Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Visit to Monticello: Life, Slavery, and the Pursuit of Religious Freedom

Monticello called us.

It was Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  The weather was beautiful, I hadn't been to Thomas Jefferson's home in years, and the boys had never seen it.   My parents were visiting, and it was their suggestion and their treat.  (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

The tour guide (Oh, sorry, docent) said something that gave me pause:  When Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, he stated that we are given (I don't think she mentioned God or the Creator, come to think of it) specific rights, including liberty; but that ironically, he owned slaves.  I resisted the temptation to point out that the first right he mentioned was life, and wasn't it ironic that we now allow the rampant killing of unborn children in the womb, and act as though it's another inalienable right?

I was thinking about that again this morning.  I realized that back in Jefferson's day, slaves were considered non-persons, and that's how people justified the buying and selling them as personal property and treating them however they pleased.   Nowadays, we know better.  In 1973 the Supreme Court decided that unborn children were non-persons and therefore can be disposed of as a piece of unwanted garbage.  We are right 
back where we started, it seems to me.

On our way out we stopped by Thomas Jefferson's grave.  When I read the inscription on the tombstone ("Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia") I realized I was standing on sacred ground.  Even though Jefferson's religious views were a little bit unconventional--I'm told he wrote his own version of the Bible that eliminates all references to Jesus' miracles and makes no mention of anything supernatural--he understood the importance of our right to practice our religion without interference from the government.
...Almighty God hath created the mind free;
That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,
That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time; 
That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical...
(Source:  Wikipedia.  Emphasis mine.)

Jefferson noted that we are to be free to exercise our faith without coercion, without ridicule, without the threat of being sued, and without having to pay any taxes or penalties.  

Standing there I thought of the HHS mandate that forces employers to pay for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs even when it violates their religious beliefs.   I wonder how Thomas Jefferson would feel to see the United States government giving faithful Christians and Catholics the finger.  I think he would weep.

(P.S.  I may not be using Blogger much longer.  When I went to upload my photos I was informed that I'd used up all my space on their photo sharing site, and if I wanted more I'd have to pay $2.99 a month.  Since I'm a cheapskate and this blog generates zero income for me, I'm not willing to do that.  I deleted quite a number of photos that I'd published on older posts, and that seemed to do the trick--we'll see if they're also deleted from the posts--but at some point I will run out of space again.  Wordpress is looking quite attractive today.  I'll keep you posted...)

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