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The age of reason av Thomas Paine
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The age of reason (utgåvan 2005)

av Thomas Paine

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Paine's years of study and reflection on the role of religion in society culminated with this, his final work. An attack on revealed religion from the deist point of view -- embodied by Paine's credo, "I believe in one God, and no more" -- its critical and objective examination of Old and New Testaments cites numerous contradictions.… (mer)
Medlem:Brian-Hansen
Titel:The age of reason
Författare:Thomas Paine
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The Age of Reason av Thomas Paine

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    Brev från jorden av Mark Twain (Waldheri)
    Waldheri: Similar because: both are easy to read and have similar anti-religious goals.
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Thomas Paine

The Age of Reason

Watts & Co., Hardback, 1945.

16mo. xx+236 pp. The Thinker’s Library No. 69. Biographical Introduction adapted from an essay by John M. Robertson [ix-xx]. Appendix I & II [233-6].

First published in 1794 (Part I), 1795 (Part II) and 1807 (Part III).
Published by Daniel Isaac Eaton, 1795 (Part I) and 1796 (Part II).
Edited by Hypathia Bradlaugh Bonner, 1907.
First published in The Thinker's Library, 1938.
Second impression, 1945.

Contents

Biographical Introduction

The Age of Reason

Part the First
Part II: Preface
Part the Second
- [The Old Testament]
- The New Testament
- Epistles of Paul
- Conclusion
Part the Third
- Preface
- Introductory Chapter
- An Essay on Dream
- An Examination of the Passages in the New Testament
- The Book of Mark
- The Book of Luke
- The Book of John
Appendix I: My Private Thoughts on a Future State
Appendix II: Contradictory Doctrines in the New Testament between Mathew and Mark

===========================================================

After Common Sense (1776) and Rights of Man (1791-2), this is Tom Paine’s third and last masterpiece. It was his most controversial work, and it did make his old age in the young USA rather unhappy. He knew the former and expected the latter, yet neither stopped him from publishing. As he explains in the very beginning of Parts One and Two, the recent events in France stirred him to write what he had intended to be his last work, “at a time when the purity of the motive that induced me to it could not admit of a question, even by those who might disapprove the work.” Robespierre and the Reign of Terror changed all that. But why try paraphrasing the prose of Tom Paine? You might as well try to recompose the symphonies of Beethoven or repaint the Sistine Chapel.

The circumstance that has now taken place in France, of the total abolition of the whole national order of priesthood, and of everything appertaining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary; lest, in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true.

The Age of Reason is three books into one. It is part demolition of “Christian mythology”, part passionate Deist manifesto, and part autobiography. This is the order of diminishing prominence, and perhaps importance, but the three parts are intricately weaved together and none of them makes full sense alone. There is a fair share of repetition, but only of things worth repeating within the context.

The Bible destruction occupies virtually the whole of Parts Two and Three as well as a good deal from Part One. As a piece of sustained sarcasm and satirical brilliance, it has never been equalled, much less surpassed, at least not in English. The writing is brimming with relish and gusto unknown in our times of much hysteria but little deep feeling. The so-called “New Atheists” are no contenders at all. Tom Paine makes Dawkins and Hitchens look like a couple of innocent mischief-makers. And he was there more than 200 years before them. Paine was certainly not the first to denounce religion as a man-made lunacy, what we would call today a conspiracy theory. David Hume, for one, had been there just a few decades earlier with his Natural History of Religion (1757). But even Hume, one of the finest writers among philosophers, had nothing like Paine’s rhetorical virtuosity and razor-sharp wit. The combination is often hilarious and always devastating.

The Book of Job is the only part of the Bible for which Tom Paine does express some admiration. He considers it “the meditations of a mind strongly impressed with the vicissitudes of human life, and by turns sinking under, and struggling against the pressure [...] a mind cultivated in science, which the Jews, so far from being famous for, were very ignorant of.” He concludes that the Book of Job is so different in manner and matter from the rest of the Bible that it’s not really part of it. I don’t know if “modern scholarship” (a kind of god these days) has refuted this, nor do I particularly care (ditto with Paine’s charming hypothesis that “prophet” originally meant “poet”, or even musical performer).

