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The Age of Reason Paperback – 1 Jan 2004
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About the Author
An English biographer and prose writer gained fame with the publication of his pamphlet Common Sense (1776). He contributed much to the Pennsylvania Magazine. He wrote against slavery and in favor of women's emancipation. His other works include: Pennsylvania Packet (1776), Dissertations on Government (1786), The Rights of Man (1791-92), The Age of Reason (1794-95). --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
Thomas Paine certainly knew his subject and explained his thinking with a very clear logic.
He denounces religion whilst still believing in God. Whilst his logic appears sound when he argues against religion, he explains his belief in God using misjudged logic. Since this book was written many years before Darwin's book on the Theory of Natural Selection, Thomas Paine is unable to account for the creation of life and thus he relies on a god to start creation (although not at described in the Bible).
The book is interesting from an historical point of view, as well as from a religious / atheist argument. Paine must have been highly motivated and a very brave man to publish his radical opinion in such detail.
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.
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.