Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I thought they had been to the most exotic places in the world; seen things that no one else in my county could have even imagined, and brought back stories that a boy like me could listen to for a lifetime. I grinned when they laughed, and I felt bad when they cried. And yes, they showed me that it was okay for men to cry. And that men could cry for the gentlest of reasons, or weep over some secret memory held close to their heart. Some of them knew pain--great pain. Some of them remembered too much, and it was hard for them. I felt a sadness for them.
But I admired them deeply. I wanted to be like them. They were my ideal of how one should be an American. They were almost a fraternity in themselves. I heard them joke to each other about which branch of the service was best; and I'm not sure some of their stories were always the whole truth. In fact, I suspicioned that they could be a little "windy" at times. Maybe their memories relaxed with years. It seemed their stories got a little bigger each time they told them. But I loved to hear them tell them. They had experienced things which went far beyond what we learned about our country in books, or in school.
These wonderful men taught me that being an American was more than just feeling safe and watching parades, and eating hot dogs and skinny-dipping in farm ponds; or going to the baseball game on Saturday nights, or showing livestock at the county fair. These fellows understood. Above everything else, they were deeply patriotic men. And I knew how important that ideal was to them.
You see, I was a trumpet player--and even by the time I got to junior high, I was a good one. These fellows invited me to travel with them throughout the county whenever they needed help in burying a fallen comrade. I played taps. They shot their guns in ritual salute. And they solemnly folded the flag which had been draped over their brother's coffin and handed it to his family. And I knew that his spirit had not died with him. They would keep it alive every time they marched with that flag, every time they displayed it at their own homes, every time they folded it in tribute to another brother. Every time they felt their faith in our demorcracy needed to be exemplified, the flag was somehow there.
That was a long time ago. Then, not so long ago, I saw people burning that same flag at a demonstration in Washington DC to make a point about something. It was their right to do that, of course; a right ironically given them by the freedom that same flag had secured for them long before they were even born.
I wondered what my heroes (now gone themselves) would think. Can a flag weep? Do we still care enough?
And for a moment--just a fleeting moment--I remember back across the decades to a young lad who, a long time ago in the first grade, always ran the last few blocks to school in the morning. And when his teacher asked why de did so, he gave this simple answer: "Mrs. Huffer, when I pledge allegiance to the flag I can feel my heart."
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
This, then, begs the question: If the general public is so dependent on the use of symbols in interpreting the funtioning of life, then why doesn't Freemasonry, whose central theme is symbol interpretation, enjoy a more common place in the public's interest?
I'm not sure I have an answer, but I suspect it has to do with the fact the public is far more interested in assigning a brand to their cultural icons than in connecting moral symbols with objective meaning. Morals are an entirely different package than sodas and automobiles. All modern theories of value tend to share the premise that moral values are always subjective and therefore have no independent meaning and existence. Our contemporary values are often nothing more than projections of our desires and feelings.
But this was not the way values were seen in the 19th century. As difficult as it may be for the public today to equate the Square and Compasses with values, I believe that is precisely what our forefathers intended for it to do.
A ceremonial role is always a group role. It is an expression of rank within the group just as any institutional ceremony is an expression of rank within the community. This was Masonry's foundational motivation for cornerstone laying and public dedications. These ceremonies are based on a profound sociological insight. In ceremonial drama people watch for indications of rak and honor. It doesn't matter if it is military, academic, political, religious or fraternal, we watch the dress, the staging, and the action of the players to discover what determines rank and honor in our lives.
Each traditional institution in our society may have its own brand of honor and dignity, but it derives these from social principles which are accepted by the community as a whole. Thus, the institution, thorugh the ceremonies it performs, becomes final and transcendent in the minds of the observers.
Here is how this works. and Carlyle said it very well: He who puts on a public gown must put off a private person. The formal dress of the Masons in their public ceremonies gives them a social role that has deep meaning. When we play our part in institutional and public ceremonies with dignity, we demonstrate the aura of social status and office. The public has no way of competently judging our competence as an institution. But in the majesty of our dress, our regalia, and our ceremonial forms, we put on the insignia of rank. And all who see us symbolically bow before us.
They are not bowing to us, but to the social status we fill as gentlemen and as guardians of tradition and order in society.
This is the reason we should always be conscious of the integrity we communicate when we are presenting ourselves in the public's eye. In our cornerstones and dedications, our memorial services and community partnerships, we appeal to how the public perceives status in its institutions. As a group, if we could just understand that our task as an institution is symbolically to communicate status; then we would grasp the importance of the formality of our ceremonies.
When the public sees dignity and status in what Freemasonry does and how Freemasons dress, it also becomes possible for it to connect our fraternity with tradition and stability. We become of of the "retro" incons of importance now emerging into the public's consciousness of "favored-man" status. When the public sees us in this role, everything changes.
Because everyone desires an elevation in status.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
That's just the way life is. One of the challenges of the seeker is that, knowing there are different paths to truth, he wants to explore all of them simultaneously. While he must ultimately survey the field of options available to him to understand the ancient traditions, he has to guard himself against making only an intellectual pursuit.
