By Bro. Joseph Fort Newton, Iowa
IT is the mission of our fraternity to make sweet reason and brotherhood prevail. But Brotherhood! It is a world in itself as wide as it is ancient which breaks through our definitions and overflows our best ideals. Never was it more talked about than now when it seems like an angel troubling our Bethesda pools to a new sense of its inevitability and never has it haunted us so much as in this hour, though war seems to make a red mockery of it.
Until two years ago the signs of the time seemed to indicate that at last after all the weary ages of waiting the Kingdom of Brotherhood was at hand. Industry was busy plaiting a web about the earth: throwing out its thrumming wires, sending its ships like bobbins to and fro, catching up trains and caravans as shuttles to its hands, weaving the whole world of men into a web of mutual interest and trust. Science toiled quietly at the same task and enticed the hidden forces in ray and wave to serve the wants of men, the while its sister, literature, carefully built its republic of letters in which was neither free nor bond, Jew nor Gentile; Democracy went about to cast its leaven under the throne of kings, and Socialists dreamed their dream of a United States of the World. Meanwhile the church's missionary enterprise went out to bind up the ends of the world into the kingdoms of our God in which the race's littlest people might find a place in the everlasting sun.
Then, on a fateful day, a young Servian high school student fired a shot the echoes of which are still heard round the world.
It was as if some shaggy creature from Dante's pit had crawled out and swept all this fine work away with one sweep of its paw. The instruments of fraternity underwent a change like the transformation in some horrible dream phantasm when the most familiar objects suddenly loom in terrifying aspect. Clouds of battle smoke drifted over the lands like hell's mirages making our nearest neighbors to look like demons. Industry was impressed into the service of shot and shell. Science went over to the side of Satan. Socialists shot each other down from opposing trenches. Philosophers and poets mobilized for the warfare of hate. Rival churches prayed from the one God the boons of victory. The whole fair web of amity was rent in twain from top to bottom and our hearts turned sick within us to the realization that John Ball spoke the sober truth when he said, "Brotherhood is heaven; the lack of brotherhood is hell."
But, after all, is not the lack of brotherhood an old, old thing? The war has not created a new problem but has only served to cast an ancient problem into bolder relief. Human charity under the sun was as rare when Abraham tended his flocks as now, and rarer. Who cannot testify to the shock of disillusionment when he discovered the gray character of men to be so different from the generous estimates of early enthusiasm? When the appearances of fraternity were so much more favorable it was still true that deep weariness and sated lust made human life something like a hell, and that men were too much given to retaliation and distrust.
Has not this always been the problem of the lodge room? What the war has brought us a white focus has always existed there, though not always clamant. In that sacred rectangle with the light from the East across it men have been subjected to influences constantly appealing to the better angels of their nature. Ancient ritualisms have played upon them with the soft insistence of a prayer and appealed to them as only the truth can when throbbing with the submerged rhythms of a divine poetry. The very atmosphere, as we have all felt, has been drained of all save these fine appeals and silence, which is finer than all; and a vigilant watchman has been at the gate guarding us against the enemies of love.
But one thing has ever slipped past the tyler,-- our scarred and twisted human nature. The heart of man is desperately wicked and full of deceit, and never more unmasked in its wickedness than in the circle of which the Great Light of Masonry is the center. Slander, envy, pride, vanity, self ambition, cunning, gossip and silent, vicious innuendos have crept in and always will creep in while man is man. The lair of anti-brotherhood lies not in outward things but in the heart; it is the shadow cast by our unredeemed nature. Armaments do not create it, they merely give it vent. We have learned war for so many ages, national war and personal war, it has become a part of our very substance, so that our minds are warped permanently into the ways of strife.
All this is but to say that brotherhood itself is a problem. If we hold our hopes in check and do not let our wishes create illusions, we shall all see that fraternity cannot come by any easy incantation. We want that men shall deal with each other as if the whole race were one family, as indeed it is, albeit so many of us have not yet made the discovery. This is the temple we would build. But what imperfect ashlars we men are! To use William Hawley Smith's vivid phrase, each of us is in some vital direction "born short." We are twisted and gnarled, selfish and vain, conceited and stubborn, determined to have our own way and jealous of our comfort, ready on slight provocation to say or do the thing that will wound a brother's heart.
Is this an overstatement of the case? While this war thunders about the world one could hardly exaggerate this matter. I have stated the matter as vigorously as possible in order that we may all the more be led to realize the divine potency of that power which, in spite of wars and rumors and wars and the opposition of human perversity, will yet prove itself able to send up the shining spires of the temple not made with hands.
