It’s important to put this quote in full context, because like so many other quotes, it’s been misused and abused over the years. Jefferson wrote this in the middle of a rather long letter to his nephew, Peter Carr, advising him on which languages to study and why, philosophy, and of course, religion.
In it, he says,
“Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a God, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a God, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. In fine, I repeat, you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it.”
While he was referring directly to religious studies, this idea of not being frightened by the answers you may find in your search is an important one. We are frequently afraid to be wrong, and that fear keeps us from seeking the truth, in whichever direction it lays.
In other correspondence written by Jefferson, he expressed a strong belief in God, but also revealed that he had doubts on occasion. In this letter to his nephew, he is very clear in his desire for his nephew to seek out the answers for himself.
Isn’t that what we want for all our children—for them to seek out answers on their own? To eventually be able to learn anything they want, and to fearlessly explore the world? To this end, I often tell my music students that I am not trying to be their teacher for life, but that my goal is to eventually work myself out of a job. It’s a good goal, and one I fully intend to realize with my children. I’m halfway there now, two are grown and my oldest son is getting married next year. It isn’t about trying to get rid of them, but at some point, I fully expect them to take care of themselves.
So “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness…” Apply this to everything you study, and you’ll be amazed at where this journey of discovery will take you!
Learning Tangent is Gail’s brainchild. When it all goes down, she has to get the magazine out the door and on its way to subscribers. She has four kids, of whom she and her husband David homeschool two. She enjoys a wide range of activities including weaving, photography, writing, is a musician (both a teacher & performer), calligrapher, and is an avid sci-fi- & fantasy reader. You’ll generally find her busy doing whatever it is she wants to on a given day.