Monday, December 24, 2007

Jefferson the Religious Softie:

Tom Van Dyke noted Jefferson's surprising softness when talking of death and the afterlife with John Adams. Peter Henriques' article on Washington and the afterlife to which my original post discussed notes the following:

Thomas Jefferson comforted John Adams following the death of his beloved Abigail with the thought that Adams should look forward to that “ecstatic meeting with friends we have loved and lost and whom we shall still love and never lose again.”

Here is the softest I've ever seen Jefferson discuss God and religion. To his namesake:


Monticello, Jan. 10, ’24

Your affectionate mother requests that I would address to you, as a namesake, something which might have a favorable influence on the course of life you have to run. Few words are necessary, with good dispositions on your part. Adore God; reverence and cherish your parents; love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than life. Be just; be true; murmur not at the ways of Providence—and the life into which you have entered will be one of eternal and ineffable bliss. And if to the dead it is permitted to care for the things of this world, every action of your life will be under my regard. Farewell.

This passage perfectly illustrates Jefferson's theistic rationalism and why such is neither Christianity nor Deism. Deism is too cold. The God of theistic rationalism is warm and benevolent. Jefferson's and John Adams' correspondence revealed they believed in a benevolent God and such a God wouldn't create the world and turn His back on man by never intervening when man might be in need. On the other hand, the theistic rationalists rejected the jealous, wrathful, judgmental, and holy nature of the orthodox Christian God. A rational, benevolent God would not damn anyone to Hell for all of eternity. Rather, such a God was more concerned that men be just and good rather than figure the "right" theological answers as regards Unity v. Trinity, the nature of Jesus [whether he were God, just man, or something in between], etc. All that was needed was belief in an overriding Providence and future state of rewards and punishments; the tenets of orthodox Christianity (original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, infallibility of the bible) were debatable at best, harmless irrationalities at medium, and pernicious corruptions of Christianity at worst.

No comments: