Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Jefferson & Christian Heritage:

WorldNutDaily is reporting on how our "Christian Heritage" is being erased from certain official tours. Some pious minister doesn't like the way Jefferson is being represented.

Here are some excerpts:

A similar situation developed at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home.

"Again, while our guide was cordial and informative about many matters, when asked about the religious faith of Thomas Jefferson, he abruptly and actually quite arrogantly said, 'We all know Jefferson was a strict deist [a person who believes in a Creator who does not involve Himself in the daily affairs of men], who ardently fought for the separation of Church and State,'" DeBord wrote.


The facts are that Jefferson used his political position to establish churches and distribute Bibles, DeBord found. "For example, in an 1803 federal Indian treaty, Jefferson willingly agreed to provide $300 to 'assist the said Kaskaskia tribe in the erection of a church' and to provide 'annually for seven years $100 towards the support of a Catholic priest.'"

Jefferson also set aside government lands so that Moravian missionaries might be helped in "promoting Christianity." And Jefferson once was chairman of the American Bible Society.


"Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern which have come under my observation, none appears to me so pure as that of Jesus....I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus," Jefferson said.

"While it is true that Jefferson was an advocate for the separation of the State from the Church, he was not attempting to neuter the government from any or all religious or even Christian influence," DuBord said history shows. "Religiously speaking, Jefferson was raised Anglican (Church of England), which is partially why he (as well as others) opposed the tyranny of king, priest, or whomever."


"If Jefferson intended to utterly void religion from national laws and legislatures, then why would he have attended church services in the Capitol Building? (Which there were back in his day). And why would he warn our country from abandoning God with these convicting words to our nation (words now also inscribed on the wall of the Jefferson Memorial):" DuBord wrote.

"The God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever."

That, DuBord noted, "sounds to me more like a preacher than a politician!"

"No one can say these things and be a strict deist at the same time, because Jesus' doctrines included in the belief in the immanency of a God who will never leave us or forsake us, always willing to intervene and help us in our times of need," he said.

Some comments. First the factual error: Jefferson was not chairman of the American Bible Society.

Re: Jefferson's religion. I agree that Jefferson probably wasn't a "strict Deist," and in my article on George Washington I quote that very passage from "Notes on the State of Virginia" to show that Jefferson believed in a warm personal, as opposed to a distant clockmaker God.

But the "Christian Nation" crowd invariably misleads when they refuse to investigate how Jefferson's religious creed might conflict with their orthodox Christianity. To me, statements like the above quoted ones, taken out of context, leave the impression that while Jefferson may have had some [unidentified] differences with the clergy of the day, he was a "Christian" as evangelicals understand that term. To the contrary, like the other key Whig Founders, Jefferson 1) believed in an intervening God; but also 2) rejected the Trinity: he thought this doctrine, central to Christianity, was a metaphysical insanity; 3) elevated man's reason over biblical revelation; 4) thought the Bible was errant, thus, using man's reason as the ultimate guide, cut out from the Bible what he thought the "error" with his razor; and this included many of the key miracles and prophesies contained therein; 5) denied eternal damnation; and 6) thought most if not all world religions contained the same Truth as Christianity and were thus valid ways to God. It's true that Jefferson said those very nice things about Jesus. But this was in the context of noting Jesus was a great moral teacher and not the Incarnate God.

Now, it's true as Michael Novak [citing Gordon Wood] noted, that on Church/State matters Jefferson [and Madison] may have been outliers, believing in the ideal, far greater strict separation than the other Founders desired [Madison for instance, thought Congressional Chaplains were unconstitutional]. However, on his personal religious creed, Jefferson was not an outlier but should be viewed as the most explicit spokesman for what other Founders, like Madison and Washington, were more reticent to discuss. As I note in my article, on matters of personal faith, no practical inconsistencies are evident in the letters, proclamations, and practices of Jefferson, Washington, and Madison, all members of that coterie of elite Virginia Whigs who nominally belonged to the Anglican/Episcopalian Church but secretly adhered to "infidel" principles. Even though Adams and Franklin were not Anglican/Episcopalians (or from Virginia), they too were almost entirely agreed with Jefferson in their personal religious faith.

On the Indians and Churches/Ministers (apparently true) this was done not because Jefferson or the other Founders thought Christianity should be promoted over non-Christianity, but most likely to accommodate, in the form of a negotiated treaty, the Indians' desire to convert to Christianity. Something else I note in my article, when Jefferson, Madison, and Washington spoke to [unconverted] Indians, they commonly referred to God as "The Great Spirit" exactly as they did and indicating they thought the Indians' native religion was, like Christianity, a valid way to God.

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