Job aside, the Old Testament is all rubbish. The Book of Revelation, “by the by, is a book of riddles that requires a revelation to explain it”. Kings and Chronicles are concerned with “the lives and actions of the Jewish kings, who in general were a parcel of rascals”. Solomon’s Songs are “amorous and foolish enough, but which wrinkled fanaticism has called divine.” Solomon himself was a “worn-out debauchee” who filled Ecclesiastes with his muddled reflections. And so on, and so forth. But don’t let the sparkling wit fool you. This is a very serious discourse. Using only internal evidence, painstakingly working his way through one of the worst written books ever, Tom Paine shows conclusively that the Old Testament is a hastily assembled collection full of glaring inconsistencies and fabulous nonsense, to say nothing of page after page of conquest, carnage and genocide that no amount of divine intervention can make right.

The New Testament – “The new Testament! – that is, the new will, as if there could be two wills of the Creator.” – is generally supposed to be an improvement on the Old. Not so according to Tom Paine. He does have a great deal of respect, even affection, for Jesus – if anything, he has too much! – but as for his story in the gospels, it is “like a farce of one act” compared to the Old Testament and, so far as it is based on its predecessor, “it must follow the fate of its foundation”. Jesus as a “reformer and revolutionist” is a very much more probable scenario than the “son of God” stuff and all that biblical jazz:

That such a person as Jesus Christ existed, and that he was crucified – which was the mode of execution at that day – are historical relations strictly within the limits of probability. He preached most excellent morality, and the equality of man; but he preached also against the corruptions and avarice of the Jewish priests, and this brought upon him the hatred and vengeance of the whole order of priesthood. The accusation which those priests brought against him was that of sedition and conspiracy against the Roman government, to which the Jews were then subject and tributary; and it is not improbable that the Roman Government might have some secret apprehension of the effects of his doctrine as well as the Jewish priests; neither is it improbable that Jesus Christ had in contemplation the delivery of the Jewish nation from the bondage of the Romans. Between the two, however, this virtuous reformer and revolutionist lost his life.

It is upon this plain narrative of facts, together with another case I am going to mention, that the Christian mythologists calling themselves the Christian Church have erected their fable, which, for absurdity and extravagance, is not exceeded by anything that is to be found in the mythology of the ancients.


It would be doing Paine an injustice, however, if I have implied he fully agrees with Christ’s teaching. Far from it! The Sermon on the Mount contains “a good deal of feigned morality”, none more than “turn the other cheek” and “love thy enemy”. Paine is almost brutal on the subject. He is positive that revenge is useless, because there is no end of retaliation, especially when both parties call it justice, “but to love in proportion to the injury, if it could be done, would be to offer a premium for a crime.” As for OCT (Other Cheek Theory), this is “assassinating the dignity of forbearance, and sinking man into a spaniel”. Typically deadly in his Gibbonian footnotes, Paine mentions Solon on government at the expense of Jesus on morality.

As for St Paul, he is murdered and dissected with gusto: “[his character] has in it a great deal of violence and fanaticism; he had persecuted with as much heat as he preached afterwards [...] such men are never good moral evidences of any doctrine they preach.” Paine makes short work of Paul’s argument for immortality, and he considers the concept improper in the first place. Reflecting on the limitations of the human body, Paine comes with one of those searing observations that cut through his writings like lightning strikes: “It is too little for the magnitude of the scene, too mean for the sublimity of the subject.”

The problem with all that Bible-debunking is very much the same: the target isn’t worth the ammunition. The Bible is so obviously a work of fiction, so lame and shoddy in every possible way – “such a book of lies and contradictions there is no knowing which part to believe, or whether any” – that it’s not worth bothering with. Indeed, the author himself, in a casual footnote from Part Two, makes fun of his labour: “This book, the Bible, is too ridiculous for criticism.”

