Did Thomas Jefferson Really Say Stories of Jesus are no More Real than Stories of Jupiter?
Earlier today, I came across a Freedom From Religion Foundation blog post by Andrew Seidel. It reads in part:
“Free thought and freethought only exist with the right to dissent and to proclaim that dissent. And yes, to criticize and even mock the ideas of others. Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams about his hope for the future: ‘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.’
“The day that Jefferson predicted is here…”
When I encountered this supposed quote of Thomas Jefferson, I was so flabbergasted by it that I felt the need to do a little bit of fact checking. Did an American president actually declare that the religious origin story of Jesus from Mary was as fictional as the religious origin story of Minerva from the Roman god Jupiter? It seemed implausible to me.
To check the FFRF’s claim, I went straight to the source — Monticello.org, a project of the University of Virginia that aims to separate Jefferson myth from Jefferson fact.
“Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”
These statements are no more or less true because Thomas Jefferson said them. But it’s worth contemplating what has changed in our country to make such opinion, once acceptable, no longer acceptable for a president to utter in public.