Jefferson, Atheists and False Assertions

I love our country. I cherish the memory of those who have fought and died to keep us free. I write with reverence of our Founding Fathers, men of faith, who, in turn,  wrote:

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.

…and, evidently, the right to make a total jackass out of one’s self.

Jon Cassidy, writing for the Orange County Register, reported on 10/26/11, that:

A group of atheists called Backyard Skeptics is planning to unveil a billboard at 1545 Newport Blvd., Wednesday afternoon with a quote from Thomas Jefferson bashing Christianity.

The quote reads, “I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature. It is founded on fables and mythology.”

There’s one problem: There’s no evidence Jefferson ever said it. The Jefferson Library Collection at Monticello lists it on a page of spurious Jefferson quotes.

Bruce Gleason, whose group paid for this and other recent atheism billboards that have gone up in O.C. in recent months, said Wednesday he wasn’t sure about the origin of the quote.

He agreed that Monticello was an authoritative source.

“You’re absolutely right,” he said. “I should have done the research before I put my billboard up.”

The quote on the billboard is an abridged version of a quote that first appeared in a 1906 book called “Six Historic Americans,” by John E. Remsburg, who attributed it to a “Letter to Dr. Woods.”

It reads: “I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies.”

The Jefferson Library knows of no letter to a Dr. Woods ever written by Jefferson, or of any appearance of the phrase anywhere in his writings.

For some misguided reason, atheists have latched on to Thomas Jefferson as a poster boy for their faith.

Perhaps it’s because Jefferson was such a brilliant man and a prolific, thoughtful writer, that atheists simply misunderstand what he wrote about being a Christian:

The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man.

The practice of morality being necessary for the well being of society, He [God] has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain. We all agree in the obligation of the moral principles of Jesus and nowhere will they be found delivered in greater purity than in His discourses.

I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others.

I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.

Seems pretty straightforward and easy to understand to me.

Or, perhaps is that “Separation of Church and State Thingy” that atheists, especially the bitter individuals at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, always bring up as their reason for trying to erase Christianity from American life.

David Barton answered that assertion quite nicely, when he wrote on wallbuilders.com that:

Jefferson penned that phrase to reassure the Danbury (CT) Baptist Association that because of separation of church and state, the government would never interfere with their public religious expressions. For the next 150 years, federal courts followed Jefferson’s intent and attached his separation metaphor to the Free Expression Clause of the First Amendment, thus consistently upholding public religious expressions. However, in 1947, the Supreme Court reversed itself and began applying the phrase to the Establishment Clause instead, thus causing federal courts to remove rather than preserve public religious expressions.

The proof is abundant that this was not Jefferson’s intent. For example, two days after Jefferson wrote his separation letter, he attended worship services in the U. S. Capitol where he heard the Rev. John Leland preach a sermon. (As President of the Senate, Jefferson had personally approved the use of the Capitol Building for Sunday worship services.) The many diaries of Members of Congress during that time confirm that during Jefferson’s eight years, he faithfully attended church services in the Capitol. In fact, he even ordered the Marine Band to play the worship services there. Jefferson also authorized weekly worship services at the War Department and the Treasury Building.

And on December 23, 1803, Jefferson’s administration negotiated – and the Senate ratified – a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians that stated “the United States will give annually for seven years one hundred dollars for the support of a priest” to minister to the Indians (i.e., federal funds for Christian evangelism!) Jefferson also signed presidential documents, closing them with the appellation, “In the Year of our Lord Christ.” There are many similar surprising facts about Jefferson that are fully documented historically, but that have been ignored for the past 50 years.

So would religious conservatives and Thomas Jefferson really be on opposite sides of the church/state issue? Probably, for I doubt that conservatives would agree with using federal dollars for evangelization.

Well, gosh.  That blows that argument out of the water, doesn’t it?

Golly, Eight Per Centers.  You’ve built your whole Jeffersonian Fan Club around a false assertion – and it’s not your only one.

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3 Responses to Jefferson, Atheists and False Assertions

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  2. I am Sparticus says:

    Was our Constitution written to subjugate the majority? I’ve read more than my share of clever arguments to support such a claim.

    More rightly stated it was constructed to give succor to the individual, to protect one’s right to have a view, not one’s right to impose one’s view.

    Is there not one person out there who can present this argument in such a way as to restore the original intent of the 1st amendment?

    There’s some really damn mad folks out here waiting for someone to answer the call…..

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