Friday, August 19, 2016

Jefferson (at Different Stages of his Life) on Priestley & Price (with some J. Adams Too)

Arguably, the two most notable British Unitarians who influenced the American Founding were the Socinian Joseph Priestley and Arian Richard Price.

Thomas Jefferson, self proclaimed unitarian, militantly so, professed great admiration for both (theologically he was closer to Priestley; though arguably Jefferson was even more heterodox than Priestley. I'm assuming that Socinianism is more heterodox than Arianism).

Some controversy ensues over whether Jefferson was heterodox before 1813. Every serious Jefferson scholar thinks he was. See Warren Throckmorton's ongoing case, all the details of which admittedly, I haven't memorized.

I know Throckmorton invokes a 1788 letter by Jefferson on refusal to be a Godfather because TJ didn't want to affirm the Trinity. There Jefferson notes a lifelong "difficulty" with that doctrine. Throckmorton offers other evidence too, noting:
Jefferson also confided to a Unitarian friend that he attended Priestley’s Unitarian church before 1800, while he was Vice President. In Jefferson’s 1803 Syllabus, he laid out his belief that Jesus was not part of the Godhead. [The] attempt to make Jefferson seem orthodox during the active part of his political engagement is contradicted by Jefferson’ own words.
Throckmorton may have included perhaps (?) what I disclose below. But I want to re-fresh the record.

Let's start backwards with where Jefferson ended. On February 27, 1821, writing to Timothy Pickering, Jefferson stated:
I do not know that you and I may think alike on all points. as the Creator has made no two faces alike, so no two minds, and probably no two creeds. we well know that among Unitarians themselves there are strong shades of difference, as between Doctors Price and Priestley for example. so there may be peculiarities in your creed and in mine. they are honestly formed without doubt. I do not wish to trouble the world with mine, nor to be troubled for them. these accounts are to be settled only with him who made us; and to him we leave it, with charity for all others, of whom also he is the only rightful and competent judge. I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the Unity of the Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also.
The context of this letter has Jefferson railing against "the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three," while granting latitude towards the Arianism and Socinianism of Price and Priestley.

It's hard for anyone to dispute Jefferson from 1813 onward held to such a heterodox unitarian position. 1813 seemed a watershed year for both Jefferson AND J. Adams where they bitterly rejected and mocked the Trinity. That was the year Great Britain finally got the law off its books making it a crime to publicly deny the doctrine. When reading their correspondence, skip to 1813. That year is practically all about their rejection of the Trinity and orthodox Christian doctrine.

So then let's go to the beginning. The earliest I trace Jefferson's connection to Priestley and Price is the mid 1780s, after the Declaration of Independence, but before the Constitution was ratified and Jefferson's subsequent service in the newly formed Federal government.

Jerry Newcombe and Mark A. Beliles have a new book out which explores the current controversy (and examines the arguments of among others, David Barton, Gregg Frazer, Throckmorton and his co-author Michael Coulter). Though known to sympathize with the "Christian America" view of history, the timeline they give on page 380 seems accurate enough (to my eyes). I would stress, though, there is not sufficient evidence that Jefferson's turn towards explicit unitarianism at that time -- 1785-86 -- came from the orthodox Trinitarian direction as opposed to one more deistic and less self consciously "Christian" than where Jefferson's beliefs terminated.

Newcombe and Beliles document how John Adams, meeting with Jefferson in England in 1786 took him to a Unitarian Church with a service led by Richard Price.  Jefferson penned a letter to Price in 1785 praising Price's Observations on the American Revolution which Price earlier sent a copy. Price also sent a copy to among others, George Washington who similarly praised the tract. Price's addresses is explicitly pro-unitarian.

