Atheists Lie And Do So On a Billboard!

-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.”


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    It's good that this story includes the tag, "media bias", because it's a great example.

    One small group of atheists mistakes a bogus internet quote as genuine and puts it on a billboard, and Huston titles his piece "Atheists Lie"? It couldn't be an honest mistake? Does Huston normally demand perfect accuracy from such a display? Was this a peer-reviewed billboard?

    I shudder to think what language Huston must use for theists. How would he describe failed apocalypse-predictor Harold Camping? "Liar" is too weak. Does he consider Jews liars for denying the divinity of Christ, or Muslims liars for claiming Muhammed as a later prophet?

    For that matter, what does he say of Christians who quote Jesus from the Bible? Surely he realizes that all those quotations are just hearsay, recorded decades after the event. Christians can't produce a single document written by Jesus, so there's no proof Jesus ever uttered them. Or even existed.

    But I'm guessing Huston is all right with quoting Jesus. So be fair, Warner. Apply the same standard to atheists. Let's say atheists simply take it on *faith* that Jefferson said that. Unless you can produce proof he *didn't* say it you're operating on faith too, and you're mistaken to claim any intellectual superiority.

    Scratch that -- not "mistaken", "a liar".

  • In reply to Bill Thacker:

    Nice strawman argument. Now, can you show me anywhere when I said all words in the Bible attributed to Jesus were actually his words? Or can you show where I gave others like that idiot Camping a pass? Can you find where I said there are documents Jesus wrote?

    Further, what does the veracity of the words attributed to Jesus have to do with THIS case? I After all, I didn't juxtapose the two in order to make some kind of point, now did I? Does your lack of belief in the Bible EXCUSE the idiocy of these atheists in California?

    Next time you want to debate, try staying on topic.

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    In reply to publiusforum:

    Really, that counts for idiocy?

    I guess Bill's point, Warner, is that you're making a fuss about not-much-at-all, when you plop your gripes alongside a bunch of other related (they are, you know) lies/misquotes/made-up-stuff. Not a strawman argument at all.

  • In reply to noel:

    Except that I didn't "plop" anything next to "other related" misquotes. I discussed ONLY the Jefferson quote then went on to put into context the fact that the founders were NOT Deists.

    Did you actually read my post? It's a bit hard to assume you did since you make claims of what I wrote that isn't in the piece!

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    In reply to publiusforum:

    I honestly didn't expect the courtesy of a reply by the author -- thank you for that, Warner.

    "can you show me anywhere when I said all words in the Bible attributed to Jesus were actually his words?"

    I think your article is a partisan hatchet job, masquerading behind moral principles you don't normally uphold. I think you're being a hypocrite in this essay.

    The billboard quote was certainly false, but you called it a *lie*. You accuse the sponsors of knowing the quote was false when they posted it (and you have no evidence for that). You attribute malice where simple gullibility would explain the error. Why?

    Whether *you* quote Jesus is irrelevant. The question is, are you using a double standard? You've tarred atheists for quoting something Thomas Jefferson might not have said, but have you ever denounced Christians for quoting something Jesus might not have said? But I'll drop this argument; it's weak and too subtle.

    Let's stick to Harold Camping. Last April he falsely claimed on his radio broadcast that Judgment Day would come in May, duping thousands of people into donating money. Some of his followers quit their jobs, dropped out of school, and wasted their savings. Then he did it *again* with an October deadline. Camping's mouth is a thousand times more harmful than that atheist billboard. Did you ever write that *he* is a liar?

    Or how about Pat Robertson, who claimed Haiti got hit by an earthquake because Haitians "swore a pact to the devil"? Robertson has no document describing that pact, and the Haitians deny it. By the standard you apply to atheists, Robertson is a *huge* liar. Have you said as much?

    Do you really care about abuse of the truth in the public forum? Or do you only require that from groups you dislike?

  • In reply to Bill Thacker:

    LOL, you use the word "courtesy" then call me a liar and a hypocrite without having even ONE example to prove I am. And you make baseless assumptions and act as if you haven't made a weak argument. In essence you asked the famous question, "when did you stop beating your wife?"

