Even if basic human nature does not change in the next
millennium--if man remains a tense balance of savage and saint--Masonry
and the Scottish Rite have proved over and over again that men can learn
to “subdue their passions.”
Albert Pike, in the Ritual of the 18th Degree, wrote these chill-ing words: “The whole world was never yet at peace. War seems the normal state of man; to kill, his pleasure; and to persecute, his luxury. To the civilized, as to the savage man...the smell of fresh blood is grateful. Men prey upon each other, as beasts prey upon beasts, over the bodies of the dead; ambition always marches towards power; and everywhere and always man is man’s victim.” These are stark and sobering words, and strange words from one who, like Pike, was essentially an optimist.
The topic of this Conference, “Freedom Without Violence in the Third Millennium,” places Pike’s observation in a modern context. Today, it seems freedom is yoked to violence. It is not that freedom itself gives rise to violence, although often violence has been the last resort of those seeking and securing their freedom. It is, rather, that the violent often use their freedom to commit even more acts of violence.
There is a colloquial American proverb: “Your freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose.” But history has shown us that many men, nations, creeds, and cultures are not willing to stop that swinging fist. Almost daily we hear of new conflicts, new outbreaks of violence. In Eastern Europe, in the Middle East and even in the cities of America, peace and harmony seem fragile uncertainties, while the threat of violence and the exploitation of groups or classes of people seem ever present.
I have little hope that the beginning of the millennium will produce a time of peace. In the last millennium, from 1001 to now, great changes in government, nationhood, and especially science and technology have taken place. But basic human nature has not altered noticeably at all. Within each individual dwells not only the civilized person but also the savage.
We are all capable of violence, although it takes much more to release that savage in some than in others. When the next millennium begins, we will probably be the same sort of people we are now, the same combination of savage and saint which tortured heretics or political opponents, while still dreaming into being astounding works of art, architecture, literature, and music.
But if basic human nature does not change--if man remains this tense balance of savage and saint--Masonry and the Scottish Rite have proved over and over again that men can learn to “subdue their passions.” The saint can subdue the savage.
What are the primary causes of violence, and what, if anything, can the Scottish Rite do to help reduce it?
First, violence can arise because two groups of men passionately disagree on what is right. The American Civil War was not fought between good men on one side and villains on the other. It was fought between two groups of good men, each passionately believing they were right, each fighting to preserve their way of life. Can Freemasonry have an effect in such a case?
A little-known incident from American history can answer that question. The Cherokee, a tribe of Native Indians living in what was then Indian Territory, became bitterly divided during the Civil War, one faction favoring the North and one the South. The result was known as the Cherokee Civil War, a battle which, proportionate to population, was more bloody and ferocious than the larger war itself. It happened that the leaders of the two factions were both Masons. Though sworn to kill each other, they met at the altar in a Lodge and made peace. The claims of Masonry were stronger than the passions and hatreds of sworn enemies. True freedom was born that day in that tiny, rustic Lodge, for both men entered enslaved and inflamed by their passions, and both emerged triumphant and free.
So it is in the larger world. Masonry can teach the great lesson of brotherhood--that the similarities we share as common children of a common Father outweigh the differences which separate us, powerful as they are. By each person Masonry teaches this lesson, it reduces the risk of violence and increases the hope of peace.
Second, violence can arise from greed. Extortion can be found at every level, from the young bully in the schoolyard using force to exact a few pennies from those younger or weaker than he to the nation which desires the mineral wealth or land of a neighboring people.
In the Thirtieth Degree of the Rite, Albert Pike sounds the call of how the Mason should respond to such violence and extortion: “If Masonry cannot prevent war between nations or within the bosom of a nation, it will at least endeavor to mitigate the horrors and prevent the worst atrocities of war. It will not remain silent, if private citizens are robbed and murdered, if the barbarity of the savage is engrafted on civilization, and cruelty and villainy are rewarded with honor and distinction. If it cannot prevent the crimes that disgrace humanity, it will denounce those who commit them, and make their names infamous all over the world.”
Third, violence can arise from intolerance. Of all forms and sources of violence, the Rite most fears and most strongly opposes intolerance. More blood has been shed, more bones wrenched asunder, more cries of anguish wrung from the tortured, and more wars mounted in the name of religious intolerance than from any other cause. The most damnable villainies have been committed by those who have dared to say, “I know the truth because God has revealed it to me. If you do not agree, I have a holy right to make you suffer until you do agree.” It is not only the duty, it is the sworn obligation of Scottish Rite Masons to oppose with all their strength and resources any person, organization, or nation which practices intolerance and persecution against those who dare to disagree.
Fourth, violence can arise from ignorance. This may account for much of the violence found in the inner cities and, increasingly, in the suburbs as well. Street gangs, marking off their “turf” and defending it with the territorialism of wild animals, are often the most poorly educated of a nation’s children. Lacking social skills, lacking an awareness of the rights of others, concerned only to preserve their brittle and artificial self-importance by avenging any perceived lack of respect shown to them--responding with violence to a misinterpreted glance of the eye or turn of the head--such individuals make it difficult for us to find the saint within these savages. If this violence can be interrupted (and that is by no means certain) by anything short of the full and forceful power of the law, it will be by education and by the determination of great and dedicated men and women who so firmly believe in the inner saint that it begins to emerge and conquer the outward savage. In such worst-case circumstances, as in all others, the programs supported by the Rite can be a beacon of light and a hope for help.
And that, in one way or another, is the common theme of these remarks. Violence can be constrained in only one of two ways: it can be opposed and controlled by greater force, or it can be lessened and often overcome by a deeper understanding of ourselves, our natures, our strengths, and our weaknesses--by the lessons, that is to say, offered by the Scottish Rite to all its members and, through them, to the community at large.
I wish I could say that such measures will suffice in all cases. They will not. There are those who cannot learn and those who will not learn. The savage each man and woman carries into the Third Millennium is as crafty, as capable, and as selfish as it was at the dawn of our species. It will be long before violence is cleansed from human nature. But if the internal savage is subdued and if the internal saint strengthened--if we learn the great lessons of toleration, human dignity, the right of freedom and the love of the beautiful and true that our Rite teaches--then we will lessen the violence and ameliorate the suffering the inner savage causes.
It will not be an easy or rapid process, but it is possible. And it is that note of hope that Pike sounded in the Ritual for the Thirty-third Degree: “But still, the world does move, and we must not despair, though little comes of our labours in our own time. Surely the Earth will at last become God’s true Temple, the habitation of Truth and Love, when all men will constitute one people, living as the children of a common Father should, in obedience to His eternal laws of Equity and Charity.
“When, all over the world, Truth shall have taken the place of Error, Liberty of Despotism, Justice of Inequity, and Toleration of Persecution, the Holy Empire of Scottish Masonry will be established....”
The above article was presented as a paper by Ill. Kleinknecht at the 41st Conference of European Sovereign Grand Commanders meeting in Vienna, Austria, May 7-10, 1997.