Correcting a misquote, #2: John Adams' "best of all possible worlds"

14 Oct 2012

Uh-oh! Following up on earlier clarification of a Thomas Jefferson quote, this time I need to take a closer look at words from the second president of the US, John Adams.

An anonymous reader aptly points out that the following quote which appeared on this site is taken out of context and misleading:

This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.

— John Adams, US president

In actuality, those words appear in the following context, within a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated April 19, 1817:

Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all!!!” But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell.

That certainly does create a change in meaning. In his religious views, Adams showed little of the contrarianism of Jefferson, even speaking against critics of the Christian faith like Thomas Paine. In 1796, Adams wrote in his diary:

The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard Paine say what he will.

Needless to say, I diasgree with John Adams on the matter. It would have been interesting to hear him comport "wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity" with the Christian scriptures' commandments to take slaves, burn witches, murder children, perform executions for imagined crimes, and treat women as cattle. Alas, we can only guess at how the statesman would have logically reconciled the two opposites (even as we watch how modern believers consistently fail to do so).

On the other hand, I do agree with Adams that we would not necessarily have the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion at all; after all, there are many causes of sorrow besides religion. But unlike Adams, I believe that we would certainly have a better world without religion...

In any case, the original Adams quote that appeared on this site was indeed misleading, which is something I don't want (or need). The quote is now gone. My thanks to the anonymous commenter for the much-deserved correction!

Comments

Please post the verses in the New Testament that command us to “take slaves, burn witches, murder children, perform executions for imagined crimes, and treat women as cattle.”  

defaithed's picture

You bet! It's great that people want to know the locations of the scriptures that command or condone those horrible things, so allow me to provide. To ensure that the info is visible to all those looking to learn, though, and not hidden away in a comment, I'll take the liberty of replying in the form of new post. Watch the front page...

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