The labour is wasted anyway. The devotees will have no problem refuting Paine’s arguments about dubious authorship, inconsistent chronology, contrived prophesies and sloppy storytelling, to say nothing of the morally reprehensible character of God from the Old Testament, the dubious value of Christ’s maxims, and the logical absurdities about God’s all-powerful abilities. The truly pious souls, much like the Devil, can prove anything from Scripture. They will say it is all symbolic, allegorical and metaphorical, a visionary masterpiece way beyond the meagre intelligence of infidels like Tom Paine, and anyway God, being an all-powerful chap, can make anybody write anything regardless of trifles like authorship, chronology, historical fact or even moral rectitude.

Only the gorgeous prose can make page after page of Bible bashing enjoyable. Tom Paine certainly succeeds there. I don’t know about you, whoever you are (if anybody) reading this, but personally I can always re-read with pleasure passages like these:

Having now shown that every book in the Bible from Genesis to Judges is without authenticity, I come to the book of Ruth – an idle, bungling story foolishly told, nobody knows by whom, about a strolling country girl creeping silly to bed to her cousin Boaz. Pretty stuff, indeed, to be called the word of God! It is, however, one of the best books in the Bible, for it is free from murder and rapine.

People in general know not what wickedness there is in this pretended word of God. Brought up in habits of superstition, they take it for granted that the Bible is true, and that it is good; they permit themselves not to doubt of it; and they carry the ideas they form of the benevolence of the Almighty to the book which they have been taught to believe was written by his authority. Good heavens! it is quite another thing; it is a book of lies, wickedness, and blasphemy; for what can be greater blasphemy than to ascribe the wickedness of man to the orders of the Almighty?

Neither rhetoric nor reason, of course, is likely to change the mind of the truly Christian souls. But if some of them have any traces of sanity left, and perhaps some brains, Tom Paine may help them see the white light of revelation. It goes without saying that every relatively sane person with a modicum of intelligence would never take the Bible for a literal fact, much less the “Word of God” or “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Morality”. But, alas, insane people with no intelligence whatsoever are far from rare in this world. Those on the fence, however, showing some signs of reason by default (they wouldn’t be on the fence otherwise), might be pushed in the right direction.

Tom Paine cuts at the root, and he is not at all content with the absurdities within the Bible. Much of Part One is dedicated to much more fundamental problems. Only a few may be mentioned here. The changeable and imperfect nature of human language is unsuitable to transmit the “word of God”. Paine has no problem showing that revelation, in the sense of direct communication from the Almighty, even if it does exist, is a revelation to the single person who receives it: the rest is hearsay. No problem, either, showing the ridiculous and counterproductive nature of miracles, mysteries and prophesies (“prophesying is lying professionally”, one of those phrases that only Tom Paine could coin). A god who works with such methods must be a poor creature indeed! Some Almighty!

Paine also shows a firm grasp of, and great insight into, the historical development of The Greatest Fraud Ever Perpetuated. This is general and rather sweeping, yet very far from superficial and rather perceptive, thought-provoking stuff:

The persons who first preached the Christian system of faith, and in some measure combined with it the morality preached by Jesus Christ, might persuade themselves that it was better than the heathen mythology that then prevailed. From the first preachers, the fraud went on to the second, and to the third, till the idea of its being a pious fraud became lost in the belief of its being true; and that belief became again encouraged by the interest of those who made a livelihood by preaching it.

It is a pity that this “Thinker’s Library” edition omits the original subtitle of The Age of Reason: “Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology”. Far from being content with refuting and ridiculing “fabulous theology”, namely religious fairy tales like Christianity which turn God into Man (what greater irreverence than that!), Tom Paine tries to make as strong a case as possible for Deism. He probably does that as well as the limitations of the belief allow. If Tom Paine isn’t the patron saint of deists, he ought to be. He certainly nails his colours to the mast from the beginning:

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavouring to make our fellow-creatures happy.


