I’m looking for the source of a quote, attributed by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion (p. 31) to Thomas Jefferson. Dawkins writes:
Thomas Jefferson – better read – was of a similar opinion: ‘The Christian God is a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.’
I cannot find a citation online for this quote, and Dawkins does not provide one. The Jefferson archive at Virginia (which has over 1,700 items online) has a single document (a letter to William Short) which contains the phrase “a being of
terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust”. In context, the phrase is:
There are, I acknowledge, passages not free from objection, which we may, with probability, ascribe to Jesus himself; but claiming indulgence from the circumstances under which he acted. His object was the reformation of some articles in the religion of the Jews, as taught by Moses. That sect had presented for the object of their worship, a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust. Jesus, taking for his type the best qualities of the human head and heart, wisdom, justice,
goodness, and adding to them power, ascribed all of these, but in infinite perfection, to the Supreme Being, and formed him really worthy of their adoration.
While this contains the phrase “a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust,” it seems, under fair reading, to be referring to the Jewish conception of God as “taught by Moses”. In any case, the quote as given by Dawkins does not occur.
Online there are references to Jefferson saying:
I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded upon fables and mythologies. The Christian God is a being of terrific character — cruel, vindictive, capricious, and unjust…” (Works Vol. iv., p. 325).
Can any reader provide concrete evidence for Jefferson saying what Dawkins attributes to him?
(Please note that I’m not trying to attribute any dishonesty to Dawkins. The quote does appear frequently online without attribution. I’m just trying to figure out whether we’re dealing with a spurious quote here.)