Friday, May 27, 2011

Jefferson and Religion

The Smithsonian is publishing a new edition of the Jefferson Bible. I have blogged about the Jefferson Bible in the past. Thomas Jefferson wanted a version of The Bible that would stand up to the principles of the Enlightenment. He bounced the idea by several friends. He asked Joseph Priestley, the scientist that discovered oxygen, to take it on as a project. He wrote to friends abroad, the enlightened few of the era (often referred to The Republic of Letters). No one would go near it. To rewrite The Bible without the miracles and only validated history was controversial even back then. He ended up writing it himself and shared it with no one. No one saw the manuscript until after his death. John Adams would bother him often to take a peek at his secret project.

With the exception of Isaac Newton, Jefferson believed that Jesus was the greatest man in history. This is why he thought that the King James Bible was not a sufficient document to show the story of his life. He thought Jesus, who was not divine, produced the greatest progress in ethics in world history, even more so than Socrates. Of all Jefferson's accomplishments, he believed that his greatest was the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. This statute was the first of its kind in the world because it established the separation of church and state. So it may very well be his greatest achievement.

In his time Jefferson was widely thought of as a religious radical. At one point in his life, he predicted that, in 50 years, most young men in the nation would be Unitarians. I think he might be disappointed with our current makeup. As an ex-Unitarian myself, I find this amusing. During the election of 1796, it was believed that he was going to confiscate people’s Bibles. Perhaps one of the reasons why Adams defeated him. These types of stories always remind of the 2008 election when stories of Obama being a Muslim surfaced. Of course, these were untrue. Jeffferson believed in the neutrality of the government. He didn't care what people believed, he just thought they should have the freedom to pursue their own beliefs. This was indeed very radical at the time, even now in some circles.


Olga said...

Now wait a minute here. Wasn't Jefferson one of the saintly Founding Fathers? And didn't they, with Divine Inspiration, believe they were birthing a Christian nation??
Since I have never actually listened to a Tea Party rant through to the end, maybe I have the facts a bit fuddles.

ManOfWow said...

The Tea Party (I like to call them Tea Baggers) has a tendency to idealize our Founding Fathers. Lets just say they are suffering from denial in regards to Mr. Jefferson.