The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. - HTML preview
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The Age of Reason
Categorie(s): Non-Fiction, Philosophy, Religion
Thomas Paine (29 January 1737–8 June 1809) was an English pamph-
leteer, revolutionary, radical, inventor, and intellectual. He lived and
worked in Britain until age 37, when he emigrated to the British Americ-
an colonies, in time to participate in the American Revolution. His prin-
cipal contribution was the powerful, widely-read pamphlet, Common
Sense (1776), advocating colonial America's independence from the
Kingdom of Great Britain, and of The American Crisis (1776-1783), a pro-
revolutionary pamphlet series. Later, he greatly influenced the French
Revolution. He wrote the Rights of Man (1791), a guide to Enlightenment
ideas. Despite not speaking French, he was elected to the French Nation-
al Convention in 1792. The Girondists regarded him an ally, so, the
Montagnards, especially Robespierre, regarded him an enemy. In
December of 1793, he was arrested and imprisoned in Paris, then re-
leased in 1794. He became notorious because of The Age of Reason
(1793-94), the book advocated deism and argued against Christian doc-
trines. In France, he also wrote the pamphlet Agrarian Justice (1795), discussing the origins of property, and introduced the concept of a guaran-
teed minimum income. He remained in France during the early Napo-
leonic era, but condemned Napoleon's dictatorship, calling him "the
completest charlatan that ever existed". In 1802, he returned to America at President Thomas Jefferson's invitation. Thomas Paine died, at age 72, in No. 59 Grove Street, Greenwich Village, N.Y.C., on 8 June 1809. His burial site is located in New Rochelle, New York where he had lived
after returning to America in 1802. His remains were later disinterred by an admirer looking to return them to England; his final resting place
today is unknown. Source: Wikipedia
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The Author's Profession of Faith
It has been my intention, for several years past, to publish my thoughts
upon religion; I am well aware of the difficulties that attend the subject, and from that consideration, had reserved it to a more advanced period
of life. I intended it to be the last offering I should make to my fellow-citizens of all nations, and that at a time when the purity of the motive that induced me to it could not admit of a question, even by those who might
disapprove the work.
The circumstance that has now taken place in France, of the total aboli-
tion of the whole national order of priesthood, and of everything apper-
taining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles of
faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary, lest, in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true.
As several of my colleagues, and others of my fellow-citizens of
France, have given me the example of making their voluntary and indi-
vidual profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond
I believe 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, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in ad-
dition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Ro-
man 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
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.
I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe other-
wise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.
It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his pro-
fessional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and, in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive anything more destructive to morality
Soon after I had published the pamphlet Common Sense, in America, I
saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of govern-
ment would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion. The
adulterous connection of church and state, wherever it had taken place,
whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, had so effectually prohibited, by
pains and penalties, every discussion upon established creeds, and upon
first principles of religion, that until the system of government should be changed, those subjects could not be brought fairly and openly before
the world; but that whenever this should be done, a revolution in the
system of religion would follow. Human inventions and priest-craft
would be detected; and man would return to the pure, unmixed, and
unadulterated belief of one God, and no more.
Of Missions and Revelations
Every national church or religion has established itself by pretending
some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals.
The Jews have their Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their
apostles and saints; and the Turks their Mahomet; as if the way to God
was not open to every man alike.
Each of those 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.
As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some observations on the word revelation.
Revelation when applied to religion, means something communic-
ated 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.
It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation
that comes to us at second hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication. After this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to
him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be
incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner, for it was not a
revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.
When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables
of the commandments from the hand of God, they were not obliged to
believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling
them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so, the commandments carrying no internal evidence of divinity with
them. They contain some good moral precepts such as any man qualified
to be a lawgiver or a legislator could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention.1
When I am told that the Koran was written in Heaven, and brought to
Mahomet by an angel, the account comes to near the same kind of
hearsay evidence and second hand authority as the former. I did not see
the angel myself, and therefore I have a right not to believe it.
