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4.7 out of 5 stars
The Age of Reason (Cosimo Classics History)
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 1998
This is one of the most thought prevoking books I have ever read. Paine is a master at putting together the most logical reasoning. He compels an individual to think for himself.
Many will find Paine's arguments about religion, Christianity and the other major religions disconcerting. He believed in God but not the god depicted in the Scriptures, not the god of the Isrelites, the god that slew the enemies of Isreal.
He challenges the reader not to accept doctrine and dogma without exposing it to the application of reason. His arguments are powerful and not for the weak of heart. In a way he leaves you with a feeling of sadness, realizing that an eternal life hearafter is probably no more than wishful thinking.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 2000
A masterpiece of freethinking. The first part of Paine's essay provides some general comments on religion - he author believed devoutly in God, but rejected the claims of the established churches to some special knowledge of the nature of God. The core of his arguament is that any religion based on a supposed revelation of the Word of God to individuals is both spurious and blasphemous. The Jews claim that their Word of God was given to Moses, the Christians have Jesus and Saint Paul and the Moslems have Muhammed. However, when one of these individuals tells us that the Word of God has been revealed to them, we have only their word for it - to the rest of us it is not the Word of God, but the word of a man, and what could be more blasphemous that placing the word of a man on a par with that of God? Paine invites us instead to rationally consider the nature and character of God through His creation. One does not have to agree with his conclusions to appreciate his application of reason to the subject, and if you do not agree with his view of God, come to your own, based not on faith but on reason.
The second part of the book is a more specific attack on the belief in the truth of the Bible, and it is this that has earned him most bile from Christians. Paine analyses the text for factual and chronological inconsistencies, and shows that most of the books of the Old Testament could not have been written until centuries after the events they claim to describe, and are therefore no more reliable as history than Homer's Illiad. Moreover, the Old Testament claims that the Jews came upon whole races of people who had done them no harm, that they smote them with the edge of the sword, that they spared neither age nor infancy, and that these acts were comitted under the express command of God. If God does exist, what could be more blasphemous than to charge Him with such acts of wickedness? Would we rather believe that God would approve of the massacre of unoffending infants, or would we believe that these claims are lies? And if they are lies, what credit does the rest of the Bible have? Either all of it is the Word of God, or none of it is - we cannot pick and choose the sections we like and discard those we do not like.
Paine's analysis of the New Testament also rings sharply true. While Christians may, rightly, claim that some of the inconsistencies he points out are nit-picking, and can be explained by the passage of time between the life of Christ and the writig of the Gospels, many of the authors points are far from trivial. For example, read the Geneologies of Christ given in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Not only do the two books not agree on the name of a single ancestor between Joseph and David, but they do not even agree on the number of generations between the two. Clearly at least one of these geneologies is a fabrication (not a mistake, for nobody could be so incompetent as to fail to get a single name correct), designed to make the Gospel stories fit with ancient prophecies claiming the Messiah would come from the House of David. And if a Gospel begins with a lie, what credit does the rest of it have?
The book will be particularly disturbing for those fundamentalists who claim that every word of the Bible is literally true, for it shows that even a cursory reading of the Bible demonstrates that it cannot be literally true.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 14 October 2012
There can be no doubt that The Age of Reason is is a supreme work of reason and clarity of thought that is just as relevant today as when it was written two centuries ago. It is the product of a great and enlightened intellect. I believe it should be widely read, especially by those who engage in the faith vs. science debate or anyone who values good writing.

Unfortunately this Dover edition is poorly produced on poor quality paper and in a font that is not easy on the eye. More importantly it is incomplete containing only Parts I and II, Part III being totally absent. I cannot recommend it.

