|Jesus, Jefferson and American Human Rights |
By Dr. Gerry Lower
Created Mar 3 2007 - 11:18am
If you were to ask a western historian about the origins of human rights
(which happen to be inherently universal), you would likely be referred to
the 17th century and the EuroAmerican Enlightenment which began in France
and Germany and which, under Jefferson's leadership, ultimately led to the
implementation of Democracy in the New World.
In truth, universal human rights go all the way back to ground zero and the
beginnings of western time. Nascent (before Rome) Christianity is precisely
where our Deist Founding fathers learned about human rights as the basis
for civil rights. That being the case, one wonders whether or not the
practitioners, priests and Popes of Old Testament Romanism ever bothered to
read the Gospels in the New Testament.
Had they done so, one would think that someone in the Roman church during
the 1500 years between Jesus and Jefferson would have come to see the
Christ in a little human light? The reason that they did not see any
spiritual light is because it never occurred to people of the church to
think about the Christ outside of the confines of supernatural Old
Testament Romanism. Outside of that context, everything is different.
After 1700 years of holding JudeoRoman "Christian" values aloft, in the
name of imperialism, colonialism and capitalism, the Old Testament church
has yet to get the message. After 1700 years of Old Testament
"Christianity" (worshiping a supernatural Christ), there was no way that
people of the church could hope to get the message, not until Thomas
Jefferson cleared the air of religion.
It was Jesus to whom Jefferson turned for inspiration and it was from Jesus
that Jefferson learned about human rights (spiritual rights) that transcend
civil rights (operational rights). At the same time, human rights provide
the proper basis for civil rights. Outside the context of human rights,
freedom can be taken too close to license, which is to say that true human
freedoms flow from human rights, not from our desires to do what we want.
While there is no doubt that Jefferson's genius was central to the
emergence of modern democracy, the secret of his success, as with most
brilliant thinkers, was in the simplicity of it all ... one earth, one
people, one voice, one God in the People. The closer we come to being a
People, the closer we come to God. This simplicity was just too damned
complex for fundamentalists who already claimed to know everything.
On human ground, that knowledgeable ground that is true for all people,
Jefferson approached the Christ story the way that we all ought approach
the Christ story. Consider, for example, this excerpt from John (1).
[Author's comments in brackets].
"And the scribes and the Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in
adultery ... in the very act."
[Nowadays, of course, life is not nearly so self-righteous and egocentric,
and most people would be more prone to wonder what these "men of law" were
doing, perhaps sneaking around and peeking in people's windows, prying to
people's business that is not theirs to pry into?]
"Now, Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what
"This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him."
[As one might expect from self-righteous "men of law," they wanted to see
if Jesus would dare ignore Abraham's god and Mosaic law. If so, you know,
he might be a terrorist in the name of a false god.]
"But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though
he heard them not."
[So much for the first Christian's notion of political correctness. He
simply dissed the men of god's law ... as if their position were beneath
intelligent discussion ... which it was.]
"So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto
them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
"And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground."
[Two overt snubs in a row. The men of god's law are not doing so well, are
"And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out
one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left
alone, and the woman standing in the midst."
[Wherein the first Christian clearly demonstrates the difference in
response when honesty, as opposed to self-righteousness, is employed as a
basis for judging others. He did not let the lady off the hook. She knew
that she had gotten herself into trouble. But clearly it was the "men of
law" whom the first Christian saw as being the most troublesome. He removed
them from the entire discussion with one simply brilliant directive.]
"When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto
her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?"
"She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, NEITHER DO I CONDEMN
THEE: go, and sin no more."
There in nothing about this scenario that is complex. Whether one be an
atheist or a fundamentalist, the message here is the same. Comprehension of
this message does require, however, that we think for ourselves, as did
Jefferson. So, let us think about it. What do we have here, people?
Do we see here a man obsessed with religious law as the word of god? No. Do
we see here a man dedicated to preserving the authority of the men who
claimed to know god's law? No. Do we see here a man who was hot to
implement the Old Testament command to bloody such women with rocks? No.
Do we see here a man getting his rocks off on other people's mistakes and
misfortunes in order to make himself feel morally superior? No, that would
be the motivation beneath the men of law, now wouldn't it? Does this man's
words and actions have anything to do with religious law and
vengeance-based morality? No. Even the Roman church recognized this effort
as a "New Testament".
Do we see a man whose chosen bottom line in thought is compassion rather
than vengeance? Yes. Do we see a man in love with life and his fellow
humans and dedicated to human honesty? Yes. Do we see a man who has little
time or interest in a posteriori laws and punishments? Yes. Do we see a man
whose primary objective is to level the playing field in the interest of
fairness and equality? Yes.
