Thomas Jefferson 

Three of Six The Problem
Sister Heresy Then and Now
The Face of God Church Government
All Paths He Says
Mary in the Koran Post-Modernism
David Barton Et Tu
Desire of Nations Restoration

Three of Six

"Three of the first six American presidents were Unitarian, and I'm pretty proud of the country that we helped build." (DVD 'Voices of a Liberal Faith, produced by the Unitarian Universalists, 5:13.)

My 'welcome' DVD from the Unitarian Universalists explains that three of the first six Presidents (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams) were unitarians. I'd give more detailed credit for this DVD, were it not that the credits take almost as much space as the movie. Whether this is a 'UU' thing, I can't say. (In the mid-twentieth century, two declining denominations, the Unitarians and the Universalists, joined forces hoping to retard further membership erosion.) Three out of the first six presidents is a remarkable achievement for a small denomination. While one can't quarrel with the Supreme Court's evaluation in Abington School District v. Schempp that,

"The fact that the Founding Fathers believed devotedly that there was a God and that the unalienable rights of man were rooted in Him is clearly evidenced in their writings, from the Mayflower Compact to the Constitution itself." (Abington School District v. Schempp).

. . . still and all, this God is not in all cases the Christian God. Certainly, by his own testimony, Thomas Jefferson was a full-blooded unitarian; he even likens the Christian trinity to the mythological pagan dog Cerberus:

  • “No historical fact is better established than that the doctrine of one god, pure and uncompounded was that of the early ages of Christianity; and was among the efficacious doctrines which gave it triumph over the polytheism of the ancients, sickened with the absurdities of their own theology. Nor was the unity of the supreme being ousted from the Christian creed by the force of reason, but by the sword of civil government wielded at the will of the fanatic Athanasius. The hocus-pocus phantasm of a god like another Cerberus with one body and three heads had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs.”
  • (Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, in a letter of 8 December 1822, to James Smith, quoted at

Thomas Jefferson
Letter to Benjamin Waterhouse

Usually likening the Christian trinity to the pagan mythological dog Cerberus is a 'tell' for unitarianism, because the likeness is strange, uncouth, outlandish, bizarre, and irredeemably pagan. Inasmuch as the three-headed dog Cerberus, who guarded the entrance of Hades, is conceded by all not to exist, his utility as a natural analogy for the trinity is not apparent, though one popular author, William Lane Craig, does not reject it. It is apparent from this quotation the Thomas Jefferson, our third president, did not believe the trinity to be the living God, nor the God of the Bible, nor the God of primitive Christianity, but rather an invented monstrosity.

Some people are under the mistaken impression religious liberty has something to do with avoiding denigration of other people's religious beliefs, for instance: "The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation." (Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Obama administration disavows Cairo 'apology', September 12, 2012, Politico).

"Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others." (President Barack Obama, Politico).

Thomas Jefferson's readiness to denigrate trinitarians' religious beliefs by talking about 'three gods,' three-headed monsters and the like, should put this misimpression to bed. In championing religious liberty, Thomas Jefferson sought the freedom to denigrate.

In this same letter, Thomas Jefferson confidently predicts the triumph of unitarianism:

"The pure and simply unity of the creator of the universe is now all but ascendant in the Eastern states; it is dawning in the West, and advancing towards the South; and I confidently expect that the present generation will see Unitarianism become the general religion of the United states. The Eastern presses are giving us many excellent pieces on the subject, and Priestley's learned writings on it are, or should be in every hand." (Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Smith of December 8, 1822).

This, however, did not happen. The unitarian wave crested and broke. . .and then receded, leaving no part of the country, not even the northeast, majority unitarian. Why did this not happen? Why did Joseph Priestley's "learned writings" fail to convince? Well, there's a problem.

The Problem

Unitarians want it understood that Jesus Christ was a mere man, who never claimed to be any other than a mere man. So there is an obstacle that lies in their way: the Bible.

Jesus Christ is God!

Jesus Christ is God!

The Son is God.

Your Throne, O God The Work of Your Hands Let Angels Worship
True God Express Image Visible and Invisible
For Himself Son of God Kiss the Son
A Son is born Honor the Son Only-begotten God
Pantocrator Believe on the Son Only Savior
The Dead were Judged Everlasting to Everlasting

Jesus is Jehovah.

A Voice Crying Temple Visitor Stone of Stumbling
The Rock of Israel The First and the Last Lord of all
The LORD our Righteousness Holy, holy, holy Captivity Captive
House of David Answered prayers With all His saints
Israel's Savior Giver of Life Every Knee Shall Bow
Pastoral Supply I send you prophets Who forgives sin
I am He He is Lord Call upon the Name
Doxology God with Us Lawgiver
Great Shepherd You Only Lawful worship
Builder I AM THAT I AM Moses' Veil
Wine Press Lord Willing Secret Things
Boasting Excluded King of Israel Fount of Living Waters
Searches the Heart Till Death Do us Part Angel of the LORD
Take Refuge Has Reigned On His Forehead
Me Whom they have Pierced Stretched Out My Hands Head
Keeper of Israel The Amen

Jesus Christ is God.

The Eyes of the Blind Thought it not Robbery Eternally Blessed God
Fulness of the Godhead Great God and Savior Faith in Him
Redeemed King of Kings Spirit of Christ
Destroyed by Serpents Lord of Glory Renewed in the Image
New Jerusalem's Lamp Now is Christ risen Upholding all Things
Light to the Gentiles My Companion Miracles
Prosecutors' Indictment Sun of Righteousness Thirty Pieces
Testator's Death Author of Life The Blood of God
My Lord and My God One Mystery of godliness
God was in Christ The Word was God Shared Glory
Omniscience Omnipotence Omnipresence
Change Not Yesterday, Today and Forever Whose Hand?
Not of Man Receive my Spirit Believe in God
Only Holy Sole Proprietor Priests
Walk on the Water

The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, William Holman Hunt
The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, William Holman Hunt

  • “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.
    Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
  • “And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:
    They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;
    And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”
  • (Hebrews 1:8-12).

Sister Heresy

A sister heresy, but one far more bullet-proof against the Bible, is the Arian heresy, which does not deny, as do the Unitarians, that Jesus pre-existed His incarnation. The number of 'problem' texts this creates is huge. Joseph Priestley, Thomas Jefferson's Philadelphia pastor, might find it possible to 'explain' the prologue to John as John's effort to rule out any possible idea that anyone might form that Jesus had pre-existed His incarnation as the Logos, however there were precious few who could follow him in this approach. Priestley himself commended adopting the "plainest and most obvious sense of the Scriptures," but then offered naught but strained and incredible ones of the 'pre-existence' texts:

"Do not think that, by recommending the use of reason, I am about to decry the Scriptures. My appeal shall be to both, upon every subject on which I address you; and I think you cannot but see that the plainest and most obvious sense of the Scriptures is in favor of those doctrines which are most agreeable to reason. A good man will rejoice to see them thus go hand in hand, mutually illustrating and enforcing one another." (Joseph Priestley, p. 7, An Appeal to the Serious and Candid Professors of Christianity, by Dr. Joseph Priestley.)

The Vineyard Without beginning of days
From Everlasting Same Yesterday, Today and Forever
Behold, I come With the Father
Eternal Life Son of God
By Him all things were created In the Beginning
Thy throne Mind in Christ
Before me My Redeemer
First and Last Before Abraham was
Enduring Love Downward Mobility
Beginning Where He was before
Came down from Heaven In the Wilderness
Temple Vision The Firstborn
The Word Stands Forever From the Womb
At the Beginning of His way The Reproach of Christ
Root and Offspring Sons and Slaves
The Ending of the Sonship?


