Friday, July 27, 2007

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Religious Toleration (John Locke's civil society)

Some historical background on John Locke, a devout Christian who proposed the separation of church and state, can be found here:

Locke's Letter on Religious Toleration can be read at

A very informative article on Deism and the Founders, published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, can be read online at

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

On Infidels and Priests

I have ever thought religion a concern purely between our God and our consciences, for which we were accountable to him, and not to the priests. I never told my own religion, nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another's creed. I have ever judged of the religion of others by their lives ... for it is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read. But this does not satisfy the priesthood. They must have a positive, a declared assent to all their interested absurdities. My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest.

Letter to Mrs. Samuel Smith, August 6, 1816

Morality is Instinctual

Some have made the love of God the foundation of morality ... If we did a good act merely from the love of God, and a belief that is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? ... In protestant countries, the defections from the platonic Christianity of the priests is to Deism, in catholic countries they are to Atheism. Diderot, D'Alembert, D'Holbach, Condorcet [philosophers & atheists], are known to have been among the most virtuous of men. Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than love of God.
Nature hath implanted in our breasts a love of others, a sense of duty to them, a moral instinct. ... I sincerely, then, agree with you in the general existence of a moral instinct. I think it the brightest gem with which the human character is studded.

Letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On Jesus

The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words [Jefferson's chief example of this is Calvin].

And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.

Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823


The atmosphere of our country is charged with a theatening cloud of fanaticism...I had no idea, however, that in Pennsylvania, the cradle of toleration and freedom of religion, it could have risen to the height you describe. This must be owing to the growth of Presbyterianism. The blasphemy and absurdity of the five points of Calvin, and the impossibility of defending them, render their advocates impatient of reasoning, irritable, and prone to denunciation.
In our village of Charlottesville, there is a good degree of religion, with a small spice only of fanaticism. We have four sects [Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian]...and all mix in society with perfect harmony. It is not so in the districts where Presbyterianism prevails undividedly. Their ambition and tyranny would tolerate no rival if they had power. Systematical in grasping at an ascendancy over all other sects, they aim, like the Jesuits, at engrossing the education of the country, are hostile to every institution which they do not direct, and jealous at seeing others begin to attend at all to that object.

Letter to Dr. Cooper, Nov. 2, 1822

The Improvement of the Human Mind

The Gothic idea that we are to look backwards instead of forwards for the improvement of the human mind, and to recur to the annals of our ancestors for what is most perfect in government, in religion and in learning, is worthy of those bigots in religion & government, by whom it has been recommended, & whose purposes it would answer. But it is not an idea which this country will endure.

Letter to Joseph Priestly, January 27, 1800