This is a continuation of the last post where I covered George Washington’s religious beliefs. I will conclude this topic by talking about Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson — Jefferson was undoubtedly the strongest advocate for religious freedom of the Founding Fathers. This was quite evident when he composed the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1777. Jefferson was definitely raised in a Christian household. He seemed to have also been brought up in the rituals and customs of the Anglican Church as it existed in colonial Virginia which was much less a high church institution than its England counterpart. He later took up the Deist mantle as was the dominant theology among intellectuals in the English speaking world at the time. Jefferson’s revolving attitudes toward religion was one of the driving forces behind his staunch beliefs in freedom of religion.
In his later years, that is after his presidency, he spent quite some time thinking about his faith. During that time he he went back to his Christian roots but rejected the Trinitarian concept of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost saying it was Platonic mysticism. From his many letters to John Adams it is evident that he took to heart the “doctrine that flowed from the lips of Jesus himself” and wrote extensively about the “Morals of Jesus”. He wrote two books during this period about his faith. The Philosophy of Jesus and The Life and Morals of Jesus. Many Christians today don’t know that he even wrote his own version of the New Testament. In that work he systematically eliminated all references to miracles and the supernatural saying they were unnecessarily added to the actual accounts. He believed that these and other distortions, took the simple message of Jesus and unnecessarily complicated it. He believed this fault was not due to the simple fisherman who were for the most part his apostles. He instead blamed the sophisticated, well educated including and most obviously Saul of Tarsus (St. Paul). He obviously did not include any of St. Paul’s writings in his version of the New Testament.
So it is true to say that the person who wrote our Declaration of Independence began and ended his life as a Christian. But, he was very much unlike any Christians we run across today.
Another very interesting person also covered in the book was Benjamin Franklin. He also had a very interesting concept of religion. I will leave it to those more curious to get the book and read about him. I will conclude here by paraphrasing what President Obama has been saying lately. We in the United States are not unique because we are a Christian nation but instead we are unique because of our diversity of religious views and tolerance. The diversity of our founding fathers beliefs were pretty much as we are as a country today.