The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. - HTML preview
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the understanding, and they are never so lasting as when they begin by
conception. Thus much for the introductory part.
From the time I was capable of conceiving an idea, and acting upon it
by reflection, I either doubted the truth of the christian system, or
thought it to be a strange affair; I scarcely knew which it was: but I well remember, when about seven or eight years of age, hearing a sermon
read by a relation of mine, who was a great devotee of the church, upon
the subject of what is called Redemption by the death of the Son of God. After the sermon was ended, I went into the garden, and as I was going down
the garden steps (for I perfectly recollect the spot) I revolted at the recollection of what I had heard, and thought to myself that it was making
God Almighty act like a passionate man, that killed his son, when he
could not revenge himself any other way; and as I was sure a man would
be hanged that did such a thing, I could not see for what purpose they
preached such sermons. This was not one of those kind of thoughts that
had any thing in it of childish levity; it was to me a serious reflection, arising from the idea I had that God was too good to do such an action,
and also too almighty to be under any necessity of doing it. I believe in the same manner to this moment; and I moreover believe, that any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child,
cannot be a true system.
It seems as if parents of the christian profession were ashamed to tell
their children any thing about the principles of their religion. They sometimes instruct them in morals, and talk to them of the goodness of what
they call Providence; for the Christian mythology has five deities: there is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, the God Providence,
and the Goddess Nature. But the christian story of God the Father put-
ting his son to death, or employing people to do it, (for that is the plain language of the story,) cannot be told by a parent to a child; and to tell him that it was done to make mankind happier and better, is making the
story still worse; as if mankind could be improved by the example of
murder; and to tell him that all this is a mystery, is only making an ex-
cuse for the incredibility of it.
How different is this to the pure and simple profession of Deism! The
true deist has but one Deity; and his religion consists in contemplating
the power, wisdom, and benignity of the Deity in his works, and in en-
deavouring to imitate him in every thing moral, scientifical, and
The religion that approaches the nearest of all others to true Deism, in
the moral and benign part thereof, is that professed by the quakers: but
they have contracted themselves too much by leaving the works of God
out of their system. Though I reverence their philanthropy, I can not help smiling at the conceit, that if the taste of a quaker could have been consulted at the creation, what a silent and drab-colored creation it would
have been! Not a flower would have blossomed its gaieties, nor a bird
been permitted to sing.
Quitting these reflections, I proceed to other matters. After I had made
myself master of the use of the globes, and of the orrery,14 and conceived an idea of the infinity of space, and of the eternal divisibility of matter, and obtained, at least, a general knowledge of what was called natural
philosophy, I began to compare, or, as I have before said, to confront, the internal evidence those things afford with the christian system of faith.
Though it is not a direct article of the christian system that this world that we inhabit is the whole of the habitable creation, yet it is so worked up therewith, from what is called the Mosaic account of the creation, the story of Eve and the apple, and the counterpart of that story, the death of the Son of God, that to believe otherwise, that is, to believe that God created a plurality of worlds, at least as numerous as what we call stars,
renders the christian system of faith at once little and ridiculous; and
scatters it in the mind like feathers in the air. The two beliefs can not be held together in the same mind; and he who thinks that be believes both,
has thought but little of either.
Though the belief of a plurality of worlds was familiar to the ancients,
it is only within the last three centuries that the extent and dimensions of this globe that we inhabit have been ascertained. Several vessels, following the tract of the ocean, have sailed entirely round the world, as a man may march in a circle, and come round by the contrary side of the circle
to the spot he set out from. The circular dimensions of our world, in the widest part, as a man would measure the widest round of an apple, or a
ball, is only twenty-five thousand and twenty English miles, reckoning
sixty-nine miles and an half to an equatorial degree, and may be sailed
14.As this book may fall into the hands of persons who do not know what an orrery is, it is for their information I add this note, as the name gives no idea of the uses of the thing. The orrery has its name from the person who invented it. It is a machinery of clock-work, representing the universe in miniature: and in which the revolution of the earth round itself and round the sun, the revolution of the moon round the earth, the revolution of the planets round the sun, their relative distances from the sun, as the center of the whole system, their relative distances from each other, and their different magnitudes, are represented as they really exist in what we call the heavens.-—Author
A world of this extent may, at first thought, appear to us to be great;
but if we compare it with the immensity of space in which it is suspen-
ded, like a bubble or a balloon in the air, it is infinitely less in proportion than the smallest grain of sand is to the size of the world, or the finest particle of dew to the whole ocean, and is therefore but small; and, as
will be hereafter shown, is only one of a system of worlds, of which the
universal creation is composed.
