BEFORE I became a Mason I was often assured that Masonry had nothing to do with religion, but with this statement I cannot agree, as it seems to me that it has much to do with religion. Of course, it does not deal specifically with orthodox creeds, but the very vitals of religion are involved, woven and interwoven through it all. A man must have religious convictions, who passes through its sacred symbols, otherwise he would be a conscienceless hypocrite. No man, who is morally impervious, can be a true Mason.
In the next place:--Since "We meet upon the Level and we part upon the Square," it seems to me that the great Masonic Brotherhood has before it a sublime mission at this particular time in the world's conflict of ideas. In such an age as this, it is not difficult for a man to speak on some phase of life; it is however a difficult task, in an age so complex, to survey the field of life, weigh the various forces of progress, compare the organizing ideals and arrive at an accurate generalization of truth. Still, I believe that thoughtful people will agree that the outstanding social fact of our day is the democratization of life.
The history of the race reveals a constant tendency to Aristocracy. Aristocracy always ends in the oppression of the weak. In the crude stages of the race, we see the strong man by brute force assume the leadership of his clan and wave the big stick. With the same motive, later, he becomes a soldier and with his army he conquers his fellows, going through slaughter to a throne. This is the Aristocracy of Force. This vantage he passes on to his offspring and thus we have the idea of "The Divine Right of Kings" and all its pernicious results. This is the Aristocracy of Heredity. Later, as men form larger ideas of culture, we have born the Aristocracy of Culture and Learning. Here men feel that because they have swallowed a college curriculum of classical heathenism, they are lifted above their fellows and it is not consistent with learning to bear the burdens of society. Then, as creative genius has produced wealth, we have, especially in this country, built up an Aristocracy of Wealth, which class has insisted on its right to plunder the public and outrage decency "within the law," or in spite of it, and claimed immunity from punishment due social criminals.
Now, over against the philosophy of Aristocracy, of the privileged few against the unprotected many, of selfishness against the public weal, we have this modern uprising of the masses, the unfolding of a new democracy. Look at Art. There was a time when painters, for the most part, thought only of the gorgeous, the outstanding in nature; now they find beauty everywhere, in some dull cut by the way, some meadowbrook with its pastoral scenes or a peasant's hut with parents and lusty off-spring about a simple board. These are sufficient to inspire the genius of the modern painter. Again, look at the field of Literature. Once the poem was inspired by the idle luxury of the court and dedicated to some voluptuous queen. To-day, we are inspired by everyday-flesh-and-blood people whom we can know and love and serve. We are learning to "Live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man." Then look at Fiction. Once the heroes or heroines must always, in the end, turn out to belong to the Aristocracy. Now, instead of princes in disguise and masked knights and an endless procession of impossibles, we have a new moral picture being drawn in modern books in which the heroes and heroines are found among the men, who swelter at the forge or women who stand behind counters. We are getting "Inside the Cup" and cleaning out "the drains" even under the pulpits of "sacred evils." We are finding the sources of a new life in helping folks who wrestle with hunger in an empty bread tray. This same tendency may be seen in education. The day when the educated man was defined as the man who had swallowed all the heathen gods and goddesses has gone as it ought to go. We are learning that education is not stuffing people on the debris of ages, but awaking the potentials of personality and turning a man loose in a world to create some utility. The new education is culminating in The Kingdom of the Commonplace. We are finding that every man and woman has in them the elements of greatness, which should be developed to the maximum of individuality. This individuality is finding its medium of immortality through social service and thus:
"The common deeds of the common day Are ringing the bells in the far away."
We are ever in danger of hanging on to cast-off husks of truth and losing sight of the vital organism that seeks a newer habiliment. This evil is what I call social appendicitis and in the classic phrase must be "cut out," else we endanger the whole social body. Now in this new democracy, this kingdom of the common-place, we can all have a part. It does not destroy individuality but creates it. Altruism is the law of life and produces the maximum of personality. It calls every man to live for public weal. It enthrones every man as his own priest, prophet and king. Any religion, politics or economy, that gives the destiny of people into the hands of a few, is dangerous and must be resisted. The man, who is emancipated from the slavery of selfishness, must stand for the emancipation of all.
Now friends, in the light of these ideals, it seems to me that our Fraternity, based as it is on ideals of equality, can be a mighty factor in overcoming these ancient evils and enthroning the people. With the regard for history and a proper use of ancient foundations, we should build thereon the structure of "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity," that shall truly bless the world. It is this vision that thrills me; it is this hope that makes me join my little mite to yours in order that we shape with true horizontals and erect with correct perpendiculars the Temple of Life. If this be the spirit that animates our brotherhood, we shall play well our part in that drama of life.