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Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President Paperback – July 28, 2012
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About the Author
Warren Throckmorton is Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at Grove City College. He co-founded the Golden Rule Pledge, an anti-bullying initiative and is co-author or the Sexual Identity Therapy Framework. Michael Coulter is Professor of Humanities and Political Science at Grove City College. He is co-editor of the Catholic Encyclopedia of Social Thought, Social Science and Social Policy.
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Bruce Braden, Editor of "Ye Will Say I Am No Christian: The Thomas Jefferson/John Adams Correspondence on Religion, Morals, and Values."
I no longer am. Here's why.
Mr. Barton recently came out with a book entitled The Jefferson Lies (TJL). It purportedly deals with modern liberal historical revisionists who have sought to remake Jefferson in their own image. But shortly after its release, a group of Christian historians led by Thomas Kidd openly questioned Barton's methodology. Just a few weeks later, the publisher of TJL, Thomas Nelson, officially disassociated itself with the book.
For a publishing company to do this speaks volumes (no pun intended). It is their way of saying that they consider the book in question to be either fraudulent, dishonest, sloppily researched, or all three.
It was then that I came across Getting Jefferson Right (GJR), which is authored by two historians who profess to be evangelical Christians. In this little book, they take David Barton to task for GJR, as well as citing some of his misleading statements in speeches and earlier works. They show how Barton misconstrues facts (taking Jefferson's statement "I am a Christian" wildly out of context), and uses logical fallacies galore (one of the most obvious being the title to his seventh chapter: "Lie #7: Thomas Jefferson Was an Atheist and Not a Christian," a classic usage of the false dilemma).
But there is far more: as anyone familiar with Barton's work knows, he has often claimed that Jefferson signed legislation that sent federal funds towards evangelizing the Indians. For one intent on proving America's Christian heritage--as many of Barton's readers are--it is a seductive claim. However, the facts do not add up. The truth is that the legislation in question had to do with a decades-old dispute: land had been given to Indians who had previously been evangelized, and was then taken away from them. GJR shows that what Jefferson signed into law was merely the latest attempt to settle a very complicated matter of whether these Christian Indians had a right to their land. Nothing more, nothing less.
Furthermore, when the authors of GJR examine Jefferson's writings, there is no evidence suggesting that he had any interest in evangelizing the Indians. If anything, GJR finds that Jefferson wanted to "civilize" the Indians via Aesop's Fables.
At the heart of the book, though, is an examination of what has been called "The Jefferson Bible."
Barton has claimed that Jefferson simply put the statements of Christ in more or less chronological order. However, GJR reveals Jefferson's outright hostility to orthodox Christianity: he denied the deity, Virgin Birth, miracles, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Our third president literally took scissors to the pages of Scripture which promoted these doctrines which are so essential to the Christian faith. He further claimed that the Apostle Paul distorted Christ's teachings, and that the Gospels were corrupted. More than once, GJR quotes Jefferson as saying that discerning the actual sayings of Christ from the corruptions was as easy as distinguishing "diamonds from dunghills." This latter claim is especially blasphemous, and to my knowledge it is conspicuously absent from any of Barton's treatments of Jefferson.
Finally, crucial passages like chapters 3 and 17 of John, which prove Christ's divine nature, were not included in Jefferson's Bible. Thus, Barton's claim that Jefferson included all of Christ's statements in his "Jefferson Bible" is debunked.
Imagine a modern president saying and doing what Jefferson did: he/she would be castigated as a blasphemer, and would never be given a serious chance of being re-elected. And yet, as the authors of GJR note, Thomas Jefferson said and did these very things.
In all of this, there is both irony and tragedy. The irony is that many Christian "leaders" continue to cite Jefferson as one of the Founding Fathers who promoted (if not personally embraced) Christianity. The tragedy is that this myth, which has been brutally exposed in GJR, is being propagated by men like David Barton, who have strong followings in evangelical America.
Were there Christians among the Founding Fathers? Certainly. Men like George Washington, Benjamin Rush, Patrick Henry, and John Jay certainly apply. But in no way could Thomas Jefferson possibly be numbered among them, as GJR makes plain.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough for those who want to honestly examine what Thomas Jefferson truly believed.
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