Saturday, January 20, 2007

Letters to the editor about David Paszkiewicz

My letter to the editor in response to David Paszkiewicz's letter in the Observer was too late for the print edition, but was published on the newspaper's blog. Here's the letter with a couple typos corrected ("nor" for "not" and an extraneous possessive):

David Paszkiewicz quotes from Thomas Jefferson's April 21, 1803 letter to Benjamin Rush in support of his argument that the Founding Fathers would have agreed with his bringing his religious views into the public school classroom. The original letter, in Jefferson's handwriting, can be found on the Internet at the Library of Congress:

What Jefferson actually wrote in this letter was "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 in which 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." In other words, Jefferson rejected the divinity and miracles attributed to Jesus. His "Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" (also known as the "Jefferson Bible") was composed by removing miracles and claims of godhood from the gospels.

Paszkiewicz's quote comes from a letter from Jefferson to Charles Thomson on January 9, 1816, regarding his "Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," stating that he is "a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus" in that work. This letter may be found online here:∂=2

Paszkiewicz also misquotes George Washington's May 12, 1789 address to the Delaware Indians--what Washington said was "You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention." He said nothing about teaching this in schools nor that he believed it; he was giving the Indians advice for cultural assimilation.

Paszkiewicz argues that because the words "separation of church and state" are not in the Constitution (a document that contains no reference to God), the concept is not there, either. But neither are the words "checks and balances," and the New Testament contains no use
of the word "trinity," for that matter--the concepts are expressed using other words. The arguments over the wording of the First Amendment make it clear that the Founding Fathers were very concerned about religious control of government resulting in persecution of those with different beliefs, as had already occurred with established religions in the colonies, such as persecutions by the Puritans in Massachusetts.

Jim Lippard
Phoenix, Arizona

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