To coin a phrase, “Whoops!” A choice to use a Thomas Jefferson quote on a billboard in Orange County backfired recently when it was realized the quote picked wasn’t one that should have been attributed to Jefferson at all:
The quote reads, “I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature. It is founded on fables and mythology.”
A billboard at 1545 Newport Blvd. paid for by Backyard Skeptics features a quote purported to be from Thomas Jefferson against Christianity. Experts at the the Jefferson Library Collection at Monticello say the quotation is spurious.
There’s one problem: There’s no evidence Jefferson ever said it. The Jefferson Library Collection at Monticello lists it on a page of spurious Jefferson quotes.
Bruce Gleason, whose group paid for this and other recent atheism billboards that have gone up in O.C. in recent months, said Wednesday he wasn’t sure about the origin of the quote.
He agreed that Monticello was an authoritative source.
“You’re absolutely right,” he said. “I should have done the research before I put my billboard up.”
The quote on the billboard is an abridged version of a quote that first appeared in a 1906 book called “Six Historic Americans,” by John E. Remsburg, who attributed it to a “Letter to Dr. Woods.”
Experts at the library are certain there’s no such document, nor any record of Jefferson saying this anywhere else. It’s a common misapprehension, though, and many others have come to them with questions about it.
Moral of the story, check your sources. No doubt Christians will try to use this error as evidence that the group wants to do nothing but bash them and be damned about facts and accuracy, but so it goes. Gleason isn’t exactly apologizing for the error, though:
Gleason said he would do some more research on the quote, although he didn’t think it misrepresented Jefferson’s views.
Jefferson was a Deist, who believed in a hands-off creator, not a Christian, but he adored the humanistic aspects of Jesus’ teachings, according to the library. A library report cites his letter to William Short of Oct. 31, 1819, in which he called the teachings of Jesus the “outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man.”
Too bad many Christians tend to go fishing for all the other stuff in the bible that Jesus didn’t preach as good advice…