The world is full of academic esotericists.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
The Supreme Court wisely affirmed a right decision of two lower courts. It did what it is charged to do; it upheld the guarantee of our Constitution that there must always be a formal distance between government and religion. The First Amendment is a command to the government to keep its hands off religion; neither aiding it nor hindering it. Jefferson and Madison knew what they were doing when they insisted on a separation clause in our government’s founding document. If the history of the world has done nothing else, it has clearly taught us that nearly as long as humans have been participating in religion, governments have either assumed the power to regulate, suppress, or foster it; or the authorities of religion have assumed the power to regulate their governments. Kings have sought to place curbs on the church’s influence in the hope of gaining more power for themselves. And popes have insisted that kings should be regarded as simply servants of the church. This back and forth struggle between church and state has been the bane of human progress for centuries.
Many folk like to think the Protestant Reformation reconciled the church-state issues of the Middle Ages. But make no mistake about this—Martin Luther did not believe in religious liberty. He may have sought the freedom to interpret the Bible differently than taught by the Catholic Church. But he also assumed that his own interpretation was the only correct one and persecuted those who disagreed. In England, Henry VIII may have disestablished Catholicism in England by setting up the Anglican Church, or Church of England; but everyone knows he did it not to promote religious freedom, but to allow him to divorce his wife and marry another in search of a male heir to England.
John Calvin may be best known for founding the puritan movement that first brought Protestantism to the American colonies; but he also forced the town council to swear an oath pledging to uphold his form of Christianity. He banned the celebration of Christmas and Easter, raided homes, banned books, and interrogated private citizens in order to stamp out his form of heresy.
We often think the Pilgrims and Puritans came to America for religious freedom. But we quickly forget that their form of religious freedom was meant only for themselves. They had absolutely no interest in promoting freedom of religion for anyone else. Once in the new world, they immediately set up harsh theocracies where every aspect of religious life was regulated and a state-imposed orthodoxy was strictly enforced.
Finally, a preacher named Roger Williams, who had been run out of Massachusetts almost immediately after he had arrived in Boston, came up with a sensible idea. He insisted that the state should have no business in enforcing orthodoxy of any kind. An individual’s understanding of religion and truth must come from within. He believed in total freedom of conscience. It was Williams who actually coined the phrase concerning the “wall of separation between church and state.” His treatise was in response to having been found guilty by a general court made up of Puritan leaders for “disseminating new and dangerous opinions”, and banishing him from the colony.
The point of this historical rambling is to show that religious liberty had existed nowhere in Europe, or even in Colonial America outside of Rhode Island prior to the establishment of our own Constitution. Citizens were regularly taxed to support religion. Laws required men to believe certain tenets of Christianity before they could hold public office. Blasphemy was a capital offense. It was this form of harshness and repression of civil rights that led Madison and Jefferson to advocate the saner principle of keeping religion and government from each other.
Today, the Religious Right, unable to find any support for their views in the historical record, simply invent a new “history” whenever they wish by selectively culling material from the writings, speeches, and the actions of the framers of our Constitution. As Scottish Rite Masons, we are well aware of this kind of tactic. Anti-Masons, made up mostly of the Religious Right, do the same thing when quoting Albert Pike.
But it’s a ploy easily uncovered by astute men.
Just because our constitutional delegates, all religious men, often made speeches outlining the importance of religion to good government in their discussions as framers of the constitution, this did not mean they were promoting a union of the two. Yes, they were devoutly religious men. Comments concerning their personal religious sentiments did exist, but these tell us only that they believed religion was necessary to the function of good government. That did not preclude them in any way from being advocates of church-state separation. Jefferson was firmly convinced that allowing religious leaders to entangle themselves with government would prove an obstacle to human progress and liberty. For our framers, the fundamental concern was in prohibiting “the clergy from getting themselves established by law and engrafted into the machinery of government as being the formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.” (Jefferson).
As Scottish Rite Masons, if we are champions of anything, we are champions of religious freedom. We must agree with Jefferson that the best interest of human liberty and progress is served whenever a court decides against a church or any other religious entity or cause from having any legal authority or privilege whatsoever that might interfere with one person’s freedom of conscience in interpreting for himself the essential mandates of God. In a free country, this must always be the first rule of law.
This brings me back to the Haskell County courthouse lawn. The courts have wisely developed a three prong test for determining if the separation doctrine guaranteed us by the First Amendment is being infringed upon. In the case of the Ten Commandments, the three tests seem rather easy to decipher. Is it a religious monument? Is its effect primarily religious? Does placing it on government owned property constitute an entanglement of government in religious matters?
The answer to all three is obviously in the affirmative. Even if no one showed up when the monument was placed, two of the three tests were violated. When the public officials took formal action permitting the monument, the third test was met. Then, to add legal insult to injury, when the monument was dedicated, there were ministers present who spoke in behalf of its message. The message was religious, and the celebration created a religious effect. The fact the county commissioners allowed the monument to be erected on public grounds entangled them in the web of disregard for the public’s constitutional protection.
The bottom line is that the separation of church and state will not survive if not defended. It will not survive if people come to believe that the principle is not in the best interests of our nation, or that it is hostile to religion.
For those who understand the true history behind church-state separation and how the principle defends religious liberty, it is a ‘no-brainer’. We need only to look back over our shoulder to feel the persecution of the past. It is the awareness of such a history that made church-state separation an integral part of the Scottish Rite creed for two hundred years.
It could be our gift to the world if we brought it back into our Masonic consciousness, and became public spokesmen for its cause. When the public is educated, the separation clause can be defended and preserved in America’s courtrooms, schools, statehouses, and in Congress. But to not continue to do so, and even worse, by allowing the Religious Right to prevail in duping our public officials with their revisionist history, could prove disastrous for our country.
Nothing less than the future of religious freedom is at stake.