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 chose to rest my belief upon such evidence.
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. Almost all the extraordinary men that lived under the heathen mythology
were reputed to be the sons of some of their gods. It was not a new thing at that time to believe a man to have been celestially begotten; the inter-course of gods with women was then a matter of familiar opinion. Their
Jupiter, according to their accounts, had cohabited with hundreds; the
story therefore had nothing in it either new, wonderful, or obscene; it
was conformable to the opinions that then prevailed among the people
called Gentiles, or mythologists, and it was those people only that be-
lieved it. The Jews, who had kept strictly to the belief of one God, and no more, and who had always rejected the heathen mythology, never credited the story.
1.It is, however, necessary to except the declamation which says that God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children. This is contrary to every principle of moral justice.—Author.
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 incor-
poration 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 statue of Mary succeeded the statue of Diana of
Ephesus. The deification of heroes changed into the canonization of
saints. The Mythologists had gods for everything; the Christian Mytholo-
gists had saints for everything. The church became as crowded with the
one, as the pantheon had been with the other; and Rome was the place of
both. 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.
Concerning the Character of Jesus Christ, and His
Nothing that is here said can apply, even with the most distant dis-
respect, to the real character of Jesus Christ. He was a virtuous and an amiable man. The morality that he preached and practiced was of the
most benevolent kind; and though similar systems of morality had been
preached by Confucius, and by some of the Greek philosophers, many
years before, by the Quakers since, and by many good men in all ages, it
has not been exceeded by any.
Jesus Christ wrote no account of himself, of his birth, parentage, or
anything else. Not a line of what is called the New Testament is of his
writing. The history of him is altogether the work of other people; and as to the account given of his resurrection and ascension, it was the necessary counterpart to the story of his birth. His historians, having brought him into the world in a supernatural manner, were obliged to take him
out again in the same manner, or the first part of the story must have
fallen to the ground.
The wretched contrivance with which this latter part is told, exceeds
everything that went before it. The first part, that of the miraculous conception, was not a thing that admitted of publicity; and therefore the tell-ers of this part of the story had this advantage, that though they might
not be credited, they could not be detected. They could not be expected
to prove it, because it was not one of those things that admitted of proof, and it was impossible that the person of whom it was told could prove it
But the resurrection of a dead person from the grave, and his ascen-
sion through the air, is a thing very different, as to the evidence it admits of, to the invisible conception of a child in the womb. The resurrection
and ascension, supposing them to have taken place, admitted of public
and ocular demonstration, like that of the ascension of a balloon, or the sun at noon day, to all Jerusalem at least. A thing which everybody is
required to believe, requires that the proof and evidence of it should be equal to all, and universal; and as the public visibility of this last related act was the only evidence that could give sanction to the former part, the whole of it falls to the ground, because that evidence never was given.
Instead of this, a small number of persons, not more than eight or nine,
are introduced as proxies for the whole world, to say they saw it, and all the rest of the world are called upon to believe it. But it appears that Thomas did not believe the resurrection; and, as they say, would not believe without having ocular and manual demonstration himself. So neither will I; and the reason is equally as good for me, and for every other person, as for Thomas.
It is in vain to attempt to palliate or disguise this matter. The story, so far as relates to the supernatural part, has every mark of fraud and imposition stamped upon the face of it. Who were the authors of it is as impossible for us now to know, as it is for us to be assured that the books in which the account is related were written by the persons whose names
they bear. The best surviving evidence we now have. respecting this af-
fair is the Jews. They are regularly descended from the people who lived
in the time this resurrection and ascension is said to have happened, and they say it is not true. It has long appeared to me a strange inconsistency to cite the Jews as a proof of the truth of the story. It is just the same as if a man were to say, I will prove the truth of what I have told you, by producing the people who say it is false.
