Saving Thomas Jefferson's scrapbook Bible
Smithsonian paper conservator Janice Stagnitto Ellis displays the cover page from Thomas Jefferson's Bible.
March 11th, 2011
08:52 AM ET

Saving Thomas Jefferson's scrapbook Bible

By Sally Holland, CNN

Thomas Jefferson literally cut passages on the chronology and moral teachings of Jesus out of several Bibles and glued them into what historians have termed the Jefferson Bible.

The founding father completed the book that he called "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" during his retirement in 1820.

Conservationists at the National Museum of American History are currently working to preserve the almost-200-year-old book so it can go on display in November.

Paper conservator Janice Stagnitto Ellis said the main problem is the way the book was bound. Over time, the paper has become less flexible, and bending the brittle pages caused the paper to tear, she said.

"Without doing modifications to the binding, we could open the book [to] about a 30-degree angle before the paper would be required to bend, which it couldn't do," she said. "It became un-exhibitable."

The goal is to display the book opened to a 90-degree angle.

The 86-page book was bound in high-end red Moroccan leather with gold tooling. Inside, passages from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in English, French, Latin and Greek are pasted side by side so Jefferson could compare the various translations of the story of the life of Jesus.

"He puts them in chronological order and ... extracts those parts that can be identified through reason and thought," museum curator Harry Rubenstein said. "So out goes the miracles, out goes the resurrections and what remains is what he thinks is the life and morals of Jesus, the true teachings."

Jefferson used six different "source" Bibles to create his version: two in English, two in French and two that included both Greek and Latin. He needed two of each so that if he cut a passage out of one side of a page, he would still have the back side of that page in case he wanted to include a passage from there.

A curator handles one of Jefferson's source Bibles.

The museum also has the two English "source" Bibles which show the cutout holes of the scripture Jefferson included in his version.

Jefferson also changed the grammar. On one page, he apparently didn't like the number of prepositions in a verse from Matthew that started, "For as in the days that were before the flood ..." He cut out the word "as," changing the scripture to "For in the days that were before the flood ..."

The Smithsonian acquired the book from Jefferson's great-granddaughter in 1895 for $400.

In 1904, Congress authorized printed photocopies of the book that were given to all of its incoming members. This practice ended in the 1950s when they ran out of copies.

Currently, preservationists have removed the binding for the Jefferson Bible and are doing digital scans of all of the pages of the book to be included as part of the display later this year.

They are looking at various ways to provide more flexibility in the binding.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church and state • DC • Politics • United States

soundoff (657 Responses)
  1. Evan

    If God does not exist, nothing can exist, for nothing has to exist, but God has the will, power, and desire to make things exist.

    Ultimately, atheists will never explain this, no matter how hard they try.

    March 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • AGuest9

      (Sigh...) The big bang. That was too easy.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Intel

      you're not smarter than me.....and I don't know if god exists.....so you can't know either.....you can think it, guess it, hope for it, pretend it.......but you can't know it.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Evan

      The BIg Bang actually proves that God exists. The BIg Bang theory declares that things must exist outside of the universe. Therefore, the universe is not infinite, because it is expanding. Therefore, it was created by God. Also, the Big Bang theory does not explain why there is something rather than nothing. We do not have to exist, but we do, because God wants us to.

      Intel, knowing about whether or not God exists has nothing to do with Intelligence. It has to do with how we use our senses.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Intel

      yes...I guess I forgot to say "sense it".....you got me there evan.

      March 11, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Maybe


      "Therefore, the universe is not infinite, because it is expanding. Therefore, it was created by God."


      "We do not have to exist, but we do, because God wants us to."

      I hope that you did not injure yourself on those virtual pole-vaults of logic.

      Could it be *any* other way? Could we *not know* any other ways yet?

      March 11, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Medardus


      "Therefore, it was created by God."


      "I don't know how it happened but Goddidit."

      I didn't know things were that easy. Why can't Republicans go two days without remorselessly destroying the fabric of American society? GODDIDIT!

      That's awesome. Seriously, that's going to replace "I don't know" in my vocabulary

      March 11, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  2. Google Santorum

    Go ahead
    do it

    March 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  3. everteta

    To those who do not believe in God (or anything else, apparently),

    How do you deal with the rather bleak outlook of knowing your ultimate destiny is a wooden box under six feet of dirt?

    March 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Not Really Sure

      and neither are you.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • AGuest9

      We live and we die. Some of us procreate. Some of us are educated. After we cease living, we will decay just like all organic matter. That's the ultimate destiny of every living thing.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • JacobS

      Many people live as atheists but few die as atheists. To AGuest9, when you are on your deathbed, remember your words today and ask yourself, do I still believe that? Having had the honor of being beside many death beds due to my line of work, I know what your answer will most likely be. People who are dying believe in God.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Stevie7

      I have no problem with it. I don't focus on the future and what might or might not be. I live in the present.

