Religious Objections and Reform
Jefferson spent his later days of life, those after his two term presidency, in the solitude of Monticello. During this time, he found time to continue his thoughts on religion, evidenced in his numerous correspondences with friends such as John Adams and Benjamin Rush. From his Enlightened thinking, Jefferson had a low opinion of revelation and anything else having to do with things that required faith. As such, he deserved to design a Bible that contained just the sayings and morals of Christ. No miracles, no faith, no resurrection. Just that actual words and doings of Christ, which he believed to be most pure and untouched by human’s naturally corrupting hands. This, Jefferson made himself after entreating his friend to do so without luck. To him, finding what needed to stay and what needed to go was “as easily distinguished as diamonds in a hung-hill.” The result of his cut-and-paste editing was a small book entitled The Life and Morals of Jesus, which he treasured, though he never intended for publishing. Even its title told what Jefferson held dear from the Scriptures. A little under a hundred years later, Congress made copies of it for its senators (Lurton v-xi).
Jefferson saw the history of organized religion as one filled with nothing but tyranny, persecution, and the spilt blood of those who did not happen to believe with the sect in power. To correct this horrible deficiency, Jefferson, as well as other thinkers in the Age of Enlightenment, turned to reason for their answer (Samuelson, par. 7). The Jeffersonian version of Christianity was more closely a system of living than a religion of worship. It views Christianity “not as a source or sanction for knowledge but as a useful method of propagating principles that derived their validity from nature.” Jesus was a great moral teacher, not the Risen Messiah. Also, Jefferson reviled Plato, blaming him for many of the ideas that found their way into Christianity that Jefferson found dreadful, among them being the mysterious, mystical nature of religion (Boorstin 151-163). However, Jefferson’s beliefs were probably more closely related to the Unitarian philosophy than any other denomination of his day. Thus, Jefferson believed that Unitarianism, being a superior religion, would become dominant when he wrote “I trust there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian” (Samuelson, par. 12).
Part of this belief may have come from using his enlightened sense of reason, which found the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to be absurd. The paradox of three being one and of one being three at the same time was ridiculous because he found it contrary to the laws of nature. Jefferson could not make that leap of faith. In fact, to Jefferson, that kind of faith is absurd. The Enlightened thinker relies on the rules of the universe, just as Newton had discovered with his scientific studies (Samuelson, par. 7).
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Last Updated: February 16, 2001
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