Thomas Paine, “The Father of the American Revolution”, without whom America would likely still remain a de facto British colony, if not de jure such as today, was an enigmatic and outspoken figure whose writings changed the course of human history.
Many know him for writing the pamphlet treatise on the inherent human right to live free of tyranny, Common Sense, but very few know him to be a firebrand critic of organized religion, specifically the three “Abrahamic” doctrines which are based on their own particular “holy books”.
The first part of The Age of Reason, published in 1794, was a seminal and incredibly bold work for its day; despite the fact that it did not receive any sort of positive welcome from America upon its release; quite the contrary.
Thomas Paine states early in this book that his hope had been that once Common Sense had shifted the American consciousness to provoke throwing off its invisible chains of monarchy, and revolt against the “system” in place at the time, the masses would raise their collective consciousness and awaken to the fact that their own religions were part of that same system which has kept them under its thumb for centuries. To his regret this did not occur.
Soon after I had published the pamphlet Common Sense, in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion.
Thomas Paine goes into multiple areas in this work which I will not cover here because they are somewhat obscure and anachronistic points, as the church has evolved since the end of the 18th century, although they are certainly worth reading and processing to get the overall sense of the arguments from a historical perspective.
For example he goes into, in some detail how the word “prophet” meant nothing more than a poet or musician as it had been used in antiquity, and its modern usage a teller of fortune only came into that definition long after the “holy books” had been written.
Paine gets down to business quickly, and true to form never minces words:
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.
He uses multiple common sense analysis and critique techniques pertaining to the various religious works and ideas, and begins by discussing what a revelation actually is. He establishes that a “revelation” is only valid as to the person who is receiving it directly from God, and not to any persons who are told of such a revelation having previously occurred, which becomes nothing more than hearsay, and can reasonably be met with incredulity.
Because all revelation is revealed to us in third person we are provided with not fact but mythology we are expected to accept as fact.
Paine then compares Christian doctrine to that of the pagan mythologies that preceded it:
It is curious to observe how the theory of what is called the Christian church sprung out of the tail of the heathen mythology. A direct incorporation took place in the first instance, by making the reputed founder to be celestially begotten… The Christian theory is little else than the idolatry of the ancient Mythologists, accommodated to the purposes of power and revenue; and it yet remains to reason and philosophy to abolish the amphibious fraud.
You see, this fact is relatively easy to demonstrate through some uncomplicated reading of ancient historical books: that Jupiter became Peter, that Venus became Mary Magdalene, that Saul became Paul…
And that St. Thomas never became a Christian, neither did Constantine, and ancient Gnostic Christianity did not resemble in any sense that which was created in 375 CE at the Council of Nicaea.
If we study ancient astrology, we come to understand that the months of the zodiac became the Apostles, each behaved according to his sign, John the Baptist would be an Aquarian (six months removed from the birth of Jesus in Leo), Mary Magdalene the Moon, etc., and the four books selected because they represented the seasons.
This kind of evidence is likewise somewhat subject to interpretation and the subjectivity of the original whistle-blowers. It is difficult for us to know to a certainty whether they truly had first hand knowledge of the facts or were simply putting their own spin on myths.
Although this would be rather difficult to do due to such information being the crux of the teachings of the various mystery schools through the ages, which were removed from one another in time and place, and we have it from so many various sources.
Be that as it may, astrological application is subject to knee-jerk rejection nonetheless, because it is information coming in to the person and he or she must evaluate it and accept or reject it. It does not involve the person’s deep and careful examination of his own paradigm and ideology as it is laid out in his or her own mind.
Therefore, aside from the physical re-creation and renaming of more ancient divine or holy figures, which can hardly be in doubt if we only study the physical structure of the Vatican, we should examine the logical veracity of the stories themselves.
Paine makes the highly significant point in that Christianity has brilliantly closed the gap that original sin has created in humanity through the Genesis account.
We must ask ourselves the question, that since humanity is cursed by Eve’s original sin which occurred 6k years ago according to the Bible, then would God actually, in fact, through God’s own omniscience and omnipotence send himself to be born on earth 4k years later only to sacrifice himself for this same humanity which he himself cursed, in order to save it? This same humanity which he had already wiped out previously in the flood. How are we expected to believe this set of events while fully exercising our divine sense of Reason?
Did God err when he cursed mankind first? Or did God simply change his mind? This line of thinking can lead to many further questions.
Following the thread we may reason that, subsequent to the Resurrection, humanity becomes cleansed and purified because God sent himself/his son to be martyred to remove the stain of this original sin, and as a consequence we have a new business on this earth: the industry of sin and salvation.
Anyone can do anything they wish, so long as they go the Church to seek forgiveness, and simply pay for this absolution.