      But your comment to me is why many, if not most, people turned to religion. They can't handle death and need something to feel better about it.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • CallHim Jmmanuel

      Everteta how do you feel that all religions have bloodstained histories of persecution and wars? I do not look forward to a wooden box just what lies ahead of me as i live.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Been on the way out 3 times so far. Have yet to reach out to any Flying Spaghetti Monster to pull me back from the brink. I don't see myself doing it the final time, either.

      March 11, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Frogist

      @everteta: Just so you know, a non-belief in a deity doesn't mean non-belief in everything else.
      I deal with that bleak outlook much like everyone else does when they lose someone they love. You soothe yourself with the fact that the suffering they had in life is over. And that the memories and joy they brought in life live on with those they loved.
      @JacobS: That's a weighty statement. I hope you have proof of your assertions that atheists revert to religion on their deathbed. As it stands it sounds like a cliched stereotype.

      March 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • everteta

      @CallHim Jmmanuel
      Atheism does not have a better track record–and the most destructive war in human history (WWII) was not religiously motivated.

      March 11, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Medardus


      "...and the most destructive war in human history (WWII) was not religiously motivated."

      Correct. It wasn't motivated by atheism either.

      March 11, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  4. TommyTT

    Not sure why this article inspired hissy-fits between "true believers" and atheists. BORING. So you believe different things. Get over it. Meanwhile, here's a brilliant man exploring the teachings of Jesus for reflections on living a good and moral life. That's worth knowing about. I'd like to read it - and I'm Jewish.

    March 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  5. a hit of chronic

    wouldn't stand to reason, that if you cut taxes to the top percent, that they would reinvest that money, and create jobs, and the economy would be great.
    well they didn't reinvest the money, (at least not in America) they didn't create jobs (at least not in America) and the economy blows..........tax cuts to the top percents......like paying more in taxes should be their biggest problem.
    VOTE DEMOCRAT........or vote yourself out of a job.

    March 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  6. vel

    In that God doesn't exist, God did not give people free will. You can also say that the character God gave no one free will since everytime God interferes, that abrogates free will. We also see this in Romans 9 where God says that some people are intended to be damned through out no fault of their own and how he treats the pharoah when he forces the pharoah to do things he wouldnt' *and* when God murders the first born of people who had no choice in what their leader did. Jefferson had a good idea. Remove the magic and keep the supposed words (I do wonder if he kept Luke 19 where it says to kill those who don't accept JC as "king"?) There is no evidence that JC existed adn therefore no evidence of any "salvation" or anythign else in the bible. It's been over 2 millenia, where is the evidence Jews and Christians have been lookign so desperately for? Where's the exodus when supposed millions of jews migrated? The massacre of the innocents? The "flood"? Why do people still believe such ridiculous myths that are no different from any other culture of that time period?

    March 11, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Evan

      Clearly you have never read the Bible.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Intel

      wait....are you saying pontius pilate could have said no.........??

      March 11, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Medardus


      Are you really going to start with the circular reasoning again?

      There is no historical evidence for the existence of the personage of Jesus. Period. Honestly, someone performing miracles and preaching sermons so popular he has to do it from a boat because there's no room on the shore would have been recorded by Christians and non-Christians alike. But they weren't.

      March 11, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  7. morons

    I am 100% atheist, but I see no reason why anyone should be offended by or concerned with this project. It is part of our history, regardless of the actual belief system of dog worshippers, it is in fact, historically relevant and a national treasure.

    March 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  8. AGuest9

    It can be read online, or you can pick it up for about $5. It's probably closer to any of the "inspired gospels" to what could have been reality.

    Now, if we could just get the church to admit that Easter is a fraud originated by James as a power grab in the early church... It back-fired on him, however, as the disciples followed Peter. Ever wonder why the "risen Christ" wasn't recognized on the road to Emmaus? Jesus, the mystic healer, was rotting somewhere in a shallow grave after being "resurrected" by James. The man on the road to Emmaus was a fraud, and all part of James' plot.

