The Real Jefferson

I came across this entry over at a blog named The Trommetter Times:

Was Thomas Jefferson a skeptic and hostile to Christianity? Dr. D. James Kennedy points out that he was not. Jefferson was the one who penned the famous “separation of church and state” line the ACLU and other godless people are so fond of quoting. That doesn’t mean he was hostile to Christianity.

So what about the Jefferson Bible, that miracles-free version of the Scriptures? It’s a myth.

Counting Jefferson as one of my personal heros, I couldn’t let this slide without commenting on it. Here’s the response I ended up posting to their site:

Yes, the Jefferson Bible is a myth. Which is why you can buy one from Amazon.com. Oh, and Thomas Jefferson never wrote any of the following about his version of the Bible either:

My aim in that was, to justify the character of Jesus against the fictions of his pseudo-followers, which have exposed him to the inference of being an impostor. For if we could believe that he really countenanced the follies, the falsehoods and the charlatanisms which his biographers father on him, and admit the misconstructions, interpolations and theorizations of the fathers of the early, and fanatics of the latter ages, the conclusion would be irresistible by every sound mind, that he was an impostor. I give no credit to their falsifications of his actions and doctrines, and to rescue his character, the postulate in my letter asked only what is granted in reading every other historian…. That Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God, physically speaking, I have been convinced by the writings of men more learned than myself in that lore.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, August 4, 1820, explaining his reason for compiling the Syllabus of an Estimate of the Merit of the Doctrines of Jesus and referring to Jesus biographers, the Gospel writers.

We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select even from the very words of Jesus, paring off the amphiboligisms into which they have been led by forgetting often or not understanding what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, October 13, 1813, clarifying his desire to strip away the myth introduced by the Gospel writers, as his motivation for constructing his Syllabus of an Estimate of the Merit of the Doctrines of Jesus

While it is true that Jefferson did consider himself a Christian, he was far from being a traditional one and said as much himself.

“I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.”
Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Rev. Ezra Stiles, president of Yale University, June 25, 1819, quoted from Roche, O.I.A., ed. The Jeffersonian Bible (1964) p. 348

Jefferson often criticized Christianity as it was taught by the churches of his time and wrote scathing commentaries on the topic. His dissatisfaction with Christianity is a large part of why he created his own version of the Bible.

Regardless of what his religious views may or may not have been, Jefferson still believed that Religion and Government had no business interfering with each other and as such he strove tirelessly to ensure the new government took up his idea of the wall of separation and then continued to defend and explain the concept at great length for the rest of his life.

14 thoughts on “The Real Jefferson

  1. I’ve set up TrackBack capabilities on my blog.  I don’t know if you want to use that on this post instead of copying things out of my blog and posting it on your blog.

  2. “The truth is, that the greatest enemies of the doctrine of Jesus are those,
    calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them to the
    structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any
    foundation in his genuine words.  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 classified with the fable of the generation of Minerva in
    the brain of Jupiter.  But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom
    of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial
    scaffolding and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this
    most venerated Reformer of human errors.”

            [Thomas Jefferson, to John Adams, Apr. 11, 1823]

  3. “It is not to be understood that I am with him (Jesus Christ) in all his
    doctrines.  I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism; he
    preaches the efficacy of repentence toward forgiveness of sin; I require
    a counterpoise of good works to redeem it.

    Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him 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.  I separate,
    therefore, the gold from the dross; restore him to the former, and leave the
    latter to the stupidity of some, the roguery of others of his disciples.  Of
    this band of dupes and imposters, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and the
    first corruptor of the doctrines of Jesus.”

              [Thomas Jefferson, to W. Short, April 13, 1820]

    “…difference of opinion is advantageous in religion.  The several sects
    perform the office of a common censor over each other.  Is uniformity
    attainable?  Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the
    introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned;
    yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity.  What has been the
    effect of coercion?  To make one half the world fools, and the other half
    hypocrites.  To support roguery and error all over the earth.”

              [Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on Virginia”]

  4. I think that Jefferson was a genious.  His comments on religion, and Christianity make sense.  It’s amazing how hw was able to see through religion at a time when almost every man, women, and child was forced into these ridiculous mystical beliefs.

  5. Jefferson was a genious.  His views on religion were very fascinating.  It is amazing how he was able to see through religion at a time when almost every man, women, and child was practically forced into a belief.

  6. BTW, I only delete a comment from my blog if it’s excessively obnoxious or exceptionally long.  Your original comment on my blog was too long.

  7. Too long? I can understand deleting obnoxious comments, I do the same, but too long? Wouldn’t want to promote any intelligent discussions I suppose.

    Took awhile to get around to responding to this eh?

  8. Man, if he thought THAT comment was long he should see some of the entries in other areas of your blog. Some of them are damn near novellas!

  9. I suspect the removal of my comment had more to do with the fact that it rebukes Mr. Trommetter’s claims that Jefferson wasn’t hostile to Christianity or that he didn’t create his own version of the Bible more so than it was “too long.” The truth can be damaging, after all.

  10. Thomas Jefferson is one of the worst President’s in American history. The man caused the civil war with his arrogance.

    Damn the public school systems!

  11. Hey, how about writing some more about Jefferson and the Jefferson Bible ?

      Just speaking for myself, personally, as an aegnostic, the Jefferson Bible forever changed me.  It’s disturbing.  It’s compelling, moving.  Haunting even.  I am a well-read person, and very few things I’ve been exposed to have had such a huge impact on me personally, even *intimately*.  “Faith” means differnt things to differnt people, and for the most part is incomprehensible to me. 

      The Jefferson bible is *compelling*.  You simply can not in good conscious read it and take it seriously and not feel morally compelled to CHANGE.

      Anyway, that’s how I feel about it.  I guess I’m the only one.

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