lodge and the Degrees whenever evil or wrong is actually encountered they act, they are never false, they are never uncertain or mistaken, they never haggle or back down.
In the year 1581 A.D., which means that he was only seventeen years of age, and while he was watching a lamp swinging in the Cathedral of Pisa, the Italian Galileo Galilei saw that whatever the range of the oscillations of a pendulum might be, the oscillations are executed in equal times. Any man who sees the facts which Galileo was the first to point out, can see for himself that Galileo's statement was true because the facts are self-evident; since Galileo reported the facts as they are he was truthful, and his statement was therefore a truth. Galileo would have laughed if his father had said to him, "my son, you found out these facts, therefore your truth should be privately owned by you"; he would have laughed if the cardinals and bishops among his friends had said, "You are a Roman Catholic, therefore your truth ought to belong exclusively to your church"; he also would have laughed had a fellow Italian said, "You are an Italian, therefore your truth should belong to Italy." Galileo knew that his truth belonged to everybody; it had been a truth 10,000 years before he was born; it would continue to be a truth 10,000 years after; it is a truth in America, or China, or in Africa as much as in Italy. No truth, for such is the nature of truth itself, can be any man's private property, or be owned or monopolized by anybody; it is in its own essence something free, something which any man can have who desires to have it. No truth, this one stated by Galileo, or any other, and no matter what the truth is about, or who states it, or where he states it, or why, can be a Roman Catholic truth, or a Protestant one, or Jewish, or Confucianist, or ancient, or modern; it may be discovered by a scientist, or a theologian, or a statesman, but it does not matter who states it, or what party he belongs to, a truth is always a truth, and therefore is no one man's private property.
Truth is one of the three Principal Tenets of Freemasonry. They are "principal" because they are at tine center of that in ethics in which Freemasonry is most interested; since they are, a man would expect Freemasons to be intensely interested in them, but for a mysterious reason they are not, as any man can learn for himself who reads Masonic books or periodicals, or looks through collections of Masonic speeches. They are an inactive spot in the Masonic mind. Why is that? It is because so many Masons have failed to see the point of why Freemasonry has these Tenets, and what it has to say about them.
Consider this Tenet of Truth. What point
does the Ritual make about it? It is certain that the Ritual does
not mean by "Truth" any one truth in particular, because
if so, what is it? Or any collection of particular truths; if
so, what are they? The point it makes is an ethical one, a moral
one, it belongs to character, and the point it makes about truth
is the same point that Galileo made; any truth, all the truths
there are, are in their essence free truths, free to anybody,
free to be known to anybody, free for anybody to use and without
asking permission. There are many truths in Freemasonry, some
of them were first discovered and stated by Freemasons, but not
one of them is the exclusive property of Freemasonry, because
no Truth can be anybody's private property; and the mere fact
that a truth is found in Freemasonry cannot mean that it there
differs from the same truth when found outside it; and if a truth
is found outside Freemasonry, in any religion, in any science,
in any country, Freemasons know themselves to be as free to know
and to use it as they may desire to. Then Truth as one of the
Principal Tenets is not a philosophic idea, or a scientific idea,
but is an ethical idea, and this idea means that any righteous
man will never try to make any truth his own property or the property
of his own fraternity, or church, or party, will never lay hands
on any truth to distort it or to misrepresent it to gain something
for himself or his party, and will
never try to prevent any other man from having any truth. This
is what a righteous man does about truth; he will keep it wholly
free, he will never do violence to it, he will never misrepresent
it, and he will never try to keep any other man from having it.
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