This is a continuation of my mini-project to strike down some of the myths around Thomas Jefferson. The myth at hand is that he intended the United States to be a Christian nation. If anything can clear up the misconceptions of Jeffersonian history, it must come best from the author himself. Here are some of his words about things religious:
About Heresy Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.
-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782
Anyone who has visited my other blog at redletterliving.net know that I believe the heresy and the resulting Christian church divisions over beliefs is one of the major reasons that there are over 39,000 versions of Christianity around today. The history of the church abounds with the things that Jefferson mentioned here. It was somewhat surprising to me that people so many years ago realized the same thing I have just recently discovered. Jefferson was astounded by the fact that Christians just couldn’t seem to get along even in his day.
Most think that heresy and such are relegated to earlier times but history has shown us that people in several of the thirteen colonies were killed because of their beliefs This fact did not escape Jefferson’s attention. I want to step back a little and tell you that Jefferson, like so many of the founding fathers including Washington, was for most of his life a deist. That is he believed that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of God. He rejected the idea of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge. In other words he like our current Quaker brothers was creed adverse. Here is another quote from him about that.
I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Hopkinson, March 13, 1789
In other words Jefferson believed that it is up to each of us to think for ourselves and not have others to tell us what to believe. Again this is a stand that I took very early in my life and in my studies of the church. When we allow others to think for us and then insist they we pledge to a creed of their beliefs it is the “last degradation” of being a moral agent. Pretty strong words for one of the fathers of our country.
This post is primarily about Jefferson’s ambivalence toward being told what to believe. As we can see from history since his time being told what to believe has gotten mankind in all kinds of troubles….