Then and Now

As historian David Barton points out, the Unitarian Universalists of the present day are not the unitarians of old. If you walk into a UU church of the present day, you are more likely to encounter a Wiccan or a Buddhist or an atheist before you ever find anyone willing to confess to being a Christian. But back in Jefferson's day, they were certain that they were the true Christians, whereas the trinitarians were pagan idolaters. He calls himself a "real Christian," in opposition to others who so self-identify:

  • “I too have made a wee little book, from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus. it is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. a more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen. It is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel, and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its Author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature.”
  • (Thomas Jefferson, letter to Charles Thomson, January 9, 1816, at

Today's Unitarian Universalists number many atheists and agnostics in their congregations, but Joseph Priestley's Philadelphia congregation was unlikely to include any such. Even in a later generation, Theodore Parker, a cradle Unitarian, says that he doesn't know any: "I think it is a very rare thing. I have never known an atheist. . .It would be a dreadful thing, the stark denial of a God." (Theodore Parker, Works of Theodore Parker, Kindle location 12477). It is unfair to accuse these early Unitarians even of Deism, because, unlike the Deists, they held God's revelation through the Bible in high esteem, and venerated the person and work of Jesus Christ. That certain atheists claim Thomas Jefferson as one of their own is just more atheist absurdity:

"It's Jefferson's birthday — that's why I have the convention then. He was our greatest atheist."
(Madalyn Murray O'Hair, quoted in William Murray, My Life Without God, p. 180).


The Deists, the true ones, could not find words strong enough to express their horror of atheism, which does not hinder the atheists from embracing them as soul brothers. Oddly enough, atheist Steven Pinker wrote a book celebrating the 'Enlightenment' savants, most of whom were Deists, revealing only at the end that Adolf Hitler, by his way of reckoning, was a Deist, too!: "Hitler himself was a deist. . ." (Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now, p. 65 of 146, Part III, Chapter 23). Perhaps like Groucho Marx, they are unwilling to be part of any club that would have them as a member.

Jefferson was somewhat to 'the left' of Priestley's Unitarian congregation, which he had attended, because he already realized that the Bible does not 'work' for Unitarianism; the Unitarians themselves would learn the same lesson in time, and there would come a parting of the ways: those who remained in the movement frankly did not care what the Bible taught. But to label him an 'atheist' makes as much sense as labelling Muslims as 'atheists,' because they also claim to revere Jesus' teaching and claim that it is misrepresented by all the documents which survive from antiquity. An atheist is not a 'person who does not believe in orthodox Christianity;' an atheist is a 'person who does not believe in God.'

Historically, Unitarianism in America proved to be a way-station on the road to outright godlessness; how many colleges adopted this heretical view in one generation, only to abandon faith altogether in the next? However, individual Unitarians can be fervent believers in a god. The nineteen Unitarian Muslim hijackers who crashed the airplanes they were piloting into the World Trade Center were not lukewarm secularists. In fact, what Muslims believe is very similar to what Thomas Jefferson believed; they too revere Jesus as a good man, but a mere man. They share his disdain for the trinity. So the atheists err in characterizing Thomas Jefferson as irreligious; he had a religion. It was, unfortunately, the wrong one.

John Toland
 Christianity Not Mysterious 

David Barton pitches his wares to the same people who will tell you that 'Allah' is not the same God as Christians worship. Indeed 'Allah' is as resolutely unipersonal as Thomas Jefferson's god. But one gets a free pass, because of the confusion and dust kicked up by sliding in 'secular' in place of 'orthodox.' Anti-trinitarians can be fervent and vehement in their views, as anyone who has encountered the Jehovah's Witnesses can tell you. While they cannot be accused of secularism or indifference to religion, they most definitely can be accused of heterodoxy and departure from the Bible standard, not to mention worshipping the wrong god. Thomas Jefferson was no atheist, but he was not on the Bible bus either. One can be 'religious' without being an evangelical Christian.

When it comes to questions of practical Christian ethics, a unitarian like Thomas Jefferson or an Arian like John Locke can be on the right track, at least to a certain distance. They are interested in the Bible, they do not mindlessly denigrate it, and in their own way they are followers of Jesus Christ. They read the same Bible we do, at least so long as they can resist the impulse to improve it, and they are influenced by Christianity and by the personality of its founder. Dealing with a complex, multi-layered figure like Jefferson, we should steer clear of both Scylla and Carybdis, neither villifying a man who did much good for us, for instance penning the American Declaration of Independence, but also not covering over the bad, that he was a slave-owner, and not one who kept his trousers buttoned. I don't personally believe we should never read anything written by a slave-holder; if that were the case, we would have to stop reading Cicero.

But still it's harmful and misleading for authors like David Barton to leave the impression that Jefferson was an evangelical Christian. Being wrong on the trinity is not a small or inconsequential error.

One must wonder why the atheists bother. Evidently even atheists don't like atheists, so in an effort to come up with a marketable product, they cast their net far and wide to gather in appealing and attractive theists whom they repackage as atheists. These renovated atheists include not only certain founding fathers but also the pagan philosopher Seneca. Whatever is the remedy for this foolishness, it is not to emulate the atheists by rebranding Jefferson as an orthodox evangelical Christian, which he also was not.

Even during his life-time Jefferson was assailed as a 'howling atheist,' mostly because of his extreme reserve in discussing his faith. Jefferson adopted a 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy over against the electorate in regard to his religious faith. He seems to have thought that people who merely asked him in a friendly way for his religious views were either one step away from applying the thumb-screws, or were even then applying them. It is natural for people to presume the worst when a man will not answer simple, friendly questions about his religion. It is impressive indeed that the Unitarian Universalists can lay claim to three of the first six American presidents; it would be even more impressive if the electorate had known accurately what these men believed before voting them into office.

American voters have always been willing to elect adherents of minority religions; President Dwight David Eisenhower was raised in the Jehovah's Witnesses; his mother remained a life-long member, though he was baptized a Presbyterian shortly before taking office. President Richard Nixon listed his religious affiliation as his saintly mother's 'Quakers,' though listeners to his White House tapes had to wonder why his vocabulary mirrored Abbie Hoffman's instead. Herbert Hoover was also a Quaker. Millard Fillmore and William Howard Taft complete the Unitarian Presidential tally. Serious Presidential contenders of minority religious affiliation include Adlai Stevenson, Unitarian Universalist from their 'wilder' period, Illinois Senator Charles Percy, a Christian Scientist, and Mitt Romney's father George, for a time the front-runner. Whether the voters would have gone for Jefferson had he been forthright in presenting them with his religious views,— he was not,— is an unanswered question of history.


Henry Ossawa Tanner, Mary

The Unitarians exploded with a bang early in the nineteenth century; their acolytes like Thomas Jefferson could even voice the hope they would become the majority. But they did not. So what happened? What happened is similar to what happened in the early church, only this time it was done right. No one can claim it was done right the first time; ill-informed persons, like the emperors Constantius and Valens, wielded improper influence, owing to excessive entanglement of church and state. But this time, in a thousand village churches, the unitarians and the trinitarians argued it out over the Bible ground. In a hundred thousand iterations, this debate always arrived at the same conclusion. The trinitarians won, and the unitarians were obliged to move off onto other ground. This they did, not because it had been their first choice, but because it was all that was left open to them. Those adherents who actually cared what the Bible said, coming to understand the unitarians were not what they had advertised themselves to be, retreated to an actual Bible-believing church.

The unitarians began by occupying the Bible high ground, but they could not hold the field. The clear-eyed Thomas Jefferson had already begun the evacuation of this turf; he is already aware that the letters of Paul simply don't 'work' for unitarians, and soon enough they would have to jettison John as well. He hoped to mine the 'diamonds,' freeing them from the 'dung-hill' into which they had fallen. Jefferson led from the front on this rout away from the Bible, though the others would ultimately catch up with him. You simply cannot defend these ideas in the face of the Bible. Ultimately even the unitarians did not believe that they were a Bible-believing church, and they stopped pretending that they were; they went on to other things. Jefferson's theme of freeing the prized diamonds from the dung-hill matrix in which they are embedded is the guiding idea of modern Bible criticism. An unbeliever discovers things he likes in the Bible: what joy! But then there are other things he does not like. So, he begins a process of mining, of separation: "The passages that point otherwise are so plainly in conflict with the general tone of the story that their apocryphal character is apparent at a glance." (H. L. Mencken, The Treatise on the Gods, Kindle location 2644). We remove the apocryphal material, and voila, our own Bible, a pure Bible: our own religion, made in our image, to our specifications.

