The Age of Reason

Being an Investigation of True and of Fabulous Theology

 

"One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests." - Thomas Paine, The Age  of Reason

 

Thomas Paine wrote the Age of Reason, Part I while imprisoned during the French Revolution. Paine left  England for France during after his Rights of Man force him to escape a charge of treason. When he reached Calais the in the midst of the French Revolution, it was because of Rights of Man that he was greeted as a hero, made and honorary French citizen and the revolutionary government. In 1792, though he spoke no French, Thomas Paine was  elected deputy to the Convention Nationale in 1792. When asked the question of the  punishment for  the King Louis the XVI, Paine said he opposed capital punishment, which was a vestige of the corrupt monarchy and recommended exile. It was an unpopular stance and soon Paine became caught a victim of The Reign of Terror. He and was jailed In 1794 Paine and awaiting execution wrote he wrote The Age of  Reason, a book that would eventually be published in three parts.

 

Paine was released from prison after eleven months, escaping the guillotine by lucky accident (here should be a link). The Age of Reason Part I, first appeared in France in 1793-1794, then London in 1794. Part II was published in London in 1794 and Paine financed a shipment of 15,000 copies to the United States with his own money.

 

Thomas Paine was a Deist the religion at the heart of the rationalist philosophy. Deism was  adopted by many of America's founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, George Washington, George Mason, James Madison, were considered Deists.

 

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the great rationalist philosophers; Rene Descartes (1596-1650), Gottfried Leibnitz (1646-1716), Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), had a powerful influence on the thinking of the upper classes and educated of Europe, Britain and the United States. Their philosophy maintained that  that with the aid of mathematics and the scientific method and the use of  deductive reasoning the truth of life's mysteries could be understood. Their era came to be known as The Age of Reason. It was during this time that Deism emerged.

 

Deists were not Atheists, they believed in an entity that created the world and all of life but one that did not intervene in human affairs.

 

 "The true Deist, wrote Paine in The Age of Reason, "has but one Deity, and his religion consists in contemplating the power, wisdom and benignity of the Deity in his works, and in endeavoring to imitate him in everything moral, scientific, and mechanical."

 

In Paine's 1804 essay, "Of The Religion of Deism Compared With the Christian Religion", he gives a succinct dialog on the subject.

 

By the late 1790s, Paine had returned to the United States where he completed Part III, The Age of Reason,: with a subtitle, An Examination of the Passages in the New Testament. It was ready for publication in 1802, but Paine's good friend, Thomas Jefferson, then President of the United States and also a Deist, fearing great reprisals and even his friend's safety, convinced him not to publish. Five years later, in 1807, Part III was printed.

 

Though stated from the very start of the work; 

"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.",

he was branded an atheist by many, and even 100 years later by President Theodore Roosevelt famously described him as "That dirty little atheist".

 

In his Examination of the Passages of  both The Old and New Testament, Thomas Paine pointed out the many contradictions;

"The first chapter of Matthew begins with giving a genealogy of Jesus Christ; and in the third chapter of Luke, there is also given a genealogy of Jesus Christ. Did those two agree, it would not prove the genealogy to be true...but as they contradict each other in every particular, it proves the falsehood absolutely.",

cruelty;

"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. It has been the most destructive to the peace of man since man began to exist. Among the most detestable villains in history, you could not find one worse than Moses, who gave an order to butcher the boys, to massacre the mothers and then rape the daughters. One of the most horrible atrocities found in the literature of any nation. I would not dishonor my Creator's name by attaching it to this filthy book." 

and ridiculed the absurdities;

“Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go out of her course. But we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time. It is therefore at least millions to one that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.” 

 

He explained his method: 

"The evidence that I shall produce in this case is from the books themselves, and I shall confine myself to this evidence only. Were I to refer for proof to any of the ancient authors whom the advocates of the Bible call profane authors, they would controvert that authority, as I controvert theirs; I will therefore meet them on their own ground, and oppose them with their own weapon, the Bible."

 

He also discussed the nature of consciousness and immortality and again showed himself ahead of his times.

 

"The conciousness of existence is the only conceivable idea we can have of another life, and the continuance of that consciousness is immortality. The consciousness of existence, or the knowing that we exist, is not necessarily confined to the same form, nor to the same matter, even in this life.

 

We have not in all cases the same form, nor in any case the same matter that composed our bodies twenty or thirty years ago; and yet we are conscious of being the same persons...

We know not how much, or rather how little, of our composition it is, and how exquisitely fine that little is, that creates in us this consciousness of existence; and all beyond that is like the pulp of a peach, distinct and separate from the vegetative speck in the kernel.

 

Who can say by what exceedingly fine action of fine matter it is that a thought is produced in what we call the mind? and yet that thought when produced, as I now produce the thought I am writing, is capable of becoming immortal, and is the only production of man that has that capacity...Print and reprint a thought a thousand times over, and that with materials of any kind...the thought is eternally and identically the same thought...If, then, the thing produced has in itself a capacity of being immortal, it is more than a token that the power that produced it, which is the self-same thing as the consciousness of existence, can be immortal also; and that as independently of the matter it was first connected with, as the thought is of the printing or writing it first appeared in...it is not more difficult to believe that we shall exist hereafter in a better state and form than at present, than that a worm should become a butterfly, and quit the dunghill for the atmosphere..."

 

Two years after Part III was published in 1807, Thomas Paine died having become a detested figure by most of the public and a majority of his old friends.  Thomas Jefferson, however, continued to supported him until the end.

© 2020 Thomas Paine Society

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