This is the fourth in a series of guest essays by well-known Masonic bloggers. This one is by Bro. Tom Accuosti of the Tao of Masonry. My thanks to each of you who is participating.
Enlightened Harmony and Discord
by Bro. Tom Accuosti
I'm one of those people that used to be a rarity in our Craft, but are becoming more numerous. I did not join the fraternity because an older, respected relative was a member. I do not have any long family tree of Masons, nor was I surrounded by them when I was a child. Indeed, all I remember when I was younger was driving by the lodge in the center of Waterbury, Conn, seeing the symbols on the front, and asking about them several times. Neither my parents nor grandparents could tell me anything about them. I didn't think about the Freemasons until I was in my late teens and would run across references to them in various books on the occult and esoteric. When I was in my 20s in the late 1970s, Freemasonry was at one of its low points with regard to new members and public activity, and again, my only awareness of them was due to books and articles on esoterica, occult, and in my new discovery of conspiracy theories.
By the time I was out of school, my impression of the Masons was mixed: They were kindly, older men who were usually well-respected in the community... but who were also on the lower rungs of the various mystic circles having to do with alchemy and esoteric spirituality. In my mind, one became a Mason, then eventually one went on to become a Rosicrucian, join the OTO, and perhaps go on to dabble in the Kabbalic traditions and some alchemical mysteries. This view was further bolstered by my having read Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum when I was in my 30s. My view of the Fraternity, in fact, didn't change until I joined in 2001. I had expected to find lodges full of men who were interested in intellectual discussions about philosophy, science, human nature, religion, and politics over a quiet cigar and a few fingers of single malt.
Right. But I'll leave that discussion for another time.
When I think about my previous conception of the Craft, I don't, as so many of we Americans tend to do, think about the Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War. I think further back, to the early days of the Enlightenment period in which men were first learning about Natural Philosophy, and were busily making discoveries in chemistry, biology, physics, medicine, mechanics, and other natural sciences. I think about the men who, sometimes at risk to their lives and fortunes, traded and published this information, making it available for others, and hoping that they, themselves, would receive more materials and information with which to improve their own minds. Anonymously published treatises and public lectures all contributed to the growth of general scientific knowledge, and there is no doubt that society benefited by this. Hundreds, nay, thousands of men, many unknown to each other - many not even speaking a common language — were able, over the course of two centuries, to work together in order raise the level of society from a primarily agrarian culture to the Industrial Revolution.
That, my brothers, is harmony.
Did men disagree with each other? Of course they did — the history books on science are full of stories about how certain groups split off over seemingly small differences. One can read hundreds of stories about men who disagreed on topics ranging from the construction of molecules, to the nature of electric current, to the methods of determining geological ages, to the proper reconstruction of dinosaur bones. Some of these disagreements became bitter feuds, and if one wants to read some sad commentary on human nature, one need only read the biographies of some of these great thinkers who refused to change their own theories and beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
This, my brothers, is discord.
But amazingly, the little bit of discord did not derail the entire Enlightenment movement, nor did the discord cause society in general to abandon their principles and applications. In fact, society in general never even noticed many of the arguments and disagreements that took place between the learned men of the age; they were too busy reaping the benefits of better medicine and machinery.
If there is any lesson at all to be learned from this, it is that few people care about the petty squabbles, except the few people who happen to be embroiled in them. Those of us (and I'm including myself in this group) who dwell on the disagreements should once in a while remember to take a step back in order to place our disagreements in perspective.
— Bro. Tom Accuosti
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