Well, I don’t in the least share Paine’s deistic fantasies. I believe in no God whatsoever, and I’m pretty certain there will be nothing after this life, much less happiness. I agree that God, if He does exist and has indeed created the universe, must be almighty all right. But I see no evidence of his “munificence”, much less of his “benevolence”. Paine can be excused about the former. He could not have known at the time what science knows today. If he had, he might have concluded that God is a stingy fellow fond of endless recycling and reinvention. But benevolence! What is benevolent about a young man dying of an incurable disease or a young woman dying in childbirth? What is benevolent about hundreds and thousands of people dying in the latest epidemic, earthquake, flood, volcano eruption? What, indeed, is benevolent about dying of decrepit old age? I wouldn’t say God is malicious, but I do agree with Spinoza that He is profoundly indifferent.

On the other hand, it doesn’t matter a damn what one believes. The only thing that matters is what one does. You don’t need God, or gods, or a god, or whatever godlike delusions you care to invent, to practice the virtues of Tom Paine. If you are indeed just and merciful, and if you do make your fellow creatures happy, you can believe anything whatever you wish so far as I’m concerned.

Perhaps it matters more what one doesn’t believe. Tom Paine doesn’t believe all the right things. A non-credo couldn’t be any blunter than that:

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.


“My own mind is my own church.” That famous phrase seems like an arrogant claim at first glance, but it is actually nothing more than an appeal to use the reason we are supposed to posses. Reason, according to Tom Paine’s dedication (omitted in this edition; see Note below), “is the most formidable weapon against errors of every kind.” He goes even further in the work itself: “It is only by the exercise of reason that man can discover God.” This is what Paine calls “true theology”: the study of God’s handiwork, the whole of Creation with its principles. The only way to do this is through science: “It is from the study of the true theology that all our knowledge of science is derived; and it is from that knowledge that all the arts have originated.” (Here “arts” doesn’t mean the fine arts, as I ignorantly thought before, but rather what Bertrand Russell called scientific technique.) True theology is the opposite of “false theology”, also known as revealed religion, which relies on sacred books full of foolish fables.

So Deism, at least Tom Paine’s version of it, finally boils down to a scientific desire to understand nature, including, of course, ourselves. The role of science is not implied in some vague way. On the contrary, Paine is emphatic on that point, especially in the Conclusion to Part Two. Here science is deemed the only medium through which “man can see God, as it were, face to face.” The Almighty Himself is memorably described as “the great mechanic of the creation, the first philosopher and original teacher of all science”. The same leitmotif pops in elsewhere as well. In a sudden aside from Part Two, out of the blue in the middle of having fun with Solomon’s 700 wives and 300 concubines, the author confides:

To be happy in old age it is necessary that we accustom ourselves to objects that can accompany the mind all the way through life, and that we take the rest as good in their day. The mere man of pleasure is miserable in old age, and the mere drudge in business is but little better: whereas natural philosophy, mathematical and mechanical sciences, are a continual source of tranquil pleasure, and in spite of the gloomy dogmas of priests and of superstition, the study of those things is the study of the true theology; it teaches man to know and to admire the Creator, for the principles of science are in the creation, are unchangeable, and of divine origin.

Ironically, it was science that exploded Paine’s deistic fantasies. Half a century after his death in 1809, Darwin published On the Origin of Species and proposed a very simple yet comprehensive and compelling way how the marvellous “creation” on this planet could have evolved without “Creator”. The universe on the whole is quite another matter, of course. We know as yet far too little about it.

And here is the bottom line. Paine’s Deism may be ridiculous, especially his afterlife delusions in which he comes perilously close to the preposterous idea of a personal God who cares about Us, but his belief is far less ridiculous than the Christian fantasies. It is certainly on a much higher moral plane. Paine is broadminded enough to admit the right of belief to everybody, but merciless with religious hypocrisy. He makes rather a good case, as usual, but I do think he underestimates the amount of “moral mischief” that sincerity and good intentions may well cause. The point is nevertheless valid, I think, because religious hypocrites are in the majority compared to sincere believers:

I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise. They have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and, in order to
qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive anything more destructive to morality than this?