That such a person as Jesus Christ existed, and that he was crucified,
which was the mode of execution at that day, are historical relations
strictly within the limits of probability. He preached most excellent morality, and the equality of man; but he preached also against the corrup-
tions and avarice of the Jewish priests, and this brought upon him the
hatred and vengeance of the whole order of priest-hood. The accusation
which those priests brought against him was that of sedition and con-
spiracy against the Roman government, to which the Jews were then
subject and tributary; and it is not improbable that the Roman govern-
ment might have some secret apprehension of the effects of his doctrine
as well as the Jewish priests; neither is it improbable that Jesus Christ had in contemplation the delivery of the Jewish nation from the bondage
of the Romans. Between the two, however, this virtuous reformer and re-
volutionist lost his life.2
2.The French work has here: "However this may be, for one or the other of these suppositions this virtuous reformer, this revolutionist, too little imitated, too much forgotten, too much misunderstood, lost his life.—Editor. (Conway)
Of the Bases of Christianity
It is upon this plain narrative of facts, together with another case I am going to mention, that the Christian mythologists, calling themselves the Christian Church, have erected their fable, which for absurdity and extravagance is not exceeded by anything that is to be found in the mytho-
logy of the ancients.
The ancient mythologists tell us that the race of Giants made war
against Jupiter, and that one of them threw a hundred rocks against him
at one throw; that Jupiter defeated him with thunder, and confined him
afterwards under Mount Etna; and that every time the Giant turns him-
self, Mount Etna belches fire. It is here easy to see that the circumstance of the mountain, that of its being a volcano, suggested the idea of the
fable; and that the fable is made to fit and wind itself up with that
The Christian mythologists tell that their Satan made war against the
Almighty, who defeated him, and confined him afterwards, not under a
mountain, but in a pit. It is here easy to see that the first fable suggested the idea of the second; for the fable of Jupiter and the Giants was told
many hundred years before that of Satan.
Thus far the ancient and the Christian mythologists differ very little
from each other. But the latter have contrived to carry the matter much
farther. They have contrived to connect the fabulous part of the story of Jesus Christ with the fable originating from Mount Etna; and, in order to make all the parts of the story tie together, they have taken to their aid the traditions of the Jews; for the Christian mythology is made up partly from the ancient mythology, and partly from the Jewish traditions.
The Christian mythologists, after having confined Satan in a pit, were
obliged to let him out again to bring on the sequel of the fable. He is then introduced into the garden of Eden in the shape of a snake, or a serpent, and in that shape he enters into familiar conversation with Eve, who is
no ways surprised to hear a snake talk; and the issue of this tête-à-tête is, 11
that he persuades her to eat an apple, and the eating of that apple damns all mankind.
After giving Satan this triumph over the whole creation, one would
have supposed that the church mythologists would have been kind
enough to send him back again to the pit, or, if they had not done this,
that they would have put a mountain upon him, (for they say that their
faith can remove a mountain) or have put him under a mountain, as the
former mythologists had done, to prevent his getting again among the
women, and doing more mischief. But instead of this, they leave him at
large, without even obliging him to give his parole. The secret of which
is, that they could not do without him; and after being at the trouble of making him, they bribed him to stay. They promised him All the
Jews, All the Turks by anticipation, nine-tenths of the world beside, and Mahomet into the bargain. After this, who can doubt the bountifulness of
the Christian Mythology?
Having thus made an insurrection and a battle in heaven, in which
none of the combatants could be either killed or wounded —put Satan
into the pit—let him out again—given him a triumph over the whole cre-
ation—damned all mankind by the eating of an apple, there Christian
mythologists bring the two ends of their fable together. They represent
this virtuous and amiable man, Jesus Christ, to be at once both God and
man, and also the Son of God, celestially begotten, on purpose to be sac-
rificed, because they say that Eve in her longing3 had eaten an apple.
3.The French work has: "yielding to an unrestrained appetite"—Editor.
Examination in Detail of the Preceding Bases
Putting aside everything that might excite laughter by its absurdity, or
detestation by its profaneness, and confining ourselves merely to an ex-
amination of the parts, it is impossible to conceive a story more derogatory to the Almighty, more inconsistent with his wisdom, more contra-
dictory to his power, than this story is.
