Note: This is an excerpt from Antidisestablishmentarianism.
It is also included in the free serial version Part One: “What Is an Establishment of Religion?”
“I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person. … If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it? I intend this letter itself as a proof of my friendship.”
A Founding Father Like No Other
Thomas Paine stands out among the founding fathers in sharp contrast to their acknowledgements of faith and reliance upon God and Christianity for their work to free and found our country.
Paine was an English political writer and activist who claimed American citizenship (see end of chapter for an explanation of how the United States viewed his claim) and was given French citizenship. He wrote the three best-selling books of the 18th Century: Common Sense, The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason. His works were widely read but his influence on what eventually became the United States was surprisingly limited. He roused people to action, stated simply and passionately many necessary arguments for independence, and was respected by many of the Founding Fathers and later great men for his persuasive style of writing.
“I never tire of reading Tom Paine.” Abraham Lincoln
“I consider Paine our greatest political thinker. As we have not advanced, and perhaps never shall advance, beyond the Declaration and Constitution, so Paine has had no successors who extended his principles.” Thomas Alva Edison
“Thomas Paine needs no monument made with hands; he has erected a monument in the hearts of all lovers of liberty.” Andrew Jackson.4
When Bonaparte returned from Italy he … invited him [Paine] to dinner: in … his rapturous address … he declared that a statue of gold ought to be erected to him in every city in the universe, assuring him that he always slept with his book Rights of Man under his pillow and conjured him to honor him with his correspondence and advice. This anecdote is only related as a fact. Of the sincerity of the compliment, those may judge who know Bonaparte’s principles best.5
Speaking Out on “The Age of Reason” — John Adams
John Adams gave Paine full credit for his positive influence on the cause of fighting for independence. Yet he looked back on the effect of Paine’s writings on the men of his time with a less than complimentary eye.
I am willing you should call this the Age of Frivolity … would not object if you had named it the Age of Folly, Vice, Frenzy, Brutality, Daemons, Buonaparte, Tom Paine, or the Age of the Burning Brand from the Bottomless Pit, or anything but the Age of Reason. I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs for the last thirty years than Tom Paine. …Never before in any age of the world was [anyone] suffered by the poltroonery of mankind, to run through such a career of mischief. Call it then the Age of Paine.6
Thomas Paine promoted women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, an end to the practice of dueling, even sought laws against cruelty to animals. He urged the revolutionary French not to execute their king, to be the first nation in the world to abolish the death penalty, and was imprisoned and almost executed himself as a result. Biographer Robert Ingersoll insists, “The good people of this world agree with Thomas Paine.”4
But when he died none of the great names of the revolution, the Constitutional Convention, or any of the other founding fathers came to his funeral. He was buried on his farm, though “He wished to be buried in the Quaker burying ground. … The committee of the Quakers refused to receive his body, at which he seemed deeply moved.”7
Speaking Out on “The Age of Reason” — Ben Franklin
Benjamin Franklin might have remained his friend, yet he said concerning the publication of works like The Age of Reason,
I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundation of all religion. For without the belief of a Providence that takes cognizance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion that … the consequence of printing this piece will be a great deal of odium [hate] drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits into the wind, spits in his own face. But were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? … Think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue. … I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person. … If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it? I intend this letter itself as a proof of my friendship.1
Critic of Christianity
Thomas Paine was a bitter, caustic critic of Christianity and organized religion of any kind. He clearly saw the corruption of the Established Religion but he rejected truth and the Scriptures as coming from God himself. He saw the Bible as concocted by the organized church. He denounced many state constitutions for claiming to be tolerant but being tolerant only of Christianity, and attacked the authority of Scriptures repeatedly. Although his ideas have existed for centuries, Thomas Paine was the founding father to whom Secular Humanists look back to justify most of their beliefs and ideas. Secularists today loudly echo Thomas Paine’s views on Christianity.
