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Posted: 12/16/2005 4:11:15 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/16/2005 4:20:26 AM EDT by Merrell]
There seems to be a large body of material online, attempting to assert that Jefferson was an atheist, or leaned towards atheism. With the now quite open attempts to remove religion, or more specifically, Christianity from all things public, it is instructive to note the context in which many of Jefferson's letters (which are taken as "proof" of some anti-theological bent) were written and, perhaps most poignantly, at the end of his days, his words to a young man:

Link

Letters

Thomas Jefferson


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Written a little over a year before Jefferson's death, the following letter from Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson Smith includes a list of practical observations and a poem.
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Monticello, February 21, 1825



This letter will, to you, be as one from the dead. The writer will be in the grave before you can weigh its counsels. Your affectionate and excellent father has requested that I would address to you something which might possibly have a favorable influence on the course of life you have to run, and I too, as a namesake, feel an interest in that course. Few words will be necessary, with good dispositions on your part. Adore God. Reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. So shall the life into which you have entered, be the portal to 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.
The portrait of a good man by the most sublime of poets, for your imitation.

Lord, who's the happy man that may to thy blest courts repair;
Not stranger-like to visit them but to inhabit there?
'Tis he whose every thought and deed by rules of virtue moves;
Whose generous tongue disdains to speak the thing his heart disproves.
Who never did a slander forge, his neighbor's fame to wound;
Nor hearken to a false report, by malice whispered round.
Who vice in all its pomp and power, can treat with just neglect;
And piety, though clothed in rages, religiously respect.
Who to his plighted vows and trust has ever firmly stood;
And though he promise to his loss, he makes his promise good.
Whose soul in usury disdains his treasure to employ;
Whom no rewards can ever bribe the guiltless to destroy.
The man, who, by his steady course, has happiness insur'd.
When earth's foundations shake, shall stand, by Providence secur'd.

A Decalogue of Canons for observation in practical life.


Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day.
Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
Never spend your money before you have it.
Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
We never repent of having eaten too little.
Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
Take things always by their smooth handle.
When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.





Link Posted: 12/16/2005 5:31:23 AM EDT
Interesting that a "atheist" or atheist leaning person's very 1st recommendaion would be to "Adore God".

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this [is] the first commandment. -- Mark 12:30 KJV

And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. -- Mark 12:30 NKJV

Link Posted: 12/16/2005 8:23:25 AM EDT
Link Posted: 12/16/2005 9:34:50 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/16/2005 9:38:09 AM EDT by Merrell]

Originally Posted By TomJefferson:
It's funny how the Athiest claims Jefferson as one of their own and for that matter Franklin but it is anything but the truth. You'll be hard pressed to find writtings of his regarding a disbelief in God. He did question Christ as the savior but accepted his teachings as truth.

---- To W. Short, 1820

The office of reformer of the superstitions of a nation, is ever dangerous. Jesus had to walk on the perilous confines of reason and religion; and a step to the right or left might place him within the grasp of the priests of the superstition, a bloodthirsty race, as cruel and remorseless as the being whom they represented as the family God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, and the local God of Israel. They were constantly laying snares, too, to entangle him in the web of the law. He was justifiable, therefore, in avoiding these by evasions, by sophisms, by misconstructions and misapplications of scraps of the prophets, and in defending himself with these their own weapons, as sufficient ad homines, at least. That Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God, physically speaking, I have been convinced by the writings of men more learned than myself in that lore. But that he might conscientiously believe himself inspired from above, is very possible. The whole religion of the Jew, inculcated in him from his infancy, was founded in the belief of divine inspiration. The fumes of the most disordered imaginations were recorded in their religious code, as special communications of the Deity . . . Elevated by the enthusiasm of a warm and pure heart, conscious of the high strains of an eloquence which had not been taught him, he might readily mistake the coruscations of his own fine genius for inspirations of an higher order. This belief carried, therefore, no more personal imputation, than the belief of Socrates, that himself was under the care and admonitions of a guardian Daemon.

