Thomas Jefferson, a Christian or deist?

Much has been debated about the faith of Thomas Jefferson. Some say that he was a deist, one who believes in a god but not necessarily the Judeo-Christian god, and others claim he was a Christian. I am not sure why there would be so much debate over this man’s faith, except to probably debunk the idea that the United States was established on Christian principles by Christian men.

Some, like Richard Dawkins, and those of his ilk, often use another quote made by Jefferson which they think calls into question the terms of his faith. The quote goes like this, “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there is one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” From an atheist standpoint there is no god so, to them the inferred question of the existence of god is taken in the negative, making this quote the smoking gun to Jefferson agnosticism or atheism. However, from a Christian standpoint there is a god so, the same question is taken in the affirmative. Therefore, this quote isn’t the slam dunk on Jefferson faithlessness that atheists suppose. Rather, it is a testament to Jefferson’s belief that God is a rational and reasonable concept.

Below is a quote of Thomas Jefferson from a letter written to Benjamin Rush, a scientist, physician, and political leader from Philadelphia. I think this should shine a little light on Jefferson true faith.

Dear Sir,

In some of the delightful conversations with you, in the evenings of 1798-99, and which served as an anodyne to the afflictions of the crisis through which our country was then laboring, the Christian religion was sometimes our topic; and I then promised you, that one day or other, I would give you my views of it. They are the result of a life of inquiry & reflection, and very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other (emp. added).

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One Response to Thomas Jefferson, a Christian or deist?

  1. :: More of the same letter from Jefferson to Rush:
    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 inquisition over the rights of conscience which the laws have so justly proscribed. 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. It behooves him, too, in his own case, to give no example of concession, betraying the right of independent opinion by answering questions of faith, which the laws have left between God and himself.

    :: And another quote from Jefferson:
    Say nothing of my religion. It is known to my God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life; if that has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.
    — Thomas Jefferson

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