Friday, January 25, 2013

The Surprising Truth about Thomas Jefferson- The Anti-Christian Founding Father

by Nomad

Thomas Jefferson was one of the most interesting men that this nation has produced and yet, today, his lives and ideas are nearly forgotten. He was above all, a product of the Enlightened Age, and didn't have much patience with religion and especially the Christian one.

Bitter Infidel or Enlightened Intellectual?
Published in 1885, the old book, Notes on Thomas Jefferson, Citizen of Maryland, offers the historical researcher some impressive shocks, particularly when it comes to the subject of Jefferson’s religious beliefs. 
The approach of the book comes from an unusual angle. The book, written in support of Christian values, takes a dim view of the third president’s attitude.
Why is that important? The author’s evidence is not attempting to defend Jefferson but to indict him. Yet the information in the book reveals an unexpected side to Jefferson.. 

The book begins: 
For obvious reasons, whatever pertains to Thomas Jefferson possesses an interest for all Americans. 
As the principal author of the “Declaration of Independence,” the first secretary of state, the second vice president, and the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson has every right to the title of “Founding Father.”
Given the state of politics today, this founding father’s opinions might seem even more radical and controversial than they did in his own time. For good reason, historians have tended to gloss over this aspect of American history.


Chapter Five of this book, Jefferson and Religion, is particularly interesting.
Mr. Jefferson's skepticism was known to some and suspected by many of his contemporaries, but the nature and scope of that skepticism were matters of conjecture until the publication of his private correspondence. (1853)
Jefferson, as a politician, was wise enough to make a separation between his personal views and his publicly-stated opinions. Hypocrisy? Perhaps. The book makes this charge (or at least, insincerity) against him.

However, Jefferson felt that religion was a private matter. And- despite what some modern day revisionist might tell the gullible- he held that the workings of government should not be complicated by religious doctrine and vice versa.
As the book claims:
This correspondence... seems to show that he was a radical, uncompromising and sometimes bitter infidel; that he had little sympathy, and perhaps less for any form of religious faith.
Jefferson’s Associates
A man’s character can often be judged by the company he keeps. Similarly, the intellect of a man can be understood by the men he admires and commonly associates with. 
The book declares: 
He was the friendly associate of scoffer and unbelievers, both native and foreign-born, among whom may be mentioned scurrilous Paine, Condorcet, Cabanis, General Dearborn, and Mr. Freneau. 
That’s quite an impressive list. Especially if you wish to condemn a man.
The “scurrilous” Thomas Paine is probably the most familiar name on this list. If not a founding father, Paine is certainly considered one of the most important intellectual inspirations for the American revolution. His essays, particularly The Rights of Man and Common Sense, played a key role in galvanizing the colonists to break free from British rule. His writings influenced the philosophy reflected in the Declaration of Independence.

However, his essay The Age of Reason,” written in 1795,” was even more iconoclastic. In it, Paine took apart every aspect of institutionalized religion. And even by today’s standards, Paine was merciless.
In Part Eight of that book, Paine describes the New Testament in this way:
The story, so far as relates to the supernatural part, has every mark of fraud and imposition stamped upon the face of it.
Paine was, like Jefferson, a deist, that is, he believed in a Supreme Being. Proof of this can be found in Paine’s book.
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.
But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.
Not unexpectedly the publication of this book created such a furor that Paine quickly fell out of favor in the states and he remained notorious well after his death. (Even in 1885, the author of the book still considered him "scurrilous.")
He should have known better. The wise Ben Franklin had warned Paine about the tenor of his writing and told him to burn his book instead of publishing so as “not to unchain the tiger.”

As a man of principle, Paine was unrepentant and he was to pay the price for it. In a May 12, 1797 letter in defense of his controversial book he writes:

The Bible represents God to be a changeable, passionate, vindictive being; making a world and then drowning it, afterwards repenting of what he had done, and promising not to do so again.

Setting one nation to cut the throats of another, and stopping the course of the sun till the butchery should be done. But the works of God in the creation preach to us another doctrine. In that vast volume we see nothing to give us the idea of a changeable, passionate, vindictive God; everything we there behold impresses us with a contrary idea - that of unchangeableness and of eternal order, harmony, and goodness.
In fact, if the Bible was to be believed then God, according to Paine, was nothing less than evil. He refused to believe it could be true.
It is not a God, just and good, but a devil, under the name of God, that the Bible describes.
Despite this heresy and despite Paine’s other anti-Christian writings,, in 1802 Thomas Jefferson cordially invited Thomas Paine back from Paris- where he was caught up in the revolution there. (But for a stroke of fantastic luck, Paine was nearly beheaded.) He returned an independent United States that, because of Paine’s outspoken opinions on religion, had turned its back on a true liberator, in every sense of the word.
*    *    *    *
The other names on the list all include ideals of the Age of Enlightenment and all ahead of their time. For example another of Jefferson’s associates, Nicolas de Condorcet, was a French philosopher, mathematician, and early political scientist.
According to author Keith Michael Baker, Condorcet believed that:
the nation needed enlightened citizens and education needed democracy to become truly public. Democracy implied free citizens, and ignorance was the source of servitude. Citizens had to be provided with the necessary knowledge to exercise their freedom and understand the rights and laws that guaranteed their enjoyment. Although education could not eliminate disparities in talent, all citizens, including women, had the right to free education.
It is easy to see that Jefferson was, like the people he associated with, a product of the Age of Enlightenment. These are the ideas that shaped the philosophy of the United States, as an agent of change for the world. According to the spirit of Jefferson, America, by discarding the autocratic institutions of the Old World, was revolutionary in all definitions of the word.

