What’s the difference between the theocrats of today and the theocrats of yesterday? Only one thing, as far as I can see. The arguments about the importance of religion are exactly the same. The arguments about the dangers of “atheism” (as is the sliding definition that sometimes actually means “atheism” and sometimes is just a general catch-all that includes Deism, Unitarianism, Skepticism and Freethought) are the same. Their lust to enshrine their religious beliefs in the seat of power at the expense of all other beliefs is the same…the only difference I can see is that the theocrats of today want to make Jefferson a Christian who wanted to establish religion in the government…and the theocrats of Jefferson’s time wanted to make him an atheist who wanted to extinguish religion completely.
I also love how the quote I’m going to show you demonstrates that the FOX news “hedge technique” is not a recent invention. “I’m not saying he’s an atheist, I’m just saying that he sounds like he’s trying to destroy America. Here’s the evidence, you decide.” Lol.
Below is an extended quote from Jefferson contemporary, the Rev. William Linn and his pamphlet “Serious Considerations on the Election of a President” I got it from Christ Rodda’s book _Liars for Jesus_
She is using it because David Barton (Glen Beck’s Yoda of American History, and one of the Christian Nationalists Ms. Rodda calls “liars for Jesus”) has to chop and cut and paste in order to use Linn’s rants against atheism to promote Christianity in government…but has to twist himself into a pretzel of illogic in order to hide the fact that Linn is speaking about Jefferson…Barton refers to Jefferson as one of “two prominent men”…and counts on his ignorant audience to not recognize Jefferson’s famous “it neither breaks my leg nor picks my pocket” quote. I mean, that would hurt his narrative about Jefferson being intent on establishing religion, wouldn’t it?
Anyway, here is the extended quote from Rev. Linn’s “Serious Considerations”:
“There is another passage in Mr. Jefferson’s Notes [on the state of Virginia] which requires the most serious attention. In showing that civil rulers ought not to interfere with the rights of conscience, and that the legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as they are injurious to others, he says, ‘The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.’ The whole passage is written with a great degree of spirit, it is remarkable for that conciseness, perspicuity, and force which characterizes the style of Mr. Jefferson.
Some have ventured from the words I have quoted, to bring even the charge of atheism against him. This is a high charge, and it becomes carefully to examine the ground upon which it rests. Though the words themselves, their connection, and the design for which they are introduced may be insufficient to support it, yet there are concurrent circumstances to be taken into consideration, and which will fix at least a suspicion. These circumstances are, a general disregard of religious things, the associates at home and abroad, and the principles maintained in conversation. with [sic] these things I am not so well acquainted as many. I shall only mention what passed in conversation between Mr. Jefferson and a gentleman of distinguished talents and services, on the necessity of religion to government. The gentleman insisted that some religious faith and institutions of worship, claiming divine origin, were necessary to the order and peace of society. Mr. Jefferson said that he differed widely from him, and that ‘he wished to see a government in which no religious opinions were held, and where the security for property and social order rested entirely upon the force of law.’ Would this not be a nation of atheists? Is it not natural, after the free declaration of such a sentiment, to suspect the man himself of Atheism? Could one who is impressed with the existence of God, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things, to whom we are under a law and accountable; and the inseparable connection of this truth with the social order and external happiness of mankind express himself in this manner?
Putting the most favorable construction upon the words in the Notes [on the State of Virginia, by Jefferson], they are extremely reprehensible. Does not the belief influence the practice? How then can it be a matter of indifference what a man believes? The doctrine that a man’s life may be good, let his faith be what it may, is contradictory to reason and the experience of mankind. It is true that a mere opinion of my neighbor will do me no injury. Government cannot regulate or punish it. The right of private opinion is inalienable. But let my neighbor once persuade himself that there is no God, and he will soon pick my pocket, and break not only my leg, but my neck. If there is no God, there is no law; no future account; government then is the ordinance of man only, and we cannot be subject for conscience sake. No colors can paint the horrid effects of such a principle, and the deluge of miseries with which it would overwhelm the human race.
How strongly soever [sic]Mr. Jefferson may reason against the punishments of law of erroneous opinion, even of atheism; they are not the less frightful and dangerous in their consequences…”
According to Ms. Rodda, Linn goes on to accuse Jefferson of denying the factual nature of the Bible, wanting to take the Bible out of the schools, and that even if he didn’t rid the country of religion, he would set a bad example.
Linn even attributes this quote to Jefferson…which I don’t recall appearing exactly as such, but I’ve read a lot of Jefferson, and it may have gotten buried under other things…but anyway the point is that this is what Linn claimed Jefferson said:
‘…high time for this country to get rid of religion and the clergy;”
Linn even goes on to say that it would be better to elect an immoral Christian to the Presidency than an honest “infidel”…because the things the President professed would become fashionable, and so the country would stay Christian with a hypocrite in office, but would go to hell with an Atheist in office, because it would give people a sort of permission to not follow Christian values.
Thus Linn provides evidence of the sentiment expressed by many at the time that a Christian nation will, inevitably, become a nation of hypocrites (for which they had the governments of the old world as ample evidence). AND HE SAYS It LIKE IT IS A GOOD THING...or at least preferable to electing an honest atheist. What matters is the official line…not the truth or reality.