A much better edition, also available form Amazon, is published by Truth Seeker Company with an introduction by Bob Johnson, it is better printed with a more substantial feel to it. In addition to Part III it includes all of Paine's known essays and correspondence regarding God, Deism, the Bible and Theology. It is more expensive but is much better value for the money.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 19 July 1997
After the American Revolution, Tom Paine went to England on a hopeless
quest to promote an invention. While there he was inspired to write The
Rights of Man, his greatest political tract. The British government took
offense, and Paine only just escaped arrest for sedition, crossing the
channel to revolutionary France. The French, whose own revolution owed no
small debt to his writings, gave him a hero's welcome, but not much time
passed before he fell out of favor with the revolutionary government there.
Aging, ill, and out of favor, his mind turned to philosophy and he began to
put down "my thoughts upon religion." He sets forth two themes at the
outset. First, contradicting the modern notion that he was an atheist, he
wrote, "I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond
this life. I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious
duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our
fellow creatures happy." But a second theme dominates most of the book: "I
do not believe in the creed professed by...the Protestant church, nor by
any church that I know of. My own mind is my church. All national
institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to
me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind,
and monopolize power and profit." And with that he deployed the full power
of one of the most amazing rhetorical voices ever raised, with no smaller
aim than to destroy the credibility of all religion, and especially that of
the Christian denominations. He completed the first part of the book the
day the French arrested him; it was published while he spent months in a
cell waiting to be guillotined. Released at last, he sat down to complete
the work. The second part is a detailed and savage deconstruction of the
Christian Bible. When Paine wrote, the idea of examining the Bible as a
text objectively, let alone critically, was unheard of. Paine finds many of
the internal contradictions and barbarities of the Bible and lays them out
with withering scorn. After going through the Bible "as a man would go
through a wood with an axe on his shoulder, and fell trees," he lays out in
a few pages a positive vision of the Deity he believes in and of a possible
afterlife. These quieter pages are touching and have an astonishing
modernity. However, Paine's contemporaries could not grasp the idea of
loving God while hating the Church, and decided that he was an atheist.
Returning to the States, he was hounded and vilified the rest of his life,
eventually dying in poverty. Finally, even his body was lost, and there is
no Paine grave today.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 12 May 2002
There is no finer introduction to Biblical criticism than Paine's Age of Reason. He shattered the veiled world of acadamia with a sledgehammer method that exposesd the errors and false claims of the organised church establishment. It is important to remember that this book was written at a time of great social upheaval when the Church was yet another arm of the governing elite who used the Bible to keep the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate. One cannot fail to be impressed by Paine's sharp penetrating intelect in his destructive handling of the Bible. Yet, in equal measure, he propounds a sublime concept of God and a truer, more pure religion. He had the courage and blunt honesty to write in plain terms that which others had known for years but dared not say publicly. You will not be able to honestly refute anything he writes, i.e unless an emotional and sentimental attatchment to the Bible has blinkered your eyes against the truth. It is a wonderful book and should be read by millions today in an attempt to resist atheism and develop a more sublime awareness of higher things - which was Paine's intention in writing it. My only criticism of this publication is that it does not include Part 3 in which Paine proves (within the Bible text) that the so-called prophesies in the Old Testament of the coming of Christ, are nothing but gross distortions by the later Christian writers in an attempt to legitimise their new religion.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 1 March 1999
Those who are unable to think for themselves will not like this book. Paine ably demonstrates the Enlightenment thinking that was quite common in his day. (No, our Founders were not a bunch of pious, God-fearing zealots as described by today's right-wing extremists.) I have never read a better critique of authoritarian, herd-mentality religion, nor a better exposition of the philosophy of deism, which acknowledges the existence of God but encourages people to discover the divine themselves in the world around us. To me, there is no more awesome way to revel in the reality of God. I just wish Paine's words, penned over 200 years ago, were better known and more appreciated today.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
It has been said of Tom Paine that he was the father of the American Revolution. "Without the pen of the author of `Common Sense', the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain,' John Adams once wrote of him. Yet Adams came to despise Paine, as did so many members of the Republic he had done so much to serve. When Paine died in penury in 1809, only six people attended his funeral (two of them reportedly freed black men).

The basis of this repudiation was this book. His fierce denunciation of all revealed religions - `all national institutions of Churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind (p.22) and his ridicule of the Bible earned calumny and ostracism.

What he set out to do was to discredit the claim that the Bible is the revealed Word of God. Paine was not an atheist. He was a deist. His deism was a form of natural theology. God is revealed in creation. But he barely devotes any space to elaborating or defending these views. Paine's attack is on revealed religion, specifically that religion can be revealed in a holy book. Therefore Paine's denial of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the revealed nature of the Bible generally is anathema for those believers persuaded of the inerrnacy of scripture, as it was then. It's important to bear in mind that believers make more than a claim that a deity exists - they claim that God has a plan for the world, and the Bible reveals it. Paine denied this. This made him a heathen as far as the devout were concerned. Thus they did not spare him opprobrium then; they wouldn't do so now.

Paine had three lines of attack.

First, the Old Testament is a bloodthirsty and violent text and sanctions the commission of murder and rapine. We are told in the book of Numbers that Moses discovers that his victorious armies have spared the women of a conquered city. This act of mercy brings forth a plague among the Hebrews - God is none too pleased. So Moses commands his armies to slaughter the women and boys, but to keep the girls for rape (p.102). This is from the book that is supposed to be the foundation text of our moral values - and taught to generations of Sunday school children.

