Friday, August 13, 2010


Today's Guest Columnist is one of the founding fathers of the American Republic and the third President of The United States, Thomas Jefferson.
It is interesting to note that a good deal of the Christian fundamentalists opposed to LGBT rights as well as the more extreme views of the conservative political right often quote President Jefferson. However, according to noted Jeffersonian expert & scholar Jim Walker, they take Jefferson's views and distort the context or reinterpret his sayings in a narrowly focused way so as to shore up their belief system which in fact is at odds with what the president meant and believed true himself as expressed in his written philosophy on Religious matters, Christianity, and secular democracy.
From presidential scholar & author Jim Walker:
It spite of Christian right attempts to rewrite history to make Jefferson into a Christian, little about his philosophy resembles that of Christianity. Although Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence wrote of the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God, there exists nothing in the Declaration about Christianity.
Although Jefferson believed in a Creator, his concept of it resembled that of the god of deism (the term "Nature's God" used by deists of the time). With his scientific bent, Jefferson sought to organize his thoughts on religion. He rejected the superstitions and mysticism of Christianity and even went so far as to edit the gospels, removing the miracles and mysticism of Jesus leaving only what he deemed the correct moral philosophy of Jesus.
Distortions of history occur in the minds of many Christians whenever they see the word "God" embossed in statue or memorial concrete . For example, those who visit the Jefferson Memorial in Washington will read Jefferson's words engraved: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every from of tyranny over the mind of man." When they see the word "God" many Christians see this as "proof" of his Christianity without thinking that 'God' can have many definitions ranging from nature to supernatural. Yet how many of them realize that this passage aimed at attacking the tyranny of the Christian clergy of Philadelphia, or that Jefferson's God was not the personal god of Christianity? Those memorial words came from a letter written to Benjamin Rush in 1800 in response to Rush's warning about the Philadelphia clergy attacking Jefferson (Jefferson was seen as an infidel by his enemies during his election for President). The complete statement reads as follows:
"The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me."
Jefferson aimed at laissez-faire liberalism in the name of individual freedom, He felt that any form of government control, not only of religion, but of individual mercantilism consisted of tyranny. He thought that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.
If anything can clear of the misconceptions of Jeffersonian history, it can come best from the author himself. Although Jefferson had a complex view of religion, too vast for this article, the following quotes provide a glimpse of how Thomas Jefferson viewed the corruptions of Christianity and religion.

President Thomas Jefferson  From The National Portrait Gallery- The Smithsonian Institution 
By Thomas Jefferson (Monticello, Virgina) |
 "Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong." (Notes on Virginia, 1782)
"The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man." (Letter to Jeremiah Moor, 1800.)
(In a letter to John Adams) "The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."
Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination. (Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom.) 
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State. (Letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802)
History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes. (To Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813.) 
The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills. (Letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814)
If we did a good act merely from love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? ...Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God. ( Letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814)
Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. (Letter to William Short, April 13, 1820)
In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. (Letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814)
Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law. (Letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814)


DesDownunder said...

How on Earth do they manage to misconstrue Jefferson's words?

AskWhy! Blogger said...

Because, for a Christian, God's Truth is quite a different thing from the truth as normal reasonable people understand it.

Trab said...

I don't think the Christians recognize that their views are not the views of God, but the views of their religious 'leaders'. Same goes for a lot of other organized religions, actually.