Below is a review by David Biven of the Thomas Paine book, "The Age of Reason." At the end of his review below I have a link to my response to his comments about Mr. Paine and his book. You can also visit his blog, Principles of the Founding Fathers by clicking here.
"The Age of Faith and Reason"
by David Bivens - Sunday, July 18, 2021
In this and the following discourses we will be examining the work "The Age of Reason" published by Thomas Paine in three parts 1794, 1795, and 1807. In no way is this intended to besmirch the name Thomas Paine or to belittle the great influence he had in America's struggles for independence.
Though his story is a sad story, it seems he truly was a man for the time. John Adams would write concerning Paine's work Common Sense, "Common Sense, like a ray of revelation, has come in seasonably to clear our doubts, and fix our choice." - John Adams.
Paine's work, "Common Sense" may have had a greater impact in uniting the country for the cause of independence than the Declaration of Independence. His words truly carried a great influence over our country and the founders of our nation leaned heavily upon his pen. Much of the phraseology in the Declaration of Independence was drawn from Paine's "Common Sense."
His contributions to the religious and political freedoms we have enjoyed in America must be measured by the highest marks. However, men at best are but men, we must take great caution in putting our confidence in such frames of weakness. With the same pen, of which he did great good, he also did great harm to the souls of men. He died an outcast to the country he loved, despised by the people he had such great hope for. He was not allowed to be buried in his area cemeteries, for none would have him. He was buried in the corner of a field on his property with only 5 attending his funeral, only later to be removed and taken by a follower of his idea's back to England with the intent to raise a monument to him. When those plans failed his body was passed from person to person, it is unknown what happened to his remains.
What brought such reproach upon the man that had done so much for the American cause? The answer, his work "The Age of Reason". Upon writing, Paine sent a copy to his good friend Benjamin Franklin, who after examining the work sent back a response telling Paine to burn it before anyone else saw it. Unfortunately, Paine did not listen to his good friend Franklin. Thus, the reason for this treatise.
As we examine this work, let us understand Paine grew up in troubled times seeing much injustice in civil government and corruption within the visible church. He was familiar with religion but his work proved him to be ignorant concerning the things of God and the Christian Church. It is this that led him into Deism, bringing such reproach upon Christianity that it lent the mind toward atheism.
Paine confessed his belief in one God and no more; and that he did have a hope for happiness beyond this life. However, he stated: "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." - Thomas Paine. "The Age of Reason"
Though he references several religions, we will discover in our examination it is the Christian faith which offended him most. His belief in a god does make him religious, but it leaves him and all who would follow him without hope, though he professes to have hope, it is but a false hope. It is false because like all other religions outside of Christianity it leaves him trusting in his own works to achieve the happiness he aspires too.
Romans 3:9-20 ESV
(9) What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,
(10) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;
(11) no one understands; no one seeks for God.
(12) All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
(13) “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
(14) “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
(15) “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
(16) in their paths are ruin and misery,
(17) and the way of peace they have not known.”
(18) “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(19) Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
(20) For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
When we look at the world around us as well as our own hearts, reason drives us to the conclusion our lives are not what they should be. Though we see ourselves as basically good, in our own conscience we are condemned. As it is stated in verses 10, there is not a soul alive who has not broken the law of their conscience and felt that condemnation. In an attempt to make amends for that action they like Paine may have sought after some god in their mind, but it was not the God of verse 11.
Romans 3:21-26 ESV
(21) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—
(22) the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
(23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
(24) and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
(25) whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
(26) It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The scriptures point us to Christ and his redemption by the work of the Cross. If we are to be free from the condemnation of our own consciences, it will be by the work of another. That work has been accomplished in Christ, he has satisfied the demands of justice and the God of verses (11) of his great mercy gives us the gift of faith that we may believe and truly desire to know him. It is this that Paine saw as foolishness and deemed the god of his mind the wisdom and the way.
1 Corinthians 1:18 KJV
(18) For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
When trying to prove the unprovable, we have a tendency to apply words and phases while altering their definition and meaning to fit with our scheme and manner of thinking. Paine tries to alter the definition of infidelity to make his point on religious beliefs. "Infidelity does not consist in believing, or disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe." - Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)
Webster's 1828 edition defines infidelity as: INFIDEL'ITY, n. [L. infidelitas.]
1. In general, want of faith or belief; a withholding of credit.
2. Disbelief of the inspiration of the Scriptures, or the divine original of Christianity; unbelief.
There is no doubt that vanity is one principal cause of infidelity.
3. Unfaithfulness, particularly in married persons; a violation of the marriage covenant by adultery or lewdness.
4. Breach of trust; treachery; deceit; as the infidelity of a friend or a servant. In this sense, unfaithfulness is most used.
