Rabbi Sidney S. Guthman, 33
Long Beach, California
Brotherhood begins when we accept in a true spirit
of humility the wide differences among people.
Every February, Americans observe Brotherhood Month. This month is particularly sacred in our democratic tradition because both Abraham Lincoln and George Washington’s birthdays occur in February. These two greatest of our Presidents stand above all others for their ideals of equality and brotherhood.
When George Washington was inaugurated President of the United States of America, the Jewish congregation of Newport News, Rhode Island, wrote him a letter of congratulation. To the members of that body, he answered with moving sentences which expressed his philosophy of democracy. To him, the American government, then being founded, was to give “to bigotry no sanction.”
Also, Abraham Lincoln uttered magnificent words in closing his second inaugural address. In the midst of a bloody and painful war, his vision for our country was one of rebuilding “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”
Certainly, we need to be reminded of these ideals today. Our world is still a long way from the attainment of universal human brotherhood envisioned by Washington and Lincoln. We talk of brotherhood quite often, but lip service is not enough. We need to come to grips with the actual unpleasant realities of our time and deal forthrightly and candidly with the age in which we are living just as Washington and Lincoln did in their times. What would they be saying today?
In the first place, they would have us realize that brotherhood is more than tolerance. The whole set of attitudes and ideals involved in tolerance is rather arrogant. When any man says he is tolerant of people who disagree with him or are different from him, what he is really saying is this: “Of course I know I am right and better, but I will be charitable and let the people who are wrong go ahead and continue with their foolishness.” This kind of thinking is bad for the future, both for international and personal relations. No one has a monopoly on the truth. Men are mortal, limited, and imperfect. They are different, in many respects very different indeed, but it is the faith of the Declaration of Independence that they were created equal. We must, as Americans, as Freemasons, and as religious people respect that equality.
Nations, as well as men, have not the right merely to be tolerant. It is true that we in America lead the world in certain areas of human endeavor. Our machines are the most sophisticated in the world. In industry we are more efficient. Our resources are in many respects the most bountiful nature can provide. Our people are young and energetic.
This does not mean, however, we sit on a superior height and look down upon the rest of the world. Perhaps we are too materialistic. Perhaps we have not attained the deeper understanding that comes with age and growth in wisdom. No society has attained such perfection that all others by comparison are obviously wrong. We must, therefore, remember that brotherhood asks of us not to be tolerant but to accept the wide differences of this world in a true spirit of humility. We must not simply give other people the right to be wrong. We must always ask ourselves if, perhaps, we are wrong. There is more than one way of living. Clearly, we can learn much from different points of view even if, ultimately, we still disagree.
Brotherhood and interfaith understanding do not require of us that we water down our own individual faiths. For the sake of the larger good, it is not required that we give up our deepest and most inspiring convictions. Men do differ from one another in what they believe. They must be true to themselves, above all else. Let the Christian be a good and believing and God-fearing Christian. Let him be a part of his own glorious heritage. Let the Jew be as deeply rooted in his own immemorial tradition. As Americans, let us cultivate our own civilization and patriotic fervor. At the same time, let us respect the faiths and national allegiances of all the many countries of this wide, wonderful world.
Interfaith understanding and international brotherhood are high ideals, but we must remember that they are compound words. Faith is basic to interfaith, national loyalty is the root of international cooperation. A man who loves his own mother is capable of respecting the love of another for that man’s mother. A man who really believes in God through his own faith knows how another can be equally sincere, though that other is nurtured by the soil of his own church or synagogue or temple.
Indeed, this is the heart of democracy. Let us as Freemasons
and Americans build bridges of cooperation between human hearts and all
the religions of man. Forces must be joined for the attainment of the ultimate
objective towards which we all are going. Though the roads on which we
travel are different, is not the goal the same? Aren’t we all seeking after
the One Eternal and Living God?
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