In their ensuing correspondence, Price further discusses religion with Jefferson. As Price wrote him on October 26, 1788:
I am now reading Mr. Necker’s book on the importance of religious opinions. ...  He should have defined it, and taken care to distinguish the religion he means from the Superstitions that go under the name of religion, and which have done unspeakable harm in the world. What he Says is true only of a rational and liberal religion; that is of a religion which enforces the obligations of morality by motives drawn from the authority of a righteous and benevolent Deity and a future retribution. But he Seems never to have consider’d that there has been in almost all religions a melancholy Separation of religion from morality. Popery teaches a method of pleasing God without forsaking vice, and of getting to heaven by penances, bodily mortifications, pilgrimages, saying masses, believing mysterious doctrines, burning heretics, aggrandizing Priests &c. Mahometans expect a paradise of Sensual pleasures. Pagans worship’d lewd, revengeful and cruel Deities, and thus Sanctify’d to themselves1 Some of the worst passions. The religion likewise of many Protestants is little better than a compromise with the Deity for wrong practises by fastings, Sacraments hearing the word &c. Would not Society be better without Such religions? Is Atheism less pernicious than Demonism? And what is the religion of many persons but a kind of demonism that delights in human Sacrifices and causes them to look with horror on the greatest part of mankind? Plutarch, it is well known, has observd very justly that it is better not to believe in a God than to believe him to be a capricious and malevolent being. These reflexions have Struck me very forcibly in reading Mr. Necker’s book. They shew how incumbent it is on all who wish the happiness of the world to endeavour to propagate just notions of the Deity and of religion. I can reflect with Some Satisfaction that this has been one of the Studies and labours of my life.
Jefferson's response, dated January 8 of that year, affirms Price's sentiment while connecting their shared enlightened heterodox theological zeitgeist to the US Constitution.
I was favored with your letter of October 26th[;] ... its subjects ... were to me, as everything which comes from you, pleasing and instructive. I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians. Your opinions and writings will have effect in bringing others to reason on this subject. Our new Constitution, of which you speak also, has succeeded beyond what I apprehended it would have done.
Then in a letter written on July 12, 1789, Jefferson asks Price the following:
Is there any thing good on the subject of the Socinian doctrine, levelled to a mind not habituated to abstract reasoning? I would thank you to recommend such a work to me. Or have you written any thing of that kind? That is what I should like best, as none are so easy to be understood as those who understand themselves.
Price replies, August 3, 1789 introducing Jefferson to Joseph Priestley's Socinian writings:
In consequence of your desire that I would convey to you some tracts on the Socinian doctrine, I desire your acceptance of the volume of Sermons and the pamphlets that accompany this letter. The first part of Dr. Priestley’s letters I cannot immediately get; but it shall be sent to you by the first opportunity. The pamphlet entitled Two Schemes of a Trinity &c. is reckoned by the Socinians one of the best of all the publications in favour of their doctrine. You will see that Dr. Priestley and I differ much, but we do it with perfect respect for one another. He is a materialist and fatalist and we published some years ago a correspondence on these Subjects. ...
Jefferson then develops a fascination with Joseph Priestley's writings. It's evident that from 1813 onward Priestley had become Jefferson's favorite theologian. Jefferson corresponded with Priestley in the window between when Price introduces Jefferson to Priestley's writings and 1813. In a later post I may detail more on Jefferson's pre-1813 correspondence with Priestley.

Rather, let's examine how Jefferson invokes both Price and Priestley in the year 1800. Writing to an ideological confidant, Bishop James Madison, on January 31, 1800, Jefferson praises Adam Weishaupt of the Illuminated Freemasonry legend. Before we see what Jefferson wrote, I note I don't see this as part of any kind of nefarious conspiracy. Freemasonry at the time was theistic, virtue orientated and religiously ecumenical in a way that was in principle universalistic. Hence it "fit" with their enlightenment zeitgeist.