Paine tries to move the definition from a moral belief or act to simply a mental dishonesty. It is true professing to believe what one does not believe is the defining basis of hypocrisy,
Webster's 1828 dictionary
HYPOC'RISY, n. [L. hypocrisis; Gr. simulation; to feign; to separate, discern or judge.]
1. Simulation; a feigning to be what one is not; or dissimulation, a concealment of one's real character or motives. More generally, hypocrisy is simulation, or the assuming of a false appearance of virtue or religion; a deceitful show of a good character, in morals or religion; a counterfeiting of religion.
Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Luke 12.
2. Simulation; deceitful appearance; false pretense.
Hypocrisy is the necessary burden of villainy.
Hypocrisy is certainly not a virtue, however, it is not infidelity. By changing the definition he frees himself of the charge and leads his readers into the well of moral corruption. A mind, even a brilliant one without the knowledge of God is a very dark place. It can read the times and reason with powerful solutions, yet there is no light in spiritual things. When it tries to tread into spiritual things without the light of illumination, it is only able to conceive dark shadows of truth. Ideas of righteousness emerge generally forming an image of a god that is more human than Divine. One's justification before that god undoubtable arise from the creation of their own mind.
The logic and reason of Paine's "My own mind is my own church" soon break down. How is that going to be worked out in society? He says he believes in one god and no more, yet in his own mind he conceives this notion of spirituality. How is anyone going to know this god that is in his own mind? No one can know this god but him, they are left to discover the god that reside in their mind and their understanding. What he says one must believe becomes the very thing he says he does not believe. The one god he aspires everyone to believe in becomes many gods, the creations of many minds working from the table of human understanding.
The one god Paine ascribes to, is the same as all the other gods of world religions that are contrived in the minds of men. They all prescribe a way by which those gods can be appeased and eternal bliss obtained by some human effort or work. Paine's god offered him hope of happiness beyond this life and allowed him the pleasure of retaining the sins he took such pleasure in. What did he offer as atonement for his sins? Somehow his mind reasoned the good in his life would pay for the bad, or his god must simply unjustly look over sin and forgo judgment.
This is in contrast to Christianity, which demonstrates man's corruption and his utter helplessness to answer for his crimes. Logic and reason dictate that if a finite creature offends an infinite being, there is nothing of the finite that can answer to the infinite. Justice becomes of infinite value calling for an infinite payment. Thus, the doctrine of eternal punishment. The nature of man being what it is, he is helpless and without hope in and of himself. God in his mercy offers grace through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Christ being of infinite value and being, offers himself in man's stead, freeing him of his debt. It is in the wisdom of God that the demands of justice are met and grace is given to those who believe. But to the man who will not humble himself from his pride and deems himself worthy in value to pay of infinite debt, one must resort to Paine's god of his own mind. He then must stand in the face of God and declare I need not your gift of grace, I am able to pay my own debt!
". . . churches shows 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 accuses the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all." - Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)
At this point we know very little about what Paine believed, but we are beginning to see what he did not believe. Paine only mentions three books, really two, for the Christian embraces both the Old and New Testament as one book called the Holy Bible. This is not a discussion comparing the various schemes of world religions, therefore, we will only be examining Paine's disregard for the Bible.
"As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some other observations on the word revelation. Revelation, when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man. No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it." - Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)
In response, we must again apply some reason and logic as well as a good definition.
REVELA'TION, n. [L. revelatus, revelo. See Reveal.]
1. The act of disclosing or discovering to others what was before unknown to them; appropriately, the disclosure or communication of truth to men by God himself, or by his authorized agents, the prophets and apostles.
How that by revelation he made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words. Eph 3. 2 Cor 12.
2. That which is revealed; appropriately, the sacred truths which God has communicated to man for his instruction and direction. The revelations of God are contained in the Old and New Testament.
3. The Apocalypse; the last book of the sacred canon, containing the prophecies of St. John.
Let's apply a little logic to Paine's affixing of right ideas to words, "But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only." - Thomas Paine.
Using his reasoning, hypothetically speaking, if I'm walking down the road and find a strange plant, very green, and having three leaves and it seems to be growing on a vine. I examine it closely and discover that this plant causes a very serious rash on every part of the skin it touches. Now that is a revelation to me (one I "sorely" intend to remember), but according to Paine, if I warn you about its characteristics', you are not obliged to believe it because you did not experience it personally. Even if you do believe me, according to Paine, it is not a revelation, but only hearsay. This contradicts reason and again applies new definitions to words in an attempt to add credence to his ideas, he seems to apply this technique often.
