The Lost “Age of Reason”

Like most Americans with a background in history, I worship the founding fathers (FF).  Often when deciding how I feel about a Constitutional issue, I will sooner quote an FF than contemplate the modern complications or issues at hand.  Perhaps there’s some logical fallacy there, but the Constitution is such a fuzzy document and the FFs are so regularly slandered and misinterpreted as to absolutely require the forthcoming defense.  There’s even a couple of books to come out that suggest Thomas Jefferson was a super Christian – never mind that he rewrote the Bible to take out all the magic and was widely considered an atheist and damned for that and other heresies.

My quarry today is Thomas Paine – who many of you Glenn Beck fanatics out there will know for being pretty much America’s greatest FF.  Right?  He’s like a superhero to you guys.  One of my coworkers even saw me reading this and said:

“Oh wow, Thomas Paine. I love him.  Common sense, yeah wow.  Have you read Glenn Beck’s Common Sense.  …. No I haven’t read Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’…. Oh… Oh, well I’d still read it.”

Yeah, so when I told him this book basically tears down Christianity and Judeo-Christian religions in general, his eyes glossed over. He became listless.  By the above you can see he mournfully assented to reading it anyways. As if somehow Paine’s anti-Christianism was a fault that needed excusing.

To most people the FFs are uncomplicated.  They’re familiar like actual fathers.  But that’s simply not the case.  They’re atheists, Deists, Christians, Masons, anarchists and bootleggers, drunks and adulterers, slave-holders and swindlers.

Paine professes Deism. To put it simply: God was the first scientist.  He made the universe in all its majestic intricacies.  By discovering the natural world’s complex and detailed beauty, one can know God.  That’s it, period.  The only worship God requires is a studious exploration of the natural world.  Paine’s sanctimonious thesis best summarizes the book:

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.

I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their beliefs 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, 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 quality himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury.  Can we conceive anything more destructive to morality than this?

He then proceeds to illuminate various examples of mental inconsistency within the various Churches.  That the Catholic Church attempted to invalidate sciences (the heliocentric worldview for example) because their faith was based on an erroneous science.  By attempting to negate a fact, and participating in self-delusion, the Catholic Church and their flock was, as Paine says, preparing themselves for the commission of every other crime.  History can show how Catholics notoriously were a bloodthirsty and rapine lot.  Perhaps this cognitive dissonance holds the answer.

Paine also directly attacks passages of the Bible:

But the christian story of God the Father putting his son to death, or employing people to do it, (for that is the plain language of the story,) cannot be told by a parent to a child; and to tell him that it was done to make mankind happier and better, is making the story still worse; as if mankind could be improved by the example of murder; and to tell him that all this is a mystery, is only making an excuse for the incredibility of it.

Paine also uses the Bible chronology to refute the Bible itself, by showing that prophesies were often written decades or even centuries after the events which they predicted.  He also uses the chronology to show that none of the books of the Bible were written by the men who’s name’s they are attributed to.

I’ll let this rest here and return later to include some of my favorite passages.  All my goal here was to plant seeds.  Just plant seeds.

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