Opinions on Jefferson’s Faith

Our book, Doubting Thomas, strives to show that Jefferson was not a life-long skeptic, although he privately appeared to abandon core Christian doctrines later in life. Nonetheless, he is often presented as if he were always of a skeptical bent.

Many scholars and writers of today and times past refer to Jefferson in ways that define him as an unbeliever. Here are a few samples:

*Former head of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville history department and noted Jefferson biographer, Merrill Peterson, calls Thomas Jefferson a “secular liberal.”[1]

*Anita Vickers, professor at Penn State University, calls Jefferson a “Deist and a secular humanist.”[2] A Deist is one who believes that a clockmaker god made the world, wound it all up, but then abandoned his creation. A Deist would not believe in a prayer-answering God and would certainly not subscribe to the Christian understanding of the Triune God.

*Militant and military atheist Michael Weinstein of “Military Religious Freedom Foundation,” said of Jefferson, “It’s very likely he was an atheist.”[3]

*Writing for infidels.org, author Farrell Till, in an essay called, “The Christian Nation Myth,” called Jefferson “fiercely anti-clerical”—meaning Jefferson hated the Christian clergy.[4]

*Even in fiction sources, it’s just assumed that Thomas Jefferson was not a believer. For example, in a classic 1980 novel supposedly based on historical fact, Sally Hemings by Barbara Chase-Riboud, a character says, “He was an atheist, like Jefferson.” Author and scholar Virginius Dabney responds to this remark: “As all informed historians know, Jefferson was far from being an atheist. Yet he is described as one over and over in the book. This was among the libels spread against him by the Federalists.”[5]

These kinds of statements about Jefferson are commonplace.

Plus, as journalist and author Rod Gragg points out, the founding fathers—regardless of their own particular views on God, Christ, and faith—represented a people who were for the most part very committed to faith. Gragg, the author of the books, Forged in Faith and By the Hand of Providence, says: “Many of the founding fathers were Christians but the better question is, What is the worldview held by the founding father and held by the American people they represented? It was overwhelmingly a Judeo-Christian worldview; [the country] was Christian in great numbers, and it was also Protestant.”[6]

[1] Merrill D. Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 133. He says: “secular liberals like Jefferson.”

[2] Anita Vickers, The New Nation (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), 74, quoted in David Barton, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson (Nashville et al.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2012), 31.

[3] Quoted in Barton, The Jefferson Lies, 163.

[4] Farrell Till, “The Christian Nation Myth,” the Secular Web, www.infidels.org. Quoted in Barton, The Jefferson Lies,141.

[5] Virginius Dabney, The Jefferson Scandals: A Rebuttal (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1981), 71.

[6] Transcript of a television interview with Rod Gragg by Jerry Newcombe (Ft. Lauderdale: Coral Ridge Ministries-TV, 2012).

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