People sometimes assert that apologetics can accomplish nothing, that people are simply born into a given faith and that's that, it's an immutable factor just like ethnicity. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you actually go out and ask people their confessional history, as the Pew organization does, the story they tell is quite different. There have been triumphs of apologetics in the past; the Jesuits brought Poland back from the brink of Socinian unitarianism, mostly by legitimate means of persuasion and argumentation. Once the Poles realized these new teachings were not Biblical, they wanted no part of them. And a similar triumph was won by the trinitarians in the newly liberated American commonwealth. The first generation of American unitarians claimed, and probably really believed, that they were the Bible-believers, that the trinitarians on the other hand were followers of the half-converted pagan, Emperor Constantine. The second generation could not be so naive, and were not. Theodore Parker, a unitarian of the second generation, already views the European 'higher critics' as fellow-travelers:

"This, also, is a well-founded complaint; the well-known dogmas of theology were never in worse repute; there was never so large a portion of the community in New England who were doubtful of the Trinity, of eternal damnation, of total depravity, of the atonement, of the Godhead of Jesus, of the miracles of the New Testament, and of the truth of every word of the Bible."

(Parker, Theodore. Works of Theodore Parker (Kindle Locations 4650-4652). The Perfect Library.)

They already realized that the only way their views were ever going to prevail, and their fellow citizens would join them in becoming "doubtful of the Trinity," would be if these same persons began to doubt "the truth of every word of the Bible." Now this is not what the first generation thought, or at least said they thought; they claimed they were Bible-believers. Hold on to your hat and wait for later developments; if you walk into a UU church today, you are as likely to be greeted by a self-professed Wiccan, Buddhist or atheist as anyone admitting to being a Christian. They have by this point admitted the worst things their detractors ever said of them! Can there be a triumph of apologetics so complete? From time to time an aspiring journalist, with no awareness of evangelical history, will pen a Newsweek article wondering why evangelicals do not understand their religion comes from Constantine, not the Bible. You really think they've never heard that before? And you really think that myth can be sustained against the Bible? Try explaining the prologue to John from a unitarian perspective, without hearing a well-deserved laugh from the audience.

Some people tend to classify Thomas Jefferson as a Deist because of the disparaging things he said about the Bible. The first generation of unitarians were not so disrespectful of holy writ. However, the true Deists tend to disparage, not only the Bible, but also the person and work of Jesus Christ, which Thomas Jefferson did not. And the second and third generations of American unitarians shared Jefferson's contempt for scripture. He was perhaps a bit more far-sighted than they. So it seems to me the best theological classification for Jefferson is 'unitarian.'

The Face of God

The blessed spend eternity basking in the presence of God. They see Him face to face. What will they see? A three-headed dog?:

Church Government

While Thomas Jefferson usually has very little of value to say on religion, on the topic of church governance, he had actually taken the trouble to inform himself. The government of the early church was democratic:

“Another plea for Episcopal government in Religion in England is its similarity to the political government by a king. No bishop, no king. This then with us is a plea for government by a presbytery which resembles republican government.

“The clergy have ever seen this. The bishops were always mere tools of the crown.

“The Presbyterian spirit is known to be so congenial with friendly liberty, that the patriots after the restoration finding that the humor of people was running too strongly to exalt the prerogative of the crown promoted the dissenting interest as a check a and balance, & thus was produced the Toleration Act.

“St. Peter gave the title of clergy to all god’s people till Pope Higinus & the succeeding prelates took it from them & appropriated it to priests only. . .

“Bishops were elected by the hands of the whole church. Ignatius (the most ancient of the extant fathers) writing to the Philadelphians says ‘that it belongs to them as to the church of god to choose a bishop.’. . .

“Cyprian, epist. 68. says ‘the people chiefly hath power either of choosing worthy or refusing unworthy bps the council of Nice contrary to the African churches exhorts them to choose orthodox bishops in the place of the dead.’. . .A modern bps to be moulded into a primitive one must be elected by the people, undiocest, unrevenued, unlorded. ”
(Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Religion, modernized orthography).

There is no requirement in the Christian faith that the state be governed in a manner harmonious with the church, but what is certain is that the church must be a self-governing democracy. Jefferson's 'Presbyterians' follow a somewhat weakened form of this principle, because John Calvin feared that pure democracy would produce 'tumult.' Certain extremists at the time of the English Civil War had convinced themselves that the Bible actually required them to kill their king, which they did, because Samuel had counselled,

"Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, and said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them. And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.

"And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive-yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.  And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day. Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles." (1 Samuel 8:4-20).

It is however extreme and one-sided to conclude the people must kill their king; was it really necessary to riddle the Tsar and his family with bullets? This English revolution was abortive; it ended, not with a new birth of freedom, but with Oliver Cromwell's military dictatorship. The oppressed and burdened people breathed a sigh of relief when they got their king back. Those looking for a Christian heritage for the American Revolution would do well to study the English Civil War, because many of the slogans popular at that time, like 'No King But Jesus,' were subsequently recycled for revolutionary use. Religious liberty has long been a theme popular with non-conformists and independents:

Isaac Backus
 An Appeal to the Public 
  for Religious Liberty  

Unlike atheists, scarce in that age as in this, these people, Baptists and the like, existed in such numbers as could not be ignored or overlooked by the politicians. Certainly it is better to find a Biblical heritage where there really is one to be found, rather than to look to Thomas Jefferson, a man who refined the Bible for his personal use by cutting out the parts he did not like. As the congregationalists realized, the original polity of the church was republican and democratic. Of course this constitutes no requirement that the state should also be so organized, but neither can it be wrenched into any deep-seated abhorrence for these institutions:

  • “‘For a bishop, since he is God's steward, must be blameless.’ [Titus 1:7]
  • “A presbyter and a bishop are the same; and before the urging of the devil gave rise to factionalism in religion, so much so that it was being said among the people, ‘I am of Paul, I of Apollo, I of Cephas,’ the churches were governed by a joint council of the presbyters. After it was seen that each, when he was baptized, thought that he now belonged to the one baptizing and not to Christ, it was decreed throughout the world that one chosen from among the presbyters should be placed over the others, and the total care of the church should pertain to him. Thus were the seeds of schisms destroyed. If it be supposed that it is merely our opinion and without scriptural support that bishop and presbyter are one, the latter term speaking of age while the former is the name given to an office, examine again the words the Apostle addressed to the Philippians:  ‘Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi with the bishops and the deacons, grace to you, and peace,’ etc. Now Philippi is but one city in Macedonia, and certainly in one city there could not have been numerous bishops. It is simply that at that time the same persons were called either bishops or presbyters.”
  • (Jerome, Commentaries on the Epistle to Titus, 1.5, quoted p. 194, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 2, William A. Jurgens).

All Paths

Thomas Jefferson wondered,

"Why require those things in order to ecclesiastical communion which Christ does not require in order to life eternal? How can that be the church of Christ which excludes such persons from its communion as he will one day receive into the kingdom of heaven." (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Religion).

No doubt. And whom will He welcome? Presumably not those who remain in their sins:

" I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." (John 8:24).

Unless you believe that I am he, who? A mere man? His worst enemies even conceded that He was a man. They did not, and do not, concede that He is who He claims to be.

He Says

The rubric used by the mainstream media in evaluating Christian claims is this: 'You are a Christian if you claim to be. If someone says you are not a Christian while you say you are, that person is a bigot.' Upholding this standard puts an end to any meaningful use of language. We do not commonly reason through the principle, 'All the claims a person makes about himself are true.' For instance, if you say, 'I am a kind and generous person,' and I retort, 'No, you are a mean and stingy person,' it is not self-evident that I speak as a 'bigot:' I may have meaningful evidence to present on this very point. We do not say, 'You say that you ran the marathon in less than three hours; perhaps you meant to say less than four hours, but don't worry, we can redefine "hour" so that your claim stands.' Of course we can redefine 'hour,' but why? Better to say, not all claims are accurate or supportable.

