The soundtrack came to its stirring conclusion, the voice-over sounded one final patriotic note of piety, and the lights came on. We sat for a brief moment in the giant U.S. Capitol Visitor Center cinema, blinking our eyes and searching our souls.
The resonant voice of the film narrator had told us our self-defining story: we had been freed from bondage to a cruel tyrant by a bold and defiant declaration; we had wandered through the desert of civil war to be purified of our sin of slavery; finally, crossing the river Potomac, we began the final construction of our Temple, the Temple of Liberty, the United States Capitol Building. A new day had dawned. With cinematic serenity, the film eased us into the present: a beautiful morning sky broke upon the screen, a church bell began to toll, and the bold title “Temple of Liberty” faded in beside the Capitol cupola. With hushed solemnity the narrator invited us to follow her into the Temple’s “inner sanctum.” Once inside this holy of holies, the camera panned slowly upward, lifted by the stirring anthem of angelic-choir ahhs. A marvelous sight came into focus. We saw the glorious apotheosis of the one who gave birth to our mystical body—George Washington himself, powdered wig and all, assumed into heaven.
When our cinematic liturgy was complete and the red-coated “deaconess” had announced the Ite missa est, we left the theatre to meet the guide who would lead us into the inner sanctum itself. Just before we entered upon that holy ground, we paused before a giant statue: the plaster model of the Statue of Freedom which stands sentinel atop the Temple of Liberty. Our guide informed us that a sacred law protects the honor of the Temple’s idol: nowhere in the District is there to be found a statue taller than she, “for nothing stands taller than liberty.”
The rites of civic religion which colored my tour of the United States Capitol Building did not have their intended effect—I did not have a religious experience, my devotion was not kindled, I was not roused to offer incense—but I did receive a revelation from the lips of the idol’s servant. For years and years, I had been seeking the foundational principle, the bedrock reason why American soil was becoming so hostile to Gospel seeds. Why had receptivity turned so quickly to indifference, and indifference to hostility? What strange teaching had inoculated hearts to the beauty of the Crucified? What strange doctrine had made his disciples bigoted prudes in the eyes of their countrymen?
What I searched for in books of the wise and learned, I found uttered in the simple faith of my humble Temple guide:
“Nothing stands taller than liberty.”
Image: Freedom Statue full moon