It is not difficult to gain some faint idea of the immensity of space in
which this and all the other worlds are suspended, if we follow a pro-
gression of ideas. When we think of the size or dimensions of, a room,
our ideas limit themselves to the walls, and there they stop. But when
our eye, or our imagination darts into space, that is, when it looks up-
ward into what we call the open air, we cannot conceive any walls or
boundaries it can have; and if for the sake of resting our ideas we sup-
pose a boundary, the question immediately renews itself, and asks, what
is beyond that boundary? and in the same manner, what beyond the next
boundary? and so on till the fatigued imagination returns and says, there is no end. Certainly, then, the Creator was not pent for room when he made this world no larger than it is; and we have to seek the reason in
If we take a survey of our own world, or rather of this, of which the
Creator has given us the use as our portion in the immense system of
creation, we find every part of it, the earth, the waters, and the air that surround it, filled, and as it were crouded with life, down from the
largest animals that we know of to the smallest insects the naked eye can behold, and from thence to others still smaller, and totally invisible
without the assistance of the microscope. Every tree, every plant, every
leaf, serves not only as an habitation, but as a world to some numerous
race, till animal existence becomes so exceedingly refined, that the efflu-via of a blade of grass would be food for thousands.
Since then no part of our earth is left unoccupied, why is it to be sup-
posed that the immensity of space is a naked void, lying in eternal
waste? There is room for millions of worlds as large or larger than ours, and each of them millions of miles apart from each other.
Having now arrived at this point, if we carry our ideas only one
thought further, we shall see, perhaps, the true reason, at least a very
good reason for our happiness, why the Creator, instead of making one
immense world, extending over an immense quantity of space, has pre-
ferred dividing that quantity of matter into several distinct and separate worlds, which we call planets, of which our earth is one. But before I explain my ideas upon this subject, it is necessary (not for the sake of those that already know, but for those who do not) to show what the system of
the universe is.
System of the Universe
That part of the universe that is called the solar system (meaning the system of worlds to which our earth belongs, and of which Sol, or in English language, the Sun, is the center) consists, besides the Sun, of six distinct orbs, or planets, or worlds, besides the secondary bodies, called the satellites, or moons, of which our earth has one that attends her in her annual revolution round the Sun, in like manner as the other satellites or moons, attend the planets or worlds to which they severally belong, as may be
seen by the assistance of the telescope.
The Sun is the center round which those six worlds or planets revolve
at different distances therefrom, and in circles concentric to each other.
Each world keeps constantly in nearly the same tract round the Sun, and
continues at the same time turning round itself, in nearly an upright position, as a top turns round itself when it is spinning on the ground, and leans a little sideways.
It is this leaning of the earth (23½ degrees) that occasions summer and
winter, and the different length of days and nights. If the earth turned
round itself in a position perpendicular to the plane or level of the circle it moves in round the Sun, as a top turns round when it stands erect on
the ground, the days and nights would be always of the same length,
twelve hours day and twelve hours night, and the season would be uni-
formly the same throughout the year.
Every time that a planet (our earth for example) turns round itself, it
makes what we call day and night; and every time it goes entirely round
the Sun, it makes what we call a year, consequently our world turns
three hundred and sixty-five times round itself, in going once round the
16.Those who supposed that the Sun went round the earth every 24 hours made the same mistake in idea that a cook would do in fact, that should make the fire go round the meat, instead of the meat turning round itself towards the fire.—Author.
The names that the ancients gave to those six worlds, and which are
still called by the same names, are Mercury, Venus, this world that we
call ours, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. They appear larger to the eye than
the stars, being many million miles nearer to our earth than any of the
stars are. The planet Venus is that which is called the evening star, and sometimes the morning star, as she happens to set after, or rise before the Sun, which in either case is never more than three hours.