“No falsehood is so fatal as that which is made an article of faith.”8
“Of all the tyrannies that afflict mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst. Every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in, but this attempts a stride beyond the grave and seeks to pursue us into eternity.”9
“What is it the New Testament teaches us? To believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married; and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.”10
“The Bible: a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.”11
“The Christian system of religion is an outrage on common sense.”12
“It has been the scheme of the Christian church, and of all the other invented systems of religion, to hold man in ignorance of the Creator, as it is of government to hold him in ignorance of his rights. The systems of the one are as false as those of the other, and are calculated for mutual support.”10
“Priests and conjurors are of the same trade.”12
“Jesus Christ, … at once both God and man, and also the Son of God, celestially begotten, on purpose to be sacrificed, because they say that Eve in her longing … had eaten an apple.”13
“The Church was resolved to have a New Testament, and as, after the lapse of more than three hundred years, no handwriting could be proved or disproved, the Church, which like former impostors had then gotten possession of the State, had everything its own way. It invented creeds… and out of the loads of rubbish that were presented it voted four to be Gospels, and others to be Epistles, as we now find them arranged.”14
“Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon that the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”11
“As to the Christian system of faith, it appears to me as a species of atheism — a sort of religious denial of God. It professed to believe in man rather than in God. It is as near to atheism as twilight to darkness. It introduces between man and his Maker an opaque body, which it calls a Redeemer, as the moon introduces her opaque self between the earth and the sun, and it produces by this means a religious or irreligious eclipse of the light. It has put the whole orbit of reason into shade.”15
“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.”10
“Yet this is the trash that the Church imposes upon the world as the Word of God; this is the collection of lies and contradictions called the Holy Bible! this is the rubbish called Revealed Religion!”16
“The continually progressive change to which the meaning of words is subject, the want of a universal language which renders translation necessary, the errors to which translations are again subject, the mistakes of copyists and printers, together with the possibility of willful alteration, are of themselves evidences that the human language, whether in speech or in print, cannot be the vehicle of the Word of God. The Word of God exists in something else.”11
“The fable of Christ and his twelve apostles, which is a parody on the Sun and the twelve signs of the Zodiac, copied from the ancient religions of the Eastern world, is the least hurtful part.”17
Light from Heaven for Faulty Reason
John Calvin agreed with Paine’s assessment that man had faults, follies and prejudices, but disagreed that reason was sufficient to overcome them.
…In order to our being properly qualified for becoming his disciples, we must lay aside all confidence in our own abilities, and seek light from heaven; and, abandoning the foolish opinion of free-will, must give ourselves up to be governed by God.18
Samuel Adams also had a sage observation for those who claimed to be governed by reason. It is clear from the passion and the venom with which Thomas Paine frequently speaks that Adams’ words apply to him. “Mankind are governed more by their feelings than by reason.”19
“My Religion Is to Do Good”
Apart from the topic of religion, Thomas Paine writes as if he were a humble servant of man. The quotation below is a thinly disguised arrogance, as is the last quote in the previous section. Men like John Jay were not deceived. “ … As to The Age of Reason, it never appeared to me to have been written from a disinterested love of truth or of mankind,”20 Jay said. Paine explains below that he needs no organized religion like the rest of the founding fathers.
I speak an open and disinterested language, dictated by no passion but that of humanity. To me, who have not only refused offers, because I thought them improper, but have declined rewards I might with reputation have accepted, it is no wonder that meanness and imposition appear disgustful. Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.21
John Calvin had a ready response to a man who claimed to be disinterested, that is, to seek only others’ good, and to want no rewards himself, yet refuse to allow a place for the truth of God’s Word in his or anyone else’s life.
“Mingled vanity and pride appear … when miserable men do seek after God, … they measure him by their own carnal stupidity, and neglecting solid inquiry, fly off to indulge their curiosity in vain speculation. Hence, they … imagine him to be whatever their own rashness has devised.22
It was a common practice in that time period to write anonymously. The authors of the Federalist Papers did not reveal their identities. Many pamphleteers were seeking support for specific religious or political views. But Paine takes extra care to disassociate himself from parties or religions, and claims to be governed only by reason and principle. Again this seems to be arrogant. It was the age of reason for everyone, not just Paine, and principle was paramount to the cause of American liberty, but not principle without belief.
