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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.

This claim? It’s fact. Thomas Jefferson actually said this in a letter to John Adams, another American president. President Jefferson also said:

“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.

4 thoughts on “Did Thomas Jefferson Really Say Stories of Jesus are no More Real than Stories of Jupiter?”

  1. J Clifford says:

    Thomas Jefferson’s notebooks also contain passages he wrote down from challengers to medieval cosmological models, which focus on speculation about extraterrestrial life on planets throughout an infinite universe.

  2. Bruce Nappi says:

    Jim, You asked, “what has changed in our country to make such opinion, once acceptable, no longer acceptable for a president to utter in public.” This question rates a blog of its own. I suggest you start your research with George Orwell’s book 1984. In Jefferson’s time, before the revolution, there were things “Americans” couldn’t say in public. They mostly had to do with defaming King George or the English Crown. Slaves had to be careful of what they said about their masters, or slavery itself. What’s the pattern here? Power maybe? Power to associate a stated opinion with a specific person? Power to take action against someone? Technology have anything to do with this? The role of government in a COMPLEX society?

    This whole topic is the subject of what I call, the “multiple religions problem”. (http://www.a3society.org/MultipleReligionsProblem-L) Summarizing that problem: 1. Putting multiple religions together in one location is NEW for society. Society doesn’t understand the implications. To deal with it, to maintain order, society has introduced HUGE foundational beliefs into our culture that are total nonsense. (Freedom of Religion for example) Yet very few people understand this. 2. When governments attempt to operate, but their basic foundations are nonsense, very bad things can happen.

  3. Korky Day says:

    Jefferson didn’t publish it.
    He wrote it in a private letter.

  4. WyldCherry says:

    Bruce, I have not read any of your books yet, but I may if the library has them. I don’t think I would spend money on them, because a quick look at your website makes it appear on the surface to be nonsensical pap. However, I always enjoy a good read for amusement if nothing else, so I’ll probably give it a quick whirl, as winter gives me a little extra time indoors.

    But I’d at least like to ask how a concept of “Freedom of Religion” is total nonsense. If you could give a few quick points on that it might be interesting. You might probably be an atheist or agnostic, and the people on this website are most assuredly. But isn’t any freedom of any belief that does not directly harm others a basic right? Even if one believes in only strict science, there is often great disagreement and very strong arguments about many science based topics, like subatomic physics. I have seen vigorous arguments over some of these topics, even when everyone is based on the same scientific observational data. Weather prediction is another. (I did not mention climate prediction) Politics is another. Are we not all supposed to be free to believe in communism, socialism, or some other system? Of course there will always be conflict due to conflicting ideas, but isn’t that kind of a given with humanity? If we all thought the same things, without any diversity, wouldn’t that be pretty deadly dull, if nothing else?

    If I want to subscribe to a way of life that is based on Adhikaara, and you don’t, why is that total nonsense?

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