----- To C. Thompson, 1816

I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great reformer of the vicious ethics of deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature.


One of my personal favorite quotes of Jefferson's is.......

I never told my own religion nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another's creed. I am satisfied that yours must be an excellent religion to have produced a life of such exemplary virtue and correctness. For it is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be judged.

1816, in a letter to Mrs. H. Harrison Smith


The proof is in the pudding.

Tj




Continue on with Jefferson's writings to Short:


He also rejected the idea of the divinity of Christ, but as he writes to William Short on October 31, 1819, he was convinced that the fragmentary teachings of Jesus constituted the "outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man."


Not divine, yet sublime, or rather the most sublime

Ever the politician, was he couching his words so as not to offend? Or genuinely in search of a deeper truth? In 1819, he wrote, "I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know."

Completing the circle, would he have carried a Bible from which to draw spiritual strength?


ETA: Also looking for a definitive text of the March 4, 1805, "National Prayer for Peace" offered by Jefferson (I have found conflicting versions, from sites with bias)

Link Posted: 12/18/2005 2:17:11 PM EDT

Originally Posted By Merrell:

Ever the politician, was he couching his words so as not to offend? Or genuinely in search of a deeper truth? In 1819, he wrote, "I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know."

Completing the circle, would he have carried a Bible from which to draw spiritual strength?




Keep in mind that he did create the Jefferson Bible, which was a version of the Bible with all of the supernatural aspects removed, such as miracles. There is also no mention of the resurrection of Jesus.

I think we can conclude he was not an atheist, but a deist, which might as well be an atheist as far as most Christians are concerned. He believed in a God, but did not seem to worship Jesus as God himself. He believed that Jesus was a great teacher, however, and we would do well to abide by his teachings to better ourselves and society.

More about the Jefferson Bible here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_Bible

Yeah, I know it's Wikipedia, but it looks like it is pretty accurate on this subject, and has a link to the actual text of the Jefferson Bible.
Link Posted: 12/18/2005 4:43:04 PM EDT
Hey guys?

Look up the Jefferson Bible.
Link Posted: 12/18/2005 6:19:07 PM EDT
I believe that Jefferson wrote the phrase 'Cult of Jesus' in one of his letters. Clearly he did believe in a god, but he didn't believe in the things that make Christianity Christianity.
Link Posted: 12/19/2005 3:50:17 AM EDT
What I wonder about is those people who place Jefferson as a higher authority on the Christian faith than Paul.
Link Posted: 12/19/2005 4:38:44 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/19/2005 4:39:21 AM EDT by TomJefferson]
Link Posted: 12/19/2005 5:40:29 AM EDT
Jefferson was a Deist who viewed Jesus as a wise human teacher.

Atheists try to claim many Deists for political gain, the same can be said of Christians who try the very same thing.

Interestingly, during his election there were many Christian organizations campaigning against him due to his being a heathen....

Link Posted: 12/19/2005 6:09:47 AM EDT
Link Posted: 12/19/2005 6:44:07 AM EDT

Originally Posted By Merrell:


He also rejected the idea of the divinity of Christ, but as he writes to William Short on October 31, 1819, he was convinced that the fragmentary teachings of Jesus constituted the "outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man."


Not divine, yet sublime, or rather the most sublime






    sub·lime adj.

    1. Characterized by nobility; majestic.
    2.
    1. Of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth.
    2. Not to be excelled; supreme.
    3. Inspiring awe; impressive.


Yes a sublime morality. Teachings of Jesus constituted a noble, a spiritual, a supreme morality that has fallen from the lips of man. Many men of his time, and ours, had not rebuked evil or professed God's word not defending the faith. This quote clearly shows Jefferson believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ and was critical of those who didn't express their moral and Christian beliefs.

God bless Thomas Jefferson!