Unfortunately, in its twisted superpower form, it has become the basis for American exceptionalism and an excuse for military adventurism.

In Jefferson’s Own Words
In the Notes on Thomas Jefferson, the author points out that Jefferson’s view are not merely “guilt” by association. 
The National Gazette, his personal and political organ, almost entirely under his control, vilified clergymen and mocked at religion.
Like Paine, Jefferson classified the Bible as superstition and re-worked pagan mythology. While he had some respect for the philosophic teachings of the Jesus, he expressed some doubt about the authenticity of the gospels and whether they could even be trusted to represent the actual doctrine of Christ. 
At one point, Jefferson compiled his own version of the Bible, composed of the ethical teaching of Jesus. The divinity of Christ- a key component of the Christian faith- was another matter altogether.

He wrote to Massachusetts politician and revolutionary Timothy Pickering:
The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus- so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies, and falsehood; have caricatured them into form so monstrous and inconceivable as to shock reasonable thinkers, to revolt them against the whole and drive them rashly to pronounce its founder as an imposter."
And as far as the miracles, he was more outspoken. The book cites an example from Jefferson’s correspondence:
"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus in the womb of a virgin, by the Supreme Being as his father will be classed with the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."
Other parts of the New Testament were, according to Jefferson, incomprehensible and, especially the books regarding the end of the world:
Jefferson, in a letter dated Jan.17, 1825 to General Smith, stated that he considered the Apocalypse "merely as the ravings of a maniac- no more worthy or capable of explanation than the incoherent cries of our nightly dreams."
To suggest that Jefferson would have had any inclination whatsoever to mix religion and government is nothing less than a slander against everything Jefferson stood for.
On November 2nd, 1822, writing to a friend, Dr. Cooper, Jefferson noted:
The atmosphere of our country is unquestionably charged with a threatening cloud of fanaticism, - lighter in some places, denser in others, but too heavy in all.
That fanaticism he wrote about was not political. It was religious fanaticism. Of ministers and priests, Jefferson called them “impious dogmatists,” “false shepherds” and “usurpers of the “Christian name.”

If that doesn’t clear your head of any doubts, look at this quote. To his friend General Dearborn, his former Secretary of War, Jefferson declared that so long as Christian temples stood "we could not hope for good order or good government."

And these weren’t the rantings of an elder statesman. Much earlier in his career, in his book, Notes of the State of Virginia, 1781-82, Jefferson wrote:
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 toward 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.
Barton: The False Shepherd
It is fair to ask: Why should anybody care about Jefferson’s religious views? 
I'll tell you. Because of people like David Barton.
This is a man that Right Wing Watch has called a Republican Party activist and a “fast-talking, self-promoting, self-taught, self-proclaimed historian who is miseducating millions of Americans about U.S. history and the Constitution.” 

The mention of his name lights up the eyes of people like Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. Michele Bachmann called Barton “a national treasure.” Back in 2010, she invited him to teach in her special (and private) Constitutional Classes for her newly elected Tea Party Congressmen. On taxpayer’s dime, by the way.
Among the many dubious claims Barton’s most fundamental one is that America 'was and is' a Christian nation. As the founder and president of WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization, Barton has sought to undermine the core principles of separation of Church and State.

Jefferson would definitely have included Barton in the false shepherd category. Scholars, both secular and Christian, joined together to condemn Barton’s misrepresentations of the historical record.

Eventually, as so often happens with people like Barton, he pushed his views beyond the defensible limits His latest book, The Jefferson Lies, made numerous illegitimate statements about the third president. 

The press release for the book read:
"History books routinely teach that Jefferson was an anti-Christian secularist ..but none of those claims are actually true.”
As we have seen, in so far as the subject of Jefferson’s view on Christianity, the record is clear and well-supported by evidence. It's not hard to find the proof if one is interested in the truth. 

Barton's book aroused such a backlash (including a threatened boycotts by pastors in Cincinnati) that the publisher was forced to stop the printing and to pull all copies from bookstore shelves. The Senior Vice President and Publisher Brian Hampton explained their decision:
"Were these matters of opinion? Were they differences of interpretation? But as we got into it, our conclusion was that the criticisms were correct. There were historical details — matters of fact, not matters of opinion, that were not supported at all."
(According to one source, Barton later even pulled a fast one on his former publisher in yet another pack of lies.)

Even conservative historians were also doubtful about Barton’s scholarship when it came to Jefferson. Dr. Glenn Moots, a professor of both philosophy and political science at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan, said that Barton “is so eager to portray Jefferson as sympathetic to Christianity that he misses or omits obvious signs that Jefferson stood outside "orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity." 
According to one source, another professor, Glenn Sunshine of Central Connecticut State University, said that Barton's characterization of Jefferson's religious views is "unsupportable." 

To counter the debunking by critics, Barton claimed that they were merely “academic elitists” and that they were “intolerant” of those who wrote for the public- as opposed to scholars. This kind of demagoguery plays well to the Tea party crowd who seem to resent both common sense and any kind of education. The attacks on his works, Barton said, were “self-serving and disingenuous.” (Nobody could fault Barton for not having a fine sense of irony, at least.)

The late Arlen Specter, former United States Senator from Pennsylvania, wrote in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy that Barton’s “pseudo-scholarship would hardly be worth discussing, let alone disproving, were it not for the fact that it is taken so very seriously by so many people.”

Specter put his finger on it perfectly. With people like Barton in taking charge of history for the masses, Jefferson, (were alive today), might be concerned that the Age of Enlightenment may be coming to an pathetic end. 
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