To say that controversy surrounds the faith of Thomas Jefferson (or the lack thereof ) is quite an understatement. There are potential land mines. However, co-author Mark Beliles, a pastor in Charlottesville (Jefferson’s home town) has spent much of his adult career studying Jefferson and his faith.
Beliles has discovered little known facts that demonstrate that our third president was much more active as a professing Christian than is commonly understood. Moreover, Dr. Beliles has come to the conclusion: Jefferson’s religion is revealed most accurately when not only his letters but also his relationships and activities with religious communities is studied together.
Thomas Jefferson built his own home near Charlottesville, Virginia and called it Monticello, meaning “little mountain” in Italian. Its architectural beauty is obvious to the half million tourists that visit it each year. Without prompting by the tour guides, however, most visitors would never notice the mistake made in the plan for the huge clock he had installed in his home. His clock required more space for the running cannon ball weights to descend properly than the room was designed to handle. Therefore, he had to cut a hole in the floor in two corners of the room for the clock to work. There were markers for every day of the week on the wall and only those who look carefully would notice that the marker for the last day of the week does not appear because it is in the basement.
But only those in Jefferson’s family or more intimate friends might be taken downstairs to see the marker for Saturday. Jefferson, a master architect, had to borrow from space beneath the floor. Jefferson’s religious life was also built upon the foundation of the religious culture of Central Virginia. Like the seventh day of Jefferson’s clock at Monticello, the facts for understanding his religious life are beneath the surface and not easily accessed.
We’ll deal with this in future blogs….