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Quotation: "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]

Sources consulted:

  1. Founders Online
  2. Thomas Jefferson Retirement Papers
  3. Quotes & Family Letters database
  4. Google/Google Books
  5. Access Newspaper Archive

Other attributions: John Adams

Earliest known appearance in print: Charles Bufe, The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations (San Francisco, CA: See Sharp Press, 1992), 200.  (This source claims that the quote is from a letter to Jefferson's nephew, Peter Carr.)

Comments: This quotation has not been found in any of the writings of Thomas Jefferson. It appears to be a collection of paraphrases of comments made in multiple Jefferson letters:

  • The reference to the Christian God as a "three headed monster" may be a paraphrase of Jefferson's comment in a letter to James Smith in 1822, "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."[2]
  • The phrase "cruel, vengeful and capricious" may come from Jefferson's letter to William Short of August 4, 1820, in which he described the God of the Old Testament as "a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust."[3]
  • The reference to "fools and hypocrites" was probably paraphrased from Jefferson's statement in Notes on the State of Virginia, "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."[4]

- Anna Berkes, 10/22/07; updated 12/8/15, 1/5/16


  1. ^ This quotation is sometimes cited as "from a letter to Peter Carr," with no date provided.
  2. ^ Jefferson to James Smith, December 8, 1822, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Polygraph copy available online. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  3. ^ Jefferson to William Short, August 4, 1820, in L&B, 15:260.  Transcription available at Founders Online.
  4. ^ Notes, 160. Text available online at the UVA Scholars' Lab.