I’ve recently finished reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson written by Andrew Burnstein titled, “Jefferson’s Secrets: death and desire at Monticello.” Chapter 9, “Disavowing Dogma,” was of particular interest.
Letters to the editor concerning the feelings of our founding fathers about the place of religion in our society often leave me wondering if I understand the full meaning of the author. A recent such letter concerned Mr. Jefferson and was printed on April 10. It stated, “The intended ‘separate wall’ was one way to keep government from interfering with the people’s religious expression, but not restrict free religious expression in government.” Author Burnstein notes that Jefferson wrote to a keen Christian friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush: “I have sworn on the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the minds of man.” His “altar of God” metaphor was unmistakably meant as a slap in the face of clergy who opposed his election on moral grounds. To Jefferson, then and throughout his adult life, orthodox religion preached uniformity of opinion. Such a system was mindless dogma at best, tyranny at worst. It’s implausible that Jefferson would approve our country being run as a “Christian nation” — only Christian prayers allowed at public meetings.
Vern Buchta, Boise
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