For almost 30 years, I have been writing and speaking to both those within and outside of our Craft concerning the significance of Freemasonry. Those presentations were made to proponents of the Fraternity as well as to opponents.
It has not been difficult to discuss at length those proponents of the Craft, one reason being that so many of them have, or had, names which are so easily recognizable because of their positive contributions to the history of mankind.
Indeed, history is replete with their names. They are men who led their countries in the struggles for what are basically some of the philosophical precepts of Freemasonry and were included as the precepts of their respective countries. Those of liberty, freedom, and equality of man are probably best known to us. It takes little effort to become aware of them. We need only to read American history to become fully cognizant of their significance.
There is, however, one other fundamental precept which characterizes this organization more than any other and establishes the Craft as a friend of those who love the aforementioned precepts and as an enemy to those who do not. This precept is the need to practice toleration of others' beliefs. This quality of the Craft probably has created Freemasonry's greatest friends and its most ardent enemies.
I mentioned that history is replete with the names of Freemasons who led their countries to achieve what are the ideal of the Masonic Fraternity. I have discussed a number of them in the past, and I do not think there is a member of the Craft today who is not acutely aware of at least a few of them.
It is significant that history is also replete with the names of other men whose names are just as well known, but who were the enemies of Freemasonry. They were enemies because they objected to Freemasonry's emphasis on that need for toleration as a human tradition. Most will recognize the names of Adolf Hitler, Bennito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Francisco Franco, and the Ayatolah Khomeini, amongst others. Each one was an avowed enemy to Freemasonry, as well as an avowed enemy to democracy, both proponents of free thought. Where toleration is practiced, the political philosophy of those men cannot survive.
Several months ago, there was a seminar conducted for the purpose of responding to criticism of the Craft by several religious leaders. One observation I made at that seminar which was strikingly evident was that the opposition to the Masonic Fraternity by those men was based upon the same premise as those men I mentioned above. It was made very clear that toleration of others' beliefs is not to be accepted by the minds of those religious leaders who have positioned themselves to be enemies of our Craft. The emphasis we place upon this practice is an antithesis to their methodology.
One of the most discouraging aspects of being a Masonic leader today is the need to attempt to educate those in the field of religious leadership who find Freemasonry incompatible with their doctrine, when we know full well that we encourage member support of their religion probably more than any existing organization on earth.
It is a tragic commentary that the enemies of the Craft have been the world's greatest tyrants and some of the world's religious leaders, both major antagonists of each other. It is probably even more tragic that they oppose us for the same reason -- the philosophical principle that man should not only have the right to worship God, but also have the right to worship God as he sees fit. An observation I made when I wrote my first Masonic paper almost 30 years ago was that there was no religion in opposition to Freemasonry, but there are religious leaders in opposition to Freemasonry. I find no reason to change that observation.
The greatest contribution that we as individual Freemasons can make to our Craft along these lines is to let those leaders of religion to whom we look for guidance along theological lines know emphatically that our commitment to the Craft and its principles is not only compatible to God, but, as an organization, it reinforces our responsibilities to our Supreme Being and to our place of worship. Each of us has a stake in that contribution.