In order to make for it a foundation to rise upon, the inventors were
under the necessity of giving to the being whom they call Satan a power
equally as great, if not greater, than they attribute to the Almighty. They have not only given him the power of liberating himself from the pit,
after what they call his fall, but they have made that power increase af-
terwards to infinity. Before this fall they represent him only as an angel of limited existence, as they represent the rest. After his fall, he becomes, by their account, omnipresent. He exists everywhere, and at the same
time. He occupies the whole immensity of space.
Not content with this deification of Satan, they represent him as de-
feating by stratagem, in the shape of an animal of the creation, all the
power and wisdom of the Almighty. They represent him as having com-
pelled the Almighty to the direct necessity either of surrendering the whole of the creation to the government and sovereignty of this Satan, or of capitulating for its redemption by coming down upon earth, and exhibiting himself upon a cross in the shape of a man.
Had the inventors of this story told it the contrary way, that is, had
they represented the Almighty as compelling Satan to exhibit himself on a cross in the shape of a snake, as a punishment for his new transgression, the story would have been less absurd, less contradictory. But, instead of this they make the transgressor triumph, and the Almighty fall.
That many good men have believed this strange fable, and lived very
good lives under that belief (for credulity is not a crime) is what I have no doubt of. In the first place, they were educated to believe it, and they would have believed anything else in the same manner. There are also
many who have been so enthusiastically enraptured by what they con-
ceived to be the infinite love of God to man, in making a sacrifice of himself, that the vehemence of the idea has forbidden and deterred them
from examining into the absurdity and profaneness of the story. The
more unnatural anything is, the more is it capable of becoming the object of dismal admiration.4
4.The French work has "blind and" preceding "dismal".—Editor.
Of the True Theology
But if objects for gratitude and admiration are our desire, do they not
present themselves every hour to our eyes? Do we not see a fair creation
prepared to receive us the instant we are born —a world furnished to
our hands, that cost us nothing? Is it we that light up the sun; that pour down the rain; and fill the earth with abundance? Whether we sleep or
wake, the vast machinery of the universe still goes on. Are these things, and the blessings they indicate in future, nothing to, us? Can our gross
feelings be excited by no other subjects than tragedy and suicide? Or is
the gloomy pride of man become so intolerable, that nothing can flatter it but a sacrifice of the Creator?
I know that this bold investigation will alarm many, but it would be
paying too great a compliment to their credulity to forbear it on that account. The times and the subject demand it to be done. The suspicion
that the theory of what is called the Christian church is fabulous, is becoming very extensive in all countries; and it will be a consolation to
men staggering under that suspicion, and doubting what to believe and
what to disbelieve, to see the subject freely investigated. I therefore pass on to an examination of the books called the Old and the New
Examination of the Old Testament
These books, beginning with Genesis and ending with Revelations,
(which, by the bye, is a book of riddles that requires a revelation to explain it) are, we are told, the word of God. It is, therefore, proper for us to know who told us so, that we may know what credit to give to the report. The answer to this question is, that nobody can tell, except that we tell one another so. The case, however, historically appears to be as
When the church mythologists established their system, they collected
all the writings they could find, and managed them as they pleased. It is a matter altogether of uncertainty to us whether such of the writings as
now appear under the name of the Old and the New Testament, are in
the same state in which those collectors say they found them; or whether
they added, altered, abridged, or dressed them up.
Be this as it may, they decided by vote which of the books out of the collection they had made, should be the Word of God, and which should
not. They rejected several; they voted others to be doubtful, such as the books called the Apocrypha; and those books which had a majority of
votes, were voted to be the word of God. Had they voted otherwise, all
the people since calling themselves Christians had believed otherwise;
for the belief of the one comes from the vote of the other. Who the people were that did all this, we know nothing of. They call themselves by the
general name of the Church; and this is all we know of the matter.