    March 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  9. micmorri

    All religions are fairy tales taken way out of context. There is no god of any kind. Jesus was just the Houdini of the ancient world performing miraculous-like magic tricks, not the messiah. Muhammad was just a merchant/warlord that saw an opportunity to gather an army by claiming he was receiving messages from god, just so he could conquer the middleast. Believing in these fairy tails is like believing Zeus is the god of gods, or that Odin is the chief god of the norse, or any other old story that was once believed to be true. Stop kidding yourselves! There is no god. When we die we rot and return the organic materials of our being to be used by other organisms of earth. There is no such thing as a soul. When we die the lights are out, thats it, no heaven, hell, or purgatory, or anything else that might lure you into believing this nonsence

    March 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • JacobS

      When atheists die, they get all dressed up and have no place to go.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • AGuest9

      @JacobS, just like every other living thing. We try to fool ourselves that we are any different.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Frogist


      March 11, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  10. liz

    Thomas Jefferson couldn't have done a wrose job at cherry picking the Bible than do way too many of our modern faux Christians

    March 11, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • JacobS

      liz, I wish I could disagree with you... but I can't.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • vel

      Every Christian is sure those "other" Christians are wrong and only *they* have what God "really" meant. IWe can see that with the thousands of Christians sects. All smugly sure that their interpretation is the "right" one.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  11. ELH

    Why is it that any article, no matter what its message or content, that mentions the bible or God starts a maelstrom of posts by believers of God and disbelievers of God about whether God does or does not exist? How about commentary on the substance of the article, or is that beneath you?

    March 11, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • JacobS

      It is amazing to imagine a retired Thomas Jefferson taking the time to go through the gospels and cut out the words of Jesus to paste in a separate book. As a deist, that must have been the ultimate way of honoring the teachings of Jesus. It was like he was protecting the words of Jesus from what he considered to be the conterfeit additions of men. I disagree with his opinion on the parts of the Bible that he cut out, but one cannot but be impressed with the fact that Jefferson must have had the greatest respect for the teachings of Jesus Christ.

      Somebody earlier in these comments asked what Jefferson would think of modern conservative Christians. He probably wouldn't have liked them... but he probably would have thought them 10 times smarter than modern atheists.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Frogist

      @ELH: Excellent point! I truly wish that were the focus of our discussions. Unfortunately, they do get out of hand. The claims of some posters need to be refuted and that sends things off on a tangent. But you are absolutely right!

      March 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Maybe


      Well, it sort of does come full circle. If "God" does not exist, then we could do as Jefferson did, and excise all mention of things supernatural from the Bible, and just keep a few ancient pearls of wisdom and a bit of Middle Eastern historical facts.

      March 11, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Medardus


      "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."

      Actually, I think he'd pretty much approve of atheists. Particularly with advancements in the sciences being as they are between his time and ours.

      Do, however, go on thinking you're smarter than everyone simply because of your religious beliefs. I mean, honestly, an atheist with a degree in comparative religion? They don't exist.

      March 11, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  12. Graham

    Bush 43 was going to do the same thing. Compare discrepant Bibles in multiple languages, including Latin and Greek, and assemble a text of his own. But he got too busy watching football.


    March 11, 2011 at 4:19 pm |

    "And if a man sells his daughter to be a female servant, she shall not go out as the male servants do. If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money." (Exodus 21:7-11)

    Nothing like a little slavery in your bible

    March 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Evan

      In Ancient Israel, people were very poor. Often, people could not rely on money to survive. However, in this passage, God ensures that slaves are treated fairly. Sometimes, a person was better off with food as a slave than starving "free".

      Besides, the Bible does not support unjust slavery. In Philemon, Paul tells a man to treat a runaway slave as a brother.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Inglourious

      "Unjust slavery"? So there is "just slavery"?

      March 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Evan: You do know you are acknowledging that slavery is OK'ed by the Bible, and therefore your god. I thought you said morality was objective and slavery was wrong... Isn't this a contradiction of your previous position? Or is slavery ok but only for Christians, because it's in their god's book?

      March 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Chris

      Yes, Inglourious. It was called indentured servitude. Look it up.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • vel

      yes, there seems to have been indentured servitude. But it wasn't all just that. What exactly do you think humans taken as war prizes were? Women had to accept any man who came to them to "take" them as a wife or concubine. Would you like that, dear, to be so enslaved that you couldn't refuse? or how would you like to have to leave your family when your servitude was up if you married a slave? Choose, your freedom or your family. Which one will it be, by the law of a petty hateful god?

      March 11, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Kevin, Virginia

      Evan, its nice to see you are like 99% of other christians out there that try ti justify owning another preson in the buybull. its also nice to see that you ignore the part where it is ok to beat your slave to death as long as he does not die that day or the next.

      ignorance is ignorance, and you sire are ignroant.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Inglourious

      @Chris. The Bible was used by Southern Baptists to "justify" slavery before the Civil War. Are you trying to justify slavery in order to rationalize your Biblical beliefs? Are you able to bring yourself to say that slavery cannot be justified?

      March 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Evan

      Kevin, Virginia, yes, I did forget about that part because it doesn't exist. The Bible tells us to treat servants fairly.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Inglourious

      @Evan: what part does not exist? The part about it being OK to beat your slave as long as the slave does not die right away? How do you interpret Exodus 21:20-21?

