Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Reality of Thomas Jefferson's Spirituality


I keep hearing people remark that Thomas Jefferson was an atheist, mostly by atheists trying to make some point or another usually trying to prove that the United States was not founded on the basis of Christianity. Thomas Jefferson was not an atheist and he did believe in God and in Jesus. One only has to read his own words to know this is true.

Why, then, all the confusion? It is likely that Thomas Jefferson's views were misunderstood or even somewhat disliked during his lifetime. I base this on the need for changes to his Statute of Virginia for religious freedom in order for it to be passed, yet it was one of three items that he stipulated be put on the epitaph on his tombstone indicating the importance he placed on it. "All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution." - Draft Constitution for Virginia (June 1776). As a note, the other two were the author of the Declaration of Independence and Father of the University of Virginia; he did not want his presidency listed on his tombstone.


Jefferson fervently believed that liberty was a gift from God. There are those who contend that the fact that his original version of the Declaration of Independence did not use the word "creator" implies that he did not believe in a creator and that God has no place in the formation of the nation. The declaration went through many incarnations, as does any important paper or document. It was determined that a preamble, stating the reasoning for the declaration, was needed and this was penned by John Adams and includes the phrase: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The original did not include a preamble, therefore did not include "creator".

That John Adams is given credit for penning this is inconsequential. John Adams persuaded the committee to have Jefferson pen the declaration and therefore it is likely that there was communication between the two of them throughout the penning process of both the preamble and the declaration.

Both Jefferson and Adams, as well as James Madison, studied and agreed with the philosophies of John Locke who in 1689 wrote in A Letter Concerning Toleration "…because the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, any more than to other men. It is not committed unto him, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another as to compel anyone to his religion. Nor can any such power be vested in the magistrate by the consent of the people, because no man can so far abandon the care of his own salvation as blindly to leave to the choice of any other, whether prince or subject, to prescribe to him what faith or worship he shall embrace. For no man can, if he would, conform his faith to the dictates of another."

It is likely this, along with discussions with Jefferson would have been Adams influence for the famous line as Jefferson had stated previously in the summary view of the rights of British America in 1774: "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them." In addition, Jefferson would have had an opportunity to voice his objections to the wording of the preamble which was attached to his declaration, but he didn't and in fact signed the declaration showing agreement with the content.


As to the First Amendment, Jefferson was James Madison's mentor, and it was Jefferson who convinced Madison to write the Amendments/Bill of Rights to the Constitution and in particular the First Amendment which states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." These ideals were, especially that of religious freedom, were of great importance to Jefferson.

His religious beliefs and his abhorrence of the organized Christian religions of the day led him to embrace the first Amendment of the Constitution and it is likely that he, at the very least, discussed the idea with Adams.

Proof of his agreement with the first amendment is found in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, CT (January 1, 1802) "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State."

While not specifically referencing the First Amendment a later reference, in a 1813 letter to Richard Rush, supports his belief of non-interference in religious practice: "Religion is a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his Maker in which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle." It is also proven in the previously mentioned Draft Constitution of Virginia which he was so proud of.

Jefferson believed in God and he believed in Jesus. He also believed much of the Bible to be false. "To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense He wished any one to be; sincerely attached to His doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to Himself every human excellence; and believing He never claimed any other." Letter to Benjamin Rush (12 April 1803)
 
"In the middle ages of Christianity opposition to the State opinions was hushed. The consequence was, Christianity became loaded with all the Romish follies. Nothing but free argument, raillery & even ridicule will preserve the purity of religion." Notes on Religion (October 1776)
 
He believed that the different Christian sects strayed away from the pure teaching of Jesus. He believed that the organized religions considered themselves above others: "Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus. He who follows this steadily need not, I think, be uneasy, although he cannot comprehend the subtleties and mysteries erected on his doctrines by those who, calling themselves his special followers and favorites, would make him come into the world to lay snares for all understandings but theirs." Letter to William Canby (18 September 1813).
 
"The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ leveled to every understanding, and too plain to need explanation, saw in the mysticism of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system, which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power and pre-eminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child ; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them; and for this obvious reason, that nonsense can never be explained." Letter to John Adams (5 July 1814)

Jefferson created his own Jefferson Bible entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps this is where the confusion comes in, but not believing in portions of the bible does not translate into atheism and it gives a very good reason for his interest in religious freedom for Christians. It in fact shows that God and religion mean much to him. It was something that he thought much about. He would not have written his own bible if he did not believe in God.

"I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus; it is a paradigm of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that 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 and deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature." Letter to Charles Thomson (9 January 1816)

Jefferson placed high importance on religious freedom most likely due to the fact that he did not subscribe to the common religious beliefs, mainly Protestantism, of his day. Evidence supports that he was a religious Christian with Unitarian leanings and not atheist. While Jefferson never joined a Unitarian Church, as John Adams did, he was friendly with and enjoyed attending Unitarian services with Unitarian Minister Joseph Priestley and, in addition to Adams, regularly corresponded with Unitarian church members Thomas Cooper, Jared Sparks, and Benjamin Waterhouse in regards to religion.

To those who say that Thomas Jefferson was an atheist or did not support the mention of God in the declaration of Independence or the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, I say phooey. Thomas Jefferson was a religious man who believed in God and in Jesus and who also believed that government should not interfere in the way one worshiped God and Jesus.

Happy Mother's Day!

My Mom Kathy!
May 13, 2012, the second Sunday in May is Mother’s Day in the following countries: Canada, United States, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Estonia, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Malta, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Taiwan, and Turkey. Other countries around the world celebrate Mother’s Day on different dates in May or in other months.

What all the countries have in common is the celebration of Mother’s and I am so glad for mine. This year, my mom will have celebrated Mother’s Day fifty times, as my mom. Her first one was spent away from her mom, as she was the wife of a sailor.

I call her, the married “single parent”. My dad would be aboard ship for months at a time, so she had to raise me on her own when he was at sea. This was definitely not an easy task when her family was far away.

It is a wonderful gift that we women are given when we become mother’s ourselves. For some women, it is baptism by fire, becoming a step-mom, or for a grandmother to become a mom again raising their grandchild(ren). I remember my mom visiting with me shortly after my son was born and sharing an “arrowroot cookie” tradition – Arrowroot cookies, tea and some wonderful conversations.

Becoming a mom myself took my relationship with my mom to another level we had never experienced before. I understood on deeper level all that my mom had done for me and those that she didn’t do so that I could learn from my own mistakes.

That is the true testament of a loving parent, knowing that as much as she wanted to stop me from erring, I needed to grow up and learn how to pick myself up. But no matter what, I knew that my mom was never far away and she would always be there to help when I asked for it. These are the lessons that I learned from my mom and are they are priceless gifts.

I remember when my son turned 18 and I was talking with my mom joking around with her saying “I feel so old my son is 18” and she said “what are you complaining about; I have a daughter who is 40”.

So on Mother’s Day, spend time with your mom, call your mom if you can’t and share your favorite memory of her. Do you know a mom, who is on her own for Mother’s Day, invite her to join your family time. Do you know a family who is without their mom for Mother’s Day, invite them to join in your family time

So Mom, Happy Mother’s Day and thank you for being my best friend!