The Illuminated Masonry of Weishaupt came to be known as the stuff of conspiracy and legend. But the context of Jefferson's letter, as I see it, has Jefferson trying to shoehorn Weishaupt's theology into his projected ideal of the works oriented unitarian theologies of Price and Priestley.
Wishaupt seems to be an enthusiastic Philanthropist. he is among those (as you know the excellent Price and Priestly also are) who believe in the indefinite perfectibility of man. he thinks he may in time be rendered so perfect that he will be able to govern himself in every circumstance so as to injure none, to do all the good he can, to leave government no occasion to exercise their powers over him, & of course to render political government useless. this, you know is Godwin’s doctrine, and this is what Robinson, Barruel & Morse have called a conspiracy against all government. Wishaupt believes that to promote this perfection of the human character was the object of Jesus Christ. that his intention was simply to reinstate natural religion, & by diffusing the light of his morality, to teach us to govern ourselves. his precepts are the love of god & love of our neighbor. and by teaching innocence of conduct, he expected to place men in their natural state of liberty & equality. he says, no one ever laid a surer foundation for liberty than our grand master, Jesus of Nazareth. he believes the Freemasons were originally possessed of the true principles & object of Christianity, and have still preserved some of them by tradition, but much disfigured. the means he proposes to effect this improvement of human nature are ‘to enlighten men, to correct their morals & inspire them with benevolence. secure of our success, sais he, we abstain from violent commotions. to have foreseen the happiness of posterity & to have prepared it by irreproacheable means, suffices for our felicity. this tranquility of our consciences is not troubled by the reproach of aiming at the ruin or overthrow of states or thrones.’ as Wishaupt lived under the tyranny of a despot & priests, he knew that caution was necessary even in spreading information, and the principles of pure morality. he proposed therefore to lead the Freemasons to adopt this object, and to make the objects of their institution, the diffusion of1 science & virtue. he proposed to initiate new members into this body by gradations proportioned to his fears of the thunderbolts of tyranny. this has given an air of mystery to his views, was the foundation of his banishment & the subversion of the Masonic order, and is the colour for the ravings against him of Robinson, Barruel & Morse, whose real fears are that the craft would be endangered by the spreading of information reason & natural morality among men.—this subject being new to me, I have imagined that if it be so to you also, you may recieve the same satisfaction in seeing, which I have had in forming the Analysis of it: and I believe you will think with me that if Wishaupt had written here, where no secrecy is necessary in our endeavors to render men wise & virtuous, he would not have thought of any secret machinery for that purpose: as Godwin, if he had written in Germany, might probably also have thought secrecy & mystycism prudent.
Now, this letter was written in 1800, just before Jefferson became President of the United States. Though not railing against the Trinity, he seems pretty clearly in Price and Priestley's unitarian theological camp, expositing heterodox political theology.

One final thing for now. It's my contention that the self consciously "unitarian" "Christianity" of the 1813 Jefferson onward was arrived at NOT from an orthodox Trinitarian direction, but rather the other side. From a place more deistic and less self consciously "Christian."

As I have noted before, I think Jefferson's chief theological influence before encountering Price, Priestley (and Conyers Middleton, who also cut up a Bible and was a source TJ named in 1813 with Priestley), was the more deistic Lord Viscount Bolingbroke

If Jefferson were coming from an orthodox Trinitarian direction towards his ultimate destination, why didn't he apparently stop at Price's Arianism for a short while? What I observe is Jefferson becoming familiar with and praising Price's works oriented unitarianism in 1785 and by 1789 asking about Socinianism and consequently being introduced to Priestley to whom Jefferson seems immediately to appreciate.

Likewise, the place where Jefferson from 1813 onward ends up is MORE heterodox than Priestley's Socinianism. As I have noted before, Priestley never (as far as I know) like Jefferson did, cut out large portions of the Bible -- like everything St. Paul "revealed" -- as false. And Priestley unlike Jefferson affirms Jesus' resurrection.  

Below is how I envision a theological spectrum from most orthodox to most heterodox:

1. Christian orthodoxy; 2. Arianism; 3. Socinianism; 4. Deism; 5. Atheism. 

I know reality can be more complicated and not so easily boxed. I don't think Jefferson was ever an atheist. And the "Deism" of 4 doesn't necessarily equate with cold "strict deism." But looking at the larger picture I see Jefferson, in his adult life moving from Bolingbroke's Deism towards Priestley's Socinianism. But remaining stuck in the middle. 