      March 11, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Evan

      "Don't beat your slave at all because if you do, they will die and you will be punished."

      March 11, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Inglourious

      Did you overlook verse 21?

      March 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Chris: I doubt that those beholden in "indentured servitude" as slaves to their masters would consider their position a just one.
      @Evan: Seriously? Have slaves, just don't beat them. If you really believed that, why don't you have slaves?

      March 11, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  14. Slave comment

    Massa Jefferson was a good massa! He done shown us how to fap!

    March 11, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  15. Father Probe

    Jefferson was a lovely child.

    March 11, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  16. raven26

    It'd be fascinating to read his selections. I imagine it would say a lot about his views and beliefs.

    March 11, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Karl

      To my understanding, Jefferson took out anything "supernatural" – the virgin birth, the miracles, the ressurection, etc., and kept the teachings.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • SteveInMI

      It's still in print; I just bought a copy a few weeks ago.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Owen4

      Karl, I believe you are right. Jefferson thought Jesus to be a great moral philosopher and wanted to focus on that aspect of the New Testament – his teachings on how one should treat others. Jefferson was, at best, dubious about the miracles, etc. I think his "scrapbook" would be interesting to reasonable people on both sides of the "God exists" debate.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  17. JacobS

    Every aspect of our world has been affected by Jesus Christ. The truth is that even if one were to try, the most intelligent atheist in the world could not even begin to imagine what our world would currently be like had Jesus not lived in it. Much of Western Culture is based upon and indeed built upon the teachings of Jesus Christ – Democracy and the Protestant Work Ethic are just two things that immediately come to mind. Every major religion recognizes Jesus in some positive way, even if they do not worship Him as Christians do.

    Jesus is the singular giant of history.

    Modern atheists are like ripples in a cup of water compared to Him. To disagree with Jesus is one thing. To attempt to deny His influence over our world is like denying the existence of the sun.

    March 11, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Evan

      "Denying the existence of the Son is like denying the existence of the sun".

      March 11, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Medardus

      Without Jesus there wouldn't have been a certain holocaust.


      "Denying the existence of the Son is like denying the existence of the sun".

      I can see the sun. I'm pretty sure I know how it got there, too.

      Anyway, be careful Jacob. Wouldn't want you to hurt yourself while you felate your ego.

      March 11, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • JacobS

      Medardus said, "Without Jesus there wouldn't have been a certain holocaust."

      Thank you for proving how stupid an atheist's arguments are. But in a sense, although you are too stupid to realize it, you have proved my point.

      Hitler invoked Jesus for the holocaust.
      Yet Churchill saw himself as defending Christian civilization against tyranny.
      Ghandi invoked Jesus for peaceful protest.
      Lincoln invoked Jesus to end slavery. Lincoln's greatest quote is directly from Jesus.
      Many in the south invoked Jesus to maintain slavery.
      We are talking about Him now...

      Like I said, in your imbecilic way, you have shown that we cannot even fathom a world without Jesus.

      March 11, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Evan

      Medardus, Hitler was not Christian, no matter what he claims. A Christian loves Jesus. Clearly, Hitler did not.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • QS

      "you have shown that we cannot even fathom a world without Jesus."

      LMAO!! So indoctrination of nearly the entire population, most since before they could even walk or talk, and the perpetuation of a myth for 2,000 years equals not being able to fathom a world without Jesus.

      Makes perfect sense actually, since the cult that trumped up the Jesus story in the first place was integral in passing it on and laying the ground work for preventing future generations from thinking for themselves.

      So I actually do agree that unfortunately many of us today can't imagine a world where Jesus didn't exist...but I don't agree as to the reason you believe that is.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Evan

      QS, he was using a metaphor. Besides, the Law that God gave the Hebrews before Jesus was there to bring them to faith and prepare them for Jesus.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Frogist

      @JacobS: By mentioning the South's justification of slavery by invoking Jesus, you seem to be disproving Evan's point that morality is objective because of Jesus and God.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Owen4

      Mendarus – if you're pretty sure you know how the sun got to where it is, which means you can explain the forces behind the creation of the universe, which means you can tell us why there's something rather than nothing, I think we're all ears.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • SaneAtheist


      Like most Christians you credit Jesus with too much influence and you have a poor understanding where the basis of Western Civilization really comes from.
      This line nearly made me fall off my chair.

