JeffersonLittle pleases me more than a discussion with a modern-day evangelical conservative who has been told all their life by their conservative parents, teachers or mentors that America was ‘founded on God’ and who hold Thomas Jefferson as the embodiment of their values.

The fact is, as mentioned in this post about deism, that Thomas Jefferson’s religious belief doesn’t remotely resemble that of today’s evangelical conservative. The process of telling an evangelical conservative that this is the case will be painful for the conservative in question, but it must be done quickly, like ripping off a band-aid. (It’s a difficult job, but someone’s got to do it.)

The best way to proceed is with a few quotes:

“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” (Works, Vol. iv, p. 365).

The evangelical conservative will not be aware that Jefferson could ever have uttered anything so blatantly heretical, or anything which so discards the traditional Christian view of Christ and the Gospels. Modern-day conservatives simply edit this stuff out of the record while picking out the parts of what Jefferson said that substantiates their position (this is also done with the bible itself, of course). Before they retort, they must be hit with a follow-up quote:

“[Jefferson on the Gospels] “…a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticism, and fabrications” (Works, Vol. iv, p. 325).”

This is even worse! I can’t help but smile as I read this, thinking of the faces of our Jefferson-loving brethren as they discover that they perhaps shouldn’t love Jefferson quite so much. Why stop now?

“I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies” (Letter to Dr. Woods).

And as for the question of whether or not Jefferson intended to contribute to the founding of a society based on God or the Christian religion in some way:

“I was glad to find in your book a formal contradiction at length of the judiciary usurpation of legislative powers; for such the judges have usurped in their repeated decisions, that Christianity is a part of the common law. The proof of the contrary which you have adduced is incontrovertible; to wit, that the common law existed while the Anglo-Saxons were yet Pagans, at a time when they had never yet heard the name of Christ pronounced, or knew that such a character had ever existed” (Letter to Major John Cartwright).

Could any of our 2008 presidential candidates survive in the race after making such a statement so forcibly separating God and Government? As the Rev. Dr. D.J. Burrell (New York) said more recently:

“No man could be elected President of the United States today who is an avowed opponent of Christianity. Thomas Jefferson would not be an available candidate today for either party.”

I’m not sure that Jefferson was such an “opponent of Christianity”; nevertheless he certainly was an opponent of the kind of evangelicalism prevalent among conservatives today and so Burrell is right about the rather amusing fact that Republicans in 2008 would most likely not elect Thomas Jefferson. Ah, the irony!

America was not ‘founded on God’, folks. It was founded as the first truly secular state, the first state wherein religion and government could not be mixed, where the laws were based upon equal rights and not upon religious doctrine.

Now, who’s going to step up and help me break the news of this to our conservative friends?