[Knowing] Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the DOCTRINE ITSELF, not the MAN. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That he is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.23
Paine was right about the restrictions government places on society and the dangers that could lead to. He planned to train men to be perfectly governed by reason, without the need for politics or religion.
Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first a patron, the last a punisher.
Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.24
Virtue Attainable by Reason?
The quote below is a rallying call few could resist or disagree with. This was Thomas Paine’s specialty, firing up people’s emotions to a cause, in spite of his claim to be speaking only out of reason and principle. The quote following seems ironic, considering Thomas Paine had no source for his concept of virtue except his own mind. This is a common idea among humanists, however, that virtue is attainable by reason. The majority of the founding fathers disagreed.
O! ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the Old World is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger and England hath given her warning to depart. O! Receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.25
When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.26
Complete Unity or Universal Control?
Below Paine voices another common humanist concept, that the cause is universal, and complete unity is necessary. He talks about freedom but actually wants universal control. Anybody who disagrees has to be put up with until Paine can convince them he is right. He believed that religion could be divorced from politics. “I bid you farewell, sincerely wishing, that as men and Christians, ye may always fully and uninterruptedly enjoy every civil and religious right.”27 Presumably he wished religious rights to extend only to completely private practice, out of sight, out of mind, influencing no one, seen and heard nowhere, as humanists today wish.
The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth. ‘Tis not the affair of a city, a country, a province, or a kingdom, but of a continent—of at least one eighth part of the habitable globe. ‘Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected, even to the end of time, by the proceedings now. Now is the seed time of continental union, faith and honor. The least fracture now will be like a name engraved with the point of a pin on the tender rind of a young oak; The wound will enlarge with the tree, and posterity read it in full grown characters.25
It is of the utmost danger to society to make it [religion] a party in political disputes.28
Mingling religion with politics may be disavowed and reprobated by every inhabitant of America.28
“The Best of Men”
George Washington had Thomas Paine’s Crisis publications read to the troops to rally them. No one could motivate men like Paine. “Without the pen of Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain,”29 was a legendary saying even in Paine’s own lifetime. Clearly Paine assigned different meanings to familiar words than conservative, Bible-believers would. He acknowledged a god, but it was purely of his own making. He speaks of hell but would never acknowledge that the Bible correctly describes it. He even mentions Heaven, using it in the sense of a supreme being and a place from which goodness and wisdom come, as was common for deists and others in that day. But keep in mind that Thomas Paine’s “god” did not even satisfy a “man of the world” like Benjamin Franklin.
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.30
If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.30
Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.31
But when the country, into which I had just set my foot, was set on fire about my ears, it was time to stir. It was time for every man to stir.32
Thomas Paine seems to be the best of men, ready to fight, though he considers killing in battle to be murder. It seems a noble cause until he begins to describe the aristocratic enemy. His low insults inflame the class envy of common against nobles. He says it doesn’t matter if your enemy has “noble blood.” And yet he has to mention it, has to insult it in gross terms.
It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.
My own line of reasoning is to myself as straight and clear as a ray of light. Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to “bind me in all cases whatsoever” to his absolute will, am I to suffer it? What signifies it to me, whether he who does it is a king or a common man; my countryman or not my countryman; whether it be done by an individual villain, or an army of them? If we reason to the root of things we shall find no difference; neither can any just cause be assigned why we should punish in the one case and pardon in the other. Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man.30
“Protecting the Enemy”
Thomas Paine claimed it was essential to protect enemies in order to protect everyone. Yet he insisted that those who disagreed must change, and that it would simply take time to change them. This is sometimes interpreted as a need for “re-education” in socialist totalitarian regimes, and resulted in confinement in the Gulag Archipelago for Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn.
He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
It is never to be expected in a revolution that every man is to change his opinion at the same moment. There never yet was any truth or any principle so irresistibly obvious that all men believed it at once. Time and reason must cooperate with each other to the final establishment of any principle; and therefore those who may happen to be first convinced have not a right to persecute others, on whom conviction operates more slowly. The moral principle of revolutions is to instruct, not to destroy.
