Combating Ignorance

Combating Ignorance

It is only necessary to make war with five things; with the maladies of the body, the ignorances of the mind, with the passions of the body, with the seditions of the city and the discords of families.” – Pythagoras

Science is not a philosophy or a spiritual path; it’s a way of behaving in the world. It is a way of thinking that encourages logic, reason, information and communication in such a way as to explore the world in wonder and discovery.

It is unfortunate that polarization and nationalism, tribalism if you will, have made “fake news” and “alternative facts” part of our everyday life now. It is a reality with which we must learn how to navigate. It is not only learning to dig through facts and figures, research and media hype, but it is learning that we must, sometimes, unlearn. It begin with the idea of “we must know” is a fallacy. What we must do is begin to swim in our own ignorance and be cognizant of what we do not know.

To be blunt, if we want to fight ignorance, we must start with our own.

project_open-scienceWe listen every day to people who, by virtue of their self-appointed “knowledge,” without the science or experience to back it up, discard the rigorous work that scientists have done to establish or debunk our knowledge of nature. Chemists, astrophysicists, climatologists, oceanographers, biologists, geneticists, and nutritionists have all been sidelined when their messages did not fit the narrative of corporate interests or media hype. Those that seem to have the most money, most market share, or most “brand” have the last say. We separate the educated as elitists and the corporate interests as “the common man.” Who would have our best interests at heart?

To be very clear, expertise is not the same thing as elitism. A real expert and scientist knows where their knowledge boundaries lie. They know that they know less than they have researched, and are on a quest to explore. They are developing theories and testing them, asking what didn’t work and what did. They know that the fruits of their labors may take years, decades, to bear truth, and most likely lead to more questions.

Elitism, on the other hand, is “the belief or attitude that individuals who form an elite—a select group of people with an intrinsic quality, high intellect, wealth, special skills, or experience—are more likely to be constructive to society as a whole, and therefore deserve influence or authority greater than that of others.” They are the self-appointed leaders or gurus that have the answers. A scientist may be an elitist, but that is not a reflection on science but on the character of the individual. Or lack thereof.

Having just finished the documentary, “Behind the Curve,” on Netflix, I found it extremely interesting to listen to both sides of the debate on “flat earth theory.” There are those in the Flat Earth community who truly believe what science has let them down, that they have the truth and the science to back it up. What was extremely interesting was to hear the scientist’s remarks about this group of contrary thinkers. There was no condescension or elitism of any of the scientists interviewed. There was no pity or condemnation. It was a true desire to not ignore or sideline the discussion but to engage in it; it was about bringing people together rather than considering it an “us” and “them” situation. This was not about belief and fact; it was about education. Knowledge. Combating ignorance.

Freemasonry has an interesting take on the ideas of nature and science as they are combined with philosophy and a search for Truth. It is one of the few places that it seems both can come together, to discuss and debate with a very open narrative. Science is valued as much as the experiential; physics and metaphysics co-exist in conversation and thought. Nothing is off limits. These conversations, whether in a Lodge meeting or in social gatherings, at study groups or philosophical study centers are the ways we fight ignorance, if we are willing to listen.

top-10-books-every-college-student-read-e1464023124869I recently attended a study group where the topic was considering whether or not humanity had an influence on climate change. I was dead certain that humans influenced nature’s cycles; how could it not? There are seven billion people in the world, occupying space, consuming resources, and polluting the world around them. It was a belief and I knew it. However, I challenged myself to come with an open mind and not not make a judgment before entering the room. I am not, by training, a climatologist, meteorologist, geologist, or any other kind of -ologist. I know high-school level geology, and freshman college science. Let’s face it, I know nothing. What I did was bring in my own attitude and readings from media and pseudo-science journals, aimed at producing a message swinging one way or another. Being out of school for many years, I also felt the pride of age – I knew something of the world, darn it. I really felt like “know thyself” was part of my vernacular.

I admit to the conversation bringing my opinion around to a more moderate view rather than to a specific “side” of the debate.  The presenter discussed scientific findings I had not considered, and geologic facts of which I had absolutely no knowledge. I learned about ice ages, findings in the melting of current glaciers, ice core samples, geologic time scales, and historical facts of global significance. I won’t say that my mind was changed; I will say that I walked out with a broader idea of questioning what I have been told, and learning the truth for myself. I learned that what I had was a belief, not evidence. If I was going to change my ignorance, I needed to do the work. Myself.