Do we see a man who actually trusts people to make their own decisions?
Yes. Do we see in the first Christian a man with an overwhelming passion
for honoring human rights? Yes. Is there any doubt in your mind why
Jefferson would choose this man and his ethical morality as the basis for
Nascent Christian morality was based solidly in human rights from the very
start. It is not the first Christian's fault that Roman emperors from
Constantine on merely talked about Christian values in order to justify
self-righteous conquest and control. It is not the first Christian's fault
that JudeoRoman misinterpretations and outright lies drove imperialism,
colonialism and crony capitalism, in the name of the Christ.
The real problem clearly is with Old Testament JudeoRoman religion which
never has much honored any aspect of the nascent Christian ethical
morality. That fact, of course, explains the why of the Lutheran
Reformation and several Protestant Reformations in leaving Rome behind in
setting the stage for the emergence of western nationalism.
Both Jefferson and Franklin recognized the self-evident truth, i.e., that
nascent Christian values and JudeoRoman values are mutually exclusive. One
can choose to be vengeful or compassionate, but one simply cannot be both.
The JudeoRoman religions had traditionally talked the latter and acted on
the former. As a result, the Old Testament was simply discarded in
Jefferson's mind, right along with most of the New Testament.
Christianity was, from the beginning, a rejection of vengeance, a rejection
of legal/penal moralities and a rejection of marketplace values. The west
had been doing it wrong for millennia and Jefferson would conclude, with
sublime accuracy, that Christianity was an ethical morality that had not
yet been tried in the real world.
As a result, Jefferson's Declaration is certainly one of the most Christian
documents yet written, and his "Jefferson Bible" is certainly the most
honest version of western scripture yet edited. All versions are edits,
folks. That's why the British call their version the King James Version.
Jefferson's democracy was the product of Christian Deism (Godism) ... no
religious law in sight, as the first Christian would have it.
Today, with Jefferson's Declaration values replaced entirely by the values
of the religious right and crony corporate capitalism, we are right back
where we started. The men whom the first Christian threw out of the temple
are now back in the temple, in near total control with a self-righteous
The men whom our Revolutionary Fathers threw out of the temple are now back
in the temple, in near total control with a self-righteous vengeance. The
Brits and the Tories have sacked the temple again. George W. Bush is beyond
accountability because Dick Cheney is beyond fallibility. Sweet Jesus, is
this sick or what?
It is sadly self-evident that the Bush administration's neoconservative
values have no Christian content whatsoever. It is sadly self-evident that
the Bush administration's neoconservative values have no Jeffersonian
content whatsoever. We live today not with the values of Jesus and
Jefferson, but with the values of our European and Papal oppressors of two
Accordingly, under Dick Cheney, Bush sees law as his to define, which is
precisely the equivalent of license. Accordingly, under Dick Cheney, Bush
sees human rights as something to be taken away from the people in the name
of national security and a "controlled" society. Every western tyrant since
Constantine has seen the world thusly in the name of despotism and rule by
the rich and powerful.
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but
inwardly they are ravening wolves." Matthew, VII, 15
Those who still admire the first Christian's ethical morality and those who
admire Gandhi's ethical morality could provide an immense service to their
country and their countrymen if they would only reconsider, for themselves,
the values to which they would freely subscribe. The values of Old
Testament Roman religion provide for human oppression and despotism. The
values of Jesus and Jefferson and Gandhi provide for human freedom by
honoring human rights.
"And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers, for ye lade men with burdens
grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of
your fingers." Luke XI, 46 --06.23.03
What Jefferson accomplished over two centuries ago was to strip the first
Christian of all Old Testament Roman supernatural nonsense to leave a
genuinely brilliant and courageous young man, educated in Hellenic
knowledge and bringing spirituality to that human knowledge base.
Jefferson made the Christ entirely human, just like the rest of us. In
doing so, he provided the rest of us with the value system that allows us
to see through religious dogma and its traditional role in maintaining
absolutism, legalism, despotism and marketplace greed, all in the name of
the ethical morality that religion knows nothing about.
Blessed are the People who, like Jefferson, have read the Gospels on their
own and for themselves. Theirs is knowledge of human rights and the human
freedoms that flow therefrom. Theirs is knowledge of the path to humankind
and world peace. Theirs is knowledge of the path to God on Earth.
1) Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible - The Life and Morals of Jesus of
Nazareth, David McKay & Co., NY, 1976.
2) The Jefferson Bible, Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_Bible )
About author Dr. Gerry Lower lives in Bell Center, Wisconsin. His website
is at www.jeffersonseyes.com  and he can be reached at