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Spurious Pearls of wisdom

Sir, no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man, and I as chief magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example.

Probably not said by Thomas Jefferson


  1. Mr Ed says:

    Followed, in the end by: ‘We shall….continue…to…. IMPOSE..taxes and. ..reguLAtions … until. the ECONomy… ceases to FUNCtion…’.

  2. Paul Marks says:

    Actually the point of this Daily Telegraph article is that Jefferson DID say this.

    By the way – please do not confuse being a unitarian (like Jefferson) with being an athiest (let alone a Marxist like Barack Obama).

    For example, John Adams was passionatly religious (he spent most of his time writing about theology – they did not show that on the HBO series on him) but he was also unitarian in his beliefs. He believed in God, but he did not believe that Jesus was God.

    As for Lincoln – another strongly religious man.

    “But evolution” – the authors of the orignial “Fundementals” essays (yes the original “fundementalists”) also believed in evolution.

    Were they nonChristian?

  3. CountingCats says:

    Actually the point of this Daily Telegraph article is that Jefferson DID say this.

    I now, that was the point I was making. However, as a hadith, it seems to be of the unreliable variety.

  4. john b says:

    The links should be the other way round – the rigorously sourced piece showing that there’s no evidence for the quote’s authenticity should be under “probably not”, and the opinion piece written by someone who failed to research the quote and find out that we already know there’s no evidence for its authenticity should be under “Thomas Jefferson”. This presumably explains Paul’s confusion.

  5. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    That may have been true when Jefferson said it (or not) but then Ptolemy may as well have said “You can’t have a state without slavery” This is just normalcy bias.

    It is my sincere hope that the pursuit of reason and evidence triumph over murderous, totalitarian superstitions.

  6. NickM says:

    My vague understanding was that the founding fathers tended towards deism rather than atheism or theism. Of course the question about whether atheism is much the same as atheism flows throughout the course of modern Western history. And by modern I mean since the Renaissance/Enlightenment. And of course it almost need not to be said that the founding fathers were Enlightenment to the hilt. Tom Paine and John Locke and all that.

    Spinoza’s weird pantheism (I’ve never got an entire grip on it) lead to him being persecuted by fellow Jews (and Christians obviously). His Rabbi cursed him with all the curses in the Book of Deutronomy and prayed he be torn apart by she-bears.

    Flick forward to the great American novel, Huck Finn,

    “Then there was the sky, all speckled with stars. We used to lie on our backs and look up at them and discuss whether they were created or just came into being on their own. Jim thought they’d been made, but I thought they’d just happened.”

    Or Einstein’s “God does not play dice”. But who is Einstein’s God? Back to Spinoza. If you define God as the Universe how does deism differ effectively from atheism? Note also in the Twain quote above Huck has had some schooling and Jim hasn’t. What is Twain saying there?

    The essential tension in modern Western culture is between deism and atheism.

    “It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent? ~ Richard Feynman (speaking of art, reality, and Jupiter, which Galileo Galilei discovered to have moons on this day in 1610)”

    Gallileo also thought Saturn had “ears”. If you look at it with a low-ish powered ‘scope it’s not a bad description.

    Gallileo of course presaged Georg Cantor’s theory of transfinite sets which really is mathematics as mysticism. Especially the alephs (why choose a Hebrew letter?) and the set V – the absolute infinity.

    And then there was Goedel (a mate of Einstein). He had some odd ideas. And some at least were true.

    The atheism/deism (verging into mysticism) thing is the absolute essential tension of everything that separates us from the natives shaking dem bones to pleasure the rain god.

  7. Paul Marks says:

    Most of the Founding Fathers were ordinary Christians – although a minority believed in God, but did not believe that Jesus was God.

    As for the feud (reconciled later in life) between Jefferson and Adams – it was not really about theology, it was about all sorts of other things. But really beause they were very different people.

    Jefferson may have been the better President (he got rid of all internal taxation), but Adams was the better man.

    Jefferson made a great show of his Republican humbleness (walking to his swareing in and so on), but he accepted three bailouts – at least one from the taxpayer.

    Jefferson admired the wonderful language of the French Revolution – Adams hated it because he judged the Revolutionaries on what they did (not what they said).

    Jefferson talked of freedom (endlessly) but owned slaves to the day he died – slavery was legal in Mass to (often forgotten now), but someone like Adams would never own a slave and he never did.

    And if you were an enemy in trouble – you would be mad to count on Jefferson, but you could bet your life on Adams being just towards you. And I mean “bet your life” in a literal sense.

    On the other hand…..

    Jefferson had the manners.

    The artistic skills.

    The culture.

    Adams – was little more than a country farmer and lawyer, and he raged and stormed at the drop of a hat.

    But his rage was verbal (a storm that would come and go) – not the icy sort that plans a killing when the target is unprepared.

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