Thomas Paine was one of the leading lights of the American Revolution, and it could well be said that without his Common Sense acting as a conceptual catalyst, there never would have been a United States. Paine, however, was always on the "immoderate" end of the debate (much like Ron Paul is in our current political landscape), unwilling to drop his principles to "make nice" with individuals and groups who he considered to be enemies of Liberty. However, all that I'd read of him prior to this still left me wondering why he elicited such vehement disregard as Teddy Roosevelt's describing him as a "dirty little atheist". Well, getting around to reading Paine's The Age of Reason cleared that up for me!
To be accurate, Paine's religious views are "Deist" bordering on "Pantheist", but they are extremely heartfelt, and seriously presented. An old saw is that "there are no atheists in foxholes", well, Paine wrote this remarkable volume in the dark days of the French revolution, having finished Part 1 scant hours before he was placed under arrest, and writing Part 2 in prison as he awaited what he had to assume was a date with the guillotine (he escaped execution at one point only by clerical error!). That The Age of Reason was, by his reckoning, likely to be his last statement, makes his steadfast denunciation of the Judeo/Christian scriptures all the more inspiring.
I could rave about the words of this great man for hours, but will let him speak here:
Needles to say, these are not the words of an atheist, but of a man unwilling to bend to the superstitions of the herd. It is amazing how current his thought appears, evidencing that even two centuries ago, the threat of theocracy was ever-present, and the forces of blind belief were the enemies of science and the freedom of thought!The word of god is the creation we behold: And it is in this world, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man.
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The idea that God sent Jesus Christ to publish, as the say, the glad tidings to all nations, from one end of the earth unto the other, is consistent only with the ignorance of those who know nothing of the extent of the world ...
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It is a fraud of the Christian system to call the sciences human inventions; it is only the application of them that is human. Every science has for its basis a system of principles as fixed and unalterable as those by which the universe is regulated and governed.
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People in general know not what wickedness there is in this pretended work 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!
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The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race, have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion.
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Deism then teaches us, without the possibility of being deceived, all that is necessary or proper to be known. The Creation is the Bible of the deist. He there reads, in the hand-writing of the Creator himself, the certainty of his existence and the immutability of his power; and all other Bibles and Testaments are to him forgeries.
This is certainly one of those books that I wish all people would read ... heck, it's even available free on the web in various editions. Every Bible-thumping moron who claims that this is "a Christian country" should be required to read it, as Paine is as close to the philosophical core of the American founders as any writer could be, and that "detestable religion" had very little to do with what formed the vision of the great American experiment!
Needless to say, there are many choices for obtaining The Age of Reason, from reading it free on the web, to pricey academic hardcovers. The one I have is a Dover book with a very reasonable $6.95 cover price ... toss this in the next time you're a few buck shy of the $25 free shipping on a book order!