In short, I'd rate Jefferson a 3.5. (Likewise, since "Deism" is a broader category than what we may previously have thought, the cold, strict, deist whose God neither reveals nor intervenes is not a 4, but a 4.5).

Sunday, August 14, 2016

James Madison on Defining Christianity

Or, to put it another way. He doesn't. Rather, he asks (very good) questions that he doesn't answer. 

I've reproduced this before; but it calls for a rerun because the question is so important. Madison didn't believe civil governments could take "cognizance" of religion. He wrote about such in the context of remonstrating against a bill that would support Christianity generally.

He thought government taking cognizance of Christianity in particular would lead to arguments over what's Christian and what's not. That wasn't part of civil government's just powers.

It's interesting that James Madison doesn't provide an answer to the question here or elsewhere. Madison had a commitment to theism generally, and a perhaps very broad understanding of Christianity generally that would accept all of the differences we see him writing about below.

But we don't see commitments along the lines of, "I believe the Roman Catholic Church is the true one, but if not, you have to at minimum believe in X to be a 'real Christian.'" Or "I believe the atonement is limited; but folks could disagree and still be 'good Christians.' But no true Christian could countenance Y."

Here is a link to the original.
3. What is Xnty? Courts of law to Judge.
4. What edition: Hebrew, Septuagint, or Vulgate? What copy what translation?
5. What books canonical, what apocryphal? the papists holding to be the former what protestants the latter, the Lutherans the latter what the protestants & papists ye former.
6. In what light are they to be viewed, as dictated every letter by inspiration, or the essential parts only? Or the matter in general not the words?
7. What sense the true one for if some doctrines be essential to Xnty those who reject these, whatever name they take are no Xn Society?
8. Is it Trinitarianism, Arianism, Socinianism? Is it salvation by faith or works also, by free grace or by will, &c., &c.
9. What clue is to guide [a] Judge thro' this labyrinth when ye question comes before them whether any particular society is a Xn society?
10. Ends in what is orthodoxy, what heresy.
Dishonors Christianity.
panegyric on it, on our side.
Decl. Rights."

And George Washington Called Providence "She" and "It"

This is an interesting article -- an op-ed, which by their nature are slanted -- from the NYT on the gender of the God of Abraham. Quoted below is what the piece concludes:
Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel — the God of the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions to which fully half the people on the planet today belong — was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual-gendered deity.
Along the way the rabbi who authored the piece uses original Hebrew to make his case. I don't read Hebrew. If any readers do, I wonder, are his translations accurate?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Frazer on Green's Latest

At the Claremont Review of Books, Gregg Frazer reviews Steven K. Green's "Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding."

A taste:
The book’s treatment of the early colonial period is quite informative and well supported, emphasizing the “melding [of] theological and Enlightenment concepts” as “Puritan-Calvinist patterns and ideas informed revolutionary and constitutional ideology.” His discussion of the founders’ own religious beliefs starts with the same balance and nuance, arguing that the “portrayal of the founders as religion-despising deists is as inaccurate as the claim that they were all born-again Christians.” He even employs the term I use in The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders (2012), “theistic rationalism,” and occasionally strengthens the “theism” element by making it the noun rather than the modifier. Green soon abandons any notion, however, that religious influence “melded” with Enlightenment thought or that Christianity “informed” the founders’ views. Suddenly, it’s all rationalism and no theism, with any reference to divine Providence—even in private writings—dismissed as political rhetoric. How does Green know the founders’ motives and intent? Is there a reason to doubt their sincerity? He gives none. Even if we are skeptical of public pronouncements, why wouldn’t private correspondence, diaries, and memoranda reliably convey a person’s beliefs? After warning against simply taking religious statements at face value and against isolating favorable quotes, Green does that very thing in support of his own position.

