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    A Vision for the Future
     

    Friedrich Wilhelm Schmidt, 33°
    Sovereign Grand Commander, Supreme Council for Germany

    Scottish Rite Masons have a duty to make this a better world for all mankind.

    There is a vision connected with the origins of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite when it was called “The Holy Empire.” In the rituals of some of the degrees brethren are requested not only to follow the way to self-improvement but also to contribute to the improvement of the world as a whole.

    “We hope for a better future for mankind. Mankind ought not only to survive, but also to strive towards the ideals of the Holy Empire” is heard in the German version of the 32nd Degree. “Freedom, Justice, Reason, and Charity are the names of the columns of the last, indestructible temple of mankind.” This assignment is directed towards all Freemasons, but for the brethren of our Rite it becomes a duty. Positive actions are essential and on the outcome of these actions humanity will be evaluated.

    However, it must be stressed that the brethren of our Rite are first of all Freemasons. Independent of the degrees and positions they may hold in the Rite, we expect them to be active members of their lodges and to contribute to the steady growth of their Grand Lodges. An active engagement in the Scottish Rite intensifies interest and enthusiasm for Freemasonry as a whole, and it also leads to fruitful collaboration in the symbolic lodges. A healthy growth of the Craft is a prerequisite for a flourishing Scottish Rite.

    Today we may ask how Freemasonry has developed during the last decade. If we consider only the number of registered members, a scary impression emerges for most countries indicating that Freemasonry does not seem to have any future. This impression is reinforced if the present proportion of Freemasons in a country (the number of Freemasons divided by the population) is compared with the corresponding proportion in the 19th century or in the first part of the 20th century. However, the interest in Freemasonry is still growing, as shown by the increasing number of publications, including research reports, on Freemasonry and on specific subjects related to Freemasonry. The Internet also provides an increasing number of publications on this subject.

    Presently in western cultures the Zeitgeist—the spirit of the time—is characterized by a loss of the sense of community and of the sense of solidarity, together with a loss of common sense. There is a reluctance for long-term relationships that results in a growing number of aloof people who are not fully integrated in society. This pattern of behavior directed towards partnerships and family, continues at work and in associations, clubs, and religious communities, and also affects Freemasonry. However, the aloofness changes abruptly if a person feels threatened by external dangers. An example is provided by the tsunami catastrophe in the Indian Ocean. But such events have only a limited duration. Furthermore, communities born out of fear have too strong a focus on the common threat to be able to develop positive views, hope, and confidence. From the beginning such communities bear the seeds of decay.

    Without the age of “Enlightenment,” western societies would have remained in dull political absolutism and stuffy medieval knowledge. But the Enlightenment has also permitted the development of individualism, which today has perverted to boundless egocentrism and a primitive form of individual materialism.

    Freedom has been misinterpreted as liberation from responsibilities towards our fellow human beings and society. But without an individual sense of duty and sense of responsibility, freedom in our western societies would be stripped of its defenses and would be helplessly exposed to the threats of its enemies. With this misinterpretation, freedom cannot prevail.

    As Scottish Rite Freemasons we should seek to transform our so-called old fashioned weakness into strength. We are the successors of a rich tradition, that also indicates ways into the future. We are the keepers of proven ethical principles and values. We provide community, solidarity, and brotherhood in an environment in which human togetherness is in danger of disappearing. If we are able to successfully convey the notion that in our temples can be found that which cannot be found elsewhere, then we do not have to worry about the future of Freemasonry.

    Very often the attempt is made to bridge the difference between expected behavior and present-day reality by referring to some prominent personalities of Freemasonry. Certainly, many outstanding personalities of Freemasonry have left lasting impressions on common life and history. However, our actions are crucial in the present time. We should educate and form the pioneers of the future.

    Freemasonry with its specific feature of presenting an educational road map is not well suited for the formation of heroic legends. Is Freemasonry therefore less important? It allows brethren of very different identities to meet and thereby helps us to understand that these differences contribute to the good functioning of communities.

    The more people know, the more they thirst for understanding, the more they yearn for truth, the more they long for the purpose of life, and the more these desires emerge from darkness to light. The purpose of our Rite is to make good men even better and, whenever possible, develop leaders with strong moral and ethical backgrounds—leaders who are willing to take over responsibilities in society. The outcome of such efforts cannot be evaluated on celebrity attained, power achieved, or wealth accumulated. The assessment must be based on increases in human kindness, protection of human dignity, and realization of human rights.

