to Explain Jefferson's Faith
by Brad Hart
Thomas Jefferson was a Christian. Don't believe me? Just ask Thomas Jefferson and Monticello "expert" Gary Sandling. Though he actually never makes this claim in his own words, CNN anchor Jill Doughty insists that this is Sandling's assertion. Here is the video clip:
Thomas Jefferson a Christian? Hardly. For example, take Jefferson's views on the Trinity. In an 1813 letter to John Adams, Jefferson states:
"It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, and one is three; and yet that the one is not three, and the three are not one . . . But this constitutes the craft, the power and the profit of the priests. Sweep away their gossamer fabrics of factitious religion, and they would catch no more flies. We should all then, like the Quakers, live without an order of priests, moralize for ourselves, follow the oracle of conscience, and say nothing about what no man can understand, nor therefore believe."In addition, Jefferson made it very clear that the miracles attributed to Jesus as the savior of mankind were not a part of his personal creed:
“The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”(Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, April 11, 1823).And then there are Jefferson's sentiments in his Notes on the State of Virginia, which demonstrate his less-than-benevolent view of the overall impact that Christianity has made on the world:
“Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined, and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites.”While the abundance of evidence makes it clear that Jefferson was far from being a believing Christian, it is worth noting that Jefferson maintained a strong appreciation for the life and example of Jesus Christ. For Jefferson, Jesus was the premiere philosopher of mankind, not the demigod figure of Christian religion.
In an earlier post, I have argued my assertion that Jefferson, though not a believing or practicing Christian, was very much interested in the RESTORATION of what he saw as the true doctrine of Christ. As Jefferson stated:
"The religion-builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers...Happy in the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity, I must leave to younger athletes to encounter and lop off the false branches which have been engrafted into it by the mythologists of the middle and modern ages." [my emphasis]. (Thomas Jefferson, The writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 7, H.A. Washington, ed., pp210, 257).And in a letter to Francis van der Kamp, Jefferson states:
"I trust with you that the genuine and simple religion of Jesus will one day be restored: such as it was preached and practised by himself. very soon after his death it became muffled up in mysteries, and has been ever since kept in concealment from the vulgar eye" [my emphasis].For Jefferson, true Christianity was not to be had in the ceremonial rituals of communion or the Calvinist doctrine of grace. Instead good works and moral behavior were the TRUE doctrine of a Christian:
"My fundamental principle would be the reverse of Calvin's, that we are to be saved by our good works which are within our power, and not by our faith which is not within our power."It was in his admiration of the example and doctrine of Jesus, not his devotion to pious orthodoxy, that Jefferson developed an admiration for the TEACHINGS of Jesus, which he saw as having been distorted and fabricated to benefit the priests and pastors of Christianity.
So, in short, Jefferson WAS NOT a Christian. Instead, he should be understood as a man who sought to RESTORE what he perceived were the original truths of Jesus himself. Hence, Thomas Jefferson is a Christian Restorationist...a non-believing Christian Restorationist.