      "Much of Western Culture is based upon and indeed built upon the teachings of Jesus Christ – Democracy and the Protestant Work Ethic are just two things that immediately come to mind. "

      Two things are wrong with this line, one is Jesus never spoke of Democracy or democratic ideals. In fact Jesus was , according to the Bible, fine with conditions like slavery and the authoritarian rule of Rome. He believed that the world was soon to come to an end and one need not worry if they were kept in involuntary servitude or occupied by a super power. "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's "
      The second problem is Democracy preceded Jesus by many hundreds of years. Democracy was born in pagan Greece. Democracy has no connection with Christianity in any way . Thank the Greeks for Democracy and for the majority of Western Civilization because our culture and system of government stems from their Classical period. The Rebirth of Democracy 300 years ago is thanks to Humanist Enlightenment principles and the rebirth of Ancient Greece's influence on thinking. The founders were seen by the Christian Clergy of Europe as sacrilegious blasphemers . God installed Kings to rule, perhaps you've heard of "the divine right of kings" . For the Founders to rebel against that divine right was treason to God.

      March 11, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Medardus


      "Thank you for proving how stupid an atheist's arguments are. But in a sense, although you are too stupid to realize it, you have proved my point."

      How very Christian of you.


      Hitler was a Roman Catholic. He proclaimed that he was doing the Lord's work. He even went so far as to enter into an agreement with the Vatican in 1933. Saying he was "no true Scotsman" does not eliminate the fact that his actions were religiously motivated.

      March 11, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Evolved DNA

      Evan.. almost correct .. a sun died eons ago in a supernova that allowed the iron that is your blood, in your car, and likely in the staples holding your Bible together, to exist . You will have to do more research to understand why but you are are connected to the universe in the most beautiful way. The atoms in your body have been recycled many times, and will be again when we die.. truly fantastic.. you could have been part of a rock, the sea or a tree in the past...the atoms are as old as the universe.. so in a sense we are immensely old... all of us.

      March 11, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  18. Evan

    Steve, you may deny it, but we all know what right or wrong is.

    If you say "We decide what is right or wrong", you cannot live consistently by that theory. If I held a pot of boiling water above your head (I'm not angry with you, I'm just using you in this exmple), you could not tell me to stop, because what if I thought pouring boiling water on peoples' heads it right?

    If you say "Society decides right or wrong" then you are saying that Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus Christ, Gandhi are the most evil people ever, because they pointed out they saw wrong in society and fought (not violently) against it. Also, the problem with this theory is it is based on observation of the way things are, not the way things should be. Everyone on earth could do something and it could still be wrong (slavery, for example)

    Morals are objective. They are fact. Morals are not suggestions or nagging feelings, but knowledge of what we should do.

    March 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Frogist

      @ Evan: Respectfully, no we do not all know what right or wrong is.
      As an example, from your point of view as a believer, I can assume you think atheists are wrong, and you are right in your belief that god exists. But as much as you seem convinced of your position, so are the non-believers. You both think you are right. Which means not everybody knows right from wrong. And that means your god doesn't exist in the way you say he does. All because atheists don't believe you're right.

      March 11, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Steve

      Morals are not objective. The morality of any situation is determined on a case by case evaluation of the possible outcomes. "Good and Evil" or "Right or Wrong" are abstractions. Morality is a process whereby the beneficial or harmful outcomes of an action are compared and the choices made are labelled either good or bad depending on societal or cultural norms. Your idea of objective morality would make such decisions black or white when they are not. Within the scope of moral decisions "life is preferable to death", "pleasure is preferable to pain"..etc. but a gray area exists where the simple choice isn't always the moral one. By your own "rules" killing is amoral and for the most part I would agree with you. Yet we kill animals to eat...or I would kill to defend my family from an assailant bent on killing or raping my daughter or wife. The act itself isn't moral choice but the outcome is.

      March 11, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Evan

      Steve, you may claim that, but you cannot live by that. If somebody was holding a pot of boiling water above your head, by your philosophy, you could not tell that person to stop, because what if they believed they were doing the right thing? Ultimately, this reasoning works only until that person is wronged.

      Another fault to your reasoning is you are trying to go about it scientifically using observation. Observation is the way things are; morals are the way they are supposed to be.

      Also, by your definition, Hitler and Gandhi were equally moral, because "there is no right or wrong".

      As with your thing about killing animals, the Bible makes it clear that while animals should be treated justly, Humans rule over the animals.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Evan

      Frogist, you are golfing with a friend, and you disagree over how many shots you took on a hole. Your friend says 5, you say 4. You cannot both be right; either one of you is right or both of you are wrong. Just because there is disagreement does not mean there is no right answer.

      "You both think you are right. Which means not everybody knows right from wrong".

      Just because somebody thinks they are right does not mean they are right.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • dnfromge

      Evan, you make little to no sense. Sorry!