Journal of the American Revolution: "The Public Universal Friend: Jemima Wilkinson and Religious Enthusiasm in Revolutionary America"

By Michael Tuosto here. A taste:
The Public Universal Friend is an exploration of the development, culture, and tenants of the sect, so aside from the occasional repetition, the lack of a chronological order is appropriate. The sect was born in 1776. Jemima Wilkinson was living in Cumberland, Rhode Island in 1776 and she contracted typhus, which was introduced into the area by a Continental ship. When she recovered she claimed the Holy Spirit had descended into her body and she assumed the role of the Public Universal Friend. After this transition “the person” recognized “itself” as a “he” because of the presence of the holy-spirit. The author illustrates the confusion felt by contemporaries over this supposed change in sex by interchanging the pronouns, ...  
Jemima Wilkinson the prophet began preaching throughout New England, including Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Throughout the 1780s a sect known as the Society of the Universal Friends began to develop. The excessive number of funerals and executions resulting from the Revolution fostered a widespread demand for salvation and created the opportunity for the Public Universal Friend to succeed in forming a new religious sect. Deaths of spouses and sons in battle, diseases spread by armies, and a pacifist sentimentality among former Quakers and New Light evangelicals were some reasons the Public Universal Friend was able to establish a unique American religion.  
The sect was heavily influenced by Quakerism and New Light evangelical beliefs and characteristics. ... They eschewed traditional doctrine espoused by elitist professional clerics, traditional denominational institutions and rituals, the concept of original sin, and the puritan concept of predestination. They embraced spirit-driven preaching by charismatic leaders, universal salvation, and free will. Furthermore, the Public Universal Friend encouraged celibacy, prohibited lust, discouraged marriage, and opposed slavery. It is unclear whether the Public Universal Friend had a messianic complex, but the devastation imposed by the Revolution did provide a fertile landscape for fears of Armageddon and the need for salvation before the final judgment.  
The Public Universal Friend is emblematic of a distinctly American religious culture. The turn away from theological arguments and educated clerics can be viewed as anti-intellectual and while there might be some truth to that, I prefer to think about it as just another expression of American’s aversion to the shackles of authority. Moyer explains that “… the forces of popular religion reshaped American spiritual life as control over faith shifted away from the established clergy and orthodox theology and toward lay folk who favored more … liberating creeds …The Public Universal Friend’s emphasis on universal salvation and stress on the individual believer’s relationship with the divine … served to ease, if not erase, hierarchies of class, race, and sex.” The Public Universal Friend embodied the strengthening democratic ideals in Revolutionary America.

Journal of the American Revolution: "The Great Awakening and the American Revolution"

By Daniel N. Gullotta here. A taste:
In conclusion, while I would agree that it would be an overstatement to claim that without the Awakening there would have been no Revolution, the Awakening is a historical reality that more historians need to grapple with in understanding the Revolution’s origins. After the First Great Awakening, the so-called preordained order of society was completely tuned upside down. It was during the revivals that the colonists began to view themselves as capable of interpreting the will of God for themselves. While John Winthrop may have promised that the Massachusetts Bay Colony would be like “a city upon a hill,” it was the First Great Awakening that truly provided the ground for the American colonists to begin to see themselves as a chosen people. They believed that God was working within the American colonies in a special way. Not only this, but the Awakening provided the means by which colonists could communicate this revolutionary ideology. The First Great Awakening was not the American Revolution, but it was an American revolution.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Tom Krannawitter on David Barton on George Washington's Faith

On Facebook, Tom Krannawitter who used to lead the Claremont Institute made an apt comment on David Barton's Wallbuilders' video on George Washington's "Christian" faith.

TK wrote:
It's difficult for me to understand why so many people find these sorts of things so interesting -- whether they be cheerleaders for or academic opponents of David Barton.

Many of his contemporaries stated that George Washington was a Christian. Sure. That's easy to believe.

