Thomas Jefferson’s founding principles. (Part 1 of 2)by Don Lacey on Oct. 19, 2012, under AZ Politics, Biblical Inerrancy, Christian Self-Righteous Arrogance, Christianity, Critical Thinking, Freethought, God & Bible, Government, History, Logic, Quotations, Reason, Religion, Responsible Government, Separation of Church & State
“And 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.”-Thomas Jefferson
The Declaration of Independence is largely a rhetorical document. It has no legal standing. It was created to list specific complaints and formally explains why the continental congress chose to declare the American colonies independent from colonial rule. Since the time of the revolution, it has been a document with no legal authority. However, believers still like to use it to argue that this country was somehow founded upon their faith. Specifically they gravitate towards the line:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men 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.”
Thomas Jefferson did not believe in the Christian God, but rather something closer to a deistic or Unitarian God with only limited intervention in human affairs. Thomas Jefferson was interested in Christianity and identified himself as Christian in the sense that he viewed Jesus of Nazareth as an important moral philosopher but not a son of God or any kind of supernatural being. He believed that Jesus never claimed to be God. Jefferson made this known by creating an alternative version of the Christian Gospels with all references to Jesus’s miracles, divinity, and resurrection removed. In a letter to Joseph Priestly, Jefferson discusses his idea of stripping Jesus’s teachings down to “principles of a pure Deism”. He further elaborates on this concept in a letter to John Adams from 1817 stating:
“The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ leveled to every understanding and too plain to need explanation, saw, in the mysticisms of Plato, Materials with which they might build up an artificial system which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power, and preeminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason that nonsense can never be explained.”
Overall he was very critical of established organized religion and the priestly classes arguing: “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government” in a letter to Alexander Von Humboldt in 1813 and that “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.”
However, he found value in religious teachings. He was known to attend various church services though there is no evidence that he was a confirmed member or communicant of any. He also apparently sponsored the building of some churches and other religious activity though refused to be a Godfather to the children of Anglican friends because of his rejection of their faith.
Political opponents labeled him “infidel” and “howling atheist” because he rejected conventional Christianity. Unsurprisingly being heterodox religionist, Jefferson was a major force for keeping church and state separate, which he believed to be encoded in the First Amendment. He believed that:
“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”
If anything pass in a religious meeting seditiously and contrary to the public peace, let it be punished in the same manner and no otherwise as it had happened in a fair or market.
He is of course also, the man who first mentioned the famous wall of separation in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association which stated:
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.
His dedication to religious freedom and the right to be heterodox did much to make the US as free a country as it is. Jefferson was an incredible person, with whom much can be learned from. However, he did own slaves but was apparently conflicted on the institution of slavery. Jefferson’s statement and the concept of natural or God given rights will be discussed further in my follow-up to this piece. (End of Part I)