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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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7253. RELIGION, Political sermons.—
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7253. RELIGION, Political sermons.—

On one question I differ, * * * the right
of discussing public affairs in the pulpit.
* * * The mass of human concerns, moral
and physical, is so vast, the field of knowledge
requisite for man to conduct them to the
best advantage is so extensive, that no human
being can acquire the whole himself, and
much less in that degree necessary for the instruction
of others. It has of necessity, then,
been distributed into different departments,
each of which singly, may give occupation
enough to the whole time and attention of a
single individual. Thus we have teachers of
languages, teachers of mathematics, of natural
philosophy, of chemistry, of medicine, of law,
of history, of government, &c. Religion, too,
is a separate department, and happens to be
the only one deemed requisite for all men,
however high or low. Collections of men
associate under the name of congregations,
and employ a religious teacher of the particular
set of opinions of which they happen
to be, and contribute to make up a stipend as
a compensation for the trouble of delivering
them, at such periods as they agree on, lessons
in the religion they profess. If they
want instruction in other sciences or arts,
they apply to other instructors; and this is
generally the business of early life. But, I
suppose, there is not a single instance of a
single congregation which has employed their
preacher for the mixed purposes of lecturing
them from the pulpit in chemistry in medicine,
in law, in the science and principles of
government, or in anything but religion exclusively.
Whenever, therefore, preachers, instead


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of a lesson in religion, put them off with a discourse on the Copernican system,
on chemical affinities, on the construction of
government, or the characters or conduct of
those administering it, it is a breach of contract,
depriving their audience of the kind of
service for which they are salaried, and giving
them, instead of it, what they did not
want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from
better sources in that particular art or science.
In choosing our pastor, we look to his religious
qualifications, without enquiring into
his physical or political dogmas, with which
we mean to have nothing to do. I am aware
that arguments may be found, which May
twist a thread of politics into the cord of
religious duties. So may they for every other
branch of human art or science. Thus, for
example, it is a religious duty to obey the
laws of our country; the teacher of religion,
therefore, must instruct us in those laws, that
we may know how to obey them. It is a religious
duty to assist our sick neighbors; the
preacher must, therefore, teach us medicine,
that we may do it understandingly. It is a
religious duty to preserve our health; our
religious teacher, then, must tell us what
dishes are wholesome, and give us recipes
in cookery, that we may learn how to prepare
them. And so, ingenuity, by generalizing
more and more, may amalgamate all the
branches of science into every one of them,
and the physician who is paid to visit the
sick, may give a sermon instead of medicine;
and the merchant to whom money is sent
for a hat, may send a handkerchief instead of
it. But notwithstanding this possible confusion
of all sciences into one, common sense
draws the lines between them sufficiently distinct
for the general purposes of life, and no
one is at a loss to understand that a recipe in
medicine or cookery, or a demonstration in
geometry, is not a lesson in religion. I do
not deny that a congregation may if they
please, agree with their preacher that he shall
instruct them in medicine also, or law, or
politics. Then, lectures in these, from the
pulpit, become not only a matter of right, but
of duty also. But this must be with the consent
of every individual; because the association
being voluntary, the majority has no
right to apply the contributions of the minority
to purposes unspecified in the agreement
of the congregation.—
To Mr. Wendover. Washington ed. vi, 445.
(M. 1815)