Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason

Like a choir girl that has just had her 1st visit to the tattoo parlour or a school boy after his first champagne I find myself irresistibly drawn to this vocation; the vocation of critiquing literary works-others’ , of course.

” The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology is a deistic pamphlet, written by eighteenth-century British radical and American revolutionaryThomas Paine, that criticizes institutionalized religion and challenges the legitimacy of the Bible, the central sacred text of Christianity. Published in three parts in 1794, 1795, and 1807, it was a bestseller in the United States, where it caused a short-lived deistic revival. British audiences, however, fearing increased political radicalism as a result of the French Revolution, received it with more hostility.The Age of Reason presents common deistic arguments; for example, it highlights what Paine saw as corruption of the Christian Church and criticizes its efforts to acquire political power. Paine advocates reason in the place of revelation, leading him to reject miracles and to view the Bible as an ordinary piece of literature rather than as a divinely inspired text. It promotes natural religionand argues for the existence of a creator-God.

The title is, solely, able to capture the attentions of anyone that makes  a pretense towards intellect and philosophy (whence I came to read it) and the introductory paragraphs, irreverent enough to make one catch their breath.

The argument’s that follow logic are plain enough, like how, per Christianity, Deuteronomy (the 1st five books of the old testament in general) was written by Moses. However, the concluding chapter gives an account of Moses’ death: “And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is” (Deut. 34:5-6); how can one write about their own death? or how Numbers says, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men who were upon the face of the earth” (Num.12:3) which seems paradoxical that a man esteemed for his meekness should so boast about himself.

If the man, Paine, had stuck to reason, this would have been a genius work.  There are some subjects, he, perhaps, should not have touched on, for example, that of the trinity. He admits of a Super-being in the context of One God, however, he says logic does not support the trinity. “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 trinity of gods that then followed was no other than a reduction of the former plurality, which was about twenty or thirty thousand…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…”. Paine does not give concrete evidence, by use of deduction, whence he came to this conclusion like he did with the Moses’ authorship entitlement question. Thus, we are left to conclude that the above statement is nothing other than Paine’s own opinion-which he is perfectly entitled to but which is hypocritical to parade around in a book called Age of ‘Reason’.  “THE only idea man can affix to the name of God, is that of a first cause, the cause of all things” (Chptr X), but if this tenet is arrived at truly by reason, then reason would go further and ask ‘what causes God?’. Reason does not stop midway before reaching a blank wall, and having reached that brick wall, philosophy takes over, staring and meditating upon that wall as if to break it down through sheer telekinesis.

In this manner, Paine has carelessly ridden roughshod over all matters in which reason cannot support his opinions and this has weakened his argument. In these instances, he seems hasty and impatient to come to a conclusion at times not writing more then a sentence to come to a conclusion and the reader is left a little breathless, not from awe, but from trying to keep up; trying to make sense of how anyone can conclude that if there are 3 oranges in the basket, it must be that they are the leftovers of an initial 10 when they could easily have started from some one putting one at a time, three times or three at a time, once. And when one asks how the person came to this conclusion, they say, ‘it just seems logical’.

This isn’t to say there isn’t some great logic in the work-as I have already pointed out, where ‘reason’ is really employed, he is m.e.t.i.c.u.l.o.u.s, and unparalleled in his extrapolates. But one is annoyed when in the middle of it all you find you are being sold opinions wrapped as reason, not unlike a wad of cash with a Benjamin on top and bottom, and Washingtons in the middle.

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