The Sun as before said being the center, the planet or world nearest the
Sun is Mercury; his distance from the Sun is thirty-four million miles,
and he moves round in a circle always at that distance from the Sun, as a top may be supposed to spin round in the tract in which a horse goes in
a mill. The second world is Venus; she is fifty-seven million miles distant from the Sun, and consequently moves round in a circle much greater
than that of Mercury. The third world is this that we inhabit, and which
is eighty-eight million miles distant from the Sun, and consequently
moves round in a circle greater than that of Venus. The fourth world is
Mars; he is distant from the sun one hundred and thirty-four million
miles, and consequently moves round in a circle greater than that of our
earth. The fifth is Jupiter; he is distant from the Sun five hundred and
fifty-seven million miles, and consequently moves round in a circle
greater than that of Mars. The sixth world is Saturn; he is distant from
the Sun seven hundred and sixty-three million miles, and consequently
moves round in a circle that surrounds the circles or orbits of all the other worlds or planets.
The space, therefore, in the air, or in the immensity of space, that our
solar system takes up for the several worlds to perform their revolutions in round the Sun, is of the extent in a strait line of the whole diameter of the orbit or circle in which Saturn moves round the Sun, which being
double his distance from the Sun, is fifteen hundred and twenty-six mil-
lion miles; and its circular extent is nearly five thousand million; and its globical content is almost three thousand five hundred million times
three thousand five hundred million square miles.17
But this, immense as it is, is only one system of worlds. Beyond this, at a vast distance into space, far beyond all power of calculation, are the
stars called the fixed stars. They are called fixed, because they have no revolutionary motion, as the six worlds or planets have that I have been
describing. Those fixed stars continue always at the same distance from
each other, and always in the same place, as the Sun does in the center of our system. The probability, therefore, is that each of those fixed stars is also a Sun, round which another system of worlds or planets, though too
remote for us to discover, performs its revolutions, as our system of
worlds does round our central Sun.
By this easy progression of ideas, the immensity of space will appear
to us to be filled with systems of worlds; and that no part of space lies at waste, any more than any part of our globe of earth and water is left
Having thus endeavoured to convey, in a familiar and easy manner,
some idea of the structure of the universe, I return to explain what I before alluded to, namely, the great benefits arising to man in consequence of the Creator having made a plurality of worlds, such as our system is, consisting of a central Sun and six worlds, besides satellites, in prefer-ence to that of creating one world only of a vast extent.
17.If it should be asked, how can man know these things? I have one plain answer to give, which is, that man knows how to calculate an eclipse, and also how to calculate to a minute of time when the planet Venus, in making her revolutions round the Sun, will come in a strait line between our earth and the Sun, and will appear to us about the size of a large pea passing across the face of the Sun. This happens but twice in about a hundred years, at the distance of about eight years from each other, and has happened twice in our time, both of which were foreknown by calculation. It can also be known when they will happen again for a thousand years to come, or to any other portion of time. As therefore, man could not be able to do these things if he did not understand the solar system, and the manner in which the revolutions of the several planets or worlds are performed, the fact of calculating an eclipse, or a transit of Venus, is a proof in point that the knowledge exists; and as to a few thousand, or even a few million miles, more or less, it makes scarcely any sensible difference in such immense distances.-—Author.
Advantages of the Existence of Many Worlds in Each
It is an idea I have never lost sight of, that all our knowledge of science is derived from the revolutions (exhibited to our eye and from thence to
our understanding) which those several planets or worlds of which our
system is composed make in their circuit round the Sun.
Had then the quantity of matter which these six worlds contain been
blended into one solitary globe, the consequence to us would have been,
that either no revolutionary motion would have existed, or not a suffi-
ciency of it to give us the ideas and the knowledge of science we now
have; and it is from the sciences that all the mechanical arts that contribute so much to our earthly felicity and comfort are derived.
As therefore the Creator made nothing in vain, so also must it be be-
lieved that he organized the structure of the universe in the most advantageous manner for the benefit of man; and as we see, and from experi-
ence feel, the benefits we derive from the structure of the universe,
formed as it is, which benefits we should not have had the opportunity
of enjoying if the structure, so far as relates to our system, had been a solitary globe, we can discover at least one reason why a plurality of worlds has been made, and that reason calls forth the devotional gratitude of
man, as well as his admiration.
