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Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson (Library of Religious Biography) Paperback – January 3, 1996

4.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This timely reminder of Jefferson's lifelong commitment to religious liberty is also a clearly written account of the origins and context of the commitment. At the same time, it is a rich introduction to Jefferson's life and work, with some attention to the contradictions that abounded in the life of a champion of liberty who was also a southern slaveholder. Gaustad's concluding quotation from an early biographer of Jefferson is a good summary of the importance of his subject: "If Jefferson was wrong, America is wrong." This book is a valuable contribution to reflection on both possibilities. Steve Schroeder

Review

American Historical Review "A thorough treatment of Jefferson's thinking on religious freedom as well as his private testaments of faith." Booklist "This timely reminder of Jefferson's lifelong commitment to religious liberty is also a clearly written account of the origins and context of the commitment. . . A rich introduction to Jefferson's life and work. . . A valuable contribution to reflection on both possibilities." Cathedral Age "An unusually interesting, useful book to have at hand during an election year when the debate on church/state issues is likely to generate much heat and little light." Catholic News Service "A well informed and astute analysis of what led the famed statesman to be a strong, unyielding proponent of religious liberty." CBA Bookstore Journal "Worthwhile reading for people interested in the religious ideals of America's founders." Christian Century "Written for a literate, nonscholarly audience, this book gracefully displays the lifetime of thought Gaustad has devoted to its main themes." Church History "A highly readable survey of the life of Thomas Jefferson, focusing upon the religious views of the sage of Monticello. . . Gaustad offers a fair and complete picture of Jefferson's thoughts on religion by drawing upon his extensive correspondence with friends and acquaintances." Journal of American History "His 'religious biography' of Jefferson is more than that it is an intellectual excursion through Jefferson's writings, with particular attention to his views on churches, the clergy, the Bible, and the tension between reason and mysticism. Particularly rewarding are Gaustad's analysis of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, his explanation of the importance of Joseph Preistley in Jefferson's view of Christianity, and his lucid summary of 'The Jefferson Bible." Journal of Church & State "Splendid work. . . Gaustad is respected among American historians for various reasons, not the least of which is his almost uncanny ability to step inside the framework of those about whom he writes. Reading Gaustad's work on Jefferson is like taking a journey inside the head and heart of one of our country's most complex and fruitful thinkers." Journal of Southern History ""Sworn on the Altar of God"is lively and well written, exactly what one has come to expect from any Gaustad volume. As such, it is a fine addition to Eerdman's excellent Library of Religious Biography series. It provides a judicious scan of the pertinent documents and gently imposes an orderliness to them that any read unfamiliar with the subject will welcome." Princeton Seminary Bulletin "Once again Edwin S. Gaustad has demonstrated that first-rate scholarship and sparkling prose can live together happily in the same book. . . Gaustad has produced in"Sworn on the Altar of God"one of those gems increasingly rare in scholarly publishing: a volume equally valuable to specialists and to beginning students of American religion alike." Publishers Weekly "A fine starting point for studying religion in America. . . By bringing Jefferson's intellectual passion to life, Gaustad has demonstrated the key role religion played in the founding of the nation." The Covenant Quarterly "This excellent volume provides important insights into some of the vital issues of religion in American society. It also gives a balanced, engaging, clearly written portrayal of a most fascinating American leader. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in exploring the foundations and implications of the 'American experiment." The New York Times "Anyone who wants to understand how and why separation of church and state became a basic American principle should read"Sworn on the Altar of God."""
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Product Details

  • Series: Library of Religious Biography
  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; First Edition edition (January 3, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802801560
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802801562
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #257,491 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Recent debate between religious and political groups have constantly referred to the phrase "separation of church and state." This clause deserves special distinction because it is the most famous constitutional language to never appear in the constitution. Jefferson wrote it to a group of Danbury Baptists in the 1790s well after the Constitution was written. In this new book Gaustad clears up this and other misconceptions about Jefferson's religious life and presents him as the greatest fighter for religious liberty the country has ever known.
What was the Virginia Statute For Religious Freedom, and how did it set the mode for Western Civilization Church and State Relations? What were Jefferson's beliefs on the deity of Jesus Christ? Was Jefferson against Christian expansion? Did Jefferson really rewrite the New Testament in "The Jefferson Bible?" These are questions that every historian, and many non-academic lovers of history
have been asking about the third president of the United States. More than any other founding father, Jefferson is noted for his role in the relationship between religion and government.
Gaustad chronicles Jefferson's religious life from age 14 to his death in a language that will satisfy scholars and non scholars alike. A must read for all those interested in Thomas Jefferson.
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This book is an excellent compliement to Charles Sanford's "The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson." Whereas Sanford does a scholarly review of the content of Jefferson's religious ideas, Gaustad in this book gives the narrative and context for how Jefferson applied his ideas concerning religion and religious freedom. Most interesting to me in the Gaustad book were the accounts of the political fights Jefferson and Madison waged for religious freedom during the early years of the Republic. Gaustad filled in the historical gaps and gave me context for understanding how momentous the struggle truly was. Also brought to life by Gaustad are the correspondences between the aged ex-presidents Jefferson and Adams about God and religion. I highly recommend this book to those interested in the history of ideas and freedom of thought.
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Great book, but I have a big problem with page 211 where the author tries to say Jefferson would prefer even a corrupted or perverted Christianity as it is than no Christianity and that he was concerned also about there being no religion citing a letter I can't find, not even including the exact quote...So let me destroy this error: 1987 letter to Peter Carr Jefferson says question with boldness the existence of a god and don't be frightened if your searching leads to the belief that there is no god, in more than one letter he observes the high morality of atheists like Diderot and claims morality does not then come from mere love of God, in an 1823 letter to John Adams he says no god is better than Calvin's god and he regularly calls the biblical god a monster and calls it a demon which atheism is better than in a 1789 letter responding to Price's letter about the harms of religion, in another letter, 1817, to Adams he says this indeed would be the best of all possible worlds if there was no religion in it if by religion we mean sectarian dogmas (which IS religion) AS OPPOSED to innate morality which we all basically agree on, in another letter to Carey in 1816 he clearly separates, again, moral principles from dogmas which people have forever been killing each other over. So there, Otherwise great book.
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Format: Paperback
Thomas Jefferson's thinking hovers over many of today's debates regarding separation of church and state, school prayer, the place of public education, and the place of faith in our own lives.
This is an excellent exploration of the complexities of Jefferson's beliefs and the even more complex world of how his writings and thoughts continue to impact America today.
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