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Paine’s Christianity (Part 1)
Sierra Times ^ | Steve Farrell

Posted on 08/25/2003 7:33:13 AM PDT by Sir Gawain

Paine’s Christianity

(Part 1)

By Steve Farrell

Of all the attempts to affix to the Founding Father’s the faithless brand, “non-Christian secularist”, the only Founder who appears to deserve such a burning indictment is Thomas Paine. After all, Tom Paine was responsible for that infamous shadowboxing match with the Bible, called “The Age of Reason;” wasn’t he? As a result, a host of so-called scholars declare Paine an Atheist, and/or the founder of secular humanism;-and to these claims they add, “here’s another layer of proof that America was not founded upon nor influenced in its founding by Christian men and Christian principles.”

It’s true enough; Paine wrote the “nasty little book.”

And, here it ought to end.

As for the supposition that the other founders embraced “The Age of Reason,” or its mindset: Jefferson advised Paine never to publish the book. Benjamin Franklin, Paine’s patron and friend, gave his protégé the same advice. After reading a draft, he noted, “He who spits against the wind spits in his own face. If men are wicked with religion, what would they be without it?” Enthusiasts of the French Revolution: Marx, Lenin, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, et al. supply the answer. John Adams, once a fan of Paine’s, having received his copy, called Paine a “blackguard,” who writes out of the depths of “a malignant heart.” And Washington, previously one of Paine’s fiercest advocates, attacked Tom Paine’s principles in his Farewell Address (without reference to his name) as unpatriotic and subversive.

Despite sending pleas for help to his former brethren in America, Thomas Paine, unaided, rotted in a French prison awaiting the guillotine. Gouverneur Morris, observing Paine’s activities, reported to Jefferson that the fallen angel was now a drunk who amused himself writing essays against Christ. And although James Monroe eventually rescued Paine, Paine came back to America in disgrace. He was denied citizenship in his home state, and buried, upon his death, with no monument to mark the spot, no memorial to remember the man who previously had united a country under the inspirational sway of “Common Sense” and “The Crisis.” His grave was desecrated.

This might seem cruel; but Paine’s treatment by his former friends provides a clear cut, unequivocal message for our time-which is this: It is flat out deception to claim that Paine’s Bible-bashing “Age of Reason” is representative of America’s Founding Era. Those who do so are at best, ill informed, and at worst, liars and scoundrels.

Mr. Paine’s conduct after having left America spit on her sacred Christian beginnings-and so this former patriot returned from the bloodthirsty turbulence of France without honor. A sad and pathetic ending that scarred and grounded a soaring past.

That said, there is much to learn from the former Paine-a man whose writings brimmed and bristled with Christianity. As for the latter Paine, all men sin and fall short of the glory of God, we read. The Bible, itself, is full of individuals who rose and fell-some repenting and rising to fight another day-others failing to beat the count. Yet we study their inspired words and works with interest and benefit.

Besides, on Paine’s worst day, he was far from being the modern founder of atheism or secular humanism, many claim.

I ask, shall the claimants take Mr. Paine on his own word as to why he wrote “The Age of Reason”?

In a letter to Samuel Adams, he explained: “[T]he people of France were running headlong into Atheism, and I had the work translated and published in their own language to stop them in that career, and fix them to the first article of every man’s creed, who has any creed at all-I believe in God.”

In the first paragraphs of “The Age of Reason,” Paine restates this purpose:

“The circumstance that has now taken place in France, of the total abolition of the whole national order of priesthood, and of everything appertaining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary, lest, in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true.”

Is it sinking in? Thomas Paine-though he failed in this attempt-sought to rescue the French Revolution from the bloodthirsty extremes of atheism and secularism, lest France’s new found freedom would be precisely as opponent Edmund Burke had predicted, “[like] a madman”, or else “a highwayman and murderer who has broke prison upon the recovery of his natural rights.”

As for “the theology that is true”, that Paine pled for, much has been said by others about its Deism-and yet oddly, Paine’s Deism incorporated Jesus’ grand summary of the law and the prophets as its founding and nearly, only principle.

Wrote Paine “with sincerity and frankness”:

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

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

Or in other words, love of God and love of neighbor;-and add to this, a belief in the equality of every man as a child of God (the basis of Paine’s rejection of monarchy);-and lastly, a belief in immortality, and thus, final judgment, which belief imbues a sense of moral accountability in every man and every nation.

It is true, Mr. Paine rejected the divinity of Christ, and yet, which of his proponents will admit that Paine said of Jesus in “The Age of Reason,” “Nothing that is here said can apply, even with the real character of Jesus Christ. He was a virtuous and amiable man. The morality that he preached and practiced was of the most benevolent kind; and though similar systems of morality had been preached … it has not been exceeded by any.”

