FURTHERMORE GETS SERIOUS, AGAIN
On rare occasions, Brother
Furthermore gets serious. Here is one of those occasions!
The courage to doubt your convictions
My eyes began to fail when I turned 30. Other body parts failed later on, but my eyes were about the first to go, as my Brother, Furthermore Raven, loves to point out.
Now, before I turned 30, my eyesight was perfect. I could see issues very
clearly. Everything was a crisp black and white. At 30, I noticed things beginning to blur. Suddenly, shades of gray began appearing that I'd never noticed before.
For example, as a college freshman in the early 1960s, the idea of a war to stop communism in Asia seemed like a good, moral, God-fearing thing to do. The draft was patriotic, the Army was a respectable career and Dow Chemical was a solid corporate citizen.
By the time I was a college senior, the idea of a war in Vietnam was unthinkable, the draft was something to avoid if possible, the Army was a haven of the ignorant and the unlucky and Dow Chemical
was the company that made napalm.
I could see those issues so clearly when I was young. I knew these things-and many others-beyond even a shadow of a doubt.
Then my eyes began to fail or I started getting older. Or, perhaps, I began to grow up. And I discovered shades of gray, different points of view, other ideas. I developed what the eminent historian
Daniel Boorstin would call "the courage to doubt." He explores this idea at length in an elegant little essay in his book "Hidden History." It is worth your time to review. But that's not where I'm going with this right now.
As I found the courage to doubt my own closed convictions, I discovered that it came complete with an attribute to which I had not given much thought in the past: Tolerance. And now, on occasion, I find
that I must revisit these thoughts to renew that virtue.
Consider this little story.
In early 1790, Brother Ben Franklin, already old and full of honors, was ill and many feared for his life. An old friend wrote him to inquire of the state of his soul and his acceptance of Christianity. The tired old man wrote back, "I believe in one God, Creator of the universe. That He governs it by His providence. That He ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render Him is doing good
to His other children."
I ask you, Brothers, is that not a true Masonic response?
Then Franklin addressed this real issue at hand: Did he accept the divinity of Jesus Christ? "...but I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question that I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble."
Vintage Franklin wit.
Then he added this direction to his friend-that this letter not be made public. "I've ever let others enjoy their religious sentiments, without reflecting on them for those that appeared to me
unsupportable and even absurd. All sects here, and we have a great variety, have experienced my good will in assisting them...and, as I have never opposed any of their doctrines, I hope to go out of the world in peace with them all."
Franklin had both the courage to doubt and the virtue of tolerance. He did not want his statement of religious doctrine made public, lest it seem to others to be critical of their own beliefs. Franklin would be at peace with them all.
That, of course, doesn't mean that he didn't argue forcefully and at length in support of his own opinions and convictions throughout his life. We must all stand for what we believe.
But Ben Franklin's eyesight was even worse than mine. He could see all
sides of an issue, all the shades of gray, all the angles and surfaces. I'm trying. As I get older, it seems to be easier. I find fewer issues that push all my buttons because I can see several sides to the
situation. Save for some moral issues that I still hold dear, absolute right and absolute wrong aren't as easily defined as they once were. My staff thinks I'm either getting mellow or senile. The vote is split.
One thing does become clear for me, however. As I find the courage to doubt my own once warmly held convictions, I also discover a greater tolerance for the viewpoints of others (even if they are,
obviously, pigheaded, wrong and plainly pathetic).
And, like Bro. Ben, I would be in peace and harmony with my Brothers. It is good that we dwell so.
Of course, Bro. Ben also wanted the turkey to be the national bird of the new United States, so using him as the cornerstone of this discussion may not be the wisest move I've made of late. Perhaps we can discuss it? The turkey, I mean, not my wisdom.