An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.23
The preceding quote seems to reassure the readers that Paine would never stoop to treating enemies as England treated the American colonists. Secular Humanist newscasters claim it’s not oppression to mock or refuse to report on conservative events. Politicians must “protect” their constituents from a “violation of the establishment clause” when they forbid a nativity scene at a firehouse. Judges must “protect” schoolchildren from “religious indoctrination “ by permitting only “Science,” that is, evolution, to be taught in classrooms. The tree Paine planted, home-grown from the words of a founding father, has borne the bitter fruit of a uniquely American breed of Secular Humanism.
Did Paine intend this? Would he, like the other founding fathers, have cried out in horror at how people have interpreted his words? It’s hard to imagine he could make the claim of never having had any such intention when he tried to undermine the very foundation upon which the freedom we have was built. He “reasoned” out his own god, his own heaven and hell, his own virtue. He blasphemed the Christ who sealed our faith with the reality of His life, death, and resurrection.
Religion Forged from Reason
Paine had more thoughts on the subject of religion. Some seem innocuous, and some actually good and right sentiments. But remember that he is creating his own religion, forged from his own reason.
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.34
The word of god is the creation we behold and it is in this word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man.34
What more does man want to know than that the hand or power that made these things is divine, is omnipotent? Let him believe this with the force it is impossible to repel, if he permits his reason to act, and his rule of moral life will follow of course.35
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.36
Men did not make the earth… It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property… Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.37
Hypocrisy and Corrupt Revelations
Sometimes Paine spoke the truth about genuinely hypocritical and apostate practices he saw around him. Sometimes he used the “fruit of the poisoned tree” argument to conclude that because a bad “Christian” church (or Jewish synagogue, or Islamic mosque) did something clearly wrong, all religions had to be bad.
Each of those churches show certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God. The Jews say, that their 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, that their word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from Heaven. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.38
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.34
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.34
The following quote could be called a basis for the whole of modern belief system of Secular Humanism. The humanist will say that he was not given the revelation, therefore it is no revelation. He has a choice about whether to believe the Bible, because he has only a believer’s word that God spoke them to some prophet a long time ago. Remember that to a humanist belief means opinion, not conclusions based on evidence.
It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication. After this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner, for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.38
The Offense of the Cross
Christians often say that the greatest gift of God was the sacrifice of His Son, a source of great joy and cause for humble thanksgiving to the believer. Paine claims that Christians ignore the beauty and perfection of creation and God’s freely giving that gift to us. He claims we are proud, because we must have our maker die for us.
But if objects for gratitude and admiration are our desire, do they not present themselves every hour to our eyes? Do we not see a fair creation prepared to receive us the instant we are born — a world furnished to our hands, that cost us nothing? Is it we that light up the sun, that pour down the rain, and fill the earth with abundance? Whether we sleep or wake, the vast machinery of the universe still goes on. Are these things, and the blessings they indicate in future, nothing to us? Can our gross feelings be excited by no other subjects than tragedy and suicide? Or is the gloomy pride of man become so intolerable, that nothing can flatter it but a sacrifice of the Creator?39
If Jesus Christ was the being which those Mythologists tell us he was, and that he came into this world to suffer, which is a word they sometimes use instead of to die, the only real suffering he could have endured, would have been to live. His existence here was a state of exilement or transportation from Heaven, and the way back to his original country was to die. In fine, everything in this strange system is the reverse of what it pretends to be.11
Paine had seen the Roman Catholic Church corruptly claim that people had to pay money to have their sins pardoned, even have the living pay for the sins of the dead to help them escape purgatory. This clear heresy was already dealt with by men like Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Wycliffe, but it is a common thing for humanists to ignore an answer to an argument and keep blaming those who have any remote connection (called by the name of a Christian religion is close enough for Paine) for a past wrong. So he reasons his way to a discounting of the doctrine of original sin, clearly taught in the Scriptures, explaining that man does not need a Savior, because he never fell from grace or separated himself from God.