Can we, indeed!

Last and least but still thoroughly fascinating if Tom Paine is one of your favourite authors, the autobiography is the shortest of the three books. It is confined mostly to the second half of Part One, though one or two episodes slipped into the other parts. The Preface to Part Two, for instance, is the closest Tom Paine ever came to writing a picaresque novel, not to say a thriller. He relates with the eye of a novelist how he finished Part One hastily but six hours before he was arrested, how he entrusted the manuscript to a friend in the last minute, and the jolly time he had in prison (he nearly died of fever there).

It comes as no surprise to learn that Tom Paine had a strong scientific bent from an early age, nor was I surprised that he “repressed than encouraged” a modest talent for poetry because he felt it was leading “too much into the field of imagination”. He is awed above all by astronomy, an auspicious choice of science: “Astronomy, as nothing else can do, teaches men humility.”, in the apt words of Arthur Clarke. Paine’s description of the Solar System and beyond is obviously dated today. Indeed, it was dated even at the time of the first publication, for Paine speaks of six planets more than a decade after Uranus was discovered in 1781. Moncure Conway has gone as far as suggesting that this part must have been written prior to 1781. But Paine’s speculations about plurality of worlds are very prescient indeed. They all but predict most science fiction almost a century before the genre was even born, but they are also smartly used to denounce the quaint Christian notion of a single world.

Whatever the part or the argument, the writing remains exquisite. Tom Paine’s lucid and vigorous style has been his curse. He is a phrase maker of matchless pungency, and so quite a few otherwise intelligent people have dismissed him as a mere journalist, sort of one-man 18th-century tabloid. But he is so much more than that. The biblical criticism is devastating and wildly entertaining, the deistic position is noble and humane if really impossible to believe, and plenty of random wisdom is sprinkled on these pages as a bonus. But a single brief example will have to do here. Compulsory education is often regarded as a great sign of progress. It is anything but that. The only important education is the one that is not compulsory: the self-education. Tom Paine knew that long before schools became a permanent fixture of society:

As to the learning that any person gains from school education, it serves only, like a small capital, to put him in the way of beginning learning for himself afterwards. Every person of learning is finally his own teacher; the reason of which is that principles, being of a distinct quality from circumstances, cannot be impressed upon the memory. Their place of mental residence is the understanding, and they are never so lasting as when they begin by conception.

I cannot resist, by way of conclusion, Paine’s delightful attack on Homer and Aesop. He doesn’t pretend to be a literary critic, and says nothing bad about the style of either; indeed, later he praises Homer’s poetry very highly. But he does have strong moral objections, and to my mind he does make excellent points in both cases:

I am not contending for the morality of Homer; on the contrary, I think it a book of false glory, tending to inspire immoral and mischievous notions of honour; and with respect to Aesop, though the moral is in general just, the fable is often cruel; and the cruelty of the fable does more injury to the heart, especially in a child, than the moral does good to the judgment.

The Age of Reason remains a powerful work well over two centuries after its first publication. As long as religious superstition stays with us, the book will remain relevant as well, just like Rights of Man will have something important to tell us as long as government is the necessary evil. Alas, there are still people convinced that the Bible is divinely inspired and quite an infallible guide to moral conduct. Alas, again, Tom Paine is little read and less understood today. We are still very far from “The Age of Reason”, if anything farther than we were in Tom Paine’s time. What a shame for us!

Note on the Edition

It is a cute sixteenmo hardcover bound in red with black letters and simple but stylish white-blue dust jacket. The font is smallish but easy to read. The text, we are told in a brief “Publishers’ Note”, was reprinted from the edition of Mrs. H. Bradlaugh Bonner which in turn was based on that by D. Isaac Eaton published in 1795 and 1796. This is good enough for me. I would have liked to know something about the origins of Part Three, but no matter. Oddities of the text include no table of contents, no chapter headings in Part One and omission of Paine’s dedication. While the text seems quite complete, three parts, footnotes and all, the loss of the dedication is indeed regrettable. It is a charming trifle:

To my fellow-citizens of the United States of America:

I put the following work under your protection. It contains my opinions upon Religion. You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.