Paine’s concerns about Christ’s divinity were focused on a not too uncommon concern about the Bible having passed through the hands of corrupt national churches and other manmade institutions. How much of the Bible had been tainted? How much of it was mixed with Greek mythology? Jefferson expressed similar concerns-the difference being, he kept them private and attempted to mine for the gems in the Bible and push away the gravel. He was not in the business of tearing down Christianity; Jefferson believed himself a Christian.

By contrast, a bitter and embattled Paine bragged he could write a better book than the Bible.

This was Paine’s greatest mistake; in his efforts to reclaim a people who Burke accurately said, had “total contempt … [for] all ancient institutions,” Paine, ironically, did the same, ripping out the very foundation of morality and law he sought to save, which foundation was found in the Bible.

And yet, the dark brush with which the author of “The Age of Reason,” painted Christianity, as presently constituted, wasn’t all dark. It’s opening offered a ray of hope for the future, a prophetic remark characteristic of his earlier Christian days-FOR IT WAS FROM HIS EARLIER CHRISTIAN DAYS.

Said he:

“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. The adulterous connection of church and state, wherever it had taken place, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, had so effectually prohibited, by pains and penalties, every discussion upon established creeds, and upon first principles of religion, that until the system of government should be changed, those subjects could not be brought fairly and openly before the world; but that whenever this should be done, a revolution in the system of religion would follow. Human inventions and priest-craft would be detected; and man would return to the pure, unmixed, and unadulterated belief of one God, and no more.”

That is, out of the religious reformation and the religious and political liberty it spawned, would come a people enlightened and prepared for a new dispensation of gospel light. This would occur in the United States. Millions believe it so.

Paine’s involvement in the French Revolution and in the writing of “The Age of Reason” was a dreadful mistake and an ugly scar on an otherwise illustrious life. His learning, his pride, his new associations with false friends of liberty, turned out the light on a formerly Christian heart.

Yet, I prefer to remember Thomas Paine when he was still every whit a Christian, when he was where God intended him to be, when the destiny of America and humanity hung in the balance. In those better days, Heaven spoke, Thomas Paine listened, Thomas Paine wrote, and all the world is a better place for him having done so.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial; Government
KEYWORDS: faith; foundingfathers; johnfkerry; thomaspaine
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1 posted on 08/25/2003 7:33:13 AM PDT by Sir Gawain
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To: AAABEST; Abundy; Uncle Bill; billbears; Victoria Delsoul; Fiddlstix; fporretto; Free Vulcan; ...
2 posted on 08/25/2003 7:33:44 AM PDT by Sir Gawain
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To: Sir Gawain
Well, we are in the scientific age.
3 posted on 08/25/2003 7:36:16 AM PDT by freekitty
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To: freekitty
And who decreed it so?

4 posted on 08/25/2003 7:41:28 AM PDT by =Intervention= (Moderatism is the most lackluster battle-cry.)
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To: Sir Gawain
Excellent find!
5 posted on 08/25/2003 7:41:47 AM PDT by =Intervention= (Moderatism is the most lackluster battle-cry.)
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To: Sir Gawain
Paine is remembered very well. When I was in elementary school in the 70s, we were still learning about "Common Sense" and the role of pamphlets in the Revolutionary period.

In Morristown, NJ there is a monument commemorating Thomas Paine.

I do agree with the author that Paine's anti-Christian writings were out of step with his peers.

6 posted on 08/25/2003 7:44:34 AM PDT by Huck
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To: Sir Gawain
The reach of course is to compare a moral man of courage a founding father with today's
miscreant atheists and pagans of the ACLU - People for the American Way- People for the Separation of Church & State-Southern Poverty Law Center- ad nauseum

There is no moral equivilancy ..not even close...never will be...

Pain wasnt trying to side with the Brits and return us under bondage of the king or as theses Marxists wish the 'State' as King

The problem here is the moral morass these traitors are cling to the image of them as "Thomas Paines" like Al Sharpton. Cindy McKinney and Jesse Jackson clinging to the image of Martin Luther King as their own..
7 posted on 08/25/2003 7:55:47 AM PDT by joesnuffy (Moderate Islam Is For Dilettantes)
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To: Sir Gawain
8 posted on 08/25/2003 8:13:47 AM PDT by LiteKeeper
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To: Sir Gawain
Google hits for "Thomas Paine" OR "Tom Paine" = 131,000

Google hits for "Gouverneur Morris" = 6060

Coincidence? I think not. Tom Paine still matters, Gouverneur Morris doesn't. Old Tom has the last laugh.
9 posted on 08/25/2003 8:26:33 AM PDT by CobaltBlue (Never voted for a Democrat in my life.)
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To: Sir Gawain
"Yet, I prefer to remember Thomas Paine when he was still every whit a Christian..."