As we have no other external evidence or authority for believing these
books to be the word of God, than what I have mentioned, which is no
evidence or authority at all, I come, in the next place, to examine the internal evidence contained in the books themselves.
In the former part of this essay, I have spoken of revelation. I now pro-
ceed further with that subject, for the purpose of applying it to the books in question.
Revelation is a communication of something, which the person, to
whom that thing is revealed, did not know before. For if I have done a
thing, or seen it done, it needs no revelation to tell me I have done it, or seen it, nor to enable me to tell it, or to write it.
Revelation, therefore, cannot be applied to anything done upon earth
of which man is himself the actor or the witness; and consequently all the historical and anecdotal part of the Bible, which is almost the whole of it, is not within the meaning and compass of the word revelation, and,
therefore, is not the word of God.
When Samson ran off with the gate-posts of Gaza, if he ever did so,
(and whether he did or not is nothing to us,) or when he visited his Delil-ah, or caught his foxes, or did anything else5, what has revelation to do with these things? If they were facts, he could tell them himself; or his secretary, if he kept one, could write them, if they were worth either
telling or writing; and if they were fictions, revelation could not make
them true; and whether true or not, we are neither the better nor the
wiser for knowing them. When we contemplate the immensity of that
Being, who directs and governs the incomprehensible WHOLE, of which
the utmost ken of human sight can discover but a part, we ought to feel
shame at calling such paltry stories the word of God.
As to the account of the creation, with which the book of Genesis
opens, it has all the appearance of being a tradition which the Israelites had among them before they came into Egypt; and after their departure
from that country, they put it at the head of their history, without telling, as it is most probable that they did not know, how they came by it. The
manner in which the account opens, shows it to be traditionary. It begins abruptly. It is nobody that speaks. It is nobody that hears. It is addressed to nobody. It has neither first, second, nor third person. It has every criterion of being a tradition. It has no voucher. Moses does not take it upon himself by introducing it with the formality that he uses on other occasions, such as that of saying, " The Lord spake unto Moses, saying. "
Why it has been called the Mosaic account of the creation, I am at a
loss to conceive. Moses, I believe, was too good a judge of such subjects to put his name to that account. He had been educated among the Egyptians, who were a people as well skilled in science, and particularly in astronomy, as any people of their day; and the silence and caution that
Moses observes, in not authenticating the account, is a good negative
evidence that he neither told it nor believed it.—The case is, that every nation of people has been world-makers, and the Israelites had as much
5.The French work has "prank".—Editor.
right to set up the trade of world-making as any of the rest; and as Moses was not an Israelite, he might not chuse to contradict the tradition. The account, however, is harmless; and this is more than can be said for
many other parts of the Bible.
Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries,
the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with
which more than half the Bible6 is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for
my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.
We scarcely meet with anything, a few phrases excepted, but what de-
serves either our abhorrence or our contempt, till we come to the miscel-
laneous parts of the Bible. In the anonymous publications, the Psalms,
and the Book of Job, more particularly in the latter, we find a great deal of elevated sentiment reverentially expressed of the power and benignity
of the Almighty; but they stand on no higher rank than many other com-
positions on similar subjects, as well before that time as since.
The Proverbs which are said to be Solomon's, though most probably a
collection, (because they discover a knowledge of life, which his situation excluded him from knowing) are an instructive table of ethics. They are
inferior in keenness to the proverbs of the Spaniards, and not more wise
and economical than those of the American Franklin.
All the remaining parts of the Bible, generally known by the name of
the Prophets, are the works of the Jewish poets and itinerant preachers,
who mixed poetry, anecdote, and devotion together—and those works
still retain the air and style of poetry, though in translation. 7
" Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth!
'T is God himself that calls attention forth.
Another instance I shall quote is from the mournful Jeremiah, to which
I shall add two other lines, for the purpose of carrying out the figure, and showing the intention of the poet.