This is where, to me, the collision of science and Freemasonry are at their best. Freemasonry is a mystery school – an initiatory rite that brings about the idea that the human being is nature and the best way to understand nature and the mysteries of life and death, is to study nature. How to study nature? Ancient Greek mystery schools according to Blavatsky are “not a unique system but, based on the spiritual structure of the universe,” of which it is important to understand Nature. They are inextricably linked, the Spirit and Nature, perhaps even one in the same. Freemasonry, as a modern descendant of these mystery schools seeks to take the core of nature and spirit, and propel the human into learning that both reside within humanity, and it is the Freemason’s job to not only continue to seek truth but to also seek Truth. It is to always ask questions, from knowing yourself to knowing the world, and doubt everything. It is a respect for the scientific process as much as it is for our own process. We are seven billion experiences and all are equally valid. Else, why are we having them?

pythagorasFor the ancient philosophers, ignorance was the opposite of good. To both Aristotle and Plato, no one does wrong willingly but only out of ignorance. Socrates had his own methods for combating ignorance, and many of these principles can be found in Freemasonic ritual and education. From continuous learning and making a daily advancement in education to providing education rather than criticism, the Freemason becomes a scientist of the world. Freemasons build on Socrates idea that one should “know thyself” in that they are lacking in knowledge, and that we have no idea what is best for others. The center point is the key to balance in all things but especially to combating ignorance. A measured approach, curious yet mindful. Lastly, I think Socrates was most right when he said that ignorance is inevitable. When Socrates said “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance,” what he was saying was that he was not ignorant of all things but that he was aware that he was ignorant of all things. He knew that he would be forever ignorant and it was only through perseverance that he could become “good.”

The Proper Balance of Masonry: The Greater and the Lesser Mysteries

The Proper Balance of Masonry: The Greater and the Lesser Mysteries

“I THINK you are making a mistake,” writes a kindly brother, “in unsparingly condemning that phase of Masonry that is concerned with ritualistic performance.”

He continued:

Is it not true – an unpalatable truth, perhaps – that for most of us this ritualism must remain as chief aim and purpose of our connection with the Fraternity?

We know that there is an intellectual side to the Institution, where the scholar and the student find highest satisfaction. But why should those who have not yet reached that high plane, or who may not be able to appreciate the full value of these advanced studies, be denied such pleasure and such profit as is available to them in lower paths?

“I THINK you are making a mistake,” writes a kindly brother, “in unsparingly condemning that phase of Masonry that is concerned with ritualistic performance.” He continued:

SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND

MY kindly critic gives opportunity to discourse briefly upon the proper balance of Masonry. It is true that in these pages, as elsewhere, the editor has urged insistently the higher imperatives, as those which should have dominating force in the world of Masonic thought and action. He would hold out to all brothers the intellectual promise, rather than show in grosser terms the rewards and satisfactions of the Craft. He would have every Mason enter upon the quest “for that which was lost,” though convinced that few there be who shall achieve to complete object of the search.

AS from King Arthur’s table, many valiant knights arose, with high resolve to seek the Holy Graal – men bold of heart and true of soul – though only to the few was granted vision of the chalice sacred, mystical. And yet, if so I read aright these meaning stories of the past, the knights that travailed long in places perilous, doing bewhiles great deeds of fealty and of faith, although denied the precious thing for which they fought and prayed, were made the better, braver, nobler, even because they were accounted to have failed.

The properly balanced Masonry is that which gives full place and scope to all the workmen. The Master who draws designs upon the trestle-board may not speak with contempt of those who labor faithfully in the mountains and the quarries. He may indeed seek for disciples and scholars among the more eager and ambitious, who are most likely to profit by his instructions. These, indeed, he will urge to higher things, knowing full well that the great cause is to be advanced most surely and speedily by men trained to highest capabilities of head and heart.

