Thomas Paine: The Age of Reason



IN 1792 proceedings were taken against Thomas Paine as the author of seditious libel contained in his Rights of Man and, being convicted, he fled to France where he was elected a member of the National Convention. In 1793 he fell foul of Robespierre and while expecting arrest he wrote the first part of The Age of Reason, which was published in 1794. During his confinement in the Luxembourg he wrote a second part, which was published in 1795, and in 1801 he added a third part containing amplifications of contentions previously made at a time when he had no Bible to consult. The whole work constitutes an attack on revealed religion from the point of view of the eighteenth century deists.

[REVEALED RELIGION - THOMAS PAINE - FROM THE AGE OF REASON]

IT has been my intention, for several years past, to publish my thoughts upon religion. As several of my colleagues, and others of my fellow-citizens of France, have given me the example of making their voluntary and individual profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates with itself.

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

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

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 appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolise power and profit.

Each of those Churches shows certain books which they call 'revelation' or the word of God. The Jews say that the word of God was given by God to Moses face to face; the Christians say that their word of God came by divine inspiration; and the Turks say their word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from heaven. Each of these Churches accuses the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

As it is necessary to affix right ideas to the words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some observations on the word 'revelation.' Revelation, when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if He pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is a revelation to that person only.

When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is a revelation to the first person only, an heresay to every other; and consequently they are not obliged to believe it, for they have only the word of the first person that it was made to him.

That which is revelation to me exists in something which no human mind can invent, no human hand can counterfeit or alter.

The word of God is the creation we behold; and this word of God revealeth to man all that is necessary for him to know of his Creator.

Do we want to contemplate His power ? We see it in the immensity of His creation.

Do we want to contemplate His wisdom ? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed.

Do we want to contemplate His munificence ? We see it in the abundance with which He fills the earth.

Do we want to contemplate His mercy ? We see it in His not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful.

Do we want to contemplate His will, so far as it respects man ? The goodness He shows to all is a lesson for our conduct to each other.

In fine, do we want to know what God is ? Search not the book called the Scripture, which any human hand might make, but the Scripture called the Creation.

[THEOLOGY AND RELIGION]

AS to the Christian system of faith, it appears to me as a compound made up chiefly of manism with but little deism, and as near to atheism as twilight is to darkness.

That which is now called natural philosophy, embracing the whole circle of sciences, of which astronomy occupies the chief place, is the study of the works of God, and of the power and wisdom of God in His works, and is the true theology.

As to the theology that is now studied in its place, it is the study of human opinions and of human fancies concerning God. It is not the study of God Himself in the works that He has made, but in the works of writings that man has made; and it is not among the least of the mischiefs that the Christian system has done to the world that it has abandoned the original and beautiful system of theology, like a beautiful innocent, to distress and reproach, to make room for the hag of superstition.

The prejudice of unfounded belief often degenerates into the prejudices of custom, and becomes at last rank hypocrisy. When men from custom, or fashion, or any worldly motive, profess or pretend to believe what they do not believe, nor can give any reason for believing, they unship the helm of their morality and, being no longer honest in their own minds, they feel no moral difficulty in being unjust to others. It is from the influence of this vice, hypocrisy, that we see so many church and meeting-going professors and pretenders to religion so full of tricks and deceit in their dealings, and so loose in the performance of their engagements that they are not to be trusted further than the laws of the country will bind them.

One set of preachers make salvation to consist in believing. They tell their congregations that if they believe in Christ their sins shall be forgiven. This, in the first place, is an encouragement to sin; in the next place, the doctrine these men preach cannot be true.

Another set of preachers tell their congregations that God predestined and selected from all eternity a certain number to be saved, and a certain number to be damned eternally. If this were true, the day of judgement is past; their preaching is in vain, and they had better work at some useful calling for their livelihood.

Nothing that is here said can apply, even with the most distant disrespect, to the real character of Jesus Christ. He was a virtuous and an amiable man. The morality that He preached and practised was of the most benevolent kind, and, though similar systems of morality had been preached by Confucius and by some of the Greek philosophers many years before, by the Quakers since, and by many good men in all ages, it has not been exceeded by any.





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