The doctrine of redemption is founded on a mere pecuniary idea corresponding to that of a debt which another person might pay; and as this pecuniary idea corresponds again with the system of second redemption, obtained through the means of money given to the Church for pardons, the probability is that the same persons fabricated both the one and the other of those theories; and that, in truth there is no such thing as redemption — that it is fabulous, and that man stands in the same relative condition with his Maker as he ever did stand since man existed, and that it is his greatest consolation to think so.40
For what is the amount of all his prayers but an attempt to make the Almighty change his mind, and act otherwise than he does? It is as if he were to say: Thou knowest not so well as I.40
My Mind Is My Church
Paine wants to appear humble here, so in the previous quote he claims that it is pride for Christians to believe that God wishes them to pray and honors what they say. But he casts off that pretense as he speaks in the next quote, and shows that he is superior to pathetic believers in prayer, whatever god they pray to. His religion is science, the study and appreciation of nature, the only practice by which man may worship. Today, Secular Humanism still holds “Science” as its worship. Devotees have taken Paine’s teachings to their logical conclusion, that nature generated life apart from any divinity, out of the non-living, over billions of uniformitarianism years, and evolution was the mechanism of the new “creation.”
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.4
It is only by the exercise of reason that man can discover God.36
That which is now called natural philosophy, embracing the whole circle of science, 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.14
Paine calls Job and Psalm 19 older works than the rest of the Bible. Humanists claim respect for the ancient, the proto-philosophies where man’s reason might have been purer than the religiously corrupted mind of today. He doesn’t give credit to the writers or authors for having the truth revealed to them by God, but seems to think they mechanically, accidentally, arrived at it through a primitive form of rationalism.
The Book of Job and the 19th Psalm, which even the Church admits to be more ancient than the chronological order in which they stand in the book called the Bible, are theological orations conformable to the original system of theology. The internal evidence of those orations proves to a demonstration that the study and contemplation of the works of creation, and of the power and wisdom of God, revealed and manifested in those works, made a great part in the religious devotion of the times in which they were written; and it was this devotional study and contemplation that led to the discovery of the principles upon which what are now called sciences are established; and it is to the discovery of these principles that almost all the arts that contribute to the convenience of human life owe their existence. Every principal art has some science for its parent, though the person who mechanically performs the work does not always, and but very seldom, perceive the connection.
It is a fraud of the Christian system to call the sciences human invention; 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. Man cannot make principles, he can only discover them.
The Almighty Lecturer, by displaying the principles of science in the structure of the universe, has invited man to study and to imitation. It is as if He had said to the inhabitants of this globe that we call ours, “I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and I have rendered the starry heavens visible, to teach him science and the arts. He can now provide for his own comfort, and learn from my munificence to all to be kind to each other.”14
John Calvin had a name for men who tried to elevate Nature to the role of godhood, even those like Paine who still claimed they only wanted a God revealed by the study of Nature. Calvin was not fooled.
At this day… the earth sustains on her bosom many monster minds, minds which are not afraid to employ the seed of Deity deposited in human nature as a means of suppressing the name of God. Can anything be more detestable than this madness in man, who, finding God a hundred times both in his body and his soul, makes his excellence in this respect a pretext for denying that there is a God? He will not say that chance has made him different from the brutes; … but, substituting Nature as the architect of the universe, he suppresses the name of God.41
The Age of Ignorance and Arrogance
We must cast aside all previous belief. Worship God through the study of His creation, and learn that as He was kind and generous to make all this for us, we should be kind and generous to our fellow-man. We will automatically be right and do right.
Christianity is an impediment to our progress as men.
The age of ignorance commenced with the Christian system.15
People in general do not know 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?42
Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and fanatics.10
The study of theology as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and admits of no conclusion. Not any thing can be studied as a science without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is not the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.10
John Calvin had a different belief about Christian Theology, and he clearly understood why men like Thomas Paine could arrogantly speak as if it was a thing to be despised. Clearly Thomas Paine had never sought the true God as had the men of the Scriptures. Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, Paul; men who knew the true God, demonstrated true humility toward His Word and teachings.