      March 11, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Evan

      And that's your fault for refusing to understand.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Adam

      Morals are not objective. They are products of the times we live in and the civilization you grew up in. Different cultures place different emphasis on what they see as being moral and immoral behavior. This is even true within our own country. Some people see h0m0s3xuality as a sin and others do not. You cannot possibly hope to claim you know what is moral and what is immoral. You will always find people who will disagree with you even within your own religion and culture.

      March 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Evan: Your assertion was that everyone knows right from wrong. I have proven your stance incorrect. You have not disproven mine by saying disagreements exist.
      By your own analogy, even you do not know the truth.

      March 11, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • David Johnson


      You said: "Morals are objective. They are fact. Morals are not suggestions or nagging feelings, but knowledge of what we should do."

      There are no set rules for behavior that cannot be changed. No objective morality. All morality is relative. Subjective.

      Our morals evolved along with our intellect. It is part of the survival of our species. We began to feel empathy for our fellow creatures. Sympathy for their misfortunes and pain.

      Scientists have found this trait developing in primates.

      We learn our morals and our religion from our parents.

      Society stamps every individual with its concepts. If you were born in U. S., you have many Christian concepts whether you are religious or not.

      The people of Iran have Muslim concepts.

      If you or any of the fundies were adopted by Muslims when you were babies, and raised in Iran, you would be followers of the religion of Islam.

      All children are born atheist. Parents work to instill their religion and values, almost from birth.

      Nothing is always right or always wrong.

      War, killing, is wrong. But not so wrong, if you have a Hitler in the world, committing genocide.

      Telling a lie is wrong. But not so wrong, if you have a girl hiding in your attic.

      Stealing is wrong. But not so wrong, if your children are starving and you pinch a loaf of bread.

      It is wrong to not honor your father and mother. But not so wrong, if they beat and neglected you.

      Having objective morals, having knowledge of what we should do, indicates that there is a moral law giver. I bet you were thinking that was the Christian god. Right?

      1. Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good?

      2. Is what is commanded by god morally good, because it is commanded by God?

      If we say that god commands what is morally good, because it is morally good (1), then we are saying that what god commands is based on some standard apart from Himself... Morality would be anterior to god. And god would be good, only if He acted in accordance with this independent moral standard.

      If we say that it is morally good, because it is commanded by God (2), this implies that what is good is whimsical. Not objective. God would be deciding what is good or bad in the same way, that CNN decides what words to filter.

      God says: "Thou shalt not kill." And then prescribes the death penalty for certain "sins" and orders men, women and children be murdered.
      So, even god does not believe in absolutes. He finds exceptions to the rules. Relative morality.

      Society must decide what they will allow and not allow, based on an action's effect on society.

      Gay marriage has no bad effect on society. It should be allowed.

      Murder has a very negative impact on society. It should not be allowed.

      Notice how god is not needed for any of these decisions?


      March 11, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Evan

      Society does not define right and wrong. Everyone in a society could do something, and it could still be wrong (slavery, for example). If you are correct, than Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Jesus Christ, Mother Theresa and the like are the most evil people who ever existed. Their crime? They pointed out they saw wrong in society and fought against it. If you are correct, than what the Nazis did was the right thing to do, because it was what society had decided in Germany.

      What I have said above sounds ridiculous, I know. However, it is with good reason: morals are not defined by society.

      March 11, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  19. False Reality

    "When is good ever harmful to people?"

    False belief is a perfect example. You believe that Faith is a good thing and prayer, you are stuck in a harmful situation like a plane going down, you start praying to God because prayer is good instead of actually taking steps to try to prevent the plane going down. The plane crashes and that is bad. You can then in retrospect say that prayer isn't good, but at the time you though it was a "good" act, but it had a bad result.

    "Bad does sometimes help people: prove that God exists. God uses our evil to do His good."

    This is not proof...proof requires EVIDENCE, this is just a statement without anything to back it up. You need to reference the exact good you are referring to and then prove that that good was created by your God.

    March 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Evan

      God gave us free-will. Free will means we can choose between doing what is right and what is wrong. For us to have free will, there must be evil. For there to be evil, there must be good. God did not create evil, we created it. However, God did allow evil (which was ultimately good, because it gave us free-will and therefore the ability to do good), but we made it actual.

      If God destroyed evil, he would have to destroy us, because we are evil. If God did not destroy everyone, He would have to draw a line. What if you were one sin past that line? If we are to not be destroyed, evil must be defeated, not destroyed.