Whence can come an illumination able to dispel such darkness? I believe it can come from no other place than from that Great Light which lies unfolded on the altar at the center of the lodge. Two brief sentences, like twin suns, lie close upon its pages. Let me recall them and then let me endeavor to show how in them lies the principle which alone is capable of coping with the enemies of brotherhood.
"Return good for evil." "Love your enemies."
Each of these utterances, on which hang all the law and the prophets, is a wholesale condemnation of the method of retaliation. The one great condemnation of retaliation is not that it violates some abstract theory of morals, but that it will not work. And that is what amazes me about so many hard headed men who pride themselves on being "practical," and who have so much undoubted vigor and good sense! In business these men have submitted every detail to the acid test of workability, creating thereby the new science of efficiency, yet in so obvious a transaction as returning evil for evil their sense of the practical seems to forsake them. They go on returning evil for evil all the days of their life, as if in obedience to some hard and fast law of nature entirely oblivious to the results; indeed seeming never to examine results at all.
What these results are every child can discover if he will. When one returns evil for evil, the world is so made that the only result possible is the increase of evil. If I return a lie for a lie, I add one more liar to the world. If I return slander for slander, two serpent's tongues are hissing where only one hissed before. If I cheat the man who cheated me, the world contains one more thief. The spirit of evil is as much in the other man as before; perhaps, as a result of my own opposition, resentment has been aroused and he grows worse instead of better. The net result of my retaliation is simply this, the amount of evil in the world has been increased by it.
Is that success? Does that work? Is such a method, by any conceivable jugglery of words, to be described as practicable? If the object in our dealing with evil is to destroy evil, retaliation manifestly is not practicable, because it defeats its own object. If one cares to see this visually demonstrated, let him step into one of the old-fashioned penitentiaries where the prisoner is exposed to the vengeance of society. Society returns evil for evil, with the result that the criminal is made more of a criminal than before, so that retaliation transforms the very means of reformation into a school of crime.
If the condemnation of the method of retaliation is that it does not work, the glory of the method of returning good for evil is that it does work. If a man supposes it a piece of moral moonshine fit only for an impossible utopia, he simply confesses that he has not tried it, or at least has not tried it observingly and thoroughly. Even if it does not wholly succeed, it has as an advantage over retaliation the fact that evil is not increased, and that is more than can be said for the opposite method.
But, returning good for evil most certainly does more than merely refuse to increase the amount of evil; it has a positive and constructive result, which springs from the fact that usually evil will wither up in the presence of love. For love is not a mere matter of reciprocity; it is a constructive force, creating its own ends and conditions, as Henry Demarest Lloyd taught us in a glorious book, making something exist where before nothing existed. Love is like the sunlight which not only chases away the dark, but brings in the light.
This is the idea, as I can understand it, in the Book. By "love" it does not mean admiration, affection, or fondness. These things are instinctive and cannot be commanded. Any teaching which demanded that we feel fondness for a brute cannot possibly be binding upon us, because it flys in the face of the very constitution of our souls. This, however, is not anywhere demanded by the Bible, a fact that is overlooked by George Bernard Shaw and those others who condemn the teachings of non-resistance and love, and who understand "love" in the divine pages as if it were the equivalent of "admiration." Love is not a matter of the mere sentiments; it springs from the will and may be described as the habitual willingness that the object of love shall be permitted and assisted to live the completest possible life.
This heavenly wisdom of love, this spiritual greatness which is the ultimate cleverness, was exhibited by Warden Allen of Joliet who, if ever a man was, was justified in seeking retaliation on the men who had so fiendishly violated his confidence and betrayed his confidence. But that great heart did not go back like a fire brand to wreak vengeance; he went back with redoubled determination to love his "boys" the more. That is not to say that he can feel affection for the men who murdered his wife; it is simply to say that he willed that these men should be encouraged to live a completer and more human life.
Love as thus defined is a creative, a generative power and justifies itself by creating its own objects. If a man is too twisted and bent to fit into the machinery of brotherhood, treating him in an unbrotherly fashion won't better him any, but treating him in a brotherly fashion will. By loving him, he will be made more lovable. Men may be brothered into brotherliness.
Brotherhood is most certainly nowhere an established fact. We must all agree with the cynic on this charge, but that is not to surrender the case for it, because the very principle in the Book on which our lodge is erected is that brotherhood is a task. And it is the first great task of the Fraternity to organize all men of good will, "mobilize" them, if you prefer, for the purpose of making brotherhood prevail. We enter the Craft as rough-hewn stones drawn from the crude quarries of human nature; in our hands is placed the sacred trowel; from ritualism, teaching and example is supplied the mystic cement; by forbearance, tolerance, faith, and prayer, we are called to engage in that heavenly task of raising the house not made with hands.