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    Philosophy at AMU

    The Most Perverted System that Ever Shone on Man

    Philosophy at AMU

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    This is the blog of the faculty of the Ave Maria University Philosophy Department. We post our philosophical reflections on perennial and contemporary questions as well as on Departmental and University news and other topics of interest.

    March 15, 20132:30 pm

    The Most Perverted System that Ever Shone on Man

    I’ve been reading The God Delusion, in preparation for a debate later today where I take the role, against Waldstein, of a “New Atheist.”

    Oh God!  Those New Atheists are so much more tedious, so much less brilliant, than those Old Atheists I studied so thoroughly at university.  (But, hey, it’s Friday, and I’m a Catholic; so I’ll suffer it.)

    They’re fairly unscholarly too.  Here’s a good example.  On page 64 of The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins memes a commonly made claim and attributes to Thomas Jefferson the quotation given in the title, arguing that it indicates that Jefferson was a Deist rather than a Theist:

    Remarks of Jefferson’s such as ‘Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man’ are compatible with deism but also with atheism.

    Well, no.  The quotation comes from a letter of Jefferson to the scientist and philosopher, Joseph Priestly.  I’ll quote it in context:

    The barbarians really flattered themselves they should be able to bring back the times of Vandalism, when ignorance put everything into the hands of power & priestcraft. All advances in science were proscribed as innovations. They pretended to praise and encourage education, but it was to be the education of our ancestors. We were to look backwards, not forwards, for improvement; the President himself declaring, in one of his answers to addresses, that we were never to expect to go beyond them in real science. This was the real ground of all the attacks on you. Those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy,—the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man,—endeavored to crush your well-earnt & well-deserved fame. But it was the Lilliputians upon Gulliver.

    Now you well might wonder how Jefferson could in one breath refer to Christianity as “the most sublime & benevolent system”, and in the next call it the “most perverted” system. You would wonder that if you were unfamiliar with 18th c. English.  What in the context the phrase “most perverted” means is “most frequently perverted,” that is, by those practitioners of “priesthood” who “live by mystery & charlantarie” – sentiments which are all fairly typical of 17th and 18th c. Deism.

    You never would guess from that undeluded man, Dawkins, that Jefferson was referring to Christianity, in its pure form (as Jefferson saw it), as sublime and benevolent.

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    Letter to Joseph Priestley

    Letter to Joseph Priestley

    Personal Political Culture by Thomas Jefferson March 21, 1801

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    SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SUN

    DEAR SIR,– I learnt some time ago that you were in Philadelphia, but that it was only for a fortnight; & supposed you were gone. It was not till yesterday I received information that you were still there, had been very ill, but were on the recovery. I sincerely rejoice that you are so. Yours is one of the few lives precious to mankind, & for the continuance of which every thinking man is solicitous. Bigots may be an exception. What an effort, my dear Sir, of bigotry in Politics & Religion have we gone through! The barbarians really flattered themselves they should be able to bring back the times of Vandalism, when ignorance put everything into the hands of power & priestcraft. All advances in science were proscribed as innovations. They pretended to praise and encourage education, but it was to be the education of our ancestors. We were to look backwards, not forwards, for improvement; the President himself declaring, in one of his answers to addresses, that we were never to expect to go beyond them in real science. This was the real ground of all the attacks on you. Those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy,– the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man,– endeavored to crush your well-earnt & well-deserved fame. But it was the Lilliputians upon Gulliver. Our countrymen have recovered from the alarm into which art & industry had thrown’ them; science & honesty are replaced on their high ground; and you, my dear Sir, as their great apostle, are on it’s pinnacle. It is with heartfelt satisfaction that, in the first moments of my public action, I can hail you with welcome to our land, tender to you the homage of it’s respect & esteem, cover you under the protection of those laws which were made for the wise and good like you, and disdain the legitimacy of that libel on legislation, which under the form of a law, was for some time placed among them.

    As the storm is now subsiding, and the horizon becoming serene, it is pleasant to consider the phenomenon with attention. We can no longer say there is nothing new under the sun. For this whole chapter in the history of man is new. The great extent of our Republic is new. Its sparse habitation is new. The mighty wave of public opinion which has rolled over it is new. But the most pleasing novelty is, it’s so quickly subsiding over such an extent of surface to it’s true level again. The order & good sense displayed in this recovery from delusion, and in the momentous crisis which lately arose, really bespeak a strength of character in our nation which augurs well for the duration of our Republic; & I am much better satisfied now of it’s stability than I was before it was tried. I have been, above all things, solaced by the prospect which opened on us, in the event of a non-election of a President; in which case, the federal government would have been in the situation of a clock or watch run down. There was no idea of force, nor of any occasion for it. A convention, invited by the Republican members of Congress, with the virtual President & Vice President, would have been on the ground in 8. weeks, would have repaired the Constitution where it was defective, & wound it up again. This peaceable & legitimate resource, to which we are in the habit of implicit obedience, superseding all appeal to force, and being always within our reach, shows a precious principle of self-preservation in our composition, till a change of circumstances shall take place, which is not within prospect at any definite period.

    But I have got into a long disquisition on politics, when I only meant to express my sympathy in the state of your health, and to tender you all the affections of public & private hospitality. I should be very happy indeed to see you here. I leave this about the 30thinst., to return about the twenty-fifth of April. If you do not leave Philadelphia before that, a little excursion hither would help your health. I should be much gratified with the possession of a guest I so much esteem, and should claim a right to lodge you, should you make such an excursion.

    Source : teachingamericanhistory.org

    Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man (Spurious Quotation)

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    Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man (Spurious Quotation)

    An Article Courtesy Of The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Click For More.

    This comment on Christianity is a somewhat paraphrased excerpt from the following letter written by Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestley:

    "this was the real ground of all the attacks on you: those who live by mystery & charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy, the most sublime & benevolent, but most perverted system that ever shone on man, endeavored to crush your well earnt, & well deserved fame." - Jefferson to Priestley, March 21, 18011

    Further Sources

    Adams, Dickinson W., ed. Jefferson's Extracts from the Gospels: "The Philosophy of Jesus" and "The Life and Morals of Jesus." Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983. The introduction to this book has an excellent discussion of Jefferson's thinking on religion.

    ' 1.

    PTJ, 33:393. Press copy available from the Library of Congress. Transcription available in Founders Online.

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