Hence that dread and amazement with which as Scripture uniformly relates, holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God. When we see those who previously stood firm and secure so quaking with terror, that the fear of death takes hold of them, no, they are, in a manner swallowed up and annihilated, the inference to be drawn is that men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.43
A Citizen of France
Thomas Paine left America for England after the revolution was won, escaped England just ahead of arrest for treason, and fled to France, where he was feted by the new Republic, though he spoke no French, and made a citizen of France. He was even elected to a post in their revolutionary government. However, when he interceded against the king’s execution, he was thrown in prison and threatened with the guillotine himself. Paine wrote for help to his former American co-patriots and received this reply.
“Mr. [James] Monroe [Minister to the French Republic from the United States] has told me, that he has no orders [meaning from the American Government] respecting you; but I am sure he will leave nothing undone to liberate you; but, from what I can learn, from all the late Americans, you are not considered, either by the Government, or by the individuals, as an American citizen. You have been made a French citizen, which you have accepted, and you have further made yourself a servant of the French Republic; and, therefore, it would be out of character for an American Minister to interfere in their internal concerns. You must therefore either be liberated out of compliment to America, or stand your trial, which you have a right to demand.”44
Thomas Paine was shocked by this response. America, however, had received significant aid from France in the fight against England. Paine had collaborated with those who had imprisoned and threatened to execute America’s ally, the King of France. Also, Paine had made himself a Frenchman and accepted a French government position. He shouldn’t ask for deliverance from his own country’s laws, however far into madness that country and its laws had descended. After all, he had helped hurry them into that descent.
An Outcast in America
Eventually Paine was freed and did return to America, only to find himself an outcast. He may very well have died wondering why, but the answer was simple enough. His fellow founding fathers did not believe that, because they had guaranteed Thomas Paine the constitutional right to believe as he would, they had to disobey the God they still worshiped and dishonor and the Scriptures they still reverenced to be his friend.
“A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted [perverted or warped], and sinneth, being condemned of himself” (Titus 3:10, KJV).
By the end of the Nineteen-century unbelief demanded and received equal standing with Christianity. The twentieth century saw unbelief organize under the name of Secular Humanism into a religion and become the established religion of US federal government.
1 From a letter by Benjamin Franklin, possibly written to Thomas Paine in 1785. There is some critical dispute as to whether it was written to Paine, but there is no question that the letter is commenting specifically on those like Paine who claim to believe in God while excluding belief in God’s personal interest in man’s morality or provision of salvation.
2 William Herndon, Lincoln law partner and biographer documented this in notes from Herndon to Jesse W. Weik, a Lincoln admirer, between 1 October 1881 and 27 February 1891, containing reminiscences of Lincoln’s life, research material used in their joint Lincoln biography, Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life, a three volume edition published by Belford, Clarke & Company beginning in 1889.
3 Thomas A. Edison, “The Philosophy of Paine,” a June 7, 1925 essay from the book, The Diary and Sundry Observations, edited by Dagobert D. Runes (1948).
4 Robert Green Ingersoll, “Thomas Paine,” North American Review, August, 1892.
5 Thomas Clio Rickman, Life of Thomas Paine, 1819.
6 John Adams, in a letter to Benjamin Waterhouse, 29 October 1805.
7 Testimony of Madame Bonneville, friend and caregiver to Paine at the time of his death, reported in the biography by Robert Green Ingersoll, “Thomas Paine,” North American Review, August, 1892.
8 Thomas Paine, Examination of the Prophecies, pamphlet published in 1807.
9 Thomas Paine, “A letter to the Hon. Thomas Erskine, on the Prosecution of Thomas Williams for publishing the Age of Reason. With his discourse at the Society of the Theophilanthropists. Paris: Printed for the Author. This pamphlet was carried through Barrois’ English press in Paris, September 1797.10 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Chapter 3, “Conclusion,” 1794.
11 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, Chapter 7, “Examination of the Old Testament,” 1794
12 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Chapter 2, “The New Testament,” 1794.
