Superstition of Christianity (Quotation)

Quotation: "I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology."

Variations:

  1. "I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition one redeeming feature.  They are all alike founded upon fables and mythologies."
  2. "I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature.  They are all alike founded upon fables and mythologies."
  3. "I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth."

Sources consulted: (searching on the words "superstitions," "fables," and "mythology"/"mythologies")

  1. Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition
  2. Thomas Jefferson Retirement Papers
  3. Thomas Jefferson: Papers and Biographies collections in Hathi Trust Digital Library

Earliest known appearance in print: 1883[1]

Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Jefferson: See above.

Status: We have not found this quotation in any of Jefferson's known writings.

Comments: The second part of the listed variation ("Millions of innocent men..."), is legitimate and comes from Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVII. Here is the quotation with the material that actually precedes it in Notes:

"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."[2]

Some sources cite this quotation as being from a letter from Jefferson to a "Dr. Woods;" others claim it was to William Short (sometimes with the additional detail of the year 1820), and still others do not cite a specific document. None of these citations has proven to be legitimate.  Jefferson does use the word "superstition" and even the phrase "our particular superstition" in discussions of religion, most notably in a letter to William Short of April 13, 1820 (perhaps the source of the mis-citation above), but never in this particular formulation.

Further Sources

Footnotes

  • 1. "Words of Wisdom," Boston Investigator, September 5, 1883, issue 21.  This article published the text of a short "leaflet" compiled by John Remsburg, and included the quotation as follows: "I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature.  They are all alike, founded on fables and mythologies."  It is attributed to a "Letter to a Dr. Woods."  Remsburg later published the quotation again in Six Historic Americans (New York: The Truthseeker Co., 1906), p. 74, which probably gave it wider circulation.  This publication includes both the "superstitions" portion of the quotation and the "millions of innocent men, women and children" quotation, separately.  This may account for their later appearance together as if they were one passage.
  • 2. Notes, ed. Peden, 160.

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