The 'evangelical church' is not one single organization, nor one theological view-point. However, a defining feature is adherence to the doctrine of the Trinity: the Jehovah's Witnesses are on the outside, why? Because they deny the trinity; they are Arians, as was the celebrated political philosopher John Locke. The Mormons are on the outside; why? Because they confess a plurality of gods: so far as anyone can understand their system, they imagine every solar system has its own god superintending, and they themselves hope to fill these plentiful job openings at some future date. But Glenn Beck, David Barton's friend and champion, is a Mormon. How can he be on the outside, when he loves Jesus so? So back we go to 'He says:' Thomas Jefferson is a Christian, no doubt, because he says that he is. Indeed he does, but so do the Christian atheists like Thomas Altizer. Unless 'Christian' is to be a word that means nothing, then the people who use it must be allowed to draw an inside and and outside. It is right and proper that politics is the realm of log-rolling and forming alliances between people of vastly differing convictions; it is depressing to think that people can no longer manage to do this without first convincing themselves these distinctions mean nothing. While it may seem harsh to sew the Christian tent too small to include the unitarians, these people themselves drew the same conclusion generations ago, and no longer call themselves 'Christians.'

Mary in the Koran

Thomas Jefferson did not believe in the virgin birth:

"The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. " (Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823, at

Even the Muslims believe Jesus was born to a virgin. Thomas Jefferson's Christology is not even as high as theirs. If she is not a virgin, she is what? A liar? And don't they love Jesus: they say 'Peace be Upon Him' whenever they mention His name. When will David Barton start telling us we must count them as brothers in the faith?

At least Jefferson lays a veil over the "mystical generation," Deist Lysander Spooner comes out and says what was on his mind: "But there is no ground for any pretense that he [Jesus] had a miraculous origin, unless he derived it in the particular manner related in the Bible; and in order to believe that he derived it in that manner, it is unnecessary to believe — what? Why, that Deity became physically a parent! (Luke i. 35). The verse is here simply referred to without being quoted; for it is fit ony to be recorded with some of the fabulous accounts of the Jupiter of the ancients." (Lysander Spooner, The Deists's Reply to the Alleged Supernatural Evidences of Christianity (1836), Chapter II, Nature and Character of Jesus).


Amongst the oppressed peoples of the world who the twentieth century saw stirring in revolt were the literary critics. Just as the domestic staff, the butler and foot-man, labored to serve the needs of another human being, so these underpaid and underappreciated minions struggled to understand another human being: the celebrated and entrancing author. But how in the world can you understand another human being? And why should one human being be placed in such a position of subservience to another that he spends his working life decoding the words and thoughts of another? It's downright degrading. No maid ever labored so hard scrubbing the filth deposited by her masters as did the literary critics who picked up the material deposited by James Joyce and tried to make sense of it.

And so they staged a revolt. No more servants tending the inflated ego of the pompous author-god, now they're on their own. It's all about them, now:

  • “The author is a modern figure, a product of our society insofar as, emerging from the Middle Ages with English empiricism, French rationalism and the personal faith of the Reformation, it discovered the prestige of the individual, of, as it is more nobly put, the 'human person'. It is thus logical that in literature it should be this positivism, the epitome and culmination of capitalist ideology, which has attached the greatest importance to the 'person' of the author. . .The Author is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father to his child. In complete contrast, the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing, is not the subject with the book as predicate; there is no other time than that of the enunciation and every text is eternally written here and now. . .We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single 'theological' meaning (the 'message' of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. . .Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile.”
  • (Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author).

Nations have, at times, gone through all the turmoil and drama of a revolution only to conclude, in the end, that far from entering into a new birth of liberty, they have exchanged one set of masters for another. The Russian people, disgusted with their long servitude to a worthless aristocracy, threw off that yoke. What filled the vacuum thence resulting were the 'Nomenklatura,' the new class of communist bureaucrats, who were not one whit less greedy and self-interested than their predecessors, but differed from them only in being less competent, less sympathetic and less interesting. And so they jettisoned, in their turn, the 'Nomenklatura,' the privileged communist elite. Modern readers cannot help but feel nostalgia for the deceased, departed 'author;' though a pompous, egotistical, self-inflated wind-bag to be sure, at least he sometimes made sense, which these newly ascendant literary critics, who have not only declared but achieved their independence, seldom do.

The story is told of a lady who attended a lecture by American pragmatist William James. She approached him afterwards to share her theory that the world rested upon the back of a giant turtle. 'And upon what does that turtle rest, Madam?' asked he. 'Upon another turtle,' she replied. 'And upon what does this next one rest, Madam?' the patient savant continued. A turtle, of course. The pragmatist continued plodding on in this manner until the victorious lady announced, 'It's no use, Mr. James. It's turtles all the way down!' As Roland Barthes explains in the text cited above, "the structure can be followed, 'run' (like the thread of a stocking) at every point and at every level, but there is nothing beneath. . ." The narrative rests, not upon the bed-rock of 'what actually happened,' but upon another narrative, which in its turn rests upon yet a third narrative. . .

Historical author David Barton is much exercised against the post-modernists. But he is caught in their web. Every American school-child has learned that the American revolution was made by a handful of Virginia squires gathered together in a back room. Because these men were slave-holders, we have grown disenchanted with our founding fathers. Instead of sharpening his tools to drill down through the inherited narrative to the bed-rock of actual reality which either underlies, or shifts and fails to support it, the post-modernist posits nothing but narrative, all the way down. Like the lady's turtles, one narrative rests upon another; there is no 'reality' down there at all. Although the jury may be forbidden by the judge's instructions from disallowing testimony against which no rebuttal has been brought, the post-modernist may believe whichever narrative he likes best. . .even the school-child's narrative, that a handful of Virginia squires made the American revolution. Two faces carved on Mount Rushmore, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, are the revolution. Now this narrative has begun to pall; modern readers dislike reviewing Jefferson's patronizing racist drivel, and it's painful to be reminded that American slave-owners got a harem in the bargain, along with a work force (even if the DNA evidence leaves open the possibility it could have been Randolph, his brother).

Manifestly we need a new narrative. Is it really so apparent that this once popular narrative, that the revolution was made by a handful of Virginia squires, has successfully drilled down to the bedrock of very reality? Or is it not manifestly absurd to suppose any revolution ever so made? Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, a wonderful achievement to be sure; as Diana Trilling said of Jean Harris, you either have this prose or you don't. But no history of the twentieth century will single out Peggy Noonan as the decisive figure, unless perhaps she goes on to be elected President in her own right. The Declaration was a clarion call to war; but its author was personally deaf to the bang of his own war-drums. Though not a pacifist like his Quaker friends, Thomas Jefferson never fired a shot in anger. . .at anybody. Molly Pitcher risked more of her own skin in defense of the revolution than did this man. Please note, I'm not finding fault: there was no military draft in that day, even the European despotisms were defended by professional/volunteer forces. Jefferson violated no law in failing to enlist; he evidently felt military matters were best left to specialists in the field. But is a man whose battle cry was 'See you later' the obvious choice for Mr. Revolution?

Benjamin Franklin expressed the mindset in his ditty, "The King's Own Regulars; and Their Triumphs over the Irregulars,"

"As they could not get before us, how could they look us in the face?
We took care they should not, by scampering away apace;
That they had not much to brag of, is a very plain case.
For if they beat us in the fight, we beat them in the race." (Angelic Music, by Corey Mead, p. 45).

Thomas Jefferson was a revolutionary fighter after the style of Franklin's hero; the enemy never had the opportunity of looking him in the face, because he was long gone.

If you plan to spend your vacation visiting the great revolutionary battle-fields of Virginia, please do not trouble to stuff your satchel with very much clothing and supplies. When General Cornwallis' troops advanced toward Charlottesville, the latest temporary capital not yet abandoned, did they find their path blocked by an embattled farmer, Thomas Jefferson, musket in hand? No, nothing hindered their progress, nor had for some time. Thomas Jefferson, at that time governor of the state, had skedaddled. Oddly for the Parent of our Liberties, he spent the ensuing months in private retirement at a farm (not Monticello, left abandoned). The Virginia legislature subsequently convened an inquiry, wondering at the swiftness with which Mr. Revolution had abandoned his duties. Nor had he reached out thereafter to restore any functional membrane of an underground state government network. Virginia was not the Kandahar province of the Americas. The angry mobs which blocked the path of the red-coats in Massachusetts were not much in evidence there. The fact that substantial portions of Massachusetts' populace opposed monarchy in principle on religious grounds probably played some role in this noticeable regional disparity. So what ever started the myth that Thomas Jefferson was a one-man revolution? From such intractable clay, how was a patriot hero forged? We were already practicing post-modernism the first time the story was told, much less the last; this is not a story that rests upon the bedrock of observed fact, it was willed into existence; people told the story because they liked it, not because it happened that way.

But after all, when we finish drilling down through successive turtles and narratives, what is left beneath all the myth-making is a kernel of real achievement. No doubt his authorship of the beautifully written Declaration along with his life-long advocacy for individual rights left the nation with a debt of gratitude to this man, and his subsequent election to the presidency cast a long backward shadow covering his rather thin and watery revolutionary resume. Why was he made into 'the' hero of the revolution? Some people elevated this man, no doubt, simply because they liked him. People do that. Modern-day atheists call themselves the 'brights,' implying that others are rather dim. Their predecessors called themselves the 'Enlightenment.' Their fingerprints are all over the French Revolution, with predictably horrific results. Despising Christianity, once they started killing, they could not stop; turning the other cheek was "sinking man into a spaniel," as Tom Paine famously said, so violence once unleashed becomes an avalanche. They would like to claim credit for the more successful American Revolution as well, but the causal nexus is difficult to trace. There were, patently, currents of thought stirring the land altogether outside their orbit. But they were a legitimate thread in the fabric: the pamphleteer Tom Paine was one of their guys, and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were somewhat under their influence; Jefferson had even read the skeptic David Hume. Ergo, Jefferson was the Revolution. Even if all the red-coats ever saw of him was the back fasteners of his suspenders.

The first draft of history involves identifying who the players are. Viewing an oil painting of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, who are the movers and shakers, versus the guys who are just standing around? Christian historians like David Barton, if they want to be helpful, should not just borrow this first draft from the secularists, unexamined and uncorrected. Is Thomas Jefferson really the guy? Or was that decided by people overly sympathetic to his heterodox religious viewpoint? Or by Confederate propagandists who wanted it understood that Virginia was the cradle of liberty? There is no doubt that Deist authors like Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen contributed to the Revolution; no one could deny this, and in fact I have included Ethan's Allen's manifesto in the Thriceholy library.

Ethan Allen
  Reason the Only  
  Oracle of Man  

But in the secular historical consensus, a Christian author like Isaac Backus, who wrote extensively on religious liberty and the separation of church and state, has been omitted altogether. Why? Unlike Ethan Allen, Isaac Backus actually found pew-sitters for his religion; he had a following. Unlike Thomas Jefferson, who had to lie about his religious convictions in order to win re-election to the presidency, Isaac Backus never lied to anyone about his beliefs. A place should be found for him in the narrative, just as a place is found for Ethan Allen. Christian historians would do a real service in restoring the lost Isaac Backuses of history to their proper places. If secular historians really do want to understand what happened and why it happened, as they claim, then their very stringent editing does them little honor. It is an article of faith for leftists that religion is always conservative: "The clergy repay this friendly recognition of their place in society by an almost unfailing devotion to the constituted authorities. . .Their prayers have always gone up for kings, not for rebels and reformers." (Treatise on the Gods, H. L. Mencken, Kindle location 370). As a principle of history it is of course demonstrably false; the most radical voices in Oliver Cromwell's England came from the most fervent Bible-thumpers. A world history with the Circumcelliones and the Levellers restored would be a better history by any standard, more closely resembling reality, not subjected to slashing editing in favor of an arbitrary ideal. Instead of reciting leftist cant, they should try to tell what really happened.

Benjamin Franklin, according to his autobiography, went through a Deist period, which he repudiated on pragmatic grounds: he discovered that free-thinkers are less likely to repay the money you invest in them. Virtues like thrift, hard work, and cleanliness were very important to this moralist, though they are not necessarily central to the Sermon on the Mount. Even realizing the inadequacies of Deism, he did not, however, rebound all the way to Christian orthodoxy:

"I had been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and, though I early absented myself from the public assemblies of the sect, Sunday being my studying day, I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and governed it by his providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter. These I esteemed the essentials of every religion; and being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all. . ." (Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, Kindle location 1344).

Is the concept that virtue will be rewarded really one of the essentials of all religions? What is virtue? Franklin, the product of a Christian upbringing, was naturally ashamed of vengeance, saying ". . .forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve." (Benjamin Franklin, Franklin's Autobiography (Eclectic English Classics) (Kindle Locations 1447-1448)). Why? Those who are the product of a pagan upbringing, like Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun, do not necessarily see vengeance as a negative: "Now when Attila saw his army was thrown into confusion by this event, he thought it best to encourage them by an extemporaneous address on this wise: '. . .For what is war but your usual custom? Or what is sweeter for a brave man than to seek revenge with his own hand? It is a right of nature to glut the soul with vengeance." (Attila, quoted by Jordanes, The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, p. 36). Attila was a religious man, he resorted to soothsayers. These solons of the American Revolution led sheltered lives; they simply could not quite fathom that not everyone shared their values, which are not natural to man but the views of a particular Teacher. And so they had no recourse but to demonize the native Americans, for not sharing their views as to which members of society should be considered as non-combatants, and therefore immune from harm. Everyone, you see, shares the same moral tenets. . .except for monsters and beasts. It would be more helpful to frankly acknowledge, 'We were taught to avoid vengeance. What credentials had the Teacher who so taught us? Have we good reason to follow him?'

In order to achieve his stated goal of "moral perfection," Franklin included an added rubric, Number 13, "Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates." (ibid., 1447). Like Thomas Jefferson, he intentionally patterned his life, to an extent, after that of Jesus of Nazareth. A better designation should be found for people like this than 'Deist,' a label they themselves did not acknowledge. Unlike Tom Paine and Ethan Allen, they were not in principle hostile to revealed religion. Nor did they dismiss Jesus as a mythological personage; however, acknowledging Him as a sound moral teacher, comparable to Socrates, is just about the lowest rung of the ladder. And so 'evangelicals' they certainly were not. Neither Franklin nor Jefferson ever trusted to the shed blood of Jesus Christ for salvation.

They and others did, however, seek to emulate His conduct, as Christians are exhorted to do:

"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed." (1 Peter 2:21-24).

The early Unitarians rather bizarrely persuaded themselves that the doctrine of Christ's deity interfered with believers' efforts to imitate Him, on grounds they would be discouraged to think they could imitate God and would thus abandon the struggle, though commanded in scripture. Their purported leader Himself explicitly counselled the imitation of God: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). Their concept, that lowering the bar would elicit greater effort, may have looked promising when Unitarianism was new, as any new movement lacks the ballast of a mass of nominal adherents.

Since Unitarians no longer commonly even identify themselves as Christians, is it not apparent this prediction has failed? In actual experience it is those who believe in the deity of Jesus Christ who will persevere in obeying His commands, not those who imagine Him to have been a mere man. Men like Franklin and Jefferson, who did not own Jesus as Savior but sought to some extent to imitate His conduct and follow His moral teachings, were in no way helping their cause by their unwillingness to believe He was who He said He was. Still, their interest in following Him, even from a distance, distinguishes them from the true Deists. Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister, defines the Christian church this way: ". . .and a Christian church, as I understand it, is a body of men and women united together in a common desire of religious excellence and with a common regard to Jesus of Nazareth, regarding him as the noblest example of morality and religion,— and the model, therefore, in this respect for us." (Theodore Parker, Works of Theodore Parker, Kindle location 298). I don't know what "religious excellence" is, but following Jesus as our example is a Unitarian kind of thing to say, not Deist.