It makes me think of an argument that Gary North (fellow Christian Reconstructionist, Christian Nationalist, and admirer of R.J. Rushdoony along with David Barton and D. James Kennedy) made about the Godly exercise of authority. It shows the thinking that makes it necessary for all law to be Biblical law in the minds of Christian Nationalists, and it explains greatly their need to prove “Christian Nationalism” in the minds of people. The results don’t matter…what matters is that the process be according to Biblical law…only then can society be just, regardless of whether or not individuals follow the law or break it, and regardless of the results and consequences, law has no authority for them unless it comes from God, and then if it does, then its morality is incontrovertible regardless of its results.
This is the same philosophical basis from which Rushdoony argued for the legality of slavery, the execution of gay people, and the disenfranchisement of non-Christians (meaning non-Calvinists, BTW). NONE of these ideas have been renounced by his followers, North, Barton, Kennedy, etc. They have simply not been mentioned, or when queried about them, they have been demurred as “not essential”. Not essential, but certainly Christian…which is how David Barton fan Bradlee Dean is able to say that Muslim countries are more moral than Christians in America, because they execute homosexuals. It’s not essential…but it is following “God’s law”. Obviously, some of Barton’s followers consider it to be desirable. Which is why I find it alarming that Glen Beck (a mormon, and therefore one of the disenfranchised in Barton’s hero’s re-imagined “Christian America”) is on the steps of the Lincoln memorial (immortalizing the “unnatural” act of abolishing slavery) pushing David Barton’s version of history on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech…(which advanced the civil rights this movement wants to roll back). Glen Beck and other useful idiots are actually promoting the groundwork of an ideology that would ultimately rob them of their freedom.
It’s insanity…but back to the past.
Jefferson was a very clear, precise and elegantly simple writer. His thoughts of Christ and Christianity are extremely difficult to mistake, and both Linn and Barton are either tremendous idiots or tremendous liars. When Jefferson described himself as a Christian, he defined it very clearly (and often explicitly)as a “follower of Christ”…specifically, those teachings he found admirable (which makes him as Christian as Ghandi or or my Jewish friends who admires Jesus’ teachings and consider them as valid as any other Rabbi’s teachings, or some Muslims I know who also believe Jesus was a wise prophet. If his approach to the study and understanding of Christianity made Jefferson a Christian, then the fact that he took the same approach and had the same response to the study of Islam would make him a muslim.)
And when Jefferson denounced “Christianity” he was also clear about what that meant…corruptions that he believed he found in the teachings of Christ…including those teachings attributed to Christ in the Bible that he believed to be ridiculous and nonsensical and assumed were corruptions and adaptations by followers and church officials who messed around with them; the trinity, the deity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the resurrection, the miracles, etc.
He was at once relentlessly critical of Christianity, and unreservedly admiring of Jesus…and ultimately believed that anything good about religion would be able to be defended on the field of reason, and that government power used to defend, promote or advance it could only serve to bring out the worst in it.
Even more, he didn’t think that Christianity had a monopoly on truth, and even thought that there were valuable truths that Christianity lacked…and furthermore that the only philosophy that had a chance at being perfect was one that held reason to be supreme over any sort of revelation. Which makes him more than a Christian with non-traditional beliefs, more than a heretic…it makes him something completely different. A Deist. And Deism has to be allowed to follow the developments of knowledge and reason. It’s can’t be rooted in a doctrine…because as soon as it does it becomes “religion”...once faith is enshrined in the power of government it becomes static and unchangeable. When it can no longer grow and seek greater truth, it becomes dead and useless and meaningless, and just another excuse for the government to exercise its power to enforce dead and rotting ideas.
Further, claims that he “promoted religion as beneficial” based on his encouragement to private individuals that they would benefit from studying religion would then have to lend validity to claims that he “promoted atheism as beneficial” when he likewise encouraged private individuals to embrace atheism if that’s where their reason and their conscience led them.
Trying to make him an Atheist or a Christian is just plain silly, and obsession to prove any such point turns people into liars. Anyone who cares about the truth should not rely on David Barton and Glen Beck to tell it to them. There’s no truth there. They should look for themselves.
And don’t just read the founders. Read their contemporary opponents. I’ve gotten great enjoyment out of Timothy Dwight, and now I imagine I will get great enjoyment out of reading William Linn, thanks to Ms. Rodda.
Dwight and Linn are proof that these same-old-same-old theocratic arguments have failed in the past…and there is every reason to believe that they will fail in the future. Turning Jefferson from an “atheist” to a “Christian” does nothing to change their inherent weakness and deficiency.
P.S. I’m finding that “Serious Considerations” is difficult to get hold of. Copies of it seem to cost around $400.00…so I am looking for an online version. I’ll let you know if I find one.
However, I did find this rebuttal to “Serious Considerations” that shows the confusion many people seemed to have between Atheism and Deism at the time. While Linn charges Jefferson with “Atheism”…the author of the tract linked to below does a direct rebuttal of Linn, but defends Jefferson from charges of “Deism”. Many Christians (like Timothy Dwight) saw them as the same thing. For many, “Unitarian”, “Deist”, “Atheist” and “Heretic”, “Skeptic” and “Freethinker” seemed to be synonymous.
Aside from the fact that the guy seems to not really know what a “Deist” is, nor be terribly familiar with Jefferson’s public and private writings, and though he is at times not strictly factual or rational, his apologetics make a tremendous counter to the apologetics of the Christian Nationalist crowd, who take similar liberties, but come to the opposite conclusion.