Christian nation hoaxes: Jefferson and the Geneva Academy


Chris Rodda has a bee in her bonnet about wacky claims about early U.S. government and Christianity — same bee I get on occasion (hence the famous phrase, “busy bee”).

At Talk to Action, Chris dissects one of the more odd and arcane claims of people like the late D. James Kennedy, that Thomas Jefferson tried to import a group of Calvinist seminarians to make the University of Virginia a religious institution. Kennedy’s claim is voodoo history at its most voodoo.

There are two things wrong with Kennedy’s claim. The first is the time frame. Jefferson did consider a proposal to move the Geneva Academy to the United States, but this was in 1794 and 1795, thirty years before the University of Virginia opened. The second is that, although the Geneva Academy was originally founded by John Calvin in 1559 as theological seminary, by the late 1700s it had been transformed into an academy of science. The plan considered by Jefferson was not to import a religious school. It was to import a group of Europe’s top science professors.

This one is so obscure I have heard it only a couple of times. I’m not sure if that’s because it is so far outside the world of reality that even most victims of these hoaxes recognize it, or if it just hasn’t gotten traction yet.

Jefferson’s relationship with religious instruction in higher education really never varied. When he was a member of the governing board of the College of William and Mary, the board of visitors, he successfully campaigned to rid the college of preachers in teaching positions, and with the money saved, he got lawyers hired to instruct in other topics instead. In his design for the University of Virginia, he most carefully left out religious instruction from the curriculum, and from the space of the university. Since he shared this view of religion in education with James Madison, Madison followed through on keeping the University of Virginia as an institution of learning and not religious indoctrination.

So, how could someone with the research chops claimed by the late Rev. Kennedy get this stuff so exactly wrong? He relied on an old hoaxer, Mark A. Beliles. Why could a scholar like Kennedy could be sucked in by such a clear and blatant hoax? Bogus history seemed to attract him like seagulls to and overturned hot dog cart.

Read it, and gain enlightenment on the facts, if not on the motivations of Rev. Kennedy.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

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