Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions. (Part 1) Thomas Jefferson – Jan. 1, 1802
Religion is the one subject that can either engage you in conversation or have you walking away – far, far away. When the discussion of religion on a national scale is hotly debated, the people usually doing the talking always seem to refer to the Declaration of Independence and often the United States Constitution.
The religious right has gone as far as trying to equate from a legal perspective both historical documents. Their references to the latter have no basis in fact because the Constitution has no references to God and prohibits any religious test for federal office or the laws respecting an established religion. Many people, considered liberal minded, see this as plain blasphemy. The most important document, that represents our liberty and freedom of tyranny from England, is completely devoid of any mention of scripture that appears in the Old or New Testament versions of the Holy Bible.
The controversial nature of religion indoctrinated into politics worldwide won’t defray people of faith, but it will and has created skeptics. Regardless if America’s politics are wrongly drenched with Christianity, the Bible is still the best selling book in history, with sales ranging from 2.5 to 6 billion sold to date.
From political speeches to talk radio hyperbole across American airwaves, the document is frequently used as a source of religious reference. Now, our founding fathers including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, collectively did not believe in the “divine origin of the Bible”, and thus along with Jefferson intentionally left out a direct correlation to religions of any kind. We can agree these are “unexpected consequences” which come from trying to do the right thing for one’s country. This would include above all Christianity. Or so they thought. The religious right repeatedly uses these tactics when their politicking and trying to get your vote or my favorite; when confronting the saga of infidelity and sex related scandals. What is stated in the document is precisely what gets misinterpreted when discussing religion in America. The Jerry Falwell’s of the world seem to hold on dearly to the terms “Nature’s God” and the word “Creator”. These are the nouns that are used in their efforts to describe some past utopian and independently Christian vision of America. These words alone are the right’s justification or proof that the United States is solely a Christian or Judeo-Christian nation. But that was not the intent of the framers when they drafted this ever important document. Besides what happened to the part which refers to the “separation of church and state? That somehow dissipates as religious rhetoric continues to influence our politics and sense of governing.
To put into context the true meaning of Nature’s God; it refers to the laws of nature and the laws of nature’s most silent God within itself. The framers arguably never meant for it to relate specifically to Christianity’s God of revelation. The paragraph that speaks to “unalienable rights” and that part where “all men are created equal” appears, things begin to shift directions to a discussion of continued enslavement of a people, who were being denied those very things. It does not say “God” it specifically says Creator. This supposedly is a direct reference to God almighty or so they think and continue to this day. After all 235 years since 1776, these fundamental words continue to be misquoted and highly misunderstood; depending on your interpretation of course.
Obviously, Jefferson wavered in his political and personal beliefs because he too was a slave owner. History tells us he also fathered at least five children with Sally Hemings, a Negro woman of mixed race and a former slave. What a scandal that relationship must have been back then, you may use your imagination on that but also confirm the facts.
Many biographers, noted scholars and social scientists across many lands have speculated, as to just where Jefferson’s views on religion would place him in history. Where would he fit in the society of the 21st century for instance? For practical reasons the belief is that; Thomas Jefferson considered himself a Christian, but a man of action and deeds, not just mere words. His own description of himself, was that of a Deist or as a person that believes in the existence of God, solely on “natural reason” without reference to revelation, as is clearly stated in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson ultimately concedes in his writings, that he was a Unitarian, also a person who maintains that God is one being; rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity.
He and his peers advocated some of the very things Americans still want; a more unified and centralized government. They of course write about the times in which they lived and how religion factors in the scheme of things, just as our founding fathers did in the past. As you may know, religion has no place in economic matters. For example, the mission of capitalism is not guided by religious dogma nor is it considered divine by any stretch of the imagination. Except for the likes of Bernie Madoff and corporate American companies, as politicians are bought and sold every 2-4 years.
Quite frankly, religion means many different things to many different people. Generally it is offered as a way to connect spiritually, to a higher being or a higher plane from oneself. The criticism of religion is therefore, in nucleus but not necessarily original. Its criticism is that of a microcosm of society’s tears, of which religion becomes the halo. Is this historical irony or possibly just contempt for what we call man-made religion?
Let’s be honest; “how many of you have typed in a comment in response to other comments made online regarding religion or politics”? I admit I have, plenty of times. We all have an opinion and a voice, basically we all have something to say and we want to be heard. A range of views exist in our overly opinionated American society, and they’re out there just to piss you off and provoke an emotion of some sort. Nine times out of ten it’s a defensive or knee jerk reaction, instead of a consciously and critically thoughtful response. Hey we’re only human born to make mistakes, right? I just ask that you know the facts, and you are not basing your opinions solely on rhetoric, supposition and those “only in America” emotions.
So many viewpoints, so little time to actually reason. Our virtual world provides us many avenues to remain simultaneously biased and anonymous, when publicly discussing subjects such as religion and politics. What is most important is that we dialogue and continue our conversations about these subjects as they relate to our lives and the world. But we can be less decisive and more tolerant of opinions that differ from our own. Or has America become so polarized that everything someone says is controversial, offensive or racist? The national discourse has really become ridiculous in the past decade; we as a nation are so divided. What would Thomas Jefferson think of us now? I wonder if he would understand and respect Barack Obama being our 1st African American president.
Where would he stand on women in politics and our elevated roles in society? What would he have thought about G.W. Bush using religion as a justification to go into war with Iraq? Just what would Thomas Jefferson think about these United States of America today?
I imagine that he would be overjoyed with the progress we’ve made regarding the civil rights of people and other areas of American life. I believe he would really get into technology, especially sites like Facebook. I can see him blogging like crazy. I also think he would be disappointed with the lack of progress we’ve made regarding how we treat each other as human beings on the planet.
Mr. Thomas Jefferson, man of the people, inquisitive and curious, was truly an intellectual, charismatic and a conscious yet critical thinker. The volatile mix of politics and religion has always been substantial, but in our 21st century lives the two combined have become extremely lethal and self serving. The doctrines of Christianity have many endearing qualities for people that follow the religion and live by its suggestions. It’s just that those that are most vocal of its tenets are drowning in hypocrisy of the worst kind. Behavior I like to refer to as the Hypocrisy of Democracy.
The legacy of Thomas Jefferson, his words along with his good and righteous intentions, will live on forever in the heart and soul of this great nation.
I will leave you with part two of his famous quote as intended in the infamous document the Declaration of Independence.
I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State. -Thomas Jefferson (Part 2) in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802
Dershowitz, Alan. Blasphemy: How The Religious Right is Hijacking Our Declaration of Independence. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2007
Kimball, Charles. When Religion Becomes Lethal: The Explosive Mix of Politics and Religion in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2011