Modern conservatives who can’t bear to think that the Declaration of Independence was written by a Bible-defacer have spread the rumor that Thomas Jefferson created his own Bible as an ethical guide to civilize American Indians. The so-called ‘Jefferson Bible’ was really a tool to introduce the teachings of Jesus to the Indians,” declared Rev. D. James Kennedy. Actually, Jefferson’s editing of the Bible flowed directly from a well-thought out, long-stewing view that Christianity had been fundamentally corrupted -by the Apostle Paul, the early church, the great Protestant reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, and by nearly the entire clerical class for more than a millennium. Secularists love to point to the Jefferson Bible as evidence of his heathen nature; but that misses the point, too. Jefferson was driven to edit the Bible the way a parent whose child was kidnapped is driven to find the culprit. Jefferson loved Jesus and was attempting to rescue him.
I’ve been enjoying HBO’s John Adams, and then the other day Steven Waldman, the founder of Belief.net, was on Fresh Air, promoting his book Founding Faith. Waldman emphasizes that religion was a part of revolutionary culture, but that the writers of the declaration of independence and the constitution were scrupulous about keeping Christianity out of their government.
Waldman’s main point is that Adams and Jefferson and the rest had 150 years of experience with religious intolerance, especially against Catholics and Jews, and that they did not want the national government to repeat these mistakes. Interestingly, Waldman says, like much of the Constitution, this was a compromise; the states were free to support religion. This wasn’t corrected until the 14th amendment.