Friday, November 12, 2010

On Thomas Jefferson, God, and Natural Manure

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I received one of those stupid chain emails yesterday from a conservative and very fundamentalist friend back in Arizona.  The subject of the email was Thomas Jefferson, and the gist of it was that Mr. Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the first President of the University of Virginia, was actually a very smart man.

Well, duh!

The email's original composer, probably Glenn Beck or some similar knuckle-dragger, collected a list of Jefferson facts and quotes and arranged them in such a manner as to show that he was actually very much in sync with today's right-wing toadstools who believe government should be some amalgamation of no taxes and Old Testament theology.

As with any list, this one is as noteworthy for the Jeffersonian beliefs that it fails to mention as for those that it does.

First of all, Thomas Jefferson was not the rabid man of God that some of his modern day trumpeters would have us believe.  He did have an interest in Jesus, the man, but knew that the gospels had been so corrupted over the centuries that their authors would be unable to recognize their words in the modern versions.    Ever the academic, Jefferson set out to clean up these stories in an attempt to discover the true Jesus.  He filtered the miracles and mysticism out of the Biblical stories, and came up with a literary product that is referred to today as the Jefferson Bible,  a compendium that preserves Jesus the teacher and the man of peace and love - not Jesus the magician who was the son of God brought to earth through a magical virgin birth.

Thomas Jefferson found religion as an institution be be dangerous and shameless.  In Notes on Virginia (1782) he wrote:

"Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced on inch toward uniformity."
Jefferson saw religion as being the antithesis  to freedom - people would never be free so long as they allowed themselves to be subjugated to priests.  (He used the term "priest" as a collective noun for all manner of religious tyrants and beggars - preachers, ministers, clergymen, etc.)  In a letter to Alexander Humboldt in 1813, he had this to say about religious despots:

"History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government.  This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves of their own purposes."
Or this nugget from a letter to Horatio G. Spafford in 1814:

"In every country in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty.  He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own."
Beware the clergy and beware the politicians, for they are in league against the dignity and freedom of man.

For those promoting the current malarkey that our founding fathers were so extremely devout that they intended no "wall" between church and state, there is this succinct little gem from a letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper in 1814:

"Christianity neither is, nor ever was, part of the common law."
But it is not Christianity that gets most of the present-day yahoos to spouting Jefferson.  It is rather their belief that Jefferson felt that the people needed to periodically rise up and bring their government under control.  They further believe that Jefferson was speaking directly to them and to their circumstances.  Jefferson lived through our nation's only successful revolution.  He was instrumental in designing our break with Great Britain, ushering in the entire concept of foreign diplomacy, and establishing the precepts for our working democracy.  His was a time of rapid political change brought about through violent means.

The quote that today's "revolutionaries" (or "treasonous bastards," depending on one's point of view), get off on is this:

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.  It is its natural manure."
Timothy McVeigh was wearing a tee-shirt with that quote emblazoned upon it when he blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing hundreds of innocent men, women, and children.  What a patriot!

These miscreants quoting Jefferson regarding the "tree of liberty" make the assumption that he was speaking to them,  when, in actuality, he was more apt to have been speaking about them.  As government becomes more despotic, such as when it begins to shamelessly cloak itself in religion, and commonsense is drowned out by moralistic thunder, then it becomes the duty of patriots to bring government back in line and remind it that it functions at the consent of the governed.  Government is a democratic function, not an arm of the church.

Jefferson, himself, had some personal issues with the concept of liberty.  He was a slave owner, and for thirty years he shared his bed with Sally Hemings, a woman he owned.  But Jefferson's history as a slaveholder doesn't tarnish his image with the modern tea party, a group best identified and defined by its collective hatred of our county's first black President.

The tea baggers are historically Jeffersonian in their concept of liberty, but the problem for them is that the country has moved on two hundred years into the future.    Yes, there are buffoons running around stockpiling canned goods and silver and weapons and ammunition - and masturbating to the notion of "Second Amendment remedies."   But that's a wet dream for morons, it's not real life.

Real life is democracy, a government run by principles that Thomas Jefferson helped to establish, a government that may occasionally suffer despots or rabid clergy, but always corrects itself through the guidance of the citizenry.

Our nation has grown over two centuries.  The chains of slavery are gone, women can vote and run for office, poor farms and orphanages are gone, gay couples can live together openly and even marry in some parts of the country, contraception and abortion are legal, we can connect to the world via the Internet, and yes, a black family does live upstairs at the White House.  The despots and clergy have fought all of those changes, but even with their opposition, we have advanced.

The tree of liberty is growing and flowering despite those who would have it otherwise.  It is fertilized through the use of ballots and free speech, and it grows strong in the light of reason.