It is wishful thinking on your part to assert that Paine was ever "every whit a Christian," since he says right in "The Age of Reason":

"From the time I was capable of conceiving an idea and acting upon it by reflection, I either doubted the truth of the Christian system or thought it to be a strange affair; I scarcely knew which it was, but I well remember, when about seven or eight years of age, hearing a sermon read by a relation of mine, who was a great devotee of the Church, upon the subject of what is called redemption by the death of the Son of God. After the sermon was ended, I went into the garden, and as I was going down the garden steps (for I perfectly recollect the spot) I revolted at the recollection of what I had heard, and thought to myself that it was making God Almighty act like a passionate man, that killed his son when he could not revenge himself in any other way, and as I was sure a man would be hanged that did such a thing, I could not see for what purpose they preached such sermons. This was not one of that kind of thoughts that had anything in it of childish levity; it was to me a serious reflection, arising from the idea I had that God was too good to do such an action, and also too almighty to be under any necessity of doing it. I believe in the same manner at this moment; and I moreover believe, that any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be a true system."
10 posted on 08/25/2003 8:57:43 AM PDT by reasonseeker
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To: Sir Gawain
If Paine made a mistake, it was in pandering to the "common folk" by using Bible passages to help justify a break with England (probably as a result of suggestions from Benjamin Rush) in "Common Sense." It was a calculated move that, judging by his later remarks in "The Age of Reason," showed that he didn't really believe the truth of the Bible even then, and so wasn't completely forthright in writing "Common Sense." Also, the snub he got when he returned to America had to do with more than his writing "The Age of Reason." He had also severely criticized Washington in print, and that hardly helped matters. However, the snub Paine got was not a reflection on him, but on the ungrateful people of America, who had quickly forgotten Paine's great contribution to the formation of the United States.
11 posted on 08/25/2003 9:15:10 AM PDT by reasonseeker
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To: Sir Gawain
"The moral duty of man consists in imitating the moral goodness and beneficence of God manifested in the creation toward all his creatures. That seeing, as we daily do, the goodness of God to all men, it is an example calling upon all men to practice the same toward each other." -- Thomas Paine

Paine may not have realized it, but he was recommending everyone live according to the law of the Lord, which reads, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law . . ." (Matthew 7:12).
12 posted on 08/25/2003 9:49:03 AM PDT by PhilipFreneau
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To: Sir Gawain
Compare and contrast Paine with the Christian slave owners and slavery appeasers among our Founders.

We should take care to remember our Founders were great men, but fallible men, not Gods incarnate .... no matter their religious beliefs.
13 posted on 08/25/2003 11:19:03 AM PDT by Lorianne
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To: Sir Gawain
Paine was an amazing man. He had an incredible prophetic dream, which many people wrongly interpreted to be about the revolutionary war, when in fact it was about Christ's coming Kingdom on Earth, and the time we are living in.

You can read it here.

14 posted on 08/25/2003 1:45:30 PM PDT by Russell Scott (Without massive intervention from Heaven, America doesn't have a prayer.)
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To: =Intervention=
Many people. You can call it technology, spiritual or whatever. I believe our last age was industrial and the age before that was agricultural.

Any more accusations?
15 posted on 08/25/2003 2:57:34 PM PDT by freekitty
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To: reasonseeker
The article-writer lays out specific and compelling evidence otherwise.
16 posted on 08/25/2003 8:03:56 PM PDT by =Intervention= (Moderatism is the most lackluster battle-cry.)
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To: Lorianne
No-one is arguing that they were gods....
17 posted on 08/25/2003 8:04:41 PM PDT by =Intervention= (Moderatism is the most lackluster battle-cry.)
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To: freekitty
When you say "THIS IS..." I'm quite interested in how it came to be. The sole source of this being the scientific age is your own belief. That's all well and good, but it certainly doesn't make it true for anyone but yourself.
18 posted on 08/25/2003 8:07:14 PM PDT by =Intervention= (Moderatism is the most lackluster battle-cry.)
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To: =Intervention=
Oh I'm sorry...the beliefs of many unnamed people...Nice, but not convincing...
19 posted on 08/25/2003 8:08:32 PM PDT by =Intervention= (Moderatism is the most lackluster battle-cry.)
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To: =Intervention=
Are we on the same page? Where did I say this is?
20 posted on 08/26/2003 6:56:46 AM PDT by freekitty
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