The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.

Your affectionate friend and fellow-citizen,
Thomas Paine

Luxembourg, 8th Pluviose, Second Year of the French Republic, one and indivisible.
January 27, O. S. 1794.


The Biographical Introduction is a special feature of this edition, though I understand it has been reprinted in many others. John Mackinnon Robertson (1856–1933) is an obscure Scottish journalist and politician, but thanks to our own Age of Reason – pardon, Age of Internet – we do know something about him. He wrote a fine essay, appreciative without being adulatory, informative without being pedantic, leaning a little too much on Moncure Conway’s classic biography (1892) but nevertheless written with certain personal vigour. Here are two examples which I personally find thought-provoking, though I don’t necessarily agree with all opinions expressed in them:

Had Paine chosen not to publish his opinions for the mass of the people to read, he would have been one of the most distinguished figures in the States. Mere tacit deism was really rather fashionable, as Unitarianism has been since; and even after the first shock of The Age of Reason, Paine had a good deal of moral support. But when he joined a deistic propaganda he found that in theology as in politics courage and constancy were scarce virtues. The Deists, perhaps conscious in many cases of the weakness of their own position, gradually succumbed, sliding into decorous Unitarianism, or wholly holding their peace; and before his death Paine was very lonely, so much so that he even planned a return to Europe. So far did hostility to him go that at one election his vote was actually refused, on the old pretence that he was a French subject, by an official who in the time of war had been a royalist, living within the British lines.

The one noticeable weak point in his character, a certain tendency to self-praise, is a fault that literally leans to virtue’s side, as it clearly connects with his absolute frankness and straightforwardness. Similar self-esteem is common enough, but habits of diplomacy develop the saving grace of mock modesty. Paine saw too much dishonest reticence to be careful about cultivating the habit in matters of public concern; and in point of fact, as his biographer points out, he was driven to self-vindication by endless vilification. The nearest approach he ever made to personal malice was in his few retaliations upon personal enemies or false friends, or, as in the case of Washington, on one who owed him much and had abandoned him to his enemies. As regards enemies, few men have had worse. And it should not be forgotten, as Dr. Conway remarks, that “several liberal Christians, like Hicks, were friendly towards Paine at the close of his life, whereas his most malignant enemies were of his own, ‘Painite’ household, Carver and Cheetham.”


My copy came with a most unexpected and most amusing bonus. I mean a number of pen notes neatly inscribed in the margins by a reader of obvious piety. He is scandalised by Paine’s opinions and describes them with words like “incorrect”, “inaccurate”, “bunkum” and “nonsense”. When the author says the only way to know God is through reason, our pious preacher responds that “faith is not contrary to but higher than reason”. When Tom Paine says the Bible is full of murder, our spiritual adviser intones in the margin: “True to life. Read the newspapers!” I generally avoid second-hand books with notes by their previous owners, but sometimes booksellers are more careless (or less honest) than they should be. For once, however, I am glad this book is not quite as described. I would have been sorry to miss all those pious gems. ( )
1 rösta Waldstein | Jan 22, 2021 |
Paine does a quite convincing job in debunking the Bible (as he calls only the Old Testament) and New Testament as any revelation or word of god, let alone a contemporaneous historical account of the times, by underscoring inconsistencies within the texts themselves to contest their authenticity of authorship, and thereby their reliability. He attributes many of the biblical stories to being merely old fables recast to suit the purposes of the authors. However, his treatment of this matter is overly simplistic and fails to appreciate (albeit understandably) the important role of these underlying mythologies in the evolution of our culture and, especially, psychology; although, to be fair, that's admittedly beyond the scope of what he set out to achieve, which has more to do with authenticity than utility. Finally, it is ironic that Paine strongly affirms his Deist faith in a Creator and a life hereafter, yet on the slimmest of premises: he cannot otherwise rationally explain how the universe may have come to be. One wonders whether he would still profess this faith were he alive today, given advances in scientific understanding in the more than two centuries since he wrote his treatise. ( )
  m.j.brown | Dec 13, 2020 |
Thomas Paine, the author of the famed Common Sense in 1776, extends his critique of Western culture from government to religion in this treatise. In it, he appeals for Deism based upon Nature instead of a religion based upon revelation. Like his contention that originally humans were free without a monarchy, he contends that humans originally had no Word of God and thus relied upon nature to teach us about God.