    If you have a direct question to ask, do so. Quit hiding your question behind baseless assumptions, name calling, and attempts at being too cute by half.

    But, in an attempt to stop your tedious replies, I'll try to assume you have actually asked a straight question and I reply thus...

    Do I support Camping and do I think he's a liar? I did not support Camping and yes I think he was a lair.

    Do I support Robertson and do I think he's a liar? I have never supported Robertson and yes I think he is a liar.

    Have I written about either one at length? I don't think so. But so what if I haven't written about them? I support neither. (I may have written about Robertson sometime in the last 11 years, but if I did I don't recall it now and I am pretty sure I tweeted some fun-making of Camping)

    I've never, for instance, written about Nietzsche, either, but I still think he was a Nazi, a hack, and a fool. Also, that these atheists in California are wrong, foolish, and liars is not mitigated in any way because others might or might not also be. Remember when your mom caught you skipping school and you said, "but my friends did it, too"? Remember how your friends doing it too didn't make much difference to your Mommy? It's sort of like that.

    You see, there is NO logical way to conclude that NOT writing about something must somehow signal full support. This is your base assumption and it lacks any logical reasoning, it's what they call a strawman argument.

    Regardless I write about what I WANT to write about. If you want to write about stuff get your own blog. I am under no obligation to take writing assignments from you or anyone else.

    I hate to say it, but if you are an example of the intellect of atheists, I'd suggest you join these scholars in California. They seem to be up to your caliber. Or maybe "down to" would be a better measurement?

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    If you're trying to refute accusations of hypocrisy, the following two statements aren't helping the case very much:

    "Why should we call [Jefferson] something he never called himself?"

    "I've never, for instance, written about Nietzsche, either, but I still think he was a Nazi, a hack, and a fool."

    Nietzsche died several years before the Nazi Party emerged.

  • In reply to robertloblaw:

    You are wrong. Jefferson NEVER called himself a Deist. If you have proof otherwise, serve it up. And if you've never heard Nietzsche called the philosopher of the Nazi Party, then there is another bit of history you know nothing about.

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    That's exactly my point -- Nietzsche never called himself a Nazi either. It seems inappropriate to brand him (no matter how demented he was) as such just because they ran with his work – a full two decades after he died.

    I assume you'd call Wagner a Nazi as well, since they were so fond of his music? Hell, he died long before Nietzsche did.

  • In reply to robertloblaw:

    I believe you are taking your point to an absurd length. I feel Nietz. was a Nazi, but I've not built an entire edifice of belief on that "fact." Nor have I written articles calling him a Nazi. So, your focus on my general feeling about Neitz. and comparing that to thousands of atheists building Jefferson into a Deist with dubious quotes to "prove" it is a bit absurd, don't you think?

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    Since you brought it up.....believeing in God lacks any logical reasoning...but let's not get into that when all you meant to do was discredit some "liars". Clearly no one of faith lies or at least their lies dont threaten your faith. The beauty of your faith is that you never have to prove anything to anyone. So really dont have to feel threatened by the lying non believers...yet its clearly on your mind as that is what you WANT to write about.

    Try writing a positive piece regarding your faith and you might actually get some people interested in the fiction (not lies of course) that is the bible. I appreciate the good natured purpose of inventing god....

  • In reply to bullswin60606:

    Try reading another blog if you don't like what I write.

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    In reply to publiusforum:

    "You see, there is NO logical way to conclude that NOT writing about something must somehow signal full support. This is your base assumption"

    No, that's hyperbole. I don't care what you support, "fully" or otherwise. I see hypocrisy in what you choose to OPPOSE. Your reaction to this atheist billboard seems inconsistent with your tolerance of far worse behavior from theists. It looks like you aren't truly concerned with the truth, that you're just looking for "dirt" on atheists.

    You ask me to boil it down to a simple question. Here it is.

