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Friday, August 10, 2012

The Thomas Jefferson Hour

The Thomas Jefferson Hour:

Re Barton's book a quote:

"A well-known letter to Benjamin Rush perfectly illustrates Barton's method. Jefferson wrote, "I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other." When Barton reads this passage he fixates on the word "Christian." Jefferson tells a fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence that "I am a Christian." When any fair-minded reader sees this passage s/he focuses on the phrases, "attached to his doctrines," "every human excellence," and "never claiming any other." In other words, what Jefferson is actually saying to Rush is something like the following. "I'm more of a 'Christian' than the so-called 'Christians,' because I understand, as they don't, that Jesus was only a man, albeit a very great ethical teacher, and I subscribe to his teachings rather than the aura of divinity that has been imposed on him. Nor do I think Jesus himself believed himself the son of God or a member of the Trinity. Since this is what is truly meant by 'Christian,' I can more justly call myself a 'Christian' than the irrationalists who believe things that a rational being must reject." Barton regards Jefferson's letter to Rush as a confession of Christianity; but what Jefferson meant was that he was an admirer of Jesus the man and ethical reformer, and that he resented that so-called "Christians" had hijacked the man and his message. In a late letter Jefferson distinguished the kind of Christianity he wished to promote (rational, demystified, simple, natural) from the Platonized, encrusted thing he now called "nicknamed Christianity.""
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