" O, that mine head were waters and mine eyes"
Were fountains flowing like the liquid skies;
Then would I give the mighty flood release
And weep a deluge for the human race.— Author.
There is not, throughout the whole book called the Bible, any word
that describes to us what we call a poet, nor any word that describes
what we call poetry. The case is, that the word prophet, to which a later times have affixed a new idea, was the Bible word for poet, and the
word prophesying meant the art of making poetry. It also meant the art of playing poetry to a tune upon any instrument of music.
We read of prophesying with pipes, tabrets, and horns—of prophesy-
ing with harps, with psalteries, with cymbals, and with every other in-
strument of music then in fashion. Were we now to speak of prophesy-
ing with a fiddle, or with a pipe and tabor, the expression would have no meaning, or would appear ridiculous, and to some people contemptuous, because we have changed the meaning of the word.
We are told of Saul being among the prophets, and also that he proph-
esied; but we are not told what they prophesied, nor what he proph-
esied. The case is, there was nothing to tell; for these prophets were a
company of musicians and poets, and Saul joined in the concert, and this
was called prophesying.
The account given of this affair in the book called Samuel, is, that Saul met a company of prophets; a whole company of them! coming down
with a psaltery, a tabret, a pipe, and a harp, and that they prophesied,
and that he prophesied with them. But it appears afterwards, that Saul
prophesied badly, that is, he performed his part badly; for it is said that an " evil spirit from God8 came upon Saul, and he prophesied."
Now, were there no other passage in the book called the Bible, than
this, to demonstrate to us that we have lost the original meaning of the
word prophesy, and substituted another meaning in its place, this alone would be sufficient; for it is impossible to use and apply the
word prophesy, in the place it is here used and applied, if we give to it the sense which later times have affixed to it. The manner in which it is here used strips it of all religious meaning, and shews that a man might then
be a prophet, or he might prophesy, as he may now be a poet or a musician, without any regard to the morality or the immorality of his charac-
ter. The word was originally a term of science, promiscuously applied to
poetry and to music, and not restricted to any subject upon which poetry
and music might be exercised.
Deborah and Barak are called prophets, not because they predicted
anything, but because they composed the poem or song that bears their
name, in celebration of an act already done. David is ranked among the
prophets, for he was a musician, and was also reputed to be (though per-
haps very erroneously) the author of the Psalms. But Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob are not called prophets; it does not appear from any accounts
we have, that they could either sing, play music, or make poetry.
We are told of the greater and the lesser prophets. They might as well
tell us of the greater and the lesser God; for there cannot be degrees in prophesying consistently with its modern sense. But there are degrees in
poetry, and therefore the phrase is reconcilable to the case, when we un-
derstand by it the greater and the lesser poets.
It is altogether unnecessary, after this, to offer any observations upon
what those men, styled prophets, have written. The axe goes at once to
the root, by showing that the original meaning of the word has been mis-
taken, and consequently all the inferences that have been drawn from
those books, the devotional respect that has been paid to them, and the
laboured commentaries that have been written upon them, under that
mistaken meaning, are not worth disputing about.—-In many things,
however, the writings of the Jewish poets deserve a better fate than that
of being bound up, as they now are, with the trash that accompanies
them, under the abused name of the Word of God.
If we permit ourselves to conceive right ideas of things, we must ne-
cessarily affix the idea, not only of unchangeableness, but of the utter impossibility of any change taking place, by any means or accident
whatever, in that which we would honour with the name of the Word of
God; and therefore the Word of God cannot exist in any written or hu-
The continually progressive change to which the meaning of words is
subject, the want of an universal language which renders translation ne-
cessary, the errors to which translations are again subject, the mistakes of copyists and printers, together with the possibility of wilful alteration, are of themselves evidences that human language, whether in speech or
in print, cannot be the vehicle of the Word of God.—-The Word of God
Did the book called the Bible excel in purity of ideas and expression all the books now extant in the world, I would not take it for my rule of
faith, as being the Word of God; because the possibility would neverthe-
less exist of my being imposed upon. But when I see throughout the
greatest part of this book scarcely anything but a history of the grossest vices, and a collection of the most paltry and contemptible tales, I cannot dishonour my Creator by calling it by his name.
