News / USA

Jefferson Bible Sparks Religion Debate in America

Jefferson's Bible Sparks Debate over Religion in Americai
X
May 02, 2013 10:23 PM
America's founding fathers broke with the tradition of state-sponsored religion when they separated church and state in the new republic. But religion continues to divide Americans, and one of the key disagreements is over what the early leaders themselves believed. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports on a daring experiment by Thomas Jefferson.
— America's founding fathers broke with the tradition of state-sponsored religion when they separated church and state in the new republic. But religion continues to divide Americans, and one of the key disagreements is over what the early leaders themselves believed.

In the final years of his life, former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson took a knife and cut up the Gospels, holy scripture to Christians.

"Even though he realizes as Republican party leader, that this would be a very controversial act," noted Harry Rubenstein of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, who led the project to restore the book that the third U.S. president created out of what he saved.

The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, or The Jefferson Bible as it's known today, left out the Resurrection and other miracles. Rubenstein says that's because Jefferson wanted to highlight Jesus' moral teachings.

"I think in one sense this is a larger project that he has been thinking about along with his colleagues and very close companions: what should be the moral basis of the new nation," he said.

Earlier this year, Luis Granados of the American Humanist Association published a version and sent it to lawmakers.

"There's some great wisdom in there, and we think members of Congress would be well advised to spend a few hours sitting around thinking about that - and at the same time well advised to recognize that there's some other stuff in there that's maybe not so good," he said.

He said Jefferson wasn't the only iconoclast. George Washington prayed but refused communion, while author Thomas Paine called religions "human inventions."

Thomas Jefferson was inspired by George Mason's views on freedom of conscience and the founding fathers are generally seen as Enlightenment rationalists. But the Christian right - which considers America's founding to be part of God's plan - insists their religious convictions were rock solid, for the most part.

Texas pastor Mark Collins dresses up as George Washington and makes appearances at churches and religious events. He said Jefferson cut up the Bible during a crisis of faith.

"You know, we go through seasons, and we make mistakes and sometimes we get angry at God," said Collins.

At the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, an inscription quotes the president saying, "all men shall be free to profess... their opinions in matters of religion." 

Lindsey Lange, a visitor, said the founding fathers believed in pluralism.

"I believe that they were mostly open to all religions, and that's why people were coming here to the United States, escaping oppression in other countries," said Lange.

Another visitor, Elisha Troyer, agreed partly. "But I do believe with them having the Christian values that they are more on the Christian faith," she said.

Jefferson was the great thinker of America's early presidents. And he only meant to share his more radical thoughts with close friends, fearing they could stir controversy for generations to come.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid