Thomas Jefferson on Freedom

I recently came across these words from Thomas Jefferson:

“Freedom is the right to choose: the right to create for oneself the alternatives of choice. Without the possibility of choice, and the exercise of choice, a man is not a man but a member, an instrument, a thing.”

Freedom is the right to choose.

Without the possibility of choice…a man is not a man but a member,

an instrument,

a thing.

A THING.

WOW.  That really struck me.  How dehumanizing.  It has been said that the essence of sin is to dehumanize another.

Our world is full of women who are denied the right to choose their destiny.  To differing degrees depending on our country, family or faith community.  In parts of the world today, girls are aborted or killed as infants, are denied education, adequate food and healthcare, are sold to traffickers or married off as children, are mistreated by chauvinistic husbands, are paid little and are unable to own land.  In the United States, women are still battling a patriarchal system that objectifies our bodies, a culture that shames victims of rape and sexual abuse, we are given unequal pay and promotions, and we only hold 11% of governmental offices.

einstein

And in many faith communities, women are relegated to separate roles from men that limit their choices.  Complementarians believe that it is in these roles that true freedom is found.  From the complementarian perspective, “Biblical manhood and womanhood” is God’s design, and the path to righteousness, peace and joy is in following God’s design.  Just as with the hundreds of other commandments in the Bible, we are in right relationship with God and with others when we submit to God’s will.  Ultimately, we are all submitting to roles designated by God, and it is a rebellious spirit that rejects God’s omniscient design.  We may not, in our finite capacity, be able to understand why it is God’s will for men to hold authority and women to submit, but it is clearly God’s will and we will be blessed by our obedience.

I believe that they are mistaken about God designing a hierarchy of male headship and female submission.

I believe that complementarians are blind to the dehumanizing of women in this interpretation of Scripture.

rosaparks

Freedom is the right to choose.

Without the possibility of choice…a man is not a man but a member,

an instrument,

a thing.

A THING.

Christianity has a long history of great theologians who have given us amazing insight into God’s Word and nature…and have also subjugated women to a lesser role than men.  Theologians like Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, St. Augustine, and many more, including today’s leading complementarian advocates, like Mark Driscoll and John Piper.  I’ve long wondered how these great men could say what they have said about women.

I believe they were and are blind to the dehumanizing of women in this system.

Freedom is the right to choose.

Without the possibility of choice…a man is not a man but a member,

an instrument,

a thing.

A THING.

MLK_0

I began to wonder why Thomas Jefferson could see this reality when it applied to men, but could not see that about the women of his day and also the slaves that he kept.

How is it possible to be so right and simultaneously so blind?

So I Googled “Thomas Jefferson on Women” and found this fantastic article by Thomas O. Jewett.  It goes in-depth on Jefferson’s views on women and I highly recommend the read.  I would like to pull a few quotes for you that demonstrate how this advocate for the freedom of men, who has remained an oracle of wisdom throughout following generations, could subjugate women to a lesser, subservient role.

In Jefferson’s aristocratic Virginia, wives did not normally show a great deal of independence in thought. They were taught to accept the domination of their husbands…

…Jefferson admired women who were soft, passive, modest, and chaste, and who possessed such artistic talents as made them ornaments of a masculine world. As mothers and housekeepers they were domestic workhorses, but as sexual objects they must be delicate and beautiful, living works of art existing in an imaginative world of romantic love. This view of women reduces them to either ladies or sluts. (McLaughlin, 1988, p. 195).

Like most men of his age, Jefferson believed women’s interests were to be confined chiefly to housekeeping and childbearing. (In ten years of marriages, he fathered six children, several at times when his wife’s health should have precluded pregnancy. But Jefferson was unwilling as any male of his class to deny himself the pleasures of the marital bed because of his wife’s poor health.) The two sexes had separate functions to which they were genetically adapted and should not mix. In particular, he thought women should keep out of politics.

Since women were not called upon even to discuss politics, Jefferson saw no reason to give them the vote…

Women thus excluded from public affairs, no effort need be made to educate them in any subjects which did not seem likely to be useful in their place as wives and mothers…

…He felt strongly that women had a single purpose in life, marriage and subordination to a husband. To his oldest daughter, at her nuptials, he wrote: “The happiness of your life now depends on the continuing to please a single person. To this all other objects must be secondary, even your love for me.” (As cited in Nock, 1996, p. 58).

…He, like his eighteenth century, male, aristocratic, contemporaries saw women in a tightly regimented role. For them to break out of these imposed boundaries was repugnant. “In the United States, during Jefferson’s presidency, a female politician was said to be only slightly less disgusting than a female infidel.” (Miller, 1995, p. 181).

So, Jefferson was not atypical in his views on women. But, we have come to expect more from our oracle. It is difficult to understand the dichotomy of an individual who believed in supreme personal liberty and the equal creation of all men, to put such boundaries on women. (The same ambivalence can be seen in Jefferson’s writings and actions toward slavery.)

Freedom is the right to choose.

Without the possibility of choice…a man is not a man but a member,

an instrument,

a thing.

A THING.

Lincoln

I think there is value in comparing Thomas Jefferson with Christian theologians and complementarians today who have limited women’s choices by reading Scripture through a lens that is informed by patriarchy and sexism.  We are all merely human.  It is to be expected that even the wisest among us will be wrong about many things.  The impact of patriarchy and sexism is a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden, where Satan was pitted against woman.  Christ reversed the results of the Fall through His death and resurrection, and in his life and interaction with women we see equality and rejection of hierarchy and patriarchal roles and rules.  John 8:36 says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”

I do not equate the Thomas Jefferson quote with Scripture, but I see the truth in it.  When we think of people as other than us, we can dehumanize them in giving them lesser value.  Jefferson was able to justify the subjugation of women and slaves while also being the greatest and most enduring advocate for the freedom of men, because women and slaves were other than men.  Paul says that in God’s Kingdom, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Freedom is the right to choose.

Without the possibility of choice…a man is not a man but a member,

an instrument,

a thing.

A THING.

 

Image Credit:  all from: http://www.takepart.com/photos/quotes-celebrate-freedom-independence-day/nelson-mandela


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