-By Warner Todd Huston
Talk about making a mistake everyone can see! Atheists in California have done a disservice to their own crusade to spread atheism by launching a new billboard campaign that ascribes a false quote to Thomas Jefferson. That's right, they've essentially become liars for atheism.
In Costa Mesa, California a group of atheists calling themselves Backyard Skeptics have unveiled a billboard to sell atheism to the general public that features a quote they claim came from Thomas Jefferson, the Third President of the United States.
"I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature," the billboard "quotes" the president as having said. "It is founded on fables and mythology," this quote concludes.
That would be a stinging rebuke of Christianity, indeed… were it true. Unfortunately for this little atheist group it seems that their quote is a fake quote the group found on the Internet and assumed was real.
The atheist group thought the quote came from a letter that Jefferson wrote to a "Dr. Woods." But there is one little problem. Jefferson scholars cannot find such a letter. The Jefferson Library confirms that no such letter exists. The library also notes that no such phrase or any combination thereof exists in any of Jefferson's extensive collection of papers.
The atheist group, seems to shrug off their embarrassing mistake, though, telling reporters that they will look into it later. Worse, they told the Orange Register that even if the quote was fake it really represented Jefferson's views anyway. Where have we heard "fake but accurate" before?
As the Jefferson library notes, it's a bit hard to believe that Jefferson saw no "redeeming features" in Christianity since he spent months cutting and pasting and rearranging the Christian Bible to his own liking! If there was nothing worth the effort in there he had a funny way of showing it.
But talk about true believers, these atheists. They'll let neither logic nor the word of all the scholars in the world that Jefferson never uttered their favorite quote deter them that he somehow despised Christianity anyway!
Sadly, Jon Cassidy, writer for the Orange Register, was also bamboozled by another atheist lie about Jefferson in his piece. He furthered the lie that Jefferson "was a Deist."
Jefferson was a Deist, who believed in a hands-off creator, not a Christian, but he adored the humanistic aspects of Jesus' teachings, according to the library. A library report cites his letter to William Short of Oct. 31, 1819, in which he called the teachings of Jesus the "outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man."
This Jefferson-the-Deist business is has been a lie told by atheists for at least a generation. In fact, it is a calumny visited on most of our founders. It is also not true.
Never in his life did Jefferson call himself a Deist. He called himself a Unitarian (what we might call a Unitarian Universalist today). He did not call himself a Deist. Why should we call him something he never called himself?
Additionally, while many modern atheists and half-informed hobbyists in things historical imagine that all or even many of the founders were "Deists," the truth is that almost none of them were -- at least not by their own admission. Washington wasn't. Hamilton wasn't. John Adams sure wasn't. Neither was Madison or Monroe.
It is absolutely true that a large portion of our most famous founders had a great amount of disdain for organized religion and/or the priesthood. After all, students of history that they were, the founders knew that religious orders and churches were involved in some of the worst massacres in human history. Not only that but such monstrous actions were within recent memory of the founder's era. It's only natural that they were suspicious of organized religion.
But we simply cannot pretend that this country was not founded by thousands of extremely devoted Christians. Even if a few of our most well known founders were somehow secret Deists, not many of their peers and co-founders nor their supporters back in their home states were anything but sincere believers.
After all, religion was one of the first things that our founders strived to protect! Remember that whole “freedom of religion” thing?
Perhaps two leading founders at one time claimed themselves Deism for themselves, but that is all I've ever run across.
When he was a young man Ben Franklin once wrote that he was a Deist. But he was hardly a "regular" Deist -- if there is such a thing. When he was young Franklin thought perhaps every universe had its own god but that perhaps they did not involve themselves too much in their own little realms. Not very orthodox Deism, that.
The other was Governor K. Morris, the man responsible for helping write the Constitution of the United States. According to a book on Morris written by Richard Brookheiser, Morris claimed Deism for himself.
The problem is that many historians ascribe Deism to our founders (even Morris was publicly an Episcopalian) based on those historian's interpretations of the founder's views. These claims based on historian's feelings then get passed down from one generation to the next as "fact" even though it is not based in fact. Certainly it may be true that our founders harbored Deist ideas and it may be true that they feared a political backlash in a nation filled with Christians for saying so out loud, but if they didn't call themselves Deists, how can we? The fact is, even in their private papers almost none of them accepted Deism as their own.
In all the years of reading on the founders I've done I've never seen any other founders calling themselves Deists. If someone out there has proof otherwise I'd love to hear it. But please don't send me to a website. Remember what Abe Lincoln said: "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet." In fact, don't even take my word for all this. Look it up yourself. If you can find words written by a founder claiming Deism for themselves, please let me see it.
But let's not take the revisionism by decades of historians with an agenda as "fact."