Jefferson and his fellow Unitarians particularly disliked the theology of John Calvin:

"I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Dæmonism. if ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his five points is not the God whom you and I acknowlege and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a dæmon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin." (Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, 11 April 1823, Founders Online).

If Calvinism were Biblical, this would be additional testimony to Jefferson's departure from Biblical faith, along with his denial of miracles and the trinity. But since Calvinism is a man-made doctrine, it really gives no additional evidence and certainly does not establish his Deism. As is well known, Jefferson produced his own edition of the New Testament, with every miracle story carefully scissored out. Are miracles irrational or problematic, as he thought?

The bona fide Deists were theists who saw in the order of the universe testimony to its creation by an intelligent and beneficent being. They were capable of being quite censorious against the atheists who denied this self-evident truth. They did not think mortal existence was the end of our story, and they flattered themselves that they, even they, would enjoy the rewards of the blessed:

"I do not pretend to say that the virtuous will receive any peculiar rewards; for what other advantage can a being, excellent in its own nature, expect than to exist in a manner agreeable to the excellence of its constitution? I dare affirm, nevertheless, that they will be happy: because their Creator, the author of all justice, having given them sensibility, cannot have made them to be miserable; and as they have not abused their liberty on earth, they have not perverted the design of their creation by their own fault: yet, as they have suffered evils in his life, they will certainly be indemnified in another." (Jean Jacques Rousseau, Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar, Part III).

They differed from people like Jefferson in that they looked to reason alone to teach what is virtue and what is vice. They did not seek to imitate Jesus of Nazareth nor to follow His teachings. They did not necessarily even hold Him in high esteem. They shared the error of the Socinians in thinking He was a mere man, without drawing the anomalous conclusion the Socinians drew, or rather had inherited, that we should emulate His life. Jean Jacques Rousseau emulated no one but his own noble self: "I have only to consult myself concerning what I ought to do. All that I feel to be right, is right: whatever I feel to be wrong, is wrong." (Jean Jacques Rousseau, Profession of a Savoyard Vicar, Part III). The real Deists had their day, and showed the world what they could do; it was a horror show:


David Barton

David Barton's publisher, Thomas Nelson, has taken the extraordinary step of removing his latest book, 'The Jefferson Lies,' from the market. His project starts off well enough; he seems to realize that identifying Thomas Jefferson with the American Revolution so that the two fuse inextricably into one whole has become a public relations disaster, because Jefferson, that great Enlightenment mind, was a slave-owner and a racist:

  • “While displaying that slide, I often comment that it is unfortunate that the Founding Fathers were a collective group of racists, bigots, and slaveholders. Almost always I receive nods of sad affirmation from the students.
  • "I then ask them to identify which signers in the painting owned slaves. Everyone immediately points to Thomas Jefferson, but to date no one has ever pointed out a second example. They have been taught that the Founding Fathers were racists. They know that Jefferson owned slaves; apparently that is all that is necessary to prove that the rest of the fifty-six also owned slaves.”
  • (David Barton, The Jefferson Lies, p. xi.).

Bingo. Jefferson not only owned slaves, but made well-documented racist and patronizing remarks belittling African Americans. As the later Vice President of the Confederacy pointed out, the founders seem to have expected slavery to die out eventually: "The prevailing ideas entertained by him [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away." (Alexander Stephens, The Cornerstone Speech). Why they expected this hateful wrong to wither away is unclear, and in the event, it showed no tendency to do so. It is true that Jefferson did display humanitarian qualms; he aspired vaguely to emancipate the slaves eventually. . .and deport them all the next day. It is true that the Virginia gentry early on sought to end the slave trade, but, as their learned defender, the racist Confederate Robert Lewis Dabney, explains, the reason was not so much that they disliked slavery, as that they disliked Africans: "They deprecated the slave trade, because it was peopling their soil so largely with an inferior and savage race, incapable of union, instead of with civilized Englishmen." (Robert Lewis Dabney, Defense of Virginia and the South, Kindle location 647). Some people certainly did share Dabney's ill-tempered contempt for their neighbors, like the Solons of the seditious Confederacy who arose a generation later, but in the main the Founding Fathers seem rather to have cherished the fond hope that, once the slave trade was stopped as projected, slavery would ultimately fade away like the morning mist. It did not.

Modern Neoconfederates will often give Thomas Jefferson pride of place on their websites and pamphlets, and then will turn around and denounce the Northern abolitionists. . .because so many of them were Unitarians! Their own favorite founding father was certainly a Unitarian. Throughout Jefferson's lifetime and thereafter, Unitarianism was very much a minority faith in all parts of the country, including New England. It's not difficult to find abolitionist authors who are perfectly orthodox on the trinity.

Jefferson, the free-thinker, did not believe that all of humanity were descended from Adam and Eve, so that all men are one blood: "And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;. . ." (Acts 17:26). His 'scientific' estimate was that blacks were simply inferior to whites, and so the two races could never live together in harmony:

  • “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications. Will not a lover of natural history then, one who views the gradations in all the races of animals with the eye of philosophy, excuse an effort to keep those in the department of man as distinct as nature has formed them? This unfortunate difference of colour, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people. Many of their advocates, while they wish to vindicate the liberty of human nature, are anxious also to preserve its dignity and beauty. Some of these, embarrassed by the question 'What further is to be done with them?' join themselves in opposition with those who are actuated by sordid avarice only. Among the Romans emancipation required but one effort. The slave, when made free, might mix with, without staining the blood of his master. But with us a second is necessary, unknown to history. When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.”
  • (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, pp. 153-154).


All the way back to Africa, he ultimately decided. Not only unsure whether some of his fellow creatures were all that closely related, Jefferson also hated the God of the Bible, whom he caricatured as a three-headed mythological dog. Why not drop the loser already? There are other founders, other men in that picture, who are not an embarrassment; why not celebrate instead those for whom no apology is needed? Why not teach little children about Robert Carter III, who freed all his slaves, a role model who does not disappoint? Thomas Jefferson failed to free most of his slaves even at the time of his death, though not because he could not afford it.

People are not mistaken when they point out that Thomas Jefferson, and many of the other founders who owned slaves, were not really 'pro-slavery.' They could see clearly the evil in slavery and realized the system stands forever opposed to harmony and concord in social relations. But you can't call people 'abolitionists' who want to free the slaves, then immediately ship 'em off to Liberia. Abolitionists want to do away with slavery by liberating the slave. Once a man is free, is he not free to go where he chooses and do what he wants? What sort of freedom is it, if a man born in America cannot remain in America, his natal land?

The great Polish patriot Tadeusz Kosciuszko left a will in which he bequeathed his American assets to the freedom of the slaves, but Jefferson would have nothing to do with it. Kosciuszko was both a Polish patriot and an American patriot; he fought in the American Revolutionary War, and he also, after returning to Poland, tried to reform Polish serfdom, an institution distressingly similar to slavery. But Poland was gobbled up by its rapacious neighbors before the Poles could breathe much of the atmosphere as a free people.

Why is it that school-children cannot tell you the name of any abolitionist, while they can recite the names and biographies of noteworthy people who are guaranteed not to have been 'fanatics'. . .but whose failures and oversights really cannot be defended? Someone has made a choice here, someone has exercised editorial discretion, the first draft of history has been completed and handed to us, but perhaps renewed study would lead to a revision. Perhaps a rewrite is in order. Not, let us hope, a rewrite of the kind done by Jemar Tisby, a 'woke' historian whose guiding principle is that no white person ever does anything good, except for ulterior motives. This school of thought allows that the principle of interest convergence sometimes leads to the astonishing outcome that a white person does a good thing, but not to worry, they can 'explain' this unexpected occurrence consistent with the premise that white people are evil demons. A more balanced and open-minded history should look to the good where it is to be found, and to acknowledge the evil where it resides. America is not only the country where a section retained slavery until the Civil War, it is also the country that freed the slaves:

Some people assume that the titans of human history, the figures who tower over their compatriots, are simply given, in the same natural way that islands in the sea rise up over the waves. But this is not a given. People select their heroes, on the basis of a protocol of selective criteria. Some people like Thomas Jefferson very much. But not everybody. While indeed no one can take away from him that he drafted the Declaration of Independence, and that he served as this nation's third president, the only reason he is 'the guy' is because somebody wanted him to be. Do we all want that? Should we all want that? The Declaration is a marvel, but it is, one might say, a diamond in a dung-hill.