According to Paine's reasoning, all the discoveries of Albert Einstein are now only hearsay, and we are not obliged to believe them because we did not discover them personally. Once truth is revealed, it remains truth as long as that truth is with us. Only if we lose that revelation is it necessary to rediscover it.
Paine says in his reasoning that he allows for such a revelation of God, if God so pleases to give one. God has shown great mercy in giving such a revelation, but it was not good enough for Mr. Paine, unless God gave it to him personally. Then Paine demands that having done so, he Paine is not responsibility to tell anyone of the such revelation that God gave, for if he did it would only be hearsay. Paine's reasoning demands of God, that He (God) must give his revelation personally to each and every human being over and over again till the end of time, and that each one has no responsibility to warn anyone else for in doing so they would be spreading hearsay. Theologians who gave their lives studying this revelation would be only spreading hearsay to reveal their discoveries. Any common man when taking the time to consider the ramblings presented in "The Age of Reason" can see the absolute nonsense of his reasoning and utter lack of logic.
"When also I am told that a woman called the Virgin Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not; such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it; but we have not even this for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves; it is only reported by others that they said so it is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not choose to rest my belief upon such evidence." - Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)
Paine in his attempt to push his reason into reality here pulls a story out of the Gospel narrative and attempts to close the reader's mind to an examination of the sacred text. He could certainly choose not to believe the text, however, he must do so while staring the weight of history in the face.
This is not just an isolated story told by someone, it is attached to ancient documents of which there are thousands of copies in various languages and cultures. The event itself was afore told by even older writers of the Old Testament in the Prophecies concerning the Christ. The account of the Christ, his birth, death, burial, and resurrection is the central theme in the revelation given in the sacred Scriptures. We have 66 books written by over 40 authors over the period of 1,500 years from different aspects of life all speaking the same theme. The weight of these things of course does not necessitate one must believe it, but if you reject it, at least be honest about what you are rejecting.
Isaiah 7:14 ESV
(14) Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Immanuel meaning God with us)
In the 3rd century BC, the ancient Hebrew writings of the Old Testament were translated into the Greek language. This translation is called the Septuagint and contains the above passage from Isaiah 7:14.
διὰ τοῦτο δώσει κύριος αὐτὸς ὑμῖν σημεῖον ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Εμμανουηλ.
The Septuagint was in use 200+ years before Christ came and became the book that early Christians used and studied before they received the New Testament writings. Having received the New Testament writings, they were combined into the Old and New Testaments to form the Bible as we have now. The quotations in the New Testament that you find from the Old Testament quotes were from the Septuagint, which includes Isaiah 7:14.
Paine's assertion that this Gospel narrative was just conjured up in men's minds from the heathen mythology either demonstrates ignorance of the Christian faith or his total disregard for the truth available to him. In either case, his work is discredited, for one should not attempt to write upon a subject of which he knows nothing about and then must be true to what he does understand. Paine in his work "The Age of Reason" does neither.
Joh 14:29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.
Joh 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
Joh 1:7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.
Joh 1:8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
Joh 1:9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
1Jn 5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.
According to Paine, if God is going to reveal himself to man and offer him redemption through His Son Jesus Christ, he cannot do so in real time and as a historical event. It must not be recorded in history, but be a real event in time every time for every human being who will ever live for that person to be obligated to believe it. That notion itself is utter foolishness and are we to be at the mercy of Mr. Paine and his dictating to God how God must work out the redemption of His own creation!
"It is, however, not difficult to account for the credit that was given to the story of Jesus Christ being the son of God. He was born when the heathen mythology had still some fashion and repute in the world, and that mythology had prepared the people for the belief of such a story." - Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)
"It is curious to observe how the theory of what is called the Christian church sprung out of the tail of the heathen mythology." - Thomas Paine (The Age of Reason)
Here, Paine presents an absolute false dichotomy, for to the learned, the Gospel light is blindingly unlike any other descriptive revelation of God that is offered to man.
1 Corinthians 15:1-8 ESV
(1) Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,
(2) and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
(3) For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
(4) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
(5) and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
(6) Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
(7) Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
(8) Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
There is absolutely no resemblance to any other form of religion or mythology that has ever been offered by the minds of men to be compared to the sacred text of the Old or New Testaments. This only requires one to do some work in examining and comparing the writings. There is only one conclusion one can honestly come to, there is nothing like the Scriptures in content or validity. When presenting his objection, Paine of necessity should have been honest about what he was objecting. It is obvious from the work Paine has little understanding about the things of which he is writing. The result of "The Age of Reason" is to lead people into foolishness and the utter disregard of the truth.