6. Jefferson and Jupiter

Jefferson (1)

Founding Father and American revolutionary Thomas Jefferson is often cited as an early proponent of secularism in the United States, having coined the phrase ‘wall of separation between Church & State’ in a letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut.[1] A recent article has also highlighted Jefferson’s opposition to the supernatural elements of the Christian narrative.[2] The argument that Jefferson curated the contents of the New Testament while removing miraculous aspects from the narratives of Christ has been used to criticise modern religious conservatives.[3] Informed by both his own Christian upbringing and his engagement with Enlightenment thought, Jefferson’s views on the matter were undoubtedly complex and challenging.[4] Here’s what he had to say about the Christmas story:

‘The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.’[5]

By Patrick McGhee


[1] https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-religious-beliefs

[2] Arthur Scherr, ‘Thomas Jefferson Versus the Historians: Christianity, Atheistic Morality, and the Afterlife’, Church History, 83 (2014), pp. 60-109.

[3] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/sorry-sarah-palin-thomas-jefferson-led-war-christmas

[4] https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-religious-beliefs

[5] https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-religious-beliefs

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