A group blog to promote discussion, debate and insight into the history, particularly religious, of America's founding. Any observations, questions, or comments relating to the blog's theme are welcomed.
Thx for finding a transcript, Jon.As I understand the letter, Jefferson admitted he had for his entire adult life been a theological unitarian*.The letter plainly states Jefferson had "difficulty" with the concept of the Trinity. That comes up short of "rejected." That comes up short of unitarianism. But only David Barton exaggerates, not his critics, who parrot each other that Jefferson "rejected" the Trinity in this letter to Derieux."Anti-Trinitarian" [like the Jefferson of 1813, who baldly rejects Trinity] isn't the same as having "difficulties**."But when we use hammers to fix sledgehammers, this is the type of work we get._________*Unitarians of that era believed that the Bible, even if corrupted by men, was at least partially the Word of God, divinely inspired. It's questionable whether Jefferson would agree with that.**Ben Franklin on the Trinity, 1790:"... I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho' it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble."Franklin dies several months later, and indeed finds out whether Jesus is God with "less trouble."But again, to call Ben Franklin anti-Trinitarian would be an overreach. [Or a unitarian.]The ganders must be held to the same standards as the goose. Where Barton overshoots his evidence, his critics can have their own glass houses too.
Tom,The issue I have with your analysis is, I think a fair reading understands the gentlemanly context that exists wiht BOTH the Jefferson and Franklin letters. That is BOTH were letters to Trinitarians. And BOTH Franklin and Jefferson lived by the code of the polite gentleman. That is you walked on eggshells when criticizing the Trinity to your friends who believed it; unless of course you were pissed at them like J. Adams was with J. Morse.There is another letter in 1789 I came across, Jefferson to Richard Price. I'd have to read Price's letter to Jefferson to get the full context. But they do discuss religion and Jefferson -- from the way I read the context -- describes Trinitarianism (at least of the Calvinist variety) to Price as "Demonism."
The 1789 letter is well and good. Go for it. Barton is clearly sloppy [or a dullard] in his analyses. But his critics aren't sharp as tacks either.That Jefferson is circumspect about the Trinity even in his private letters before 1813---when he is long-retired from public life---tells us much about the theological landscape of his times.[Remember also Benjamin Rush's letter to Richard Price, urging him to cool it with his anti-Trinitarianism, as it was a needless distraction from his ideas on education.]As for the private Jefferson, his letter to John Adams in 1825 [again well after he left public life]http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/53/Letter_from_Thomas_Jefferson_to_John_Adams_1.htmlis a good summation of Jefferson's studies. Me, I think they're idiosyncratic if not amateurish, and I really don't care what Jefferson thought, as his learning is haphazard and his conclusions fairly coherent.Rather like David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap, whose worldview was a mishmosh of whatever drifted in through his transom.And John Adams is even worse. What a ninny. It was fortunate for both men they kept their theological musings secret---not for their heresy, but for their weirdness and stupidity!
BTW, memory sez Jefferson discontinued his friendship with Benjamin Rush over the Trinity. I've kept my eye out for the documents but never looked that hard or stumbled upon them.I'm mostly pointing out the irony that Barton's critics seem to be using second-hand sourcing as well, and again, their concern with the truth---the whole story---seems to end at whatever point Baton is proven wrong. In this case, Barton has a bit of a point about 1813 [although not a very probative one, IMO], and his critics have used a piece of evidence that does not have Jefferson "rejecting" the Trinity, only having "difficulty" with it.Who watches the watchers?Moi. ;-)
Are you arguing that finding a doctrine incomprehensible and subsequently not giving assent to that doctrine, even at some personal or social or possible political cost, spanning multiple occasions, is not the same as rejecting the doctrine? In current use, rejection is often given as an antonym of assent.
MoiYou might watch out, you're starting to sound kind of Jeffersonian.
Are you arguing that finding a doctrine incomprehensible and subsequently not giving assent to that doctrine, even at some personal or social or possible political cost, spanning multiple occasions, is not the same as rejecting the doctrine?JRB, the Roman Catholic parish priest who did my [our] nuptials privately confessed the Trinity never made much sense to him. Whenever I meself read Benjamin Franklin on the subject of Jesus' divinity, I must chuckle. I---or you---might get hit by a bus tomorrow, and we shall find out Jesus' cosmic identity with little Trouble.I meself will be unsurprised either way. Is that an OK answer, JimmyRayBob? Will Jesus find that OK? Will Jesus be disappointed in you? Or vice versa?I really hope you don't find Jesus disappointing. You know, when we're all dead and all. That would so totally suck.Peace, brother. Me, I think Jesus is all we have going for us. I would not want to argue that I deserve heaven. I dunno about you, but I'm confident I would lose the argument.You will see in this my notion of good works, that I am far from expecting to merit heaven by them. By heaven we understand a state of happiness, infinite in degree, and eternal in duration. I can do nothing to deserve such rewards. He that, for giving a draft of water to a thirsty person, should expect to be paid with a good plantation, would be modest in his demands, compared with those who think they deserve heaven for the little good they do on earth. Even the mixed, imperfect pleasures we enjoy in this world, are rather from God's goodness than our merit; how much more such happiness of heaven!---Franklin, Letter to Whitefield, 1751.
JRB, the Roman Catholic parish priest who did my [our] nuptials privately confessed the Trinity never made much sense to him.Then has he personally rejected the doctrine? Doesn't sound like he gives it his assent.Which is my point. If you can not give your assent to something and refuse to do so even if it can bring pain, what is the difference between that and rejecting it?I meself will be unsurprised either way. Is that an OK answer, JimmyRayBob? I would be pleasantly surprised. Because if I'm meeting the head man, according to the way the story goes, I'd have to assume we share the same sense of humor and hopefully taste in bourbon. Unless the hell-fire and brimstone people are right and he's just there to organize the masses heading to the other place. This doesn't make much sense - a Jew sending the masses to an eternal furnace - and I certainly cannot give it my assent.Me, I think Jesus is all we have going for us.I do like the the part about our duty to our fellow beings and especially the less fortunate, whether stranger or tribesman. But that makes me sound so Occupy, and we know what that means.
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