But it is not to us, the inhabitants of this globe, only, that the benefits arising from a plurality of worlds are limited. The inhabitants of each of the worlds of which our system is composed, enjoy the same opportunities of knowledge as we do. They behold the revolutionary motions of
our earth, as we behold theirs. All the planets revolve in sight of each
other; and, therefore, the same universal school of science presents itself to all.
Neither does the knowledge stop here. The system of worlds next to us
exhibits, in its revolutions, the same principles and school of science, to 52
the inhabitants of their system, as our system does to us, and in like manner throughout the immensity of space.
Our ideas, not only of the almightiness of the Creator, but of his wis-
dom and his beneficence, become enlarged in proportion as we contem-
plate the extent and the structure of the universe. The solitary idea of a solitary world, rolling or at rest in the immense ocean of space, gives
place to the cheerful idea of a society of worlds, so happily contrived as to administer, even by their motion, instruction to man. We see our own
earth filled with abundance; but we forget to consider how much of that
abundance is owing to the scientific knowledge the vast machinery of
the universe has unfolded.
Application of the Preceding to the System of the
But, in the midst of those reflections, what are we to think of the christian system of faith that forms itself upon the idea of only one world, and that of no greater extent, as is before shown, than twenty-five thousand
miles. An extent which a man, walking at the rate of three miles an hour
for twelve hours in the day, could he keep on in a circular direction,
would walk entirely round in less than two years. Alas! what is this to
the mighty ocean of space, and the almighty power of the Creator!
From whence then could arise the solitary and strange conceit that the
Almighty, who had millions of worlds equally dependent on his protec-
tion, should quit the care of all the rest, and come to die in our world, because, they say, one man and one woman had eaten an apple! And, on
the other hand, are we to suppose that every world in the boundless cre-
ation had an Eve, an apple, a serpent, and a redeemer? In this case, the
person who is irreverently called the Son of God, and sometimes God
himself, would have nothing else to do than to travel from world to
world, in an endless succession of death, with scarcely a momentary in-
terval of life.
It has been by rejecting the evidence, that the word, or works of God in
the creation, affords to our senses, and the action of our reason upon that evidence, that so many wild and whimsical systems of faith, and of religion, have been fabricated and set up. There may be many systems of re-
ligion that so far from being morally bad are in many respects morally
good: but there can be but One that is true; and that one necessarily
must, as it ever will, be in all things consistent with the ever existing word of God that we behold in his works. But such is the strange construction of the christian system of faith, that every evidence the heavens affords to man, either directly contradicts it or renders it absurd.
It is possible to believe, and I always feel pleasure in encouraging my-
self to believe it, that there have been men in the world who persuaded
themselves that what is called a pious fraud, might, at least under particular circumstances, be productive of some good. But the fraud being once
established, could not afterwards be explained; for it is with a pious
fraud as with a bad action, it begets a calamitous necessity of going on.
The persons who first preached the christian system of faith, and in
some measure combined with it the morality preached by Jesus Christ,
might persuade themselves that it was better than the heathen mytho-
logy that then prevailed. From the first preachers the fraud went on to
the second, and to the third, till the idea of its being a pious fraud became lost in the belief of its being true; and that belief became again encouraged by the interest of those who made a livelihood by preaching it.
But though such a belief might, by such means, be rendered almost
general among the laity, it is next to impossible to account for the con-
tinual persecution carried on by the church, for several hundred years,
against the sciences, and against the professors of science, if the church had not some record or tradition that it was originally no other than a pious fraud, or did not foresee that it could not be maintained against the evidence that the structure of the universe afforded.
Of the Means Employed in All Time, and Almost
Universally, to Deceive the Peoples
Having thus shown the irreconcileable inconsistencies between the real
word of God existing in the universe, and that which is called the word of God, as shown to us in a printed book that any man might make, I proceed to speak of the three principal means that have been employed in
all ages, and perhaps in all countries, to impose upon mankind.
Those three means are Mystery, Miracle, and Prophecy. The first two
are incompatible with true religion, and the third ought always to be
With respect to Mystery, everything we behold is, in one sense, a mys-
tery to us. Our own existence is a mystery: the whole vegetable world is
a mystery. We cannot account how it is that an acorn, when put into the
ground, is made to develop itself and become an oak. We know not how
it is that the seed we sow unfolds and multiplies itself, and returns to us such an abundant interest for so small a capital.