      Evil has been defeated by Jesus Christ. Jesus suffered for us, and took the punishment we deserve for our sins. Jesus' perfect sacrifice gives us eternal life. The greastest good we can do is believing in Jesus. The worst evil we can do is not believe, because it shows we do not care about the suffering of God's son. Jesus has promised those who believe will recieve eternal life. He said we would have to suffer in this world, because we are the light in the darkness and the darkness wants to overcome us, and for the world is full of darkness. But he promised that suffering is nothing compared to the reward he will give us. He solves the problem of moral and natural evil. If a Christian dies in a plane crash, God promises we will not fail to recieve great reward. If a Christian is murdered, the Christian will not go unrewarded. Ultimately, evil is a problem for those who refuse to believe only.

      "Why would a loving God send people to Hell? Why do finite crimes deserve infinite punishment?" God is loving, but that is not his only characteristic. God is also just. Besides, if God gave Hitler and Martin Luther King Jr. the same fate, would you call Him loving? Also, God does not throw people in Hell; they throw themselves in. God has given us the key to eternal life. If we refuse that key, we have done the worst evil possible. God does not hate them, but they chose to hate God, and God cannot contradict his own nature by not being just. I agree with you: "Finite crimes do not deserve infinite punishment". The problem is our crimes are not finite, for all of our sins are against God, who is eternal. The our crimes, which are infinite because they are against the Infinte, must be eternal. However, God sent Jesus to take the punishment we deserve to save us form such a horrible fate.

      Again, evil is only a problem for those who refuse Christ.

      March 11, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Medardus

      If your God is omnipotent then there is no such thing as free will. If he knows everything before it happens then it doesn't matter if I choose a moral or immoral life. My choice has been made for me. So much for free will.

      "If God destroyed evil, he would have to destroy us, because we are evil."

      Nothing like an omnipotent god creating flawed humans and then blaming them for being flawed.

      "The worst evil we can do is not believe, because it shows we do not care about the suffering of God's son."

      So your god sent his only son into this world to suffer and die (great parenting). However, he ressurects him (three days lag). So where's the sacrifice? Nothing was lost.

      Since I've got a dinner to make and a woman whom I'm not married to to have intimate relations with I'll sum up my argument thus:

      God says, "I'm going to create man and woman with orginal sin. Then I'm going to impregnate a woman with myself as her child so I can be born. Once alive, I will kill myself as a sacrifice to myself to save you from the sin I orginally condemned you to. TADAH!"

      March 11, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • airwx

      @Medarus Your arguement is interesting, almost Calvinist, but fails to comprehend how free will and and God being all knowing can co-exist logically. You interpretation requires God to conform to time as you define time. You discount that God is not subject to time at all; that outside our perception time is irrelevant. That is how God can know our future (he exists at moments of time simultaneously and not force an outcome, which leaves us in our state of free will.

      March 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Evan

      God knows what we will choose. However, the choices are still ours. However, by saying that we do not have free will, you are actually helping me. If I am right and we do have free will, God exists. If you are right and I am right and we do not have free will, God must exist to force his will on us.

      God didn't create us flawed. He created us with free will. We chose to be flawed.

      If Jesus was just a man, nothing was lost. However, He was not man, He was God's son. He died for our sins, and his resurrection is his overcoming of our sins. Besides, everything was lost. Jesus, who three decades ago had wise kings cross the dessert to see him, was punished, mocked, sold like a slave, hung on a cross, and worse of all, He was abondonned by the only friends He had in this world.

      This is proof you have never read the Bible; the epistles clearly explain that Jesus was a perfect sacrifice. Please read the Bible.

      March 11, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Evan, you are absolutely correct, man created evil. Man also created your god.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Evan: "The greatest good we can do is believing in Jesus. The worst evil we can do is not believe... If a Christian dies in a plane crash, God promises we will not fail to receive a great reward... Ultimately, evil is a problem for those who do not believe only."
      There is nothing more dangerous than someone who believes nothing they can ever do would ever be evil, because they are exempted from wrong by some outside force.
      Replace the word "Jesus" and "God" with the word "Allah", and "Christian" for "Muslim" and you might realize why this philosophy is a dangerous one.
      Or for you conservatives, replace "Jesus" and "God" with "the DNC" and "Christian" with "Democrat".
      Or how about "Communism" and "communist"?
      Or maybe "Wall Street" and "investment bankers"?
      Why do you think Christian absolutism is immune? All those others believe they are doing right too.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • micmorri

      Where do these crazies come up with this stuff? Oh ya ancient books... Theyre reeeeaaaal reliable

      March 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Kevin, Virginia

      @ airwx
      Freewill and an all know god can not exist together logically. they are mutually exlusive.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Adam

