Thursday, November 3, 2011

An Improper Attribution

Atheists' Billboard Falsely Attributes Quote To Thomas Jefferson:

The sign, paid for by atheist group Backyard Skeptics, includes a quote about Christianity attributed to Thomas Jefferson. But further research reveals there's no solid evidence that Jefferson ever uttered or wrote the words, the Orange County Register first reported.

The billboard includes a picture of Jefferson with the quote: "I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature. It is founded on fables and mythology." 

Bruce Gleason, a member of the group, told the Orange County Register that he should have done a bit more research before putting the words on the sign. The billboard was unveiled on Wednesday, the newspaper reports. Gleason explained that purpose of this sign and others around the city was to "expunge the myth that this is a Christian nation," as well as to "share the idea that you can be good and do good without a religion or god."

Typical irrational atheist sloppiness. Setting aside the fact that Jefferson never said the above words, the statement has other problems.

First, it contradicts or does not harmonize with comments or observations Jefferson is known to have made. For example, in his Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII, p. 237 (1782), Jefferson said, "God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever; That a revolution of the wheel of fortune, a change of situation, is among possible events; that it may become probable by Supernatural influence! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in that event." These are not the musings of an atheist or an agnostic. In a letter to Benjamin Rush on 12 April, 1803, Jefferson said, To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other. Since Jesus is the central "feature" of Christianity, the idea that Jefferson found not one redeeming feature of Christianity is nonsense. He is not the ally that atheists believe him to be, and their usage of him in their quest for the eradication of Christianity and its influence smacks of desperation. Only the most ignorant or manipulable would fall prey to this quality of evidence. Apparently being a "Bright" means drawing as many of the unlearned and the gullible to The Cause as possible.

Second, it's an appeal to authority -- an authority who was one of the least Christian of all the Founding Fathers. His words or thoughts are not representative of the typical Founder's views. So even if Jefferson had indeed spoken those words, we would have no insight into the zeitgeist of early America. We'd have nothing more than his personal, aberrant opinion.

As for the atheist group responsible for the billboard: they must have an anemic case for their beliefs, if the best that they can do is to put spurious words into Thomas Jefferson's mouth.

I'll close with a question: Is attempting the destruction of someone's cherished beliefs with inept research and false information an example of being good or doing good without a religion or god?   

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