(What George Washington actually believed, and whether his personal beliefs were the same as his statements to the pious Christian public around him, is something only George Washington knows. Perhaps God too. But certainly no other human beings knows with certainty what was in the depths of the mind of George Washington or any other human being. Ever.)

And many of Barack Obama's contemporaries state that he's a Christian.

And many of Donald Trump's contemporaries state that he's a Christian.

And King Charlemagne was a Christian -- who persecuted and lopped off more heads than historians can count.

Many communist and socialist revolutionaries in third world countries over the past century have been Christians -- as they gunned down the "bourgeoisie" with Soviet or Chinese machine guns.
American "Social Gospel," socialist preachers were Christians -- who not only advocated for socialism, they advocated for socialism from the pulpits of Christian churches.

The guru godfather of American progressive-style socialism, Woodrow Wilson, was deeply Christian.
And, of course, King George III, against whom George Washington led a violent revolution, was a Christian, as many of his contemporaries attested.

So which is more interesting: The religion common to the people identified above? Or how those people differ in their words and actions, their opinions and arguments and efforts?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Richard Price, Bayes’ theorem, and God

Check it out here. A taste from the introduction:
Bayes’ theorem is 250 years old this year. But did the Rev. Thomas Bayes actually devise it? Martyn Hooper presents the case for the extraordinary Richard Price, friend of US presidents, mentor, pamphleteer, economist, and above all preacher. And did Price develop Bayes’ theorem in order to prove the existence of God?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Joseph Priestley Explains His Socinianism

I may well have posted this before (I can't remember). Thomas Jefferson loved Joseph Priestley. And John Adams had many positive (and some negative) things to say about him. I think, though, whatever political and personal differences they had, Priestley's creed may have been closer to Adams' than Jefferson's.

Priestley believed Jesus 100% man, not at all divine in his nature. But he also apparently believed in the virgin birth and the resurrection, two things Jefferson rejected. Priestley's Jesus was a "Savior." A second Adam to correct the errors of the first.

From his "Three Tracts":
If you ask who, then, is Jesus Christ, if he be not God; I answer, in the words of Peter, addressed to the Jews, after his resurrection and ascension, that Jesus of Nazareth was a man approved of God by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him. Acts ii. 22. If you ask what is meant by man, in this place; I answer, that man, if the word be used with any kind of propriety, must mean the same kind of being with yourselves. I say, moreover, with the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, that it became him by whom are all things, and for whom are all things, to make this great captain of our salvation in all respects, like unto us his brethren, that he might be made perfect through sufferings, Heb. ii. 10. 1J. and that he might have a feeling of all our infirmities, iv. 13. For this, reason it was that our Saviour and deliverer was not made of the nature of an angel, or like any super-angelic being, but was of the seed as Abraham., ii. 16. that is (exclusive of the divinity of the Father, which resided in him, and acted by him) a mere man, as other Jews, and as we ourselves also are.

Christ being made by the immediate hand of God, and not born in the usual course of generation, is no reason for his not being considered as a man. For then Adam must not have been a man. But in the ideas of Paul, both the first and second Adam (as Christ, on this account, is sometimes called) were equally men: By man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead, 1 Cor. xv. 21. And, certainly, in the resurrection of a man, that is, of a person in all respects like ourselves, we have a more lively hope of our own resurrection; that of Christ being both a proof and a pattern of ours. We can, therefore, more firmly believe, that because he livest we who are the same that he was, and who shall undergo the same change by death that he did, shall live also. John xiv. 19.
Priestley doesn't see the virgin birth as a unique sign that points towards a divine nature. He analogizes it to the first Adam's creation. Adam didn't have a virgin birth, because he was not birthed of a woman. Rather both Adam and Jesus were "not born in the usual course of generation" and both were equally 100% human, not divine. Jesus perfected the divine mission of man from which Adam strayed.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Jefferson Bible? Was it the "Miraculous" that's the issue?

