The Christian god is a three headed monster

This quotation is frequently seen on the World Wide Web, attributed to Thomas Jefferson:

"The Christian god can easily be pictured as virtually the same god as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites."[1]

This quotation has not been found in any writings of Thomas Jefferson. However, it does bear some slight resemblance to several genuine Jefferson quotations, so it is feasible that the above could be traced back to these. On 8 December 1822, Jefferson wrote to James Smith,

No historical fact is better established than that the doctrine of one god, pure and uncompounded was that of the early ages of Christianity; and was among the efficacious doctrines which gave it triumph over the polytheism of the antients, sickened with the absurdities of their own theology. Nor was the unity of the supreme being ousted from the Christian creed by the force of reason, but by the sword of civil government wielded at the will of the fanatic Athanasius. The hocus-pocus phantasm of a god like another Cerberus with one body and three heads had it's birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs. And a strong proof of the solidity of the primitive faith is it's restoration as soon as a nation arises which vindicates to itself the freedom of religious opinion, and it's eternal divorce from the civil authority. The pure and simply unity of the creator of the universe is now all but ascendant in the Eastern states; it is dawning in the West, and advancing towards the South; and I confidently expect that the present generation will see Unitarianism become the general religion of the United states. The Eastern presses are giving us many excellent pieces on the subject, and Priestly's learned writings on it are, or should be in every hand. In fact the Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one is so incomprehensible to the human mind that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea. He who thinks he does only decieves himself. He proves also that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder is the sport of every wind. With such persons gullability which they call faith takes the helm from the hand of reason and the mind becomes a wreck.[2]

Jefferson does also use the phrase "fools and hypocrites" (although not as such) in his famous passage in Query 17 on religion in his Notes on the State of Virginia:

Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.[3]

Footnotes

  1. This quotation is sometimes cited as "from a letter to Peter Carr" (no date).
  2. Jefferson to James Smith, Monticello, 8 December 1822. EG, 408-410. Polygraph copy of letter at the Library of Congress.
  3. Notes, 160. Also available online at the UVA Etext Center.

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