“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government”
– Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Alexander von Humboldt regarding religion in Mexico, December 6, 1813

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”
– Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

One Comment

  1. Ellis

    “Religion has wrought untold misery in human affairs.”
    -Terry Eagleton, “Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate”

    Yeah, there have been some pretty corrupt “priests” in the world, plenty of people doing awful things in the name of religion, and in the name of every single religion, not just Christianity. I’m often baffled by how much attention corrupt Christians receive and how little attention those of the world over garner.

    You have, however, left out Jefferson’s thoughts on Jesus: “The clergy converted the simple teachings of Jesus into an engine for enslaving mankind and adulterated by artificial constructions into a contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves…these clergy, in fact, constitute the real Anti-Christ.”
    -Thomas Jefferson

    Jefferson and I can agree on that one.

    I don’t think Jefferson could be called a Christian; I haven’t done my research on the matter, but I think he was at most a deist, maybe an atheist. Nonetheless, it’s not Christ that Jefferson is angry at, but the people who perverted his teachings for the sake of a corrupt, selfish, and abominable agenda. It would seem to me that for Jefferson perhaps religion is the problem, and that Jesus is not.

    So was Jefferson stating that those who follow Jesus are the problem? Or was he saying that human beings who fail to apply Christ’s teachings to their lives and yet act out detestably in his name are the problem? Because if the latter lived communally by Christ’s teachings in the gospels, Jefferson’s quotes would be unnecessary.

    Based my own community and on the Christian voices I immerse myself in, I have to say that the people Jefferson rightfully attacks are not the Christians that I know, and cannot speak for the God we serve. Tony Campolo, Wendell Berry, Donald Miller, Timothy Keller, Frederick Buechner, Barbara Brown Taylor, Marilynne Robinson…these men and women are the definition of peace, justice, freedom, and equality. Were these not the things Jefferson believed in?

    I’ll finish with a another quote from Eagleton’s aforementioned book: “For the most part, [religion] has been a squalid tale of bigotry, superstition, wishful thinking, and oppressive ideology. I therefore have a good deal of sympathy with its rationalist and humanist critics. But it also the case, as this book argues, that most such critics buy their rejection of religion on the cheap. When it comes to the New Testament, at least, what they usually write off is a worthless caricature of the real thing, rooted in a degree of ignorance and prejudice to match religion’s own. It is as though one were to dismiss feminism on the basis of Clint Eastwood’s opinion on it.”

    I’ll go against even Jefferson on this one; it’s unfair and incorrect for him to paint all of Christianity with the same brush. Perhaps in every country and in every age there have been some priests hostile to liberty, but without a doubt, in every country and in every age, there have been men and women of faith who gave their lives for the sake of freedom and social justice. Christopher Hitchens may think Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom was an “admirable, but nebulous humanism,” but it still stands, he died at the hands of the Nazis because of his faith and Jesus and his love for people.

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