The fact however, as distinct from the operating cause, is not a mys-
tery, because we see it; and we know also the means we are to use, which
is no other than putting the seed in the ground. We know, therefore, as
much as is necessary for us to know; and that part of the operation that
we do not know, and which if we did, we could not perform, the Creator
takes upon himself and performs it for us. We are, therefore, better off
than if we had been let into the secret, and left to do it for ourselves.
But though every created thing is, in this sense, a mystery, the word
mystery cannot be applied to moral truth, any more than obscurity can be applied to light. The God in whom we believe is a God of moral truth,
and not a God of mystery or obscurity. Mystery is the antagonist of
truth. It is a fog of human invention that obscures truth, and represents it in distortion. Truth never invelops itself in mystery; and the mystery in which it is at any time enveloped, is the work of its antagonist, and never of itself.
Religion, therefore, being the belief of a God, and the practice of moral truth, cannot have connection with mystery. The belief of a God, so far
from having any thing of mystery in it, is of all beliefs the most easy, because it arises to us, as is before observed, out of necessity. And the practice of moral truth, or, in other words, a practical imitation of the moral goodness of God, is no other than our acting towards each other as he
acts benignly towards all. We cannot serve God in the manner we serve
those who cannot do without such service; and, therefore, the only idea
we can have of serving God, is that of contributing to the happiness of
the living creation that God has made. This cannot be done by retiring
ourselves from the society of the world, and spending a recluse life in
The very nature and design of religion, if I may so express it, prove
even to demonstration that it must be free from every thing of mystery,
and unincumbered with every thing that is mysterious. Religion, con-
sidered as a duty, is incumbent upon every living soul alike, and, there-
fore, must be on a level to the understanding and comprehension of all.
Man does not learn religion as he learns the secrets and mysteries of a
trade. He learns the theory of religion by reflection. It arises out of the action of his own mind upon the things which he sees, or upon what he
may happen to hear or to read, and the practice joins itself thereto.
When men, whether from policy or pious fraud, set up systems of reli-
gion incompatible with the word or works of God in the creation, and
not only above but repugnant to human comprehension, they were un-
der the necessity of inventing or adopting a word that should serve as a
word mystery answered this purpose, and thus it has happened that religion, which is in itself without mystery, has been corrupted into a fog of mysteries.
As mystery answered all general purposes, miracle followed as an occa-sional auxiliary. The former served to bewilder the mind, the latter to
puzzle the senses. The one was the lingo, the other the legerdemain.
But before going further into this subject, it will be proper to inquire
what is to be understood by a miracle.
In the same sense that every thing may be said to be a mystery, so also
may it be said that every thing is a miracle, and that no one thing is a
greater miracle than another. The elephant, though larger, is not a great-er miracle than a mite: nor a mountain a greater miracle than an atom. To an almighty power it is no more difficult to make the one than the other, and no more difficult to make a million of worlds than to make one.
Every thing, therefore, is a miracle, in one sense; whilst, in the other
sense, there is no such thing as a miracle. It is a miracle when compared to our power, and to our comprehension. It is not a miracle compared to
the power that performs it. But as nothing in this description conveys the idea that is affixed to the word miracle, it is necessary to carry the in-quiry further.
Mankind have conceived to themselves certain laws, by which what
they call nature is supposed to act; and that a miracle is something con-
trary to the operation and effect of those laws. But unless we know the
whole extent of those laws, and of what are commonly called the powers
of nature, we are not able to judge whether any thing that may appear to
us wonderful or miraculous, be within, or be beyond, or be contrary to,
her natural power of acting.
The ascension of a man several miles high into the air, would have
everything in it that constitutes the idea of a miracle, if it were not
known that a species of air can be generated several times lighter than
the common atmospheric air, and yet possess elasticity enough to pre-
vent the balloon, in which that light air is inclosed, from being com-
pressed into as many times less bulk, by the common air that surrounds
it. In like manner, extracting flashes or sparks of fire from the human
body, as visibly as from a steel struck with a flint, and causing iron or steel to move without any visible agent, would also give the idea of a
miracle, if we were not acquainted with electricity and magnetism; so
also would many other experiments in natural philosophy, to those who
are not acquainted with the subject. The restoring persons to life who are to appearance dead as is practised upon drowned persons, would also be
a miracle, if it were not known that animation is capable of being suspended without being extinct.
