Jefferson opposed any mandatory restraints placed on a person's faith. For this belief he was declared an atheist by some, a person to demagogue by others. Some who criticized loudest were considered to be patriots by themselves, and others. You see, in a day in which a person brought up in the Christian faith denied the being of God, or the Trinity, or believed in more than one god, or denied the scriptures to be of divine inspiration, they were sentenced to serious penalties. Including of a first offense to be ineligible to hold office, a second and you lose your rights as a parent and your children were given to a more Orthodox family. There were provisions for imprisonment but they were rarely followed. One could be forced to tithe to a particular church or attend certain services.
It mattered little to his loudest critics that in the Declaration, as the preamble declares, Jefferson let it be known that he was well aware that Almighty God had created the mind free. That if God chose not to impose a system of beliefs on His people and allowed them to come to Him by choice, who was man to do so? In a letter dated September 7, 1797, to James Monroe he answered to the assertion that a non-believer should at least be restrained from propagating error by which he replied;
"Constraints may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to it's tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. Had not the Roman government permitted free enquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free enquiry been indulged, at the era of reformation, the corruptions of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged."
One of my favorite quotes in this letter is, "Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now." Wow was that prophetic. Not really. The founders understood human nature as well as anyone else in history. That was their reasons for the checks and balances. He further states, "Our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless." The founders understood that human nature tends to pull us toward pride. Pride is truly the root of all sin and part of our fallen state. Genesis 1:31 tells us that "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." Not just good, but very good! By God's standards. WOW! In Genesis 2:17 God declared, " but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” God had only prohibited one item in the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One might believe that it was the forbidden that bid their disobedience, but it was pride. No longer would they allow God to determine good from evil. They would be "like" God and determine this for themselves. Is that not what we still do today? God did not bring pain and suffering into this world, man did. Why was Satan cast down from heaven? Pride! He wanted to be greater than God. Why did Cain slay Abel? Pride! Abel's offering was accepted, but because Cain had decided for himself what to offer, instead of listening to God, Cain's was rejected and out of envy and pride he slew his brother.
One might also ask, what has this got to do with grass roots and government. I remember being a young man at the age of 24 (yes I once was young) and while visiting my mother we watched images of the Berlin wall falling. I remember the rejoicing that was going on. I also remember telling my mother that never before have we been in such danger. After great victory, comes your greatest tests. When did king David fall from grace? At his proudest moment and in his greatest achievements. How often have football players and other athletes fallen from grace after victory in a championship? How often has a lottery winner's personal life been destroyed by temptation that was never within his grasp before?
Too often we put the emphases of enemy on a person or even a country, when in reality it is the idea or belief that is the danger. I knew deep down that while we looked at a country to be our greatest threat in the cold war, it was really the beliefs of that country that was the greatest danger. They would not go away. They would just change the package that it was wrapped in. While many would revel in victory, the seeds would be planted for a new crop tomorrow. Only this crop would be harder to spot, and harder to fight. Some have heard me say before that the grass roots will face their greatest tests to come following a large victory. But yet our greatest danger will be our pride!
Just as we have watched third parties rise up for good reason, they have become emulators, but on a smaller scale, of the greater evil in the two party system. Some in third parties have said, "I will not support anyone that is not in our party." How has that proven different?
Now, some that have had a voice of reason, and many that find themselves in a different role from the past declare, " I am the authority, I judge right from wrong, good from evil. You are either with me or against me." If ones opinions' differ you are slated a "Sellout" and "impure." This too is the same book, different cover. As a young child I read Charlie Brown books before I slept each night. After the covers were falling off of my extensive collection I decided to read the Bible instead and found myself stuck night after night in Proverbs. Proverb !6:18 tells us " Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." The founding fathers knew human nature and they knew it from scripture. Man is doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. That is why we need a Savior! That is also why it is more important to focus on the ideas and beliefs other than be distracted by disdain for the man. We should try to limit the influence that is placed on our leaders that promote them in a direction to succumb to human nature. Always give credit to God in victory, be humble, and share the truth in love and let God decide the outcome. He does anyways.
Here are more wise words of Thomas Jefferson from the same letter to Monroe, "It can never be too often repeated, that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united...
I would like to close with part of a speech from President Abraham Lincoln on April 30, 1863.
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other Nation has ever grown.
But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own… We have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness…
All this being done in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the divine teachings, that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.