Second, the absurdities of the so-called wonders the Bible reports - for instance, the sun standing still upon Mt Gideon. Paine notes sardonically that such `a circumstance could not have happened without being known all over the world. One half would have wondered why the sun did not rise, and the other why it did not set, and the tradition of it would have been universal; whereas there is not a nation of the world that knows anything about it.' (page. 107)

Third, the inconsistencies in the so-called divine testimony. For instance Matthew and Luke give genealogies of Jesus that contradict one another. Both gospel writers trace Jesus' lineage back to King David - but Matthew names 28 progenitors, Luke names 43. This is the inerrant word of god, is it not? (pp. 154-155). The resurrection is the keystone of the faith - but we have only the dubious testimony of a handful of witnesses to vouch for it and the testimony that is adduced contradicts itself. The Gospels cannot agree where the risen Christ appeared to his disciples. Matthew says at a mountain. Luke says they saw him Jerusalem. The gospels and the New Testament cannot agree when and where the risen Christ appeared, and to how many of his followers and disciples he appeared to.

If Jesus did not rise from the dead then Christianity - at least the fundamentalist sort - is a dead-letter. The efforts of contemporary theologians like Don Cupitt to purge Christianity of supernatural atavisms and convert it into a rationalist faith are futile. The monotheistic religions seem to me to depend on the bells and whistles of miracles, which demonstrate that God has real power in the world, and is owed obedience and worhsip on this basis. Although David Hume's arguments against theism were a lot more radical, he did not attempt, unlike Paine, to make an explicit challenge to the status of the Bible as a foundational holy text. Paine therefore was the greater threat. Believers knew and continue to know that on the authority of the Bible everything was and is staked. For this temerity he was anathematised.

But why read this now? This text is over two centuries' old. You'll notice the anachronisms like referring to Islam as the 'Turkish' religion and such like but I think that this book can be read for its aesthetic qualities and the forthright quality of its prose. I also think that it is emblematic of a free thinker's mind but most of all I think that Paine set out to destroy (in his words) three frauds: mystery, miracle and prophecy. Dismayingly, these frauds still hold the credulous in thrall today. Look at the mega-churches in the US or the self-aggrandising fraud Sathya Sai Baba accumulation of a $12 Billion empire, not a single cent of which was made from a single day's worth of honest toil. Paine's battle therefore is still to be won.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 8 June 1998
This is exactly what I've been looking for. I am a deist, if you can call yourself that anymore. Thomas Paine is a literary genius. He writes it perfectly. It amazes me, everything that he wrote about in this publication I have thought about numerous times. It's wierd it was written 200 years ago. If you are at doubt of your stance on religeon, or are researching deism, this is the book to read. It cleared up all the questions that I had. It has helped me alot, and contuinues to help me.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 1998
Cuban poet Jose Marti must have been thinking of individuals like Thomas Paine when he wrote: "Animals follow the herd; men their free thought." In "The Age of Reason," Paine asks us to break away from the "herd" of theistic religion and follow our free thought. But to accept this challenge, one must be willing to swim against the current of religious "group-think"; to give up the reassuring and dogmatic belief-system that replaced Santa Claus and the other fairytales of our childhood. And there is the rub! Paine uses the internal inconsistencies and factual errors in the Bible to expose it for the man-made fabrication that it is. And since his arguments are devastating and unanswerable, the only recourse for his detractors is to engage in ad hominem tirades against him or to challenge the propriety of his endeavor. Indeed, in his own time, Paine was made to endure unconscionable hardships and humiliations for challenging the foundations of the clericalist establishment.
A more exhaustive expose of Biblical self-incrimination is presented in Joseph Wheless's book "Is it God's Word? However, Paine's book, written more than 200 years ago and directed at the general public, is a historical landmark of religious dissent.
Paine's religious views share much in common with the "cosmic religious feeling" described by Albert Einstein as linked to the "sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves in both nature and the world of thought." Paine's book dares us to consider that yes, Virginia, there is a God, but not one with long hair and a beard who punishes little children for not saying their prayers at night.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 December 2009
There are a great many religious folk who seem to be on the defensive these days against what they regard as 'The New Atheism'.

Atheism isn't new, of course. It's as old as religion itself. The wonderful Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett onslaught against institutionalised respect for fairy stories has certainly captured the popular imagination lately.
Thomas Paine wasn't `an atheist' in the sense that the afore-mentioned men are. He was a deist. He believed that there was a `creator God'. However, beyond that, his rejection of the Christian, Jewish and Moslem churches and their `Holy books' was total and unequivocal. In chapter I he writes; "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My mind is my own church."

'The Age Of Reason' was first published (in the USA) in 1896 and within its pages, the author exposed the contradictions and falsehoods written in the Bible. His approach was meticulous and decisive. Paine systematically scythes through the ancient sophistry which (understandably) beguiled the unscientific populous of those far off days. He is scathing of the clerics who all knew that they were preaching fables as truths and his outrage at their duplicity is biting.

The book is timeless and everyone who went through their formative years being told by their `elders and betters' that `the good book' was trustworthy should read Paine's polemic.

Barry
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