The world is the earth and the sky with the atmosphere between the two, plus the men in it, and what these men have made of the earth by their own work. These men are never melted down into a general abstraction called mankind (or "humanity"); God does not like melting-pots, American or any other; each of the men is a "this particular man," indestructibly individual, absolutely unique, and no one man is interchangeable with another like the parts used in mass production, because each of them is unmistakably an "I." But it happens that the very individuality of these men consists in part of their being sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, nephews; each one is in a family; the families are related by blood and marriage and this constitutes society; to keep themselves alive these men work in associations, live in communities, and are linked together in peoples, nations, institutions, associations, unions, fraternities, and other organizations without number. Freemasonry itself is a fraternity; the question is, where docs it belong among the other groups and associations? What have they to do with it, and what does it have to do with them? Where is its own place in the world?
When men in the United States, Canada, Britain, and Europe set about the answering of a question of that type they almost invariably bring to bear upon it a habit of thinking or reasoning which has become so ingrained that few of them are conscious of it, and they would be nonplussed to discover that such a habit of mind would strike men in Asia and Africa as being a very odd sort of reasoning. You first divide everything into classes; thus, horses of every possible species and variety are put into a class called "horse," buildings of any possible shape, material, or purpose are put into a class called "buildings"; wheat, corn, rye, oats, barley, and similar edible grains are put into a class called "cereals"; and so forth until everything is put into some "class" or other. You next make up a sort of description or inventory or resume of any one of these "classes," and this is supposed to define it. That done, you can then have your own ideas, or theories, or feelings about the "class"; and this means when carried into practice that you carry about a ready-made judgment, a feeling about a "class" which you can apply to any particular thing which you believe to belong to it.
How this works out is too familiar to call for many illustrations. There is a class of practices called "religion"; a given man has "made up his mind" about religion, believes in it or does not, likes it or does not, has a set of ideas or theories about it; when he encounters something which he takes to be a particular instance of religion, or is told that it is, or guesses that it is, he has judged it beforehand, because he brings to bear upon it all that he carries about in his mind on the subject of religion. A similar example is the "class" of things called "politics." If a man has "made up his mind" about the class called politics, necessarily he has made up his mind about any given man or activity which he believes to belong to that class - if he hates politics, or "recognizes politics to have some usefulness," or likes politics his general judgment will also be his particular judgment. A third and last example is so familiar and so inclusive that it could easily have been sufficiently illustrative if it only had been used; it is that of the classification of men. A man divides men into such classes as "upper," or "middle" or "lower"; or the successful and the unsuccessful; the rich, the well-to-do, the poor; conservatives, liberals, "reds"; etc., etc. If he hates or likes or approves or disapproves, or supports or opposes any one of these "classes" he will extend his ready-made judgment and ready-made feeling to a man, the moment he meets him, whom he believes to belong to any class in question.
This habit of thinking began in the Middle Ages with Scholasticism; the scholastics built the theory of it out of what they believed to have been taught by Aristotle, the Greek philosopher whom they worshipped only this side of a god. This Aristotelianism is now wholly discarded by trained or professional thinkers, by mathematicians, logicians, philosophers, scientists, theologians, and it was discarded because it was demonstrated to be false to facts. We can take it that there are kinds of things; we can also take it that for the sake of convenience plants and animals may be classified according to order, family, species, and variety; but the words kind, order, species, etc., as here used do not mean what "class" means, or anything remotely similar to it. No man should ever come to a thing, or to any question about things, with his mind made up beforehand; he must first obtain the facts, and afterwards let the facts make up his mind for him, otherwise he can be neither truthful nor rational.
This technical and possibly too recondite discussion was necessary to a true answer to the questions of Freemasonry's place in the world. Any reader of the body of Masonic literature and more especially of books written before the first decades of this century, knows that the majority of the writers who set out to explain Freemasonry and to give its place in the world used the Aristotelian habit of thinking to do it with. They took it that all groups or associations fall into classes; that among these are such classes as government, schools, churches, fraternities., clubs, philosophies, occultisms, etc., etc.; they then argued that Freemasonry necessarily belongs to one of these classes; and their conclusion was that whatever is true about the class it belongs to is true about Freemasonry. What class does it belong to? It is probable that an analysis would show that our writers have given approximately sixty answers to that question; but since we here need not a catalog of those answers but an understanding of how the method was worked, two examples will be sufficient, one from an old writer, one from a recent writer.
