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Response to former9thward (Reply #37)

Sat Jan 14, 2012, 03:44 AM

45. Here is what Jefferson said -- his own wordsd:

Monticello Aug. 22.13.

Dear Sir (addressing John Adams):

. . . .

Your approbation of my outline to Dr. Priestly is a great gratification to me; and I very much suspect that if thinking men would have the courage to think for themselves, and to speak what they think, it would be found they do not differ in religious opinions, as much as is supposed. I remember to have heard Dr. Priestly say that if all England would candidly examine themselves, and confess, they would find that Unitarianism was the religion of all: And I observe a bill is now depending in parliament for the relief of Anti-Trinitarians. It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, and one is three; and yet the one is not three, and the three are not one: to divide mankind by a single letter into [Jefferson wrote two Greek words for which I do not have the alphabet] ("consubstantialists and like-substantialists". But this constitutes the craft, power and profit of the priests. Sweep away their gossamer fabrics of factitious religion, and they would catch no more flies. We should all then, like the quakers, live without an order of priests, moralise [sic] for ourselves, follow the oracle of conscience, and say nothing about what no man can understand, nor therefore believe; for I suppose belief to be the assent of the mind to an intelligible proposition."

. . . .

You are right in supposing, in one of yours, that I had not read much of Priestley's Predestination, his No-soul system, or his controversy with Horsley. But I have read his Corruptions of Christianity, and Early Opinions of Jesus, over and over again; and I rest on them, and on Middleton's writings, especially his letters from Rome, and to Waterland, as the basis of my own faith. These writings have never been answered, nor can be answered, by quoting historical proofs, as they have none. For these facts therefore I cling to their learning, so much superior to my own.

The Adams-Jefferson Letters, The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams edited by Lester J. Cappon, 1959, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, page 368-69.

As for Rev. Conyers Middleton

Middleton (1683-1750) was a Fellow of Trinity, Cambridge, and a Church of England clergyman described by Leslie Stephen as a "covert" enemy of Christianity and "one of the few divines who can fairly be accused of conscious insincerity". Despite this interesting judgment, Middleton's is not a well-known name. Indeed, he has been largely forgotten. This should now be corrected. In an essay, published for the first time in the collection History and the Enlightenment (Yale, 30), Hugh Trevor-Roper establishes his importance in the history of intellectual doubt, and demonstrates his influence on Gibbon and two generations later on Macaulay. A man who mattered so much to our two greatest historians deserves to be rescued from oblivion. His career was admittedly unsatisfying. Despite the patronage of Sir Robert Walpole, he never secured the preferment in the Church that he repeatedly sought. His opinions were regarded as subversive, even heretical.

Middleton's hero was Cicero, whose attitude to religion, expressed in the work De Natura Deorum, was founded in reason. That was Middleton's own position. Meanwhile, he discovered that, as Trevor-Roper puts it, "those ceremonies and forms of Catholic devotion which Protestants regarded as idolatrous were identical with, and copied from, and continuous with, those of pagan Rome." This conclusion might be regarded as a stout defence of Protestantism and the position of the Church of England.

Middleton, however, was not content to stop there. He proceeded over the last 30 years of his life to assail the Christian citadel and undermine its defences. There were three stout bastions: the Word of God as revealed to Moses and recorded in the first five books of the Old Testament; the miracles wrought by Christ and the Fathers of the early Church, which proved that the Christian Church embodied the fulfilment of the Divine Plan for mankind; and the prophecies which prepared the way for the coming of Christ.

. . . .


Jefferson may have been a member of the Anglican church, but his beliefs, his thinking were not at all Christian. He was a deist, a free-thinker and although not formally a member of the Unitarian religion, very much a Unitarian in his thought. The Jefferson Bible, if you are not familiar with it, omits the miracles and a lot of other material that Jefferson did not believe.

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