Wresting Thomas Jefferson into the prime mover of the American Revolution distorts our understanding of that event. If I had a nickel for every time someone's told me, 'America is not a democracy. America is a constitutional republic,' I'd be rich. They proceed to 'prove' this point by quoting Thomas Jefferson, whose driving concern was the rights of the individual versus the government, not how the office-holders who constitute the speaking mind of the government got to where they are at. In reply I wonder, what meaning can be attached to the slogan 'No taxation without representation' if it is not a demand for democracy? Dropping Jefferson and moving on would propel the ship of state past these eddies; or better yet, not dropping him, because his brilliant Declaration will live through the ages, rather demoting him to his proper, and more modest, place.

Why, after all, is it necessary to hold up secular politicians as heroes and demi-gods? Who started that tendency, if not the French Revolution? Fearing the populace would feel a sense of loss as the old gods died off and were dispatched by their efforts, the revolutionists wondered, who would be better suited to deification than their own sacred selves? And so they generously offered themselves as substitute gods, but needless to say, gods with feet of clay, whose apotheosis would require a considerable tolerance for fiction writing. Since this paradigm was not invented by Christians, why should they be the ones to dust it off and defend it now that it has fallen of its own weight?

A better way is needed to describe people who remain bound to the Christian orbit, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons and Joseph Priestley's Unitarians, but who cannot be counted as orthodox by evangelical Christians. Bundling these folks with atheists is admittedly absurd, of whom the Arian John Locke says, ". . .atheism being a crime, which, for its madness as well as guilt, ought to shut a man out of all sober and civil society. . ." (A Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity, &c. from Mr. Edward's Reflections). But sugar-coating or minimizing their deviations from Biblical teaching is equally undesirable. Thomas Jefferson did not believe that Jesus was who He said He was. In spite of his unbelief, he patterned his behavior after Jesus' teaching. But then, so do 'Christian atheists' like Thomas Altizer.

Anarchist abolitionist Lysander Spooner believed no other foundation was required to declare slavery unconstitutional than the phrase in the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson, that "all men are created equal." Thomas Jefferson evidently did not agree; he himsef held persons in bondage. What went awry here?

"Our courts would want no other authority than this truth, thus acknowledged, for setting at liberty any individual, other than one having negro blood, whom our governments, state or national, should assume to authorize another individual to enslave. Why then, do they not apply the same law in behalf of the African? Certainly not because it is not as much the law of his case, as of others. But it is simply because they will not. It is because the courts are parties to an understanding, prevailing among the white race, but expressed in no authentic constitutional form, that the negro may be deprived of his rights at the pleasure of avarice and power. And they carry out this unexpressed understanding in defiance of, and suffer it to prevail over, all our constitutional principles of government — all our authentic, avowed, open and fundamental law." (Lysander Spooner, The Unconstitutionality of Slavery, Declaration of Independence, p. 39).

While Spooner is somewhat of a crank, here he has a point. Touching on the point of race, where did Thomas Jefferson's principles, and those of his fellow planters, come from in this matter? The Bible? Did the Enlightenment rescue us from bondage to foolish principles, or did the Enlightenment itself forge our chains to error?:

Et Tu

What David Barton does is best categorized as 'special pleading;' this is bad to be sure, but into the same category of historical literature fall many eminent persons who have laid the foundations for entire fields, like Joseph Priestley, Thomas Jefferson's sometime pastor. This gentleman wrote a History of the Corruptions of Christianity which provided the framework for secular Jesus-study ever since. And his methodology makes David Barton seem a prince among historians. Socinian Unitarians,— those who deny the deity and pre-existence of Jesus Christ,— are present in the early church era, though quite sparse; for instance there is Theodotus the tanner. But this will not do, Joseph Priestley wants in understood that the entire early church, not just a few individuals, was Unitarian; and so adherents of an entirely different heresy are dragooned into the ranks, the Modalists. These men were actually Socinians, you see; it is only the calumnies of Tertullian and others that has ever misclassified them into their own distinct group:

"Praxeas the Montanist, and a man of genius and learning, against whom Tertullian writes, was an Unitarian, and so probably were many others of that sect." (Joseph Priestly, A History of the Corruptions of Christianity, Part One, History of Opinions Concerning Christ, Section V, p. 49).

"Both Noetus and Sabellius were charged by their adversaries with being Patripassians: but the Unitarians of that age asserting, as the Socinians now do, that all the divinity of the Son, was that of the Father residing in him, and acting by him, was sufficient to give a handle for that injurious representation of their opinion." (Joseph Priestly, A History of the Corruptions of Christianity, Part One, History of Opinions Concerning Christ, Section V, p. 50).

"That these ancient Unitarians, under all the names by which their adversaries thought proper to distinguish them, have been greatly misrepresented, is acknowledged by all who are candid among the moderns. The learned Beausobre, himself a Trinitarian, is satisfied that it was a zeal for the unity of God that actuated the Sabellians (who were no more than Unitarians under a particular denomination). Epiphanius says, that when a Sabellian met the orthodox, they would say, " My friends, do we believe one God or three?" (Joseph Priestly, A History of the Corruptions of Christianity, Part One, History of Opinions Concerning Christ, Section IV, p. 42).

Just like that, the whole lot are swept up into the fold of Socinians; the Sabellians were "no more than Unitarians under a particular denomination."

The English word 'person' translates the Latin persona and the Greek prosopon, and in addition serves as functional equivalent to the Greek hypostasis. Anti-Trinitarians always try to make the doctrine of the Trinity hinge upon some recondite, elusive and unfamiliar controversy, decided late or never decided at all. Most Christians, challenged as to the appropriate use of unfamiliar Greek terms, will demur to offer an opinion, because they do not know Greek. But on the simple points where Unitarians hop off the Bible bus: the deity of Jesus Christ and His eternal pre-existence,— modern believers join a solid phalanx of witnesses stretching back into antiquity, who affirm these two points and indignantly deny the Unitarian confession that Jesus is a "mere man." None of the early witnesses report more than a scattered few Socinian Unitarians at any time in the early church. Mr. Priestley's vast scholarship is junk history. Yet it was very influential; after the Unitarians, having lost the argument on the nature of God, were chased out of the churches, they found refuge in the only safe hiding place where they could escape embarrassment by Bible literate challengers, namely academia. They founded the modern secular scholarly 'Jesus' industry. It is assumed in this field today that Jesus never claimed to be God, that His followers promoted Him to this status, because of this junk history. Everything David Barton is justly chided for, Priestley also does.

While David Barton boasts of his resort to primary sources, his critics complain about his use of the quotations he mines there. I can confirm sloppiness, for instance, "In  fact, it was English Reformation clergyman Reverend Richard Hooker who first used the phrase during the reign of England's King Henry VIII, calling for a 'separation of. . .Church and Commonwealth,'" (David Barton, the Jefferson Lies, p. 120). But Richard Hooker never 'called for' the wall of separation. He was against it not for it, though indeed it is hard to see how anyone attached to a church founded because a fat guy wanted a divorce could fail to see the virtue in disestablishment.