The Rev. George Oliver was a prolific writer, and for at least one generation was the Craft's most widely read author; he was wordy and diffusive, was often uncertain of his own mind, and from one book to another was often inconsistent with himself; but any reader of the whole body of his books will find that Oliver believed that among the many classes of things is a class which in his generation would have been described as "the handmaidens of religion." Once this is seen it is easy to follow Oliver's reasoning: "A handmaiden of religion," he argued, "is any society or association which is not a part of the church but exists to assist or to support the church. It is a religion, but not a dogmatic religion. Freemasonry is a handmaiden of religion; therefore Freemasonry is a religion, but is not a dogmatic religion." The second example is that of a writer who is for his sincerity everywhere deeply respected and for his great learning is everywhere profoundly admired. This writer is Arthur Edward Waite, who during a life-time devoted to the Fraternity gave it a long series of books in some of which is Masonic scholarship at its best. What is here said refers only to his theory of Freemasonry's place in the world, which in the present writer's own words may be succinctly stated: "There is a class of religious practices (or experiences) called mysticism; Freemasonry is a religious mysticism; whatever may be the place belonging to religious mysticism in the world is the place belonging to Freemasonry." It is obvious that these two answers - and it would be equally obvious of the other fifty-eight or so - all follow (differing as they do from each other) the same patterns of reasoning: it is assumed that there are a certain number of classes of associations, societies, etc.; that each of these is to be described, judged, defined, appraised in a certain way; and that whatever is true of the class of association to which our Fraternity belongs is true of it.
But it would be misleading to let this analysis stand so as to give the impression that only Masonic writers have ever used this pattern of reasoning; it has been used equally often by nonMasonic writers, and the results of their using it have often been surprising enough, and sometimes have shocked us. The Roman Catholics long ago, and officially, classified our Fraternity as a sect; they define a sect as some organization, presumably a religious one, which exists for the express purpose of destroying, or dividing, or troubling the Roman Church; a Roman Catholic "makes up his mind" about sects, and since he considers that Masons belong to a "sect" he feels about us whatever he feels about sects, therefore before ever he meets you or me in person his mind is already made up about us. In the days of the AntiMasonic Crusade in the United States members of the AntiMasonic party classified our Fraternity among "conspiratorial societies"; such a member, were he to meet you and me, would have us condemned in his own mind before knowing us - unlike a court, or a judge he would render a verdict before listening to the testimony; "conspirators are wicked; Freemasons are conspirators; these two men are Freemasons; therefore they are wicked." And then (though not to multiply examples unnecessarily) there are those who believe that there is a class of associations called secret societies; the secrets in them are very queer; and they then conclude that Freemasonry is a secret society and therefore is queer. There is almost no end to the number of "classes" into which associations and societies may be divided or arranged; what a non-Mason thinks or feels about Freemasonry usually is determined for him by what "class" he believes it to belong to, and by what he feels and thinks about that "class."
Where is a man to place Freemasonry? To what kind, or sort, or class of things does it really belong? When a man asks these questions in sincerity as one whose only motive is to receive enlightenment it is a trial to his patience when we Masons give him as an answer what must appear to him to be nothing more than a succession of negatives. Freemasonry is not a religion: neither is it a church, nor a handmaiden of religion; nor a school, nor a club; nor a government, nor a political society; nor a conspiracy, nor a secret society; nor a school of occultism, nor a school of mysticism; nor a convivial society, nor a reformation crusade; nor an insurance society, nor a benefit society; nor a benevolent order, and is not an association for charity.
These negatives are themselves a positive
and affirmative answer to the question, because they mean that
"Freemasonry is Freemasonry." It can be described and
defined only in terms of itself. No generalization consisting
of a description, or judgment, or appraisal of what a man may
take to be a class of social organizations can possibly be true
of it, because it does not belong to any class of societies. No
non-Mason, and not even a Candidate, can bring to it a mind already
made up about it, or bring to bear upon it any set of ideas or
judgments previously formed, because he has not had any previous
experience with what it is. It is self-constituted; it brought
itself into existence; what it is has been made by itself; it
has grown up out of its own roots; it is therefore not a specimen
of a number of things like itself; there was no place ready-made
for it to step into, but it has made its own place. "What
is the place of Freemasonry in the world?" The answer is,
"Wherever it is found, there is its place." When we
consider that it has made a place for itself in fifty or more
countries, and that it has held its own place for eight or nine
centuries, we must believe that it is worthy of the place which
it holds in the world.
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