13 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, Chapter 4, “Of the Bases of Christianity,” 1794.
14 Thomas Paine, “Of The Books Of The New Testament: Address To The Believers In The Book Called The Scriptures,” Prospect Papers Magazine (also titled “A View of the Moral World,”), 1804, published monthly by Elihu Palmer in New York.
15 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, Chapter 11, “Of the Theology of Christians and the True Theology,” 1794.
16 Thomas Paine, “Essay on Dream,” published with the following title: “An Examination of the Passages in the New Testament, quoted from the Old and called Prophecies concerning Jesus Christ. To which is prefixed an Essay on Dream, showing by what operation of the mind a Dream is produced in sleep, and applying the same to the account of Dreams in the New Testament. With an Appendix containing my private thoughts of a Future State. And Remarks on the Contradictory Doctrine in the Books of Matthew and Mark.” By Thomas Paine, New York: Printed for the Author. New York, 1807.
17 Thomas Paine, “Letter to Andrew Dean,” New York, August 15, 1806.
18 John Calvin, Commentary on Luke 24:45. from Commentary On A Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, translator from Latin and collator with the French version Rev. William Pringle, Volume 3, Edinburgh, Calvin Translation Society, 1847-1850, Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 33: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part III, translated by John King, 1847-50.
19 Samuel Adams, “Letter to John Pitts,” 21 January 1776.
20 William Jay, The Life of John Jay (NY: J. & J. Harper, 1833) p. 80, from his “Charge to the Grand Jury of Ulster County” on Sept. 9, 1777
21 Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, Part II, Chapter 5, “Ways and Means of Improving the Conditions of Europe Interspersed With Miscellaneous Observations,” 1791.
22 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Thomas Norton, Translator, Part 1, Chapter 4, “The Knowledge of God Stifled or Corrupted Ignorantly or Maliciously,” Section 4, 1581.
23 Thomas Paine, Common Sense, “Introduction,” January 10, 1776.
24 Thomas Paine, Common Sense, “Of the Origin and Design of Government in General, with Concise Remarks on the English Constitution,” January 10, 1776.
25 Thomas Paine, Common Sense, “Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs,” January 10, 1776.
26 Thomas Paine, Common Sense, “Of the Present Ability of America, with Some Miscellaneous Reflections,” January 10, 1776.
27 Thomas Paine, Common Sense, “Epistle to the Quakers,” January 10, 1776.
28 Thomas Paine, Common Sense, “Appendix,” January 10, 1776.
29 Attributed to John Adams in the Annual Report of the Attorney General (1957) by New York Department of Law.
30 Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, I, December 23, 1776.
31 Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, IV, September 11, 1777.
32 Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, VII, November 21, 1778.
33 Thomas Paine, Dissertation on First Principles of Government, July 1795.
34 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, Chapter 1, “The Author’s Profession of Faith.” 1794.
35 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, Chapter 9, “In What the True Revelation Consists,” 1794.
36 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, Chapter 9, “Concerning God, and the Lights Cast on His Existence and Attributes by the Bible,” 1794.
37 Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice, printed in English by W. Adlard in Paris, and in London for T. Williams, No. 8 Little Turnstile, Holborn, 1797.
38 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, Chapter 2, “Of Missions and Revelations,” 1794.
39 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, Chapter 6, “Of the True Theology,” 1794.
40 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, Chapter 8, “Of the New Testament,” 1794.
41 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Thomas Norton, Translator, Part I, Of the Knowledge of God As Creator, Chapter 5, “The Knowledge of God Conspicuous in the Creation, and Continual Government of the World,” Section 4, 1581.
42 Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Chapter 1, “The Old Testament,” 1794.
43 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Thomas Norton, Translator, Part I, Of the Knowledge of God As Creator, Chapter 1, “The Knowledge of God and Ourselves Mutually Connected – The Nature of that Connection,” Section 3, 1581.
44 Thomas Paine, “Memorial to James Monroe,” 10 Sept. 1794, (a letter to Monroe in which he quotes from this letter received from a friend while Paine was in France).