      @airwx It is a tremendous stretch of logic to attempt to reason through the possibility of god's existence. To attempt to use logic to prove how our free will and his omnipotence can coexist in the universe is down right absurd since the first criteria (god's existence) is to be assumed. Our (as in you, me and everyone else) understanding of reality is so skewed and subjective that you cannot possibly hope to reason through such a thing. It is this misunderstand and lack of knowledge that leads people to contemplate and assert the existence of god with no real proof or evidence other than a sacred collection of texts written over the last few thousand years. God is simply an explaination for that which we do not understand about our ego centric existence. The common misconception is that those who do not believe in a creator or creators must prove their nonexistence. This is impossible. It would be like trying to prove that invisible unicorns one-hundred stories high don't exist. You cannot because you will never find evidence that they do not exist. You can only find evidence that they do exist. The burden of proof lies on the group asserting the existence of something rather than those who assert the nonexistence of something. The only true definition of god that is correct is the natural laws of this universe which comes to a disappointment to most as these are not sentient nor personal. I do not mean this as a knock at theists, it is simply how I see things.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Evan

      You atheists contradict yourself. When you say "God does not allow free will", you are proving that God exists. If you are wrong, Christians are right, and God still exists.

      Basically, all you are doing is attacking the source of logic with logic, the source of reason with reason, and the source of science with science.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Evan

      Micmorri, yes, the Bible is very reliable. It is the most reliable ancient book in existence.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Adam

      I did not say "God does not allow free will". God has no choice in the matter because he doesn't exist.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Evan

      God doesn't exist? You know this how? Unless you can convince me you always have existed and always will existed, maybe I will believe you.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Stevie7

      If freewill exists, than god must exist? That's about as flawed of logic as you can get.

      I want someone to answer this, if the story of Noah is true, then why would a good loving god kill every living thing on earth except for two of each species. What did all those giraffes do to god? I assume that everyone also include pregnant women and young children. Where's the good in THAT? If the old testament god and the new testament god are one in the same, then god is clearly bipolar.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • airwx

      @Kevin...only by your personal feeling can you make that statement. Once you come to realize that time is not linear, not infinite and not subject to human control can you begin to see my point.

      @Adam...I appreciate your att-itude toward theists..and yes your thinking that being a theist is not logical by your understanding of logic. I would pose this thought....God is an absurdity to those who use human logic, but an easy concept to those who can suspend their humanness and think in terms of more than the observable. Restated:
      I believe in God.
      You do not believe in god.
      We are both right.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Adam

      Read my previous post. It is not my job to prove to you that God doesn't exist. It is impossible to prove something doesn't exist. If I told you dragons are living among us you would think I'm crazy, but based upon your logic it is not me that has to prove that they exist but rather it is you that must prove they do not exist. That makes no sense at all. You can assert that god exists and you can have the strength of numbers to back you up, but it is your responsiblilty to prove the existence of God through real physical evidence instead of ancient texts and leaps of faith. I am sorry to tell you that just because you believe something with all your heart, that does not mean it is true.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Evan

      Stevie, God is all loving. But that is not only his only characteristic. He is also just. Besides, if God gave Hitler and Gandhi the same fate, would you call him loving? God was protecting mankind by removing the world of evil.

      I find myself repeating the same arguments alot because you guys refuse to listen to me. Basically, you are closing your eyes and blaming Christians for it.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Adam

      @airwx I must say I think it is more of a stretch to suspend everything that we have learned about ourselves and our universe thusfar...however I appreciate the civility you show in your argument. I appreciate your rational approach toward the subject

      @evan I do not blame christians for anything. I won't allow myself to cast blame on individual groups for attrocities. It is humanity as a whole that is to blame for our history.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Maybe

      Here's one example of "God's" morality, as found on a definitive answers-to-everything Christian apologetics website:

      "In some instances, God ordered the killing of entire populations, presumably including the killing of babies and children. Isn't God unrighteous in killing these innocent little ones? First of all, the Bible indicates that all people are sinners, including babies, and worthy of judgment. However, the Bible also indicates that children are incapable of making moral choices, so that they are automatically rewarded with heaven. So, in having babies killed, God is actually doing them a favor, since, if they had grown up opposed to God, they would have gone to hell."–Richard Deem

      They walk among us...

      March 11, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  20. Evan

    When is good ever harmful to people?

    Bad does sometimes help people: prove that God exists. God uses our evil to do His good.

    March 11, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Medardus

      Mind your balance, you're reaching pretty far.

      March 11, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Sybaris

      You cannot prove your god exists, the purple unicorn in my closet telepathically told me so.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • C+

      What do you consider good. Paying higher taxes may provide the government with funding to aid seniors, impoverished persons, and military contractors. Giving money to your church may end up providing clean water to Cambodians or pay for a second home for the pastor. There are negative consequences to most "positive" actions. What is good to you may be horrible to another. The world is not black and white and neither is good and evil.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • C+

      Have fun with your "FAITH"! Everyone needs a hobby.

      March 11, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.