On September 18, 1793, George Washington laid the corner stone for the United States Capitol building in Washington D.C. It was a grand occasion, and many portrayals of the event show Washington dressed in full Masonic attire. The freemasons were attentive to space and architectural design. They attempted to create space that matched their values. Buildings such as the Capitol, with Egyptian, Greek and Roman themes, direct people to the universal wisdom in all traditions that there is creative unity even in diversity.
At the top of the dome of the Capitol is the enigmatic Statue of Freedom standing on a sphere, which probably represents the earth. Around this globe is the saying “E Pluribus Unum” which translates as “Out of Many, One.”
George Washington seemed to be influenced by the great tenets of freemasonry that all people have a spark of divinity within them, and that the role of government is to preserve the conditions whereby all people can practice their beliefs without fear of persecution.
In the 1790s, Washington was part of the writing of a peace treaty that said, “As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, there should be no cause for conflict over differences of “religious opinion” between countries.” (Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli)
George Washington was a man well ahead of his time, but he wasn’t even the most radical of the founders. Thomas Paine famously said, “My own mind is my church” and Thomas Jefferson rewrote the Bible so as to remove any superstition that was unbelievable to modern minds.
The point here is that far from being founded as a Christian nation, a good argument can be made that the United States was founded as a spiritual but not religious nation. The founding values were common sense, reason, tolerance, freedom and respect. These principles are consistent with the Christian tradition, but they are not unique to Christianity. They are at the center of all spiritual traditions.
There are many stories and legends that soon after the completion of the Capitol building, the cornerstone went missing. Some say that Masons took it out to preserve and protect it. The significance of the missing cornerstone in terms of my topic today is that tolerance and the rights of all people to practice and believe in ways that make sense to the individual are the cornerstone of this country. When one religious group attempts to force their practice and beliefs on others, and persecute any who believe differently, then the very cornerstone of this country’s values is lost.
When Fox News ran a short piece on our name change and cross removal, I was curious to see the response. I gave a very brief summary of who we are as a community, a summary that would have in my opinion met with George Washington’s approval. I said that this is a community where all people are safe to come and engage in spiritual practice and global healing without fear of persecution because of religious belief or gender or sexuality or race.
The response was interesting. The fact that I received disapproving emails from Fox viewers didn’t surprise me. This freedom of speech is also a mark of a democracy. The fact that many of these emails contained personal attacks on me was a little more surprising. I had no idea that there were so many creative variations on calling someone the anti Christ. The fact that some emails suggested that our inclusive perspective threatens the Christian values of this country truly surprised me. A few even went so far as to question how an Australian can come to America and undermine the Christian principles of this country. It’s at this point that religious exclusiveness comes dangerously close to racism. Similarly, exclusive patriotism comes dangerously close to racism.
Jesus is the Cornerstone of Inclusion
What would Jesus think about what we are doing here at C3 Exchange? What would Jesus think of the Fox News response? Quoting the Prophet Isaiah, the New Testament describes Jesus as being the cornerstone. So what is the significance of a cornerstone? The cornerstone provides both the pattern for those who follow and also holds the whole together. The cornerstone is the point where two lines meet. The cornerstone is a symbol of unity. So what is the pattern of Jesus’ life that we should follow? Surely it is inclusion. Jesus tore down the dividing wall that kept people apart. He put aside religious practice that created an in group and an out group. He included all, and celebrated all. Ephesians 2 even goes so far as to say that all people, regardless of race or religion, are the dwelling place for God. This sounds very close to the spirit of freemasonry and beautifully similar to the self evident truth of the Declaration of Independence-
“That all are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Jesus offered an awesome example of democracy and liberty for all. I love the example of Jesus. I just don’t think much of the religion that was built around his example. As Ghandi said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” That seems like a harsh over generalizing, but I can certainly relate after a week of “pleasantries” from Fox viewers.
This is one of the reasons I call myself spiritual but not religious. I think it’s awesome to believe in God. I just don’t think that God is a Christian. I believe that God dwells in all people and all situations. When people start to think that theirs is the only true understanding of God, then we so often end up with violence and prejudice.
I admire and follow Jesus. I just don’t think Jesus was a Christian. Nor did Jesus show any interest in establishing a religion. Jesus was more interested in inclusion than religion. When people create a savior Jesus in the image of their need for an in group and an out group, then we often end up with exclusive religion.
The change of our name and the removal of our cross are two actions patterned after the life of Jesus and the text in Ephesians 2. We have torn down two of the walls that divide people and create an in and an out group. The first century temple had a literal wall that divided Jew from Gentile. Gentiles who crossed the dividing line risked punishment by death. The temple also had a line that divided Jewish men from Jewish women. Religion then and now tends to deeply divide people according to racial and gender lines. Jesus had no part in this system. He mixed openly with men and women of all races and backgrounds.
I heard an amazing true story about tearing down the walls that divide. A man returned home to his small Tennessee home each Christmas. Every year he visited his friend who owned a café on the main street of town. The café had a curtain in it that separated the front half of the café from the back. Whites sat in the front, and blacks sat at the back behind the curtain. One particular year the two friends had a heart to heart conversation about the curtain. The friend who owned the café was conflicted about the curtain. He confided in his buddy, “I take that curtain down, and I lose my customers; I leave that curtain up, and I lose my soul!”
When you live with integrity, there is no choice to be made. You live by your soul, even if it means losing friends or customers. Many of us are discovering here that when you make a stand for inclusion, pieces of the crumbling wall sometimes land on you. It hurts. You sometimes have to pay the price for inclusion, which might be a spiritual but not religious summary of the life and death of Jesus.
An Inclusive Step Towards Unity
Even though we are not exclusively a Christian community any more, we are very much engaged in the vision that Jesus had for a world united. We now understand that whenever one person, or one group is excluded, all are weaker. We now understand that patriotism is good and healthy, but that we have a higher loyalty to the family of all beings, including the earth.
E M Forster wrote an essay called, “Two Cheers for Democracy.” He wrote it in 1938 when Hitler was building momentum. He raised some important questions about loyalty and priorities. He wrote in it, “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the decency to betray my country.”
What are your priorities? If you had to choose between your family and your country, what would you choose? If you had to choose between your country, and the earth, what would you choose?
Thankfully, these are rarely the choices we have to make. Usually, what’s good for the bee is good for the hive. When you are at peace with yourself, you are at peace with the world. What is truly good for the community is usually good for the nation. What is truly good for the nation is usually good for the world. We have now learnt from the destruction of the earth that all the world is intimately related both physically and metaphysically.
Celebrate this country’s awesome history of tolerance and respect for diversity. Honor the cornerstones of this country, the founders who built a nation without religious exclusion. And celebrate the sometimes challenging role that we have as a truly independent community that offers a warm welcome to all people to come together and seek healing in the world.
Imagine all the people, living life in peace. Why not?
For Further Reflection
Do you think America was founded as a Christian nation?
What do you think were the founders’ attitudes to religion in America?
What does the image of the cornerstone mean to you?
In what ways are you tearing down walls that divide people?
Books and Resources
Templars in America: From the Crusades to the New World by Tim Wallace-Murphy and Marilyn Hopkins
Two Cheers For Democracy by E.M. Forster