Are You Familiar with the Jefferson Bible?
Jefferson was forever under attack because of his refusal to attend the church of the presidents. He was slandered as being an atheist during his political campaign, and the Federalists took advantage of this slur. Jefferson’s true religious beliefs were Christian in the broadest and truest sense of the word. Before retiring in the evening, Jefferson observed a daily ritual of reading something moral. For sixteen years he worked on compiling a volume he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, now known as The Jefferson Bible and more fully discussed in my 1975 and 1985 publications. He confided in few people about his studies, but in 1816 Jefferson wrote to Charles Thomson: “I too, have made a wee little book . . . which I call the philosophy of Jesus; it is a paradigm of his doctrines. . . . A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”
In a letter to Benjamin Rush he notes:
“And in confiding it to you, I know it will not be exposed to the malignant perversions of those who make every word from me a text for new misrepresentations and calumnies. I am, moreover, averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public, because it would countenance the presumption of those who have endeavored to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that inquest over the rights of conscience, which the laws have so justly prescribed. It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself to resist invasions of it in the case of others, or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.”
To John Adams in 1813, he described his work:
This text is excerpted from Founding Fathers, Secret Societies. Click here to order a copy.
“We must reduce our volume to the simple Evangelists; select, even from them. The very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from Him, by giving their own misconceptions as his edicts, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his and which is as easily distinguished as diamonds in a dung hill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages.”
Obviously not interested in publishing this compilation for the general public, he wrote in the preface to The Life and Morals of Jesus “I not only write nothing on religion, but rarely permit myself to speak on it.” The Fifty-seventh Congress published an edition of nine thousand copies in 1904, more than one hundred years after Jefferson first compiled it.
Both Jefferson and Franklin were considered deists, or advocates of a natural religion based on human reason and morality (some went so far as to say they were atheists), and yet they emphasized a utilitarian religion rather than passive dogma. Both men exemplified a religion of service for the brotherhood of man.
The above is excerpted from Founding Fathers, Secret Societies, p. 73-75
Thomas Jefferson was the visionary of the American Revolution. His definitive writings lifted us out of the status quo and allowed us to dream of a truly new way of life that centered more than almost anything else on the freedom of religion. These beliefs are expressed in his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, passed in 1786, that is excerpted on one of the walls of his memorial: Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens...are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion…that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry…or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion…. Religious fundamentalism routinely reasserts itself into the political structures of man around the world, and the need for constant vigilance against its attempt to control our freedom of choice is as pressing today as it ever was.
The Age of Enlightenment is so called because it was responsible, in effect, for the throwing off of the feudal monarchical system of government, the eventual complete change in paradigm about the practice of slavery that had existed worldwide since the beginning of time, and the disconnection between the state and religion. It led to freedom for the individual to follow any religious beliefs preferred, at least in this country and most Westernized ones. Reason was advocated as the primary basis of authority reflected in the liberalism of our Bill of Rights.
Education or enlightenment was key to freedom, says Jeffrey Meyer [in Myths in Stone: Religious Dimensions of Washington, D.C.]: “That freedom requires knowledge became a central tenet of the American creed. An educated citizenry preserves democracy, a democracy protects individual freedom. Despite all the political wrangling in the last twenty-five years of the eighteenth century, all participants agreed on these essential points. The enemies were authoritarian monarchs who controlled bodies and ecclesiastical hierarchs who controlled minds. Authoritarian power had to be resisted, vigilance maintained, lest freedom be diminished. The best weapons were education and knowledge.
This text is excerpted from United Symbolism of America. Click here to order a copy.
One of the mottoes our founders chose for the U.S. Great Seal declared a new order for the ages. As far as they were concerned, they were witnessing the beginning of the end of oppression, the end of the church-state alliance and government-promoted religion, and the beginning of rule by the people. The religious right have tried to rewrite this essential element of our history. They claim that their authority for legislating morality according to their own narrowly defined ideas is derived from our Founding Fathers and the so-called “Christian nation” they founded. Though the majority of them were Christians, to be sure, what the Founding Fathers deliberately did not create was a Christian nation. They created a land of religious tolerance, so that all faiths could worship as they choose without persecution from the state. Christianity was not being promoted. Religious tolerance and liberty were being promoted. These are also Christian ideals, of course, as in the story of the Good Samaritan, but our Founding Fathers were declaring the American way was to be respectful of those who worship differently.
* The above is excerpted from United Symbolism of America, pp. 232-233
Fundamentalists of all faiths have historically promoted and supported religious wars. Fundamentalists of the far right in America support the rich, and many of them believe their evangelical preachers in their flashy cars preaching that they’ve become rich because God finds favor with them.
Not according to Jesus Christ. And it is so easy to see in Thomas Jefferson’s The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Here are two Jesus quotes from Chapter 5 “Sermon of the Mount”. These quotes are taken from the original first edition (9000 copies printed) of “The Jefferson Bible” published by the 57th Congress in 1904.
Line 9 “Blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
Line 24 “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.”
Peacemakers, not war promoters, are the children of God, in Jesus’s opinion. Rich people are not favored at all, just the opposite, in fact. People who want to be Christians would be well served to stay laser-focused on the words of Jesus Christ, and a good way to do that is with a careful study of the Jefferson Bible.
Close up of portrait of Thomas Jefferson and Monticello from the “We The People Biodiesel” Artcar, painted by Bob Hieronimus. Photo by Stuart Zolotorow.
Part of the passenger side of the “We The People Biodiesel” Artcar painted by Bob Hieronimus. Shows the Thomas Jefferson panel in the center. On the left we see Jimi Hendrix performing at Woodstock where “We are One” was the motto. Under the peace sign is a depiction of Dr. Bob's famous Woodstock bus, and the Statue of Liberty is overhead. On the right in the green panel under the flag we see part of the Iroquois wampum design for “out of many one”. Photo by Bob Hieronimus.
Title page from the first edition 1904 Washington Government Printing Office edition of The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (otherwise known as “The Jefferson Bible”)
The Jefferson Memorial, completed in 1943, is modeled after the Roman Pantheon, Jefferson’s own architectural inspiration for his University of Virginia and Monticello. Photo by Jennifer Cortner.