Thus far, as a Christian, I agree. The Book of Nature is often neglected by theologians who rely too strongly upon the revealed Book of Scripture. Furthermore, the Book of Scripture can have contradictions (which Paine is apt to point out) and gory stories. The history of Israel is one based upon rebellion against Yahweh (and mass killing in the name of Yahweh) instead of obedience to God. There is not a whole lot special about Scripture, especially the Old Testament. Even the stories of God the Father killing God the Son willingly seems a bit strange at times, I agree.

Nonetheless, I am more than a deist and a theist. I am a Trinitarian. Although I am not one to argue for the veracity of each miracle attested by Scripture, I (most of the time) believe in the story of Christ's defeat of death and the impending life in a new body.

Paine points out the audaciousness of this story. St. Paul would agree as do I. But the weight of the matter for me lies in the fact that many have died for this story, especially early on. Ten apostles died for this story, and the other one suffered greatly, at least according to tradition.

Paine's impending "Age of Reason" where religion was overturned never happened in its fullness. Sure, reason does rule our current society in the form of discourse, but parties and denominations are still with us. Indeed, Christianity is still practiced in much of the West, albeit in a form consistent with reason. The wholesale overturning of religion, even in a place like France with its violent French Revolution, never occurred.

Before Paine can win the argument that religion is the source of many of humanity's ills, he has to grapple with the radicalness of the French Revolution. Over 10,000 people died a death at the guillotine for what? For the betrayal of reason. Even Paine was put into French jails for not being radical enough. Such is human nature. Such is the reason why humans have government and religion.

I still buy a lot of Paine's naturalism in his critique of government and religion. I would betray my education in the sciences if I did not. Nonetheless, there is a time to suspend individualistic reason and to submit to each other. We must work together on this planet instead of opine. America's current administration should remember this lesson instead of going it alone. Learning to hold hands with each other and be led requires a social and community work that Paine neglects. Such is the essence of religion and government. Ex pluribus unum.
( )
  scottjpearson | Jan 25, 2020 |
'Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst,'' declared Thomas Paine, adding, ''every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity.'' Paine's years of study and reflection on the role of religion in society culminated with his final work, The Age of Reason. This coolly reasoned polemic influenced religious thinking throughout the world at the dawn of the nineteenth century, and its resonance remains undiminished by time.
The selfsame humanist and egalitarian views that made Paine a popular figure of the American Revolution brought him into frequent conflict with political authorities. Parts of The Age of Reason were written in a French jail, where Paine was confined for his opposition to the execution of Louis XVI. An atack on revealed religion from the deist point of view — embodied by Paine's credo, ''I believe in one God, and no more'' — this work undertakes a hitherto unheard-of approach to Bible study. Its critical and objective examination of Old and New Testatments cites nemerous contradictions as evidence against literal interpretations of the text. Well articulated and eminently readable, The Age of Reason is a classic of free though
  aitastaes | Jun 18, 2019 |
I picked up this book a few years ago intending to read it. As is often the case, simply could not get into it at that time. The current political climate, especially the desire of some to impose their religious views upon everyone, makes its message more appealing. Paine, as were many of the founding fathers, was a deist. That fact is conveniently ignored by those with an agenda to promote their own brand of Christianity. ( )
  Maratona | Jan 4, 2019 |
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Paine's years of study and reflection on the role of religion in society culminated with this, his final work. An attack on revealed religion from the deist point of view -- embodied by Paine's credo, "I believe in one God, and no more" -- its critical and objective examination of Old and New Testaments cites numerous contradictions.

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