    Why do you headline your article "Atheists Lie" (portraying what seems to be an innocent mistake by one group as a deep character flaw of all atheists) if you've never made the comparable claim "Theists Lie" in response to far more harmful (and less explainable) falsehoods from many theists?

    Thank you for agreeing that Camping and Robertson are liars - my respect for you just shot up tremendously.

    Let me suggest this: write an essay about falsehoods from *both* sides of the theism/atheism debate. If you show how BOTH sides ruin public discourse by making claims that aren't true, readers like me would have to take you seriously instead of writing you off as a partisan hack.

  • In reply to Bill Thacker:

    Sorry it took so long to get to this, but I am onto other work so this will be the last comment on this thread.

    As to my "hypocrisy" I'd suggest you rode a unicorn to discover it. While you are in that imaginary land, have a nice slice of moon cheese, will you?

    As to your "suggestion" on what I should write in order to make you love me... guess what? I couldn't care less what you think of me and my blog is not yours to program.

    If you want to write long soliloquies on the wonderfulness of atheism, get your own blog and get to work. But I'm not here to make friends with you or please you. My blog is to please myself. If others also like it (and many thousands do) then that is just a plus for me.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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    KNOW YE NOT THAT THE LORD YOUR GOD HAS PROVED YOU? GOD IS NOT WILLING THAT ANY SHOULD PERISH, BUT THAT ALL MIGHT BELIEVE ON HIS NAME-JESUS. Repent & be baptized! Jesus said, “I am God there is none besides me." "I am the Way, the Truth & the Life. No man comes to the Father except by me." "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." "As many as received Him to them He gave the power to become the sons of God the Father even to those who believe on His name." Jesus' healing ministry began with adult baptism. Jesus says, “In this world you shall have trouble, but I have overcome the world.” Jesus says, “If we confess our sins He is faithful & just to forgive us our sins & to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

  • In reply to Allison Karalus:

    Thats great Allison, but Jeffersons main point was to have you be able to believe all of that you want but not to have it ingrained into the machine of civil government.

  • In your claims, you say the first thing the founding fathers did was protect religion. In reality they protected government from interfering or having anything to do with religion except protect those who wish to practice or not practice of their choice. They also did not want government to give any acknowledgement to any one religion over another. Jeffersons main issues with religion were the mixing of religion and the state, meaning anything in government is not to be favored to one religion or or over another that they have no bearing on civil government or who should hold office.
    "I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another."
    -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, 1799

    "Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the "wall of separation between church and state," therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.
    We have solved, by fair experiment, the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.
    -- Thomas Jefferson, to the Virginia Baptists (1808) ME 16:320."

    His disdain for organized religion was not just because the atrocities committed but by the fake structure of heresy and other things invented by the clergy for their retainment of profit and power.
    In this article it states :
    " 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."

    What he took out was any reference to the virgin birth, any miracles and that Jesus is the son of god. what he was in admiration of was the moral teachings of jesus. He saw no redeeming feature in much of religion not the teachings of Jesus, something most christians today forgot but get all wrapped up in just the "miracle"
    from ACTUAL quotes of Jefferson in the Library of Congress and Jefferson Museum:
    My aim in that was, to justify the character of Jesus against the fictions of his pseudo-followers, which have exposed him to the inference of being an impostor. For if we could believe that he really countenanced the follies, the falsehoods and the charlatanisms which his biographers father on him, and admit the misconstructions, interpolations and theorizations of the fathers of the early, and fanatics of the latter ages, the conclusion would be irresistible by every sound mind, that he was an impostor. I give no credit to their falsifications of his actions and doctrines, and to rescue his character, the postulate in my letter asked only what is granted in reading every other historian.... That Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God, physically speaking, I have been convinced by the writings of men more learned than myself in that lore.
    -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, August 4, 1820, explaining his reason for compiling the Syllabus of an Estimate of the Merit of the Doctrines of Jesus and referring to Jesus's biographers, the Gospel writers.

    The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ leveled to every understanding, and too plain to need explanation, saw, in the mysticism of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system which might, from it’s indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power and pre-eminence.
    -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, July 5, 1814, Lester Cappon, ed, The Adams-Jefferson Letters (1959) p. 433

    [A] short time elapsed after the death of the great reformer of the Jewish religion, before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandising their oppressors in Church and State; that the purest system of morals ever before preached to man, has been adulterated and sophisticated by artificial constructions, into a mere contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves; that rational men not being able to swallow their impious heresies, in order to force them down their throats, they raise the hue and cry of infidelity, while themselves are the greatest obstacles to the advancement of the real doctrines of Jesus, and do in fact constitute the real Anti-Christ.
    -- Thomas Jefferson, to Samuel Kercheval, 1810

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    Apparently is not convincing. If not well then you're a idiot.

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    Amen Sister! There is no argument or revisionist writings on that. I've always been a firm believer in the Bible, if you can disbelieve one part of it, you can disbelieve all of it. That's how people start the fall. And, interestingly enough, it's never been wrong, and it's certainly not from the athiesic lack of trying.

  • "but if they didn't call themselves Deists, how can we?"

    In much the same way that you try to call them "extremely devoted christians" - except we have the benefit of fact on our side instead of some frightened, bitter desperation caused by an inability to see anything outside the lens of your religious beliefs.

    The sad reality is that your revisionist version of "christianty" didn't exist when this country was founded, but is a very modern result of the commercialism of belief into consumerist merchandise sold to a people who now read ancient Jewish morality tales as fact. It's a "christianity" designed wholly to dodge tax laws and sell politicians. So even if there was a mustard seed of truth in your statement, Christianity of Jefferson's time resembles your version of "christianity" about as much as Lincoln's Republicans resemble the loathsome GOP of today.

  • In reply to gajillion:

    Another atheist "responding" to nothing I wrote. I said most Americans and a large number of the most famous founder's peers were extremely devoted Christians, so who is this "they" you are talking about?

    You are quite loose with the word "facts" while offering none.

    You appear to know nothing about America's religious history. But you do a nice job of replacing facts with your hatred of religion, though. So, ya got that going for you... which is nice... if not a typical atheist.

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    publiusforum, please provide the evidence you have that "most Americans and a large number of the most famous founder's peers were extremely devotetd Christians." Legitimate historians would be glad to see it, because it would be completely new information.

    "By 1780 the percentage of adult colonists who adhered to a church was between 10-30%, not counting slaves or Native Americans. North Carolina had the lowest percentage at about 4%, while New Hampshire and South Carolina were tied for the highest, at about 16%" (Carnes, Mark C.; John A. Garraty with Patrick Williams (1996). Mapping America's Past: A Historical Atlas. Henry Holt and Company. pp. 50. ISBN 0-8050-4927-4.)

    I notice that you didn't respond to solidguyinsd.

    Unitarians themselves write: "It should be no surprise that Deists joined Unitarian churches. The rational, practical, free religion of the Unitarians shares much with Deist ideas...While not interchangeable, Deism and Unitarianism have many common beliefs."

  • In reply to gr8hands:

    So, you think that the thousands of tracts with religious-based reasons for the revolution never happened? Are you saying that religious liberty was NOT the central theme of early American liberty? Are you saying the idea of "freedom of religion" was incidental and practically meaningless to the people that founded the country? If so, you'd be in a distinct minority of people.

    Plus your cut and paste is not very relevant. I didn't say "of the country" I said of the founder's peers. Few founding politicians refused to identify with one church or another. In fact, the founders many falsely claim as Deists claimed membership in churches!

    Your historical revisionists say Washington was a Deist, for instance. But he claimed membership in an Anglican church. Just to use your statistics as some sort of benchmark, Washington COULDN'T have been a Deist because he affiliated himself with the Anglican Church in Virginia! That shows the efficacy of using your statistics for much of anything.

    I'd also ask if you think that having an affiliation with a particular church is the only criteria for being considered religious? Lincoln considered himself spiritual and was something of an expert on the Bible but did not claim any membership in a particular religion. Was he a "Deist" just because of that? Revisionists may try to say so, but HE never did.

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