Thomas Paine’s Collected Writings

Common Sense, Age of Reason, Rights of Man, Etc.

 (1737-1809)

Thomas Paine was the impassioned voice of the American Revolution.  His articles, pamphlets and books provided inspiration, courage and impetus to American revolutionaries.  As John Adams wrote in 1805, “I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on [America’s] inhabitants or affairs for the last thirty years than Tom Paine.”   This incredible genius, inventor, philosopher and patriot, was also an intense student of the Christian Bible, and his “Age of Reason” confronts the Scriptures with logic, rendering it his most popular and most controversial work.  Anyone with an interest in considering the many conundrums will delight in Paine’s well-crafted treatise.  We were privileged to have had this profound thinker and champion of the common man among us, as his “Age of Reason” amply demonstrates. 

Despite Adams’ boundless praise of Paine, this outspoken patriot suffered a checkered and often dismal life.  He came to America in 1774, at age 37, after an undistinguished life in obscurity in England.   He first published “Common Sense” in 1775, which was an immediate success.  He was British by birth, American by naturalization and was made an “honorary citizen” of France.  As his writings continued, he variously criticized the British and French monarchies, and he was convicted in absentia in England and then imprisoned in France – for crimes including “libel” and preaching “sedition” (or revolt against the English and French Kings).  Even his publishers were imprisoned.  A virtual pauper most of his life, as his royalties were often not paid (and many of his works were stolen and marketed profitably by others), he fell upon the largess of his fervent admirers, which included Ben Franklin, George Washington, Jefferson, Madison and John Adams, who arranged special emoluments from Congress for his patriotism, including the gift of small estate that had been confiscated from a Tory; however, his powerful friends did not intercede to have him freed from French prison.  Tiring of persecution, he took to alcohol to excess in his later years.

Paine’s “Common Sense” provided an inspiring vision of an independent America as a sanctuary for freedom.  “The  American  Crisis” taunts and ridicules British adversaries and challenges American’s to take arms against the British, with its famous line, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”  His “Rights of Man” urges an egalitarian, almost socialistic, government.  Yet, he vehemently opposed paper money “that was not backed by specie” (something of value, as he trusted no government), and all of the governments hated him for that.  His fertile mind also spawned detailed blueprints for the first long-span bridge, an early crane and a planning machine.  His inventions led to endless products, but he was never compensated for any of same.

His “Age of Reason” (1795) is his most controversial and still most popular work, and is an audacious assault on the authority of the Christian Bible – and at a time when it was dangerous indeed to question The Scripture.  He does provide a defense of a benevolent God, hence of deism.  He defines a “deist” as one who believes in a Creator who, when finished creating, allowed the world and universe to chart its own course – as opposed to a “theist”, who believes in a Creator who remains involved in mankind’s day-to-day activities.  Regardless, he dismembers The Bible, limb by limb, attacking “mystery, miracle and prophesy”.

For example:  (1) Miracles, visions, etc. are hearsay to anyone who didn’t experience them, and they all occurred before mankind had any method of documenting them, e.g., those that had no witnesses (such as the ascension).  (2) The Old Testament (OT) is full of such violent admonitions and abominable laws that Paine “cannot dishonor my Creator” by attributing it to his name. (3) The fables of Adam and Eve, Noah, etc. are so ludicrous as to insult mankind.  (Fossil and DNA data that has emerged since Paine wrote corroborate Paine’s view.)  (4) Countless inconsistencies in the New Testament (NT) are listed, and “like all histories, it is a jumble of fables and facts”.  (5) The contradictory genealogies of Jesus, as presented by Matthew 1:6 and Luke (the former with 28 names and the latter with 43) have only TWO names in common: the first, Joseph and the last, David.  (pp. 794-795).  The authors of those Gospels either didn’t bother to compare the lists or didn’t care.  From David’s birth to Jesus’ was about 1080 years.  (6) He also notes that, if Mary was a virgin, why did both Gospel-genealogists trace Jesus genealogy through Joseph instead of Mary, or did that simply confirm that Mary’s virginity was an afterthought.   (7) At Jesus’ crucifixion, a time that no one thereabouts could forget, Matthew says there was “darkness over the land…that there was an earthquake…that the bodies of many the saints that slept arose and came out of their graves and went into the city and appeared unto many…”  In contradiction, the Gospel-Mark makes no mention of an earthquake, saints rising from the dead, or darkness falling over the land.  Similarly, Luke is also silent on the same points.  John, who gives many detailed accounts of Jesus’ activities, makes no mention of Matthew’s startling “facts”.  So, only one of the famous Gospel chroniclers observed the “darkness…earthquake…bodies of saints…” etc. (8) The four Gospel writers also disagree on many other significant facts: the wording of the inscription under Jesus’ cross; the presence or absence of number of “angels” in Jesus sepulcher; the rolling back of the stone; John says that Jesus related the events to Mary Magdalene; and they also disagree as to when and where the disciples saw Christ after his resurrection.  Also, after the ascension, if Jesus was God, how did he ascend and “sit at the right hand of God”?  Clearly, the Gospel-recorders of Jesus’ activities did not compare notes and injected considerable creativity into their recollections.

Paine’s attacks on the Bible’s veracity were his ultimate undoing, as he was accused as being an atheist and a drunkard, although he was neither, and his friends were reluctant to defend him publicly.  In recent times, many other scholars have detailed the satanically violent portions of the Christian Bible and long lists of inexplicable and material inconsistencies.  Some of these are much more detailed than Paine’s.  See, for example, Sins of the Scriptureby Bishop Spong (an Episcopal priest), Why I Am Not  A Christian by renowned philosopher-Bertrand Russell, End of Faith by Stanford philosophy professor-Dr. Sam Harris, and Misquoting Jesus by Rev. Bart Ehrman (a devout born-again Christian).

Tom Paine was one of mankind’s greatest thinkers and among the most positive forces in his three countries (England, America and France); yet, he was disgracefully attacked by all three and convicted in two and imprisoned in one; he was also never materially rewarded for his contributions to the American Revolution or for any his inventions or for his prolific writings. So, despite his the prominence of his writings, his stunning inventions, and his contributions to the American and French revolutions, he died in abject poverty.  Twice married, once widowed and once divorced, he lived mostly alone, dying in a low-rent boarding house – a testament to society’s ability to ignore its greatest people.  As he rejected entreaties to recant his deism (as only theism was then socially acceptable) and accept Christianity without reservations, his body was denied proper burial, and his remains were eventually lost. No stone or monument memorializes this genius, patriot and hero.  His writings even today trumpet reason’s clarion call:  “The most formidable weapon against errors of every sort is Reason.  I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.”  (Age of  Reason)  We were privileged to have had this profound thinker and champion of the common man among us.

                                                                                                                          Lee Lovett 03/2007