Besides these, there are performances by slight of hand, and by per-
sons acting in concert, that have a miraculous appearance, which, when
known, are thought nothing of. And, besides these, there are mechanical
and optical deceptions. There is now an exhibition in Paris of ghosts or
spectres, which, though it is not imposed upon the spectators as a fact,
has an astonishing appearance. As, therefore, we know not the extent to
which either nature or art can go, there is no criterion to determine what a miracle is; and mankind, in giving credit to appearances, under the
idea of their being miracles, are subject to be continually imposed upon.
Since then appearances are so capable of deceiving, and things not real
have a strong resemblance to things that are, nothing can be more incon-
sistent than to suppose that the Almighty would make use of means,
such as are called miracles, that would subject the person who per-
formed them to the suspicion of being an impostor, and the person who
related them to be suspected of lying, and the doctrine intended to be
supported thereby to be suspected as a fabulous invention.
Of all the modes of evidence that ever were invented to obtain belief to
any system or opinion to which the name of religion has been given, that
of miracle, however successful the imposition may have been, is the most
inconsistent. For, in the first place, whenever recourse is had to show, for the purpose of procuring that belief (for a miracle, under any idea of the word, is a show) it implies a lameness or weakness in the doctrine that is preached. And, in the second place, it is degrading the Almighty into the character of a show-man, playing tricks to amuse and make the people
stare and wonder. It is also the most equivocal sort of evidence that can be set up; for the belief is not to depend upon the thing called a miracle, but upon the credit of the reporter, who says that he saw it; and, therefore, the thing, were it true, would have no better chance of being be-
lieved than if it were a lie.
Suppose I were to say, that when I sat down to write this book, a hand
presented itself in the air, took up the pen and wrote every word that is herein written; would any body believe me? Certainly they would not.
Would they believe me a whit the more if the thing had been a fact? Cer-
tainly they would not. Since then a real miracle, were it to happen,
would be subject to the same fate as the falsehood, the inconsistency be-
comes the greater of supposing the Almighty would make use of means
that would not answer the purpose for which they were intended, even
if they were real.
If we are to suppose a miracle to be something so entirely out of the
course of what is called nature, that she must go out of that course to accomplish it, and we see an account given of such a miracle by the person
who said he saw it, it raises a question in the mind very easily decided, which is,—Is it more probable that nature should go out of her course, or that a man should tell a lie? We have never seen, in our time, nature go
out of her course; but we have good reason to believe that millions of lies have been told in the same time; it is, therefore, at least millions to one, that the reporter of a miracle tells a lie.
The story of the whale swallowing Jonah, though a whale is large
enough to do it, borders greatly on the marvellous; but it would have ap-
proached nearer to the idea of a miracle, if Jonah had swallowed the
whale. In this, which may serve for all cases of miracles, the matter
would decide itself as before stated, namely, Is it more probable that a
man should have swallowed a whale, or told a lie?
But suppose that Jonah had really swallowed the whale, and gone
with it in his belly to Nineveh, and to convince the people that it was
true have cast it up in their sight, of the full length and size of a whale, would they not have believed him to have been the devil instead of a
prophet? or if the whale had carried Jonah to Nineveh, and cast him up
in the same public manner, would they not have believed the whale to
have been the devil, and Jonah one of his imps?
The most extraordinary of all the things called miracles, related in the
New Testament, is that of the devil flying away with Jesus Christ, and
carrying him to the top of a high mountain; and to the top of the highest pinnacle of the temple, and showing him and promising to him all the
kingdoms of the world. How happened it that he did not discover America? or is it only with kingdoms that his sooty highness has any interest.
I have too much respect for the moral character of Christ to believe
that he told this whale of a miracle himself: neither is it easy to account for what purpose it could have been fabricated, unless it were to impose
upon the connoisseurs of miracles, as is sometimes practised upon the
connoisseurs of Queen Anne's farthings, and collectors of relics and an-
tiquities; or to render the belief of miracles ridiculous, by outdoing miracle, as Don Quixote outdid chivalry; or to embarrass the belief of mir-
acles, by making it doubtful by what power, whether of God or of the
devil, any thing called a miracle was performed. It requires, however, a
great deal of faith in the devil to believe this miracle.
