A national humanist organization has created a new version of the "Jefferson Bible," which attempts to distinguish the good passages from the bad in several religious texts, and has sent copies of the book to President Barack Obama and current members of Congress.
When Thomas Jefferson created The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth – more commonly known as the "Jefferson Bible" – in 1820, he did so by extracting the moral teachings and non-miraculous activities of Jesus Christ from the four New Testament Gospels. Following in Jefferson's footsteps, the American Humanist Association (AHA) has created A Jefferson Bible for the Twenty-First Century by deciding which religious passages are or are not worthy of one's attention.
The book, published by the Humanist Press of the AHA, includes Jefferson's edition of the Bible as well as edited versions of the Book of Mormon, the Hebrew Bible, the Quran, the Buddhist Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.
A press release from the AHA says the organization was following the lead of Jefferson, whose 84-page book "has stood alone for over two centuries as an example of how a revered religious text can be improved by extracting what's good and relevant, while leaving behind what's questionable, immoral or unnecessary for people skeptical of the supernatural."
Jefferson's book was never intended to be published, according to the website of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, but was meant for his own personal use and reflection. Only a few of his closest friends even knew it existed prior to his death in 1826.
But AHA's 21st century version isn't going to be kept a secret – the organization had copies delivered, at no charge, to America's leaders earlier this month.
"In 1901, the U.S. Congress felt that the Jefferson Bible was of such great value that it authorized the printing of nine thousand copies for itself," said Humanist Press Director Luis Granados in a press release. "With today's Congress representing a much more religiously diverse population, including a fifth of the population that is not religious, we thought it was appropriate to deliver a new Jefferson Bible that acknowledges that diversity."
Richard Glickstein, president of the National Bible Association, says despite Jefferson's "great intellect" and contributions as a Founding Father of the United States, the Jefferson Bible didn't help his character as he died a "penniless scoundrel." Jefferson allegedly fathered six children with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves, and Jefferson's home, Monticello, had to be sold after his death to cover the debts which he accrued, in part, because he often lived beyond his means.
"Though as a patriot we are indebted to him for the writing of the Declaration of Independence along with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, and for his other great political contributions, the Jefferson Bible seems to have done very little to help his character," Glickstein said in an email to The Christian Post on Monday. "At a time in our nation's history, when the circumstances we face cry out for great leadership, A Jefferson Bible For the Twenty-First Century seems like a weakling's attempt to help build character in our nation's leaders."
Glickstein says he wants to follow proven leaders, like Teddy Roosevelt, who said: "It is necessary for the welfare of the nation that men's lives be based on the principles of the Bible. No man, educated or uneducated, can afford to be ignorant of the Bible."
In addition to the edited copies of various religious scriptures, A Jefferson Bible for the Twenty-First Century concludes with a humanist manifesto titled, "Humanism and Its Aspirations."
The book project was funded by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, and the Secular Student Alliance helped AHA gather the researchers who compiled excerpts from the texts. It was assembled under the guidance of Granados and edited by AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt.