Subject: Thomas Jefferson's Religious Beliefs, etc. What were Thomas Jefferson's religious

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

From: lip@voyager..ARPA (Loren I. Petrich) Subject: Thomas Jefferson's Religious Beliefs, etc. What were Thomas Jefferson's religious beliefs? I mention this because this issue came up recently in this newsgroup. He was a "Deist," an eighteenth-century school of thought that held that the Universe we know had a creator, God, but that God had decided not to miraculously intervene in the Universe that he (she? it? they?) had created. He believed that the Bible was purely the product of human beings, and even wrote the "Jefferson Bible," in which he pictured Jesus Christ as a great man who had worked no miracles, someone like Socrates or the Buddha or Confucius or Lao-Tze. He even felt confident that the day would someday come when the supposed virgin birth of Jesus Christ would one day be viewed as fictional as the emergence of Athena from the head of Zeus, as he expressed in one letter. For his part, he did not care if someone believed in twenty gods or no god at all. He was not opposed to all organized religion; he had disestablished the Church of England in Virginia, an act the Danbury Baptists appreciated (any more on this?), and he felt congenial to Unitarianism, though he never officially became one. He probably was a Unitarian at heart. Thomas Paine, who held similar views, went public with them in _The Age of Reason_, and got vilified as an atheist. He made similar comments about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ being analogous to similar incidents in Pagan mythology. And he also criticized the Bible in detail on historical and moral grounds. For instance, he wondered why the Israelites were supposed to slaughter the men and married women of certain of their enemies, but not the unmarried young women. To anyone with any awareness of sex, the reason seems obvious. An indignant clergyman replied that the young ladies had not been spared to become concubines, but slaves, to which there could be no moral objection. Others amongst our Founding Fathers had similar beliefs, though were not so open about them, like Benjamin Franklin. Abraham Lincoln apparently had similar views. It is an interesting philosophical/theological construction, that of a God who creates a Universe, and lets it run according to its natural laws. All supposed "revelations from God" become figments of the imagination, for one thing. If one wants to be cynical, one may decide that this kind of God is simply a God imagined in the likeness of a rationalist. Perhaps. Man has always created God in his image. A careful look at the Constitution of the United States reveals not a trace of theological foundation. Indeed, it starts off with "WE THE PEOPLE, in order to form a more perfect union..." No mention of any deity whatsoever. It is _solely_ on their own initiative. This may explain why George Washington sent a diplomatic message to Malta declaring that the United States is "not in any way founded upon the Christian religion." The Declaration of Independence, while it makes a number of references to the Deity, also does not support the hypothesis of a divine mandate. It also agrees with the view propounded in the Constitution, and also gives a host of non-theological reasons for finding fault with King George III. Interestingly, King George III and his admirers believed in the Divine Right of Kings, according to which, God had appointed King George III's family ruler of all the territory ruled from London, including 13 rebellious North American colonies. So the American revolutionaries were not also fighting King George III, but also God, in this view. I suspect that a Fundamentalist who was not a fervent, flag-waving and -worshipping professional patriot would say that the United States was founded on a denial of the sovereignty of God. After all, its founders seemed to do everything on their own initiative, without asking God about anything. About the great flag-burning controversy, I think that there are better ways to handle issues like that than outlawing them. It seems a bit on the silly side to get worked up about issues like that. For my part, I see flags as artwork, and I am turned off at the thought of gratuitously destroying art. But I think it inappropriate to legislate such things. Legal regulation? I think our nation's experience with Prohibition should suggest that legal regulation, by itself, is not enough. Though it yielded a limited amount of success in reducing total alcohol consumption (about a factor of 2, according to some studies), after 10 years of it, it became apparent that it was a cure worse than the disease (there is a gruesome variant from the days before anesthesia and antibiotics: the operation was successful but the patient died). ^ Loren Petrich, the Master Blaster \ ^ / loren@moonzappa.llnl.gov \ ^ / One may need to route through any of: \^/ sunlight.llnl.gov <<<<<<<<+>>>>>>>> lll-lcc.llnl.gov /v\ lll-crg.llnl.gov / v \ star.stanford.edu / v \ v "I'm just a spud boy looking for that real tomato" -- Devo

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank