… when we take a view of the Universe … The movements of the heavenly bodies … the structure of our earth itself, with it’s distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere, animal and vegetable bodies … the mineral substances, their generation and uses, it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things … their preserver and regulator … and their regenerator …
So irresistible are these evidences of an intelligent and powerful Agent … [and] in the hypothesis of an eternal pre-existence of a creator, rather than in that of a self-existent Universe.
To John Adams, April 11, 1823
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Observant leaders recognize a higher power at work.
Here is the question Jefferson was addressing: Has the universe always existed, or was it created?
Jefferson is widely claimed, and incorrectly so I think, to be a deist in matters of religion. Deists might consider the creator as a master “clockmaker,” one who made the universe, wound its mainspring tight, and then set it loose to run on its own, leaving mankind alone to govern and improve it.
Jefferson believed in a more involved creator, a more benevolent one. He credited this “Agent,” God if you will, not only with creation (as “fabricator”), but with sustaining it (as “preserver and regulator”) and repairing and improving it (as “regenerator”). Jefferson’s God was not a hands-off one and denying his existence was impossible.
Other parts of this letter will give doctrinaire Christians fits. (He RIPS John Calvin!) Jefferson believed in a generous, benevolent God, in Jesus as the greatest of all moral teachers, but not in Jesus’ divinity. Good works were all that God expected.
The 80-year-old ended this letter to his older friend, affirming that he awaited the end of this life “with more readiness than reluctance.” He signed off, “May we meet there again, in Congress, with our antient Colleagues, and recieve with them the seal of approbation `Well done, good and faithful servants.’”
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