When visiting the Jefferson Memorial last week, I was perplexed by a series of four quotes carved into the walls of the third president’s monument. These four quotes are pictured below [click to enlarge in separate tab]:
Upon reading the quotes something became apparent to me: one of them made the most sense, one of them I could pretty much agree with, and two of them I found rather ill-befitting Thomas Jefferson’s memory. Can you guess which one belongs to which?
Numbers 2 and 3 deal with the latter reason above. For an Enlightenment man like Jefferson to want two such passages, which credit citizen’s rights only by “the Holy Author,” is hard to believe. It’s enough to have rule by Divine Right, like select monarchies in Europe; do we have to have to include citizen rights as recipients of “the Holy Author’s” plan as well?
With the Enlightenment (and Humanist) lens to look through in a modern era in which human ingenuity is not only yielding visible results but astoundingly successful in improving the lives of others, why is it still a thing that our accomplishments and guaranteed rights must be “because God wanted it for us”? Numbers 1, 2, and 3 suggest we have no say in our future and the hundreds of other species we share this planet with. Why can’t people stand up for rights, freedoms, and achievements simply because people wanted to make life better for other people? What’s more evident of our progress, identity, and evolution than attributing our triumphs and milestones to actual people? Why is all the credit being outsourced to a supernatural being?
Nevertheless, Tom J. was a man of his time, a victim of the modern notion the United States was constructed with a religious design. Now it is entirely possible he was a man of faith and enthused by the Enlightenment; I have not done sufficient research. But I find it hard to pair someone who attributes human advancements to divinity with someone who wants to honor Enlightenment and Renaissance culture at the same time. It just seems contradictory to me. I will admit to be wrong and up for a discussion if ever I found myself prompted to engage in one. I’m just speaking my mind with what I know at present.
Numbers 1 and 4 are more flexible when it comes to divine will or don’t lay it on as much. Number 1, while showing promise of secular value with references to the Declaration of Independence (which Jefferson penned), I find its accreditation to God a little deflating. The founders didn’t say, “hey, let’s ditch the British because God told me last night that we have certain inalienable rights.” “I didn’t know that. Thanks God for letting us realize our potential for independence and fair representation!” I believe, with support from historical evidence and anecdotes, that the founders instead said, “I don’t really like how Britain is kicking us around, not giving us a seat in Parliament, so we can have a say as a valuable portion of the British Empire’s revenue and population. If they won’t give us a voice, we should make our own.”
The final quote, number 4, is the one that gives me the most hope for our future. Jefferson himself advocated for the editing of documents and laws, so they won’t fall behind on the trail as the people become more aware of our potential. It literally is written in stone “laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind as that becomes more developed, more enlightened.” What a fantastic way to put it, and it’s so relevant today. There’s a reason Congress is so congested. They don’t realize it’s a natural part of this democratic experiment to amend and change outdated laws. To an extent, we’ve outgrown our “old coat” to where we’re stretching the seams.
To poke at writing and exercise a little bit, we should not be afraid to try new things when we become too comfortable in what we already know, our routine. I’m not saying shift habits daily. But whenever you feel like you can’t bring yourself to write for a longer period of time than is customary for a healthy break, or you’re just not motivated to go to the gym and work on your body, it’s time to find a new way of doing things. You don’t have to commit to something forever. Even when it’s published, or photographed, that doesn’t mean you should keep doing it that way because it worked for that story, that muscle group. Each story, each muscle, requires the person to know how to treat it specifically. As seen here, things written in stone don’t always apply forever.