Once again Warren Throckmorton is pounding David Barton's understanding of the Jefferson Bible. There were two different efforts of Jefferson. One in 1804, the other around 1820. The 1804 book is not available to read in its entirety. The 1820 version is. That's "the Jefferson Bible" we have.

The dates are important for Barton's thesis, which is this: Apparently Thomas Jefferson was some kind of orthodox Trinitarian Christian until around 1813 when he fell away.

There is a kernel of truth to this flawed thesis: Jefferson starts to offer far more smoking gun quotations on his heterodoxy around 1813. But as Throckmorton and others have demonstrated, there is evidence Jefferson was heterodox before that time period. In fact, I suspect that Jefferson was less orthodox and more deistic until around the early 19th Century when he began familiarizing himself with Joseph Priestley's Socinian "Christianity."

Priestley may have made Jefferson more comfortable with a "Christian" identity. Before that, I think Jefferson may have been closer the deist Bolingbroke, though even he, if you read what he wrote about Jesus, isn't quite the "strict deist"; but he's arguably less Christian than Priestley. Allen Jayne makes an impressive circumstantial case for Bolingbroke's influence on Jefferson. But Priestley and Conyers Middleton (who also cut up a Bible) were explicitly NAMED in Jefferson's post 1813 period (Priestley far more than Middleton).

Jefferson may have never shaken off the influence of Bolingbroke. In fact, arguably, one might conclude the final "unitarian" position Jefferson endorsed was some kind of hybrid between the creeds of Bolingbroke and Priestley.

There were two things Bolingbroke posited that Jefferson late in life believed in that, arguably make them less "Christian" than Joseph Priestley. I'm no Priestley expert. I do know Priestley a Socinian, believing Jesus 100% man, not at all divine in His nature, but on a divine mission, taught 1. Original Sin; 2. the Trinity; 3. the Incarnation; 4. Atonement; and 5. the Plenary Inspiration of Scripture were "corruptions" of Christianity.

But Priestley did believe in "special revelation" in a God speaking to man sense. Bolingbroke may have too believed in special revelation of a more limited variety. But I don't think Priestley messed with the canon like Bolingbroke and later Jefferson did.

Firstly, Bolingbroke and later Jefferson (probably under his influence) disbelieved in the divine inspiration of the Book of Revelation, criticizing it in harsh terms. Priestley not only believed in the divine inspiration of that book, but wrote many words trying to interpret its prophesies.

Secondly, Bolingbroke and then again, later Jefferson wrote off everything St. Paul stated as fake and not divinely inspired. I'm going to have to plead ignorance on Priestley's position on St. Paul. But I don't believe Priestley's disbelief in the plenary inspiration of the Bible led him to razor blade everything Paul said as bullshit like Bolingbroke and Jefferson did.

(I documented Bolingbroke's influence here.)

Now, David Barton, in his book, concedes Jefferson post 1813 as unorthodox. AND his book, from what I remember (I didn't read the whole thing) concedes Jefferson's late in life letter dismissing the Book of Revelation as the ravings of a delusional manic. I can't remember if Barton dealt with Jefferson's similar dismissing of Paul's writings.

But if the Jefferson of 1820 who compiled the version of his canon that we have available was, as Barton might concede, willing to dismiss the Book of Revelation and everything St. Paul wrote as fake (in addition to the Trinity and every other doctrine of orthodoxy), why does Barton have a hard time with the notion that Jefferson constructed a "Bible" of his own where he cut out from the canon that which he didn't believe?

Is it the notion that Jefferson cut out "all" of the miracles? I think he cut out most of them. Perhaps not all.

Likewise, believers can dicker over the exact books which belong in the canon (see the debates among Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestants over the deuterocanonicals) and quibble over passages of verses and chapters, but what kind of "Christianity" dismisses not just the Trinity and every other orthodox doctrine, the Book of Revelation (a hard book, which I understand even Martin Luther doubted) but also everything St. Paul said?

This is the Jefferson of the 1820s who compiled his own Bible around that time period.