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

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid