Sunday, November 25, 2007

Where Me and Jefferson get a little crossways

I appreciate the contribution of Thomas Jefferson to the founding of this country probably as much as anyone does. But there's one point of disagreement between he and I that I just can't get over.

In his autobiography, Mr. Jefferson discusses the Virginia bill on Religious freedom which he authored, and particularly what the Virginia legislators at the time had intended in passing the bill in its final form.

Jefferson writes:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The insertion was rejected by a great majority,...

in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination. (italics added)

Really? The rejection of this singular proposition by a great majority -- inserting the name Jesus Christ in the midst of Jefferson's phrase -- is proof that the Virginia assembly meant to comprehend every religion under the sun, even those religions which are strikingly incompatible with a Western worldview, within the mantle of its protection?

One would think that if Jefferson's assertion is correct, there would be a large body of compelling evidence to support and fortify his claim to which he would point us, but he makes no reference to any such evidence. Why? Also, what plan and what author and what religion is Jefferson referring to when he says "a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion?" The only thing that's clear to me in this phrase is the term "our" meaning "their" meaning the Virginia assembly that passed the bill as the voice of the freemen of that State. He is referring to some specific plan of some specific author of some specific religion, is he not? That's the impression I get.


Michael Tams said...

Wow, Terry, great post. I'm right with you on this. Jefferson - what was he thinking? That seems like a dangerous proposition. Could it be that, so recently removed from religious persecution as the body of Americans were, his comments were a little short-sighted? Namely, that the peculiar faith that now threatens the West was once isolated?


Vanishing American said...

Terry, far be it from me to pretend to read Jefferson's mind, but wasn't the name of Jesus Christ part of Jefferson's original draft of the document? That in itself is interesting, given that so many non-Christians aver that Jefferson was not a Christian. But when he says the majority voted not to include the name of Jesus Christ, surely he doesn't endorse the all-inclusive interpretation. To my knowledge, none of the faiths he mentions were present in our country in any significant numbers except perhaps Jewish people who did have communities here and there. At that time I don't think that there were Mohammedans here in any numbers, regardless of what the revisionists say, and Hindus, likewise. Could it be that Jefferson was being wry in that statement?
I don't think any of the Founding Fathers ever envisioned our present multicultural, multifaith universalist 'America.' The presumption was always that the country would be for their posterity, and it was not envisioned as a polyglot, all-inclusive country.