Thursday, January 3, 2013

Benjamin Rush on Thomas Jefferson's Faith

Rush, who was privy to Jefferson's secrets, thought Jefferson believed in Jesus' divine mission, thus giving the impression that Jefferson was a Socinian.  Elsewhere Jefferson made clear that he believed Jesus was 100% man, not divine at all.  The question then becomes did Jefferson believe Jesus of Nazareth, the man, on a divine mission.  Rush seems to think so.

Rush also says Jefferson believed in the resurrection. While Jefferson didn't believe in Jesus' past resurrection, he did believe in an afterlife where people would be judged and got their future state of rewards and punishments.  After Priestley, Jefferson was a materialist and didn't believe in an afterlife without a resurrection.

Below is a photoshot from Rush's autobiography speaking on Jefferson's faith.


Bill Fortenberry said...

It is always interesting to read the opinions that the other founders had of Jefferson. Alexander Hamilton, for example, referred to him as an atheist and submitted a plot to John Jay for preventing Jefferson from becoming President.

The moral certainty therefore is, that there will be an anti-federal majority in the ensuing legislature; and the the very high probability is, that this will bring Jefferson into the chief magistracy, unless it be prevented by the measure which I shall now submit to your consideration, namely, the immediate calling together of the existing legislature.

I am aware that there are weighty objections to the measure, but the reasons for it appear to me to outweigh the objections; and in times like these in which we live, it will not do to be over-scrupulous. It is easy to sacrifice the substantial interests of society by a strict adherence to ordinary rules.

In observing this, I shall not be supposed to mean, that any thing ought to be done which integrity will forbid, but merely that the scruples of delicacy and propriety, as relative to a common course of things, ought to yield to the extraordinary nature of the crisis. They ought not to hinder the taking of a legal and constitutional step to prevent an atheist in religion, and a fanatic in politics, from getting possession of the helm of state.


Tom Van Dyke said...
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Tom Van Dyke said...

What year?

Also, FTR, Jefferson cut off his friendship with Rush for awhile over the Trinity. And I meself am unfamiliar with Jefferson being remotely a believer in Jesus as any sort of Christ. [Although the Second Coming seems to have escaped Jefferson's razor in the "Jefferson Bible."]

Chris Rodda said...

What I've always found strange about that entry in Rush's journal is that Rush makes it sound like remember why it was "alluded to" that Jefferson was unfriendly to Christianity during the time that the Declaration was being written. The reason it's strange is that years later, it was Rush who had to remind Adams of the details of the dispute that Adams and Jefferson had during that time in 1776, when Jefferson was ridiculing Christianity in the Continental Congress. It's clear from Rush's letter to Adams that Rush remembered quite clearly EXACTLY why it was "alluded to" that Jefferson was unfriendly to Christianity in 1776, and yet Rush, in the excerpt posted here by Jon, makes it sound like he doesn't remember. So, we have one version from Rush of what he remembered in something that he knew would probably be published, and a completely different version of what Rush remembered in a private letter to Adams.

Chris Rodda said...

Whoops ... that first sentence of my comment should have read:

"What I've always found strange about that entry in Rush's journal is that Rush makes it sound like HE DIDN'T remember why ..."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Brain freezes and the failure to remember things properly get the best of us.

Chris Rodda said...

Yeah ... it could have just been that the letters Adams and Rush were writing years later reminiscing about 1776 caused him to remember the details of what happened, but I've also come across enough instances of people glossing over things or being vague about them when writing things intended for publication as opposed to their private correspondence about the exact same event. That's why I always read everything I can find that a person wrote about something to get the most complete picture possible. In this case - regardless of why the two accounts of what Rush remembered (or didn't remember) differ - the letter to Adams is where the details of what happened that caused the impression in 1776 that Jefferson was unfriendly to Christianity are found, so the letter is just a better source of information about what Jefferson's friends thought about him.

Jonathan Rowe said...


I'm pretty sure (based on my potentially faulty recollection of having skimmed the forward to the book, which is in my college's library) Rush starting to take notes around 1800 for this book and continuing to do so for the rest of his life (he died in 1813). And that this book was published some time after his death. Anyway Rush reference the time as TJ's tenure as Vice President in Philadelphia.

Chris Rodda said...

@ Tom ...

But what Jefferson left in his "Bible" about the "Second Coming" was just what Jesus reportedly said about the Jewish belief in resurrection, and not the resurrection of Jesus himself, wasn't it? I don't have my Jefferson Bible stuff handy and can't check right now, but I'm pretty sure I'm remembering that correctly.

Tom Van Dyke said...


MT 25:

31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:


This passage is rather odd in view of the rest of Jefferson's canon, assigning a unique cosmic role to Jesus. Since it's an anomaly, I don't make much of it, but there it is.

Tom Van Dyke said...
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