In addition to the above course of reason, Thomas Paine certainly has something to say about the actual story-lines that have been written down for mankind to worship as the “word of God”:
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, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.
Paine, addresses the eternal immutability of The Word of God, which by the most common of sense cannot be recorded in any human language which is certainly imperfect, and subject to dispute, variable interpretations, and constant revision through space and time:
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.
Therefore, translations of any holy books cannot be the Word of God because they were carried out by imperfect human beings and contain inescapable errors, inconsistencies, variations, opinions, etc.
Regardless of the subjectivity of translations, the Word of God cannot be eternal and immutable when recorded in any language, and must be subject to doubt and refutation.
Paine further goes into the concept of “the Redeemer” figure, a new being between God and humanity and necessary to Christianity. He suggests this is a form of man-worship and less deism, than a religion of the Creator.
If the concept of the Son of God sent to earth to be martyred is so central to this faith, why does his behavior not comport with his ultimate goal? Why does Jesus not surrender himself to the Romans? Why is he so inconspicuous in his small village that he needs to be betrayed in order to be given the opportunity to sacrifice himself? This does not appear to be the conduct of someone intending to die. Why is death by torture and crucifixion necessary? Will no other kind of death do?
We next arrive at what Paine deems the three essential aspects of religion, without which it would of necessity lose its power: mystery, miracles, and prophecy.
Mystery is that which is apparently unknowable, or of divine, unearthly origin that it is too great to be comprehended by the likes of mere mortals. The mystery of God is the answer to all questions of incredulity from any skeptics.
“It is the way it is because that is how God has decided it should be in his infinite wisdom, and who are you to question God?” Well, Paine suggests that “mystery” is not an aspect that should be a part of any religion, because it should be permitted for all to comprehend and to access every aspect of any religion.
Incredulity should be encouraged, and doubt should be addressed with reason, because spirituality should not be of any mystery or occultic limitations of rights of access to the select chosen few initiates.
Religion of the Creator should be open for all to freely examine and access, without forbidden knowledge or unknowable mysteries.
Miracles are necessary to the existence of the special being or deity which is supposed to be greater than human as being of divine origin, but Thomas Paine posits that miracles are not actually miracles to the divine Source. Miracles are only miracles to those who don’t know what they are witnessing.
Flight, throughout history, except for the previous century, would be a miracle. So would the medical reanimation of someone thought dead due to drowning or some injury. What about the planting of seeds and harvesting of grain to someone unfamiliar with farming?
Miracles are relative, and when passed from ear to ear through history they take on a divine cause, when in fact they have nothing to do with divinity and everything to do with the immutable laws of the universe.
Furthermore, few of us have ever witnessed miracles, if any in fact, although we have been witness to many more lies, proportionally. Therefore, it would stand to reason that the miracles we are told through hearsay of hearsay are unlikely to be just that, and far more likely to be lies or misrepresentations or anecdotal hyperbole.
Finally, when we speak of “miracles”, how are we to judge whether it is in fact a miracle caused by God or the devil? Truth should not require the ‘crutch’ of “miracles” on which to base its foundation and solicit belief; truth should stand on its own, without resorting to cheap tricks.
Miracles are impossible to prove and unnecessary to the immutable eternal will of the Creator, and should not be an integral facet of earthly religion.
Prophesy is a similar case to that of the miracle; it is a supposed divine revelation or divinely inspired information which is then related by the hearer to others. This type of information is highly speculative as to veracity, because the subject involves foretelling of the future. The problem is that all prophesies in the Bible are highly subject to interpretation, and therefore we are to presume that God was unable to be any more descriptive or specific as to what His plans were. Thomas Paine said it best:
Those to whom a prophecy should be told, could not tell whether the man prophesied or lied, or whether it had been revealed to him, or whether he conceited it; and if the thing that he prophesied, or intended to prophesy, should happen, or something like it, among the multitude of things that are daily happening, nobody could again know whether he foreknew it, or guessed at it, or whether it was accidental.
This is about the point where the first part of Paine’s book ends, and we are told of the circumstances under which he wrote it. He was in France at the time, during the French Revolution, and after having been elected to the Convention, he became the target of some nefarious characters whom he believed wanted him jailed and likely worse.
Paine recognized that arrest was likely, and applied himself to finish the first part of this book as quickly as possible, without access to any of the holy books or any other sources of information. He was correct in his assessment and he was arrested on the day that the first part of The Age of Reason manuscript was completed.
He spent approximately nine months in prison, developing a severe fever, and narrowly escaping execution by sheer chance. The next post will deal with Part 2 of the book and will follow shortly.
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. THOMAS PAINE