Thursday, December 24, 2015

M. Andrew Holowchak, Ph.D.: "Did Jefferson Believe in the Afterlife?"

Check it out here. His conclusion:
At day’s end, it is likely that Jefferson, given his purchase of materialism, never really took seriously belief in an afterlife—at least, not late in life.
Here is the issue. Jefferson, following Locke (and I think Priestley) was a materialist who didn't believe in the existence of an "immaterial soul." If a soul/afterlife exists, it somehow has to be connected to matter. Like, for instance, a resurrected body. The author notes that most historians hold Jefferson believed in a warm personal afterlife. Putting it all together, we'd have to say Jefferson believed in something like the resurrection of the body. Even today Mormons (who lifted a lot of these ideas from America's Founders) and freethinking, brilliant but orthodox Anglican NT Wright believe in a similar kind of materialism. Here is a smoking gun proof quote to William Canby, September 18, 1813:
I believe, with the Quaker preacher, that he who steadily observes those moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned at the gates of heaven, as to the dogmas in which they all differ. That on entering there, all these are left behind us, and the Aristides and Catos, the Penns and Tillotsons, Presbyterians and Baptists, will find themselves united in all principles which are in concert with the reason of the supreme mind. 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. ...
In short all good people, even if they aren't Christians like Aristides and Cato get into Heaven. And orthodoxy doesn't matter. Even if you are orthodox (Presbyterians and Baptists) you can get into Heaven in spite of your orthodoxy, which Jefferson rails against later on in this letter. But I'm sure Dr. Holowchak would write this off as persiflage.

5 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

I will not, therefore, by useless condolences, open afresh the sluices of your grief, nor, although mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both, that the term is not very distant, at which we are to deposit in the same cerement, our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction.

Jefferson to John Adams, on Abigail's death, 1818

https://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/55/Letter_from_Thomas_Jefferson_to_John_Adams_1.html

Jonathan Rowe said...

That's a good one too.

Tom Van Dyke said...

He also put Judgment Day in his "Jefferson Bible."

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2013/01/jesuss-second-coming-in-jefferson-bible.html

Mark DeForrest said...

Right, Tom. I was just about to make that point. Jefferson's edition of the Gospels is replete with reference to the final judgment and thus to an afterlife of some sort. I think the idea of the resurrection as providing a materialist conception of how an afterlife is possible is an interesting one -- I'm not enough of a Jefferson enthusiast to know enough about his views, though, to comment on whether it plausible he held it himself.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Exactly. Jefferson cites Locke as a fellow "materialist," and he believed in Judgment Day. Since in the Christian eschatology there is a "resurrection of the body" at the end of time, there is no incompatibilty of this sort of "materialism" with an afterlife.