In every point of view in which those things called miracles can be
placed and considered, the reality of them is improbable, and their existence unnecessary. They would not, as before observed, answer any use-
ful purpose, even if they were true; for it is more difficult to obtain belief to a miracle, than to a principle evidently moral, without any miracle.
Moral principle speaks universally for itself. Miracle could be but a thing of the moment, and seen but by a few; after this it requires a transfer of faith from God to man to believe a miracle upon man's report. Instead,
therefore, of admitting the recitals of miracles as evidence of any system of religion being true, they ought to be considered as symptoms of its being fabulous. It is necessary to the full and upright character of truth that it rejects the crutch; and it is consistent with the character of fable to seek the aid that truth rejects. Thus much for Mystery and Miracle.
As Mystery and Miracle took charge of the past and the present,
Prophecy took charge of the future, and rounded the tenses of faith. It 60
was not sufficient to know what had been done, but what would be
done. The supposed prophet was the supposed historian of times to
come; and if he happened, in shooting with a long bow of a thousand
years, to strike within a thousand miles of a mark, the ingenuity of pos-
terity could make it point-blank; and if he happened to be directly
wrong, it was only to suppose, as in the case of Jonah and Nineveh, that
God had repented himself and changed his mind. What a fool do fab-
ulous systems make of man!
It has been shewn, in a former part of this work, that the original
meaning of the words prophet and prophesying has been changed, and that a prophet, in the sense of the word as now used, is a creature of
modern invention; and it is owing to this change in the meaning of the
words, that the flights and metaphors of the Jewish poets, and phrases
and expressions now rendered obscure by our not being acquainted with
the local circumstances to which they applied at the time they were used, have been erected into prophecies, and made to bend to explanations at
the will and whimsical conceits of sectaries, expounders, and comment-
ators. Every thing unintelligible was prophetical, and every thing insig-
nificant was typical. A blunder would have served for a prophecy; and a
dish-clout for a type.
If by a prophet we are to suppose a man to whom the Almighty com-
municated some event that would take place in future, either there were
such men, or there were not. If there were, it is consistent to believe that the event so communicated would be told in terms that could be understood, and not related in such a loose and obscure manner as to be out of the comprehension of those that heard it, and so equivocal as to fit almost any circumstance that might happen afterwards. It is conceiving
very irreverently of the Almighty, to suppose he would deal in this jest-
ing manner with mankind; yet all the things called prophecies in the
book called the Bible come under this description.
But it is with Prophecy as it is with Miracle. It could not answer the
purpose even if it were real. Those to whom a prophecy should be told
could not tell whether the man prophesied or lied, or whether it had
been revealed to him, or whether he conceited it; and if the thing that he prophesied, or pretended to prophesy, should happen, or some thing
like it, among the multitude of things that are daily happening, nobody
could again know whether he foreknew it, or guessed at it, or whether it
was accidental. A prophet, therefore, is a character useless and unneces-
sary; and the safe side of the case is to guard against being imposed
upon, by not giving credit to such relations.
Upon the whole, Mystery, Miracle, and Prophecy, are appendages that
belong to fabulous and not to true religion. They are the means by which
so many Lo heres! and Lo theres! have been spread about the world, and religion been made into a trade. The success of one impostor gave encouragement to another, and the quieting salvo of doing some good by keeping up a pious fraud protected them from remorse.
Having now extended the subject to a greater length than I first inten-
ded, I shall bring it to a close by abstracting a summary from the whole.
First, That the idea or belief of a word of God existing in print, or in
writing, or in speech, is inconsistent in itself for the reasons already assigned. These reasons, among many others, are the want of an universal
language; the mutability of language; the errors to which translations are subject, the possibility of totally suppressing such a word; the probability of altering it, or of fabricating the whole, and imposing it upon the
Secondly, That the Creation we behold is the real and ever existing
word of God, in which we cannot be deceived. It proclaimeth his power,
it demonstrates his wisdom, it manifests his goodness and beneficence.
Thirdly, That the moral duty of man consists in imitating the moral
goodness and beneficence of God manifested in the creation towards all
his creatures. That seeing as we daily do the goodness of God to all men, it is an example calling upon all men to practise the same towards each
other; and, consequently, that every thing of persecution and revenge
between man and man, and every thing of cruelty to animals, is a viola-
tion of moral duty.
