Jefferson’s Legacy Distortion

Was Thomas Jefferson a Christian? Does it matter? In our book, we present the religious life of Jefferson as it developed chronologically. We believe some of his legacy has been distorted—so much so that some today, e.g., ACLU-types, want to use Jeffersonto strip away our nation’s Judeo-Christian roots. Jefferson wasn’t the only founding father. But Jefferson’s own legacy wasn’t as anti-Christian as some try to make it out to be today.

The problem as Gregg Frazer in The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders identifies is that “The vast majority of those who have presented the religious beliefs of Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin in the past have done so selectively to advance an agenda or have simply accepted the labels traditionally applied to them.”[1] As a result, the story on Thomas Jefferson’s religious life has been written incorrectly.

To be sure, by the end of his life, Jefferson seemed to question some of the key doctrines of the Christian faith. But most commentators tend to ascribe these beliefs for all of his 65 adult years. In reality, Jefferson was a constantly developing and changing person of faith.

Jefferson is a man of contradictions. And it stretches all imagination to think of him as being in line with historic Christianity, certainly by the end of his life. But one part of his long life was not the same as other phases that are ignored by most modern commentators. But the real question is: Are the policies of today that are essentially fashioned in his name in line with what he himself would agree to? I think our book shows that they are not.

Jefferson did not view himself as an atheist nor a Deist; but he rather saw himself as one trying to save Christianity, as he understood it, from centuries of corruptions.

[1] Gregg Frazer, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2012), 162.


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