    A united community of brothers diminishes the misery of existence in a world in which for many organizations man is only a usable and, if required, disposable resource. A world in which men are thought of only as depreciable human capital or as easily manipulated consumer masses cannot be a vision for the future. Such a community of brothers will not show hostility towards foreigners but provide strength to achieve assimilation. Such a community—such a brotherhood— evens out weaknesses, allows forces to be bundled, and leads from darkness to light. This is the message to be conveyed now.

    The duties of a member of the Scottish Rite include developing an awareness of the importance of his own thinking, his behavior, his openness for other people, his power of integration, and his brotherly charity. The work in the Scottish Rite helped to give an answer to the question: “What can I know?” It also wrestles with the question: “What shall I do?” Especially well informed, “Enlightened,” rational people should not make the mistake of assuming that everything is feasible or controllable.

    Others may restlessly search for what Rene Girard called “things that are hidden since the beginning of the world.” But the discovery of a “world formula” may not be necessary: sometimes a “soft internal sound of things” provokes enchantment and amazement.

    The attempt to penetrate the depth of Freemasonry across time and space will always get blocked if this ability is missing, which Antoine de Saint-Exupery formulated more or less as follows: “Good vision is only possible through the heart.” The construction of the bridges that we Freemasons want to build does not have to follow the rules of engineering. Our bridges are based on human kindness and charity and are anchored in the hearts of men.

    The Freemason’s road starts with searching. Symbols and Rituals may give some answers. Self-knowledge becomes an assignment. Awareness and knowledge about the world begin to develop, changes take place. Veils are ripped off, but behind each removed piece a new one shows up, and the road is hidden behind other veils.

    Through its rich symbolism and rituals, the Scottish Rite is well suited to open up new horizons and new dimensions of thought to members who seriously strive for mental enrichment. In spite of extended historical research, many aspects of early Masonic history remain mysterious. It is almost impossible to differentiate between ancient, handed-down notions and later added-on concepts. We don’t know if fragments of valuable ancient knowledge have been erased by well meaning, enlightened modernists trying to make concessions to the spirit of their times. Some reform may have destroyed more than it created.

    Certainly, Freemasonry must adapt itself reasonably to the changing times, just as the awareness and consciousness of its members is characterized by the society of their time. However, in times of ever-faster arriving information and of accelerating changes in fashions and habits, proper care and sensibility must be exercised during revisions to our rituals in order to recognize the valuable, eternal elements. Our road into the future is open. But it is open only in the forward direction. Our traditions and customs, which we must understand and keep alive, protect our back and provide us with force and energy.

    Today’s Freemasons must seek to analyze and understand the complex situation of our present world as well as possible. The Scottish Rite has set itself the task to evaluate old and new knowledge from common life, science, and art and to make it available for the future. Our members should apply them in the practice of everyday life thereby contributing to shaping society and some of its organizations.

    Globalization with its terrifying speed of change has brought not only progress but also new threats and distresses. Our non-dogmatic views and attitudes immunize our members against fundamentalism with its effort to increase the trenches between people and cultures instead of attempting to bridge them. Our traditional ethical values are mental weapons against any form of oppression, abuse of power, and terrorism.

    Although a world-wide Masonic headquarter does not exist, we still have the concept of a world-wide brotherhood of Freemasons that embraces the globe. Therefore we can hope that as nations and cultures approach each other, the social situations in the long run will approach. However, specific high quality elements of different cultures must be preserved for humanity as a whole. This would create quite good conditions for Freemasonry in the future. Freemasonry will be and should be a guarantor for culture and humanitarianism.

    Our vision of the future is a world worth living in and loving. The rule to be followed to attain it is: “Ordo ab chao.”

    Note: This paper was presented at the 17th World Conference of Supreme Councils held in Sydney, Australia.


    Friedrich Wilhelm Schmidt retired as C.E.O. of a large German social health insurance company and has been involved in many Masonic activities since 1967. Among other offices he was Grand Orator of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. for six years and Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodges of Germany for six years. Ill. Schmidt is strongly involved in rebuilding Masonry in countries of the former Soviet bloc. He has been a Scottish Rite Mason since 1970, an active member of the Supreme Council for Germany since 1988, and its Sovereign Grand Commander since 1988.

     

     

    "The Scottish Rite Journal of Freemasonery"

    the Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction, U.S.A