Of the New Testament
Thus much for the Bible; I now go on to the book called the New Testa-
ment. The new Testament! that is, the new Will, as if there could be two wills of the Creator.
Had it been the object or the intention of Jesus Christ to establish a
new religion, he would undoubtedly have written the system himself,
or procured it to be written in his life time. But there is no publication extant authenticated with his name. All the books called the New Testa-
ment were written after his death. He was a Jew by birth and by profes-
sion; and he was the son of God in like manner that every other person
is; for the Creator is the Father of All.
The first four books, called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, do not
give a history of the life of Jesus Christ, but only detached anecdotes of him. It appears from these books, that the whole time of his being a
preacher was not more than eighteen months; and it was only during
this short time that those men became acquainted with him. They make
mention of him at the age of twelve years, sitting, they say, among the
Jewish doctors, asking and answering them questions. As this was sever-
al years before their acquaintance with him began, it is most probable
they had this anecdote from his parents. From this time there is no ac-
count of him for about sixteen years. Where he lived, or how he em-
ployed himself during this interval, is not known. Most probably he was
working at his father's trade, which was that of a carpenter. It does not appear that he had any school education, and the probability is, that he
could not write, for his parents were extremely poor, as appears from
It is somewhat curious that the three persons whose names are the
most universally recorded were of very obscure parentage. Moses was a
foundling; Jesus Christ was born in a stable; and Mahomet was a mule
driver. The first and the last of these men were founders of different systems of religion; but Jesus Christ founded no new system. He called men
to the practice of moral virtues, and the belief of one God. The great trait in his character is philanthropy.
The manner in which he was apprehended shows that he was not
much known, at that time; and it shows also that the meetings he then
held with his followers were in secret; and that he had given over or suspended preaching publicly. Judas could no otherways betray him than
by giving information where he was, and pointing him out to the officers
that went to arrest him; and the reason for employing and paying Judas
to do this could arise only from the causes already mentioned, that of his not being much known, and living concealed.
The idea of his concealment, not only agrees very ill with his reputed
divinity, but associates with it something of pusillanimity; and his being betrayed, or in other words, his being apprehended, on the information
of one of his followers, shows that he did not intend to be apprehended,
and consequently that he did not intend to be crucified.
The Christian mythologists tell us that Christ died for the sins of the
world, and that he came on purpose to die. Would it not then have been the same if he had died of a fever or of the small pox, of old age, or of anything else?
The declaratory sentence which, they say, was passed upon Adam, in
case he ate of the apple, was not, that thou shalt surely be crucified, but, thou shall surely die. The sentence was death, and not the manner of dying. Crucifixion, therefore, or any other particular manner of dying, made no part of the sentence that Adam was to suffer, and consequently,
even upon their own tactic, it could make no part of the sentence that
Christ was to suffer in the room of Adam. A fever would have done as
well as a cross, if there was any occasion for either.
This sentence of death, which, they tell us, was thus passed upon
Adam, must either have meant dying naturally, that is, ceasing to live, or have meant what these mythologists call damnation; and consequently,
the act of dying on the part of Jesus Christ, must, according to their system, apply as a prevention to one or other of these two things happening to Adam and to us.
That it does not prevent our dying is evident, because we all die; and if their accounts of longevity be true, men die faster since the crucifixion than before: and with respect to the second explanation, (including with
it the natural death of Jesus Christ as a substitute for the eternal death or 23
damnation of all mankind,) it is impertinently representing the Creator as coming off, or revoking the sentence, by a pun or a quibble upon the
word death. That manufacturer of quibbles, St. Paul, if he wrote the books that bear his name, has helped this quibble on by making another
quibble upon the word Adam. He makes there to be two Adams; the one who sins in fact, and suffers by proxy; the other who sins by proxy, and