Inventor Spin
Dominion Founding Fathers
Lost Liberty Madalyn Murray O'Hair
Encroachment Breach the Wall
Looming Threats Essential Church
Nay-Sayers Smith Act  
Pearls Before Swine

Religious minorities, such as the Unitarians, can be counted upon to agitate for religious liberty. Indeed, Christianity itself started its career in the world by agitating for religious liberty:

New Testament Early Church
Albigensian Crusade Waldensians
What Went Wrong? Canaan
Constantine No True Scotsman
Pagan Intolerance Atheist Mass Murder
Islam The Crusades
All or Nothing Iraq

Desire of Nations

Thomas Jefferson held Jesus of Nazareth in the highest respect, as a moral philosopher. . .only not as He was, an itinerant exorcist and faith healer who claimed to be God. So he cut-and-paste his own Gospel, 'The Life and Morals of Jesus,' with those embarrassing features eviscerated. Why do people do this? Why do the 'Jesus Seminar'-types do this to this day? Why must they re-invent a Jesus to their liking, when the real one as described in the historical documents does not suit? Because Jesus is the desire of nations:

"And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts." (Haggai 2:7).

All of humanity longs for Him, and all human history waits for Him. Still they should not pretend they are obeying any 'anti-supernaturalist' injunction when they do this. When the Detroit police investigator sat down across the table from Wallace D. Fard, he might well have steeled himself by saying, were he an anti-supernaturalist, 'I am an anti-supernaturalist. When this man claims to be God, I will not believe him.' What he cannot have said, without lapsing into megalomania, is 'I am an anti-supernaturalist. Therefore this man cannot say, "I am God."' Your personal opinions about the world place no constraint whatsoever on what another human being can say and do. If an atheist historian proposes to reopen the Father Divine case, and sort through Faithful Mary's sordid accusations, whatever our atheist historian says, he cannot say, 'Father Divine cannot have claimed to be God, because I do not believe in God.' That is a non sequitur. Yet secular 'Jesus-study' continues to take unitarianism as a given, as its foundation point: Jesus cannot have claimed to be God, because people like Joseph Priestley and Thomas Jefferson were not prepared to believe Him if He had.

Jefferson's scissors job on the gospels excised all supernatural occurrences, in which he did not believe, including the resurrection: "Needless to say, Jefferson's narrative concludes with the crucifixion, not the resurrection. The last verse elides the start of John 19:42 ('There laid they Jesus') with the end of Matthew 27:60 ('and. . .rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed')." (Richard W. Fox, Jesus in America, Kindle location 2628). That stone is never rolled away, not in 'The Jefferson Bible.' It is hard to see why his boosters defend him. What is the Christian faith without the resurrection? Certainly it is a good thing that Jefferson and his co-religionists wanted to follow Jesus' moral teachings, so should we all. It is difficult to parse their insistence on a dichotomy between a.) believing that Jesus is God, and b.) obeying His commands. Is it likelier one will leap to obey the barked-out commands of the post-man, or of the President? Why would those who think Jesus a mere man be likelier to follow His orders than those who think He is God incarnate?

To compare for yourself the historical methodology of Joseph Priestley and David Barton, see:

Joseph Priestley
 A History of Opinions 
  Relating to Christ  

Is an ancient book lost? Conclusive proof that its author taught Unitarianism. Does an early author praise a church for its orthodoxy? Why, its members must have been Unitarians, because who is as orthodox as they? The delight with which Joseph Priestley receives each new discovery reminds the reader how a fixed idea, like a collapsing giant star, bends matter, light and gravity all around it. Yet this circular fashion of reasoning was met, not with scorn, but with credit and avid imitation. The observer must conclude that the academic historical community is not so much concerned that you are biased, but rather, what is your bias, and do we like it.

The Logos Bible Doctrine
Plain and Obvious A River in Egypt
Doubts and Fears Assail Plato's Trinity
Jewish Church Filled with the Spirit
Thomas Jefferson Draft Board
Person and Being Religious Liberty
Who You Calling Idiots? Absence of Evidence


David Barton transfers Thomas Jefferson's affinities and alliances from Unitarianism, where they properly belong, to the 'Restoration' movement led by Alexander Campbell, evidently because the Restorationists, though inheriting a partially anti-trinitarian heritage,— one of their founders, Barton Stone, was an Arian (not a Socinian),— have managed to 'live down' that heritage; most people nowadays assume that the churches of this lineage are, and have always been, 'conservative,' 'fundamentalist' churches. These churches today do not actively teach heresy on the trinity. The Unitarians, by contrast, have gone from wild to wilder:

"As noted earlier, Restorationists thought that if a term was not in the Bible then it should not be in Christianity. This is why the Reverend Stone said that because the word Trinity did not appear in the Bible, the doctrine should therefore be rejected." (David Barton, The Jefferson Lies, p. 184).

This is doubly unfair, both to Jefferson and the Restorationists, who never denied the virgin birth as did Jefferson. David Barton claims they did:

"In earlier years, however, Jefferson had openly embraced doctrinal beliefs he was now rejecting. But having fully embraced the Christian Primitivist position, he predicted, wrongly:

"'[T]he day will come when the mystical generation [i.e., the conception] of Jesus by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva [the Roman virgin goddess] in the brain of Jupiter.'

. . .But unfortunately, this is what was being preached and advocated by the major Christian leaders in central Virginia. Jefferson attended their churches and heard this message directly from them." (David Barton, The Jefferson Lies, p. 184).

No 'Christian Primitivist' has ever rejected the virgin birth, a doctrine plainly and explicitly taught in scripture; for that matter, even the Muslims believe Jesus was born to a virgin. In these speculations, Jefferson is outflanking to the left even his fellow Socinians, though they would in time catch up.

Barton Stone
 An Address to the Churches 

Human beings are mutable, changeable creatures, so far unlike the unchanging God. And there is a 'trap-door' in non-creedal churches like the Unitarians and Quakers: adherents can hold view far more conservative than their fellows, with no grounds for throwing them out the door. If David Barton ever presented evidence for Thomas Jefferson's 'trinitarian period,' there would be reason to believe in such. This author assigns importance to evidence of no significance: anti-trinitarians have always preferred the Apostles' Creed, and Unitarians of that era liked to go to church. Though where are they now? This once-popular religion, boasting of five American Presidents, is a dying faith. As Gamaliel said, "And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God." (Acts 5:38-39).

For several generations, the 'higher critics' and their successors evaded responding to the fundamentalist critique of their techniques by mocking and deriding the fundamentalists as 'anti-intellectual.' They wanted it understood that the 'higher critics' represented learning, the fundamentalists, ignorance. Nowadays the world is flat: the internet has brought people of differing viewpoints face to face. While before these sparring camps could have done just fine by ignoring one another, now they cannot. One would hope that, in this new environment, it would cease to be possible for today's 'higher critics' to ignore their own critics. Unfortunately irresponsible authors like David Barton keep on returning the focus to the older paradigm. To give an example of the problem, his new and improved second edition helpfully explains that "Antinationalism" wants to change our national motto to "E Unum Pluribus — that is, 'out of one, many'. . ." (David Barton, The Jefferson Lies, WND, Kindle location 890). But "e[x] unum pluribus" means just 'out of many, one'. . .much like our existing national motto! If one wishes to say, 'out of one, many,' surely one can: 'ex uno plures.' Not only does this man not know Latin, he doesn't even know anyone who does?


How good of a scholar was Thomas Jefferson? Well, he believed that the church had condemned Galileo for believing that the earth is round:

"Galileo was sent to the inquisition for affirming that the earth was a sphere; the government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error. This error, however, at length prevailed, the earth became a globe, and Descartes declared it was whirled round its axis by a vortex."
(Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVII, p. 171).

This particular nugget of misinformation: that Galileo got into trouble with the Inquisition because he taught that the earth is round,— is commonly associated with Washington Irving, who wrote a biography of Columbus, and John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White, who offered the thesis as purported historical scholarship. The conflict between the Roman Catholic authorities and Galileo was in fact over the question of geocentrism versus heliocentrism. Both sides acknowledged a round earth.

Looking at the dates of publication, it appears Jefferson cannot have got the idea from Draper and White. Was this some dislodged bit of unitarian polemic that all of these parties had somehow picked up from that poisoned well? Or is Jefferson himself the sly originator? Is it really possible a former president of the United States used the bully pulpit afforded him by his fellow citizens to spread noxious misinformation about the history of science?