But in Masonry, as in the world without, there must ever be the greater number content with tasks of lesser thought. Yet to them – to all – should be unrolled and explained the full plans and meanings of the structure to which their toil and skill are dedicated. They should gain significance of the timbers and the stones upon which their labor is expended. Such brethren are not mere wage-workers, put by task-masters to their various toil. They are free Craftsmen, and should receive instruction, increasing ever with their understanding.

So, for the Temple of Humanity and Brotherhood should Wisdom put forth ever nobler effort, with Strength evident in the mass and Beauty showing in every detail.

WHERE PROPER BALANCE LIES

I KNOW of no other comparison for Masonry than the great religious systems of the world, past and present. From them we may, perhaps, learn where proper balance lies, where associative effort before has failed, and where and how best purpose has been served. So, we find that, wherever in the world’s history an organized system has made successful appeal to the masses of men, there has ever been ample allowance for the varying capacities of adherents.

The exoteric, outward showing is for the greater number – for that larger body of worshipers content to remain in the outer court. Where subtler wants are not felt, the higher spiritual sufferings would be unmeaning. It is enough for such exoteric religion that the norms of conduct be established, and that fear of punishment or hope of reward shall be so adjusted to unawakened intelligences as to enforce compliance therewith. I know that this will be called superstition, and in no way to justify comparison with aught in Masonry. But superstition, as I take it, has two distinct meanings.

To the man who has advanced beyond the necessity for grosser compulsions, the term represents no more than do the old definitions and enforcements of the common law, altogether superseded by higher mandates. The outworn things are for him valuable as records of the spiritual evolution through which he himself, or his ancestors, have passed. But for the unlearned and unleashed radical the word “superstition” stands for such things as he will not and can not seek to understand, which he is concerned only to revile ignorantly, and to proclaim his refusal of obedience.

For him, the commands of ancient force no longer hold, not that they are without reach or meaning, but that his soul has gained only to a stage of irrational rebellion against authority. Like an immature boy, such a one seeks only to express a newly-sensed independence, being altogether unaware of the eternal compulsions.

TRUE MASONRY: EXOTERIC AND ESOTERIC

WHEN I hear “superstition” cried the loudest, in matters of faith or symbolism, l am inclined to linger longest, that so I may hope to discover something more of what has been preserved from an ancient time, and is today found worthy of the adherence of men. For whatever endures has in itself the heart of Truth. And, likewise, what is true of religious symbolisms and observances, is true of Masonry in its exoteric form. There is a superstition, perhaps, of the fraternity, and it may be regarded from the same standpoints as mentioned above. The radical by condemning and rejecting indiscriminately, loses much of highest value. It is only by providing and maintaining the proper balance, by serving the needs of the greatest possible number of men, embracing the broadest range of intellectual capacities, that this or any like institution can hope, to achieve and hold real meaning in the world.

The brother who can only grasp the outward phases of Masonry will certainly receive all that can have use for him. Go into your anterooms after the conferring of degrees, and answer if this is not true. Hear those who are grateful and appreciative after receiving the Master’s degree, and have been impressed for good, though no hint even of the esoteric has come to them.

The true learner will, from that point, still seek and find; will ask and receive; will knock, thereafter, at many doors, hidden oftentimes, and these will be opened to him. But also for him who chooses to remain in the outer court, to be satisfied with sensuous observances, there is gain, nicely calculated to capacity. For those having ears to hear, there are things cryptic, mystical, and well worth the hearing. For those who are content with the ringing of bells, the bells will ring, and in beautiful harmony. It might perhaps be permissible to compare Masonry of the Lodges – the Masonry of routine and of ritual – with those old chthonic religions, while the real esotericism of the Craft rises to the region where subtle inspirations are received and understood by highest processes of thought.

In answer to my brother, I esteem very highly that one who finds in ritual his best enjoyment, though I will not cease to urge upon such a one that he should use this ritual as a guide to upper paths. But Masonry, even in its simplest requirements, demands more than that one should go and remain upon the tread-mill of verbiage, making no advancement upward or forward. If advancement is made, whether by means of ritual, or by study or by intuitive process, be that advancement less or more, in so much is Masonry honored and benefited, and by so much has the individual brother made his gain.

~ “The Proper Balance of Masonry: The Greater and the Lesser Mysteries,” THE AMERICAN FREEMASON, May 1912.

Universal Freemasonry

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