A Skewed Perspective of Thomas Jefferson

Christians today often have an impression of Thomas Jefferson as being disrespectful of their faith. We think this is unfair to Jefferson. Scripture tells us to not bear false witness and encourages us to be respectful of others and their reputation. A Christian should be dedicated to truth whatever it may show. This has motivated us to write the book, DOUBTING THOMAS, so that both Christian and secular readers will appreciate Jefferson or criticize him for what he actually did or said in the context of the time and culture in which he lived. Then at least, they will be able to accept him for what he really was—a complicated person who sincerely thought himself to be a true Christian.

The disputes that commonly occur today concerning Jefferson and his religious actions and beliefs often emerge because people make use of quotations that are selective, out of context, or incomplete. Perhaps on rare occasions, this is due to personal agendas or motivations to prove a preconceived perception. But more often it simply is due to the fact that many of the primary sources have only recently become available and indeed many are still not in print. The common approach to studies on Jefferson and religion has been quote-oriented.

Meanwhile, at the end of 2013 the co-author of this book Mark Beliles edited a new volume entitled The Selected Religious Letters and Papers of Thomas Jefferson that provides the ability to see most of the rest of Jefferson’s religious papers. To our knowledge, no book on Jefferson has included half of the religious letters and documents that are found in it. Drawing on these new sources, we have made this new analysis of Jefferson’s religious life and legacy. The picture is much more nuanced than the average portrait often drawn of a skeptical Jefferson. Suffice it to say, the notion of Thomas Jefferson as a life-long skeptic is not accurate. Nor would it be accurate to say he was a life-long orthodox Christian.

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