That is the result of this wonderful article from Catholic Culture.
“The email mafia has done it again. Yet another “unregistered visitor” has sought to correct us through the Contact Form. In this case, the message consisted only of a quote from Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Mrs. Samuel H. Smith on August 6, 1816, a few years after his two terms as President and about ten years before his death. This is Jefferson in his early 70s: “My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest. The artificial structures they have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it pence and power, revolts those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there.”
“Now this Contact Form message was not sent in response to any particular article. Despite deep and dark suspicions, I was not sure whether it was intended as a lament for Jefferson or a lament for Catholics. So I responded as follows:
“Yes, I was at Monticello recently [as indeed I was, on January 5th], and I prayed for Jefferson, who had the temerity to rewrite the Gospels without all the miracles and other signs of Christ’s divinity and His priestly sacrifice for sin, which He commissioned His Church to carry on through time.
“It is a shame,” I continued, that Jefferson not only saw only what he wanted to see, but took care to eliminate anything he did not want to see. The result was a sadly truncated contribution to a republic which would too often rely not on God but on human systems to achieve its goals, which is impossible.
“This, as you may imagine, drew my correspondent out: “I truly disagree. Man does not have to believe in god to care about other living creatures. Only those who were brain-washed from birth believe otherwise.” Notice how this echoes Jefferson’s cavalier comment about “those who think for themselves”. In any case, now the situation was very clear, so I risked a shot across the correspondent’s bow:
“Ah, but you are not helping your viewpoint along. To argue that everyone who disagrees with you must have been brainwashed from birth rather suggests a contempt for your fellow-creatures (note the word “creature”, which implies creation), as opposed to any sort of genuine care.
“But then the ground shifted under my feet, with this response: “No, I’m referring to creature as any animal born on this earth. It seems only man is arrogant enough to think he should have eternal life and everything he creates is a gift from God.”
“Of course, any sensible person would immediately advise our correspondent to stop and reflect: For it is rather obvious that man is not simply the only bodily creature who is arrogant enough to think certain things; he is the only bodily creature who can think at all.
“I use the term think here in its usual sense of a sustained process carried on through reason with all the necessary powers of self-awareness and abstraction which are characteristic of what we call the intellect. Along these same lines, I grant that mercy is appropriate in dealing with someone who is so obviously incapable of formulating a coherent argument, but I am not here calling attention to a worthy opponent in a debate. I am calling attention to the exchange because it illustrates something very important about the way we moderns too often approach reality. Consider: Does anyone know why this give-and-take was initiated with the particular quote from Jefferson? Are priests the nub of the problem (post 1, via Jefferson) or is God the nub of the problem (post 2)? Or is it really man who is the nub of the problem (post 3)?
“There is a disturbing devolution of the argument here, but what we see immediately is that this same sort of exchange is really very common today. First we notice that somebody rejects the Church; then we notice that it goes deeper than that, for the person actually rejects God. And finally we notice that it goes even deeper than that, for the person even rejects man. There are two possible trajectories in these discoveries. On the one hand, the crumbling of common sense may proceed in the order just given: Confusion about the Church leads to confusion about God which leads to confusion about man. Or we could reverse the sequence: Confusion about man leads to confusion about God, which leads to confusion about the Church.”