Shok
Link Posted: 12/19/2005 7:13:39 AM EDT

Originally Posted By TomJefferson:

Originally Posted By Dino:
Jefferson was a Deist who viewed Jesus as a wise human teacher.

Atheists try to claim many Deists for political gain, the same can be said of Christians who try the very same thing.

Interestingly, during his election there were many Christian organizations campaigning against him due to his being a heathen....




I don't know bud, kind of hard for fundalmentalist Christian faith to claim any Diest to make their point. The basic premise of Dieism is that there is a God but universaly deny a special race or people within his grace or any human divinity past or present. Now if you follow that logic, there is no heaven or hell.

Jefferson on the otherhand fell neither fully into the definition of Diest no more than he did Christian despite his writing of the Jefferson bible. It still put him clearly somewhere inbetween the two.

Here's a decent link to the Jefferson Bible.

www.sullivan-county.com/news/deist1999/jeff_bible.htm

I usually take about as much exception to historians that claim Jefferson was a Deist as I do those who claim he was an atheist or Christian for he simply didn't fit the mold of any of the above. In this world of categorization, it’s hard to accept the unique. In the case of Jefferson, he valued individualism above all other things and an unique individual he was.

Tj



I have a copy of the Jefferson Bible in my book case, it is an excellent distillation of the teachings of Jesus.

People group him with the Deists because he fits in that rather broad category and his close connection with many other famous Deists of the time.

There is also the fact is he was attacked by Christians for his "deistical" beliefs. The people of his time who knew him did not view him as a Christian and remarked up on his beliefs as being in accord with the Deists. Its not a huge leap to call him a Deist, especially given the wide range of beliefs allowed to a Deist. It is far from an organized religion, which would have appealed to him.

Jefferson's writings show the he enshrined reason and believed that morality comes from within, not by special revelation. This is also a characteristic of Deism.

If its unfair to call him a Deist, then it would be unfair to do so to anyone with Deistic beliefs who never wrote the words "I am a Deist" in correspondence. The only 2 founding fathers I know who wrote they were deists were Benjamin Franklin and Ethan Allen.





Link Posted: 12/19/2005 7:47:38 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/19/2005 7:48:46 AM EDT by TomJefferson]
Link Posted: 12/19/2005 8:25:10 AM EDT

Originally Posted By TomJefferson:
Actually I would consider that a fair assesment Dino. We tend to group people into the nitch we feel they best fit, however when that comes to religion, religion is a personal thing. If Jefferson didn't see himself as a Diest then why should I or anyone else? From what I've read of the Franklin letters old Ben came pretty close to bringing Jefferson over and they viewed many things in common but to my knowledge I have found no writings of Jefferson claiming himself a Diest.



Nor have I, and from my reading he kept his religioius affiliation (if he had one) secret on purpose. He viewed religion as a private matter


Keeping in mind, Jefferson fit more into the Diest classificaton of the late 17th century and 18th century defintion than todays, Jefferson never did find it necessary to list himslef with the Unitarian Universalist Association which was common with many if not well known Diest, Humanist, and Freethinkers of the period.


A small correction. He never joined the Unitarian association. UU's are a much later spiritual development coming out of the Unitarian and Universalist traditions. He is a major inspiration to many UU's today, especially those coming from a Christian background.


Some like to think it was primarily due to his reluctance to relinquish his early life Anglican background however by his writings, I tend it had more to do with his strong feelings on individualism with association if only in name being the first step away from it.


I agree on that. I also think it had to do with his fearing the effect giving his personal stamp of approval to any one religion might have on the nation he helped found. He was a big support of the Unitarian cause in private correspondence, but never made his support more public.

Good discussion btw. Its not too often I get to discuss my veiws on my sceenname and enjoy it even if it is limited to religion. I find his political veiws much more entertaining.

Tj

Yup, for me its less important whether he was a Christian or a Deist, but it is an interesting discussion because he was so unique.

Link Posted: 12/19/2005 9:04:35 AM EDT
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