I trouble not myself about the manner of future existence. I content
myself with believing, even to positive conviction, that the power that
gave me existence is able to continue it, in any form and manner he
pleases, either with or without this body; and it appears more probable
to me that I shall continue to exist hereafter than that I should have had existence, as I now have, before that existence began.
It is certain that, in one point, all nations of the earth and all religions agree. All believe in a God, The things in which they disagree are the redundancies annexed to that belief; and therefore, if ever an universal religion should prevail, it will not be believing any thing new, but in getting rid of redundancies, and believing as man believed at first. 18 Adam, if ever there was such a man, was created a Deist; but in the mean time,
let every man follow, as he has a right to do, the religion and worship he prefers.
I have mentioned in the former part of The Age of Reason that it had long been my intention to publish my thoughts upon Religion; but that I had
originally reserved it to a later period in life, intending it to be the last work I should undertake. The circumstances, however, which existed in
France in the latter end of the year 1793, determined me to delay it no
longer. The just and humane principles of the Revolution which Philo-
sophy had first diffused, had been departed from. The Idea, always dan-
gerous to Society as it is derogatory to the Almighty,—that priests could forgive sins,—though it seemed to exist no longer, had blunted the feelings of humanity, and callously prepared men for the commission of all
crimes. The intolerant spirit of church persecution had transferred itself into politics; the tribunals, stiled Revolutionary, supplied the place of an Inquisition; and the Guillotine of the Stake. I saw many of my most intimate friends destroyed; others daily carried to prison; and I had reason to believe, and had also intimations given me, that the same danger was
Under these disadvantages, I began the former part of the Age of
Reason; I had, besides, neither Bible nor Testament19 to refer to, though I was writing against both; nor could I procure any; notwithstanding
which I have produced a work that no Bible Believer, though writing at
his ease and with a Library of Church Books about him, can refute.
Towards the latter end of December of that year, a motion was made and
carried, to exclude foreigners from the Convention. There were but two,
Anacharsis Cloots and myself; and I saw I was particularly pointed at by
Bourdon de l'Oise, in his speech on that motion.
Conceiving, after this, that I had but a few days of liberty, I sat down
and brought the work to a close as speedily as possible; and I had not
finished it more than six hours, in the state it has since appeared, before a guard came there, about three in the morning, with an order signed by
the two Committees of Public Safety and Surety General, for putting me
in arrestation as a foreigner, and conveying me to the prison of the Lux-
embourg. I contrived, in my way there, to call on Joel Barlow, and I put
the Manuscript of the work into his hands, as more safe than in my pos-
session in prison; and not knowing what might be the fate in France
either of the writer or the work, I addressed it to the protection of the citizens of the United States.
19.It must be borne in mind that throughout this work Paine generally means by
"Bible" only the Old Testament, and speaks of the New as the "Testament."—Editor.
It is justice that I say, that the guard who executed this order, and the interpreter to the Committee of General Surety, who accompanied them
to examine my papers, treated me not only with civility, but with re-
spect. The keeper of the Luxembourg, Benoit, a man of good heart,
shewed to me every friendship in his power, as did also all his family,
while he continued in that station. He was removed from it, put into ar-
restation, and carried before the tribunal upon a malignant accusation,
After I had been in Luxembourg about three weeks, the Americans
then in Paris went in a body to the Convention to reclaim me as their
countryman and friend; but were answered by the President, Vadier,
who was also President of the Committee of Surety General, and had
signed the order for my arrestation, that I was born in England.20 I heard no more, after this, from any person out of the walls of the prison, till the fall of Robespierre, on the 9th of Thermidor—July 27, 1794.
About two months before this event, I was seized with a fever that in
its progress had every symptom of becoming mortal, and from the ef-
fects of which I am not recovered. It was then that I remembered with re-
newed satisfaction, and congratulated myself most sincerely, on having
written the former part of The Age of Reason. I had then but little expectation of surviving, and those about me had less. I know therefore by ex-
perience the conscientious trial of my own principles.
I was then with three chamber comrades: Joseph Vanheule of Bruges,
Charles Bastini, and Michael Robyns of Louvain. The unceasing and
anxious attention of these three friends to me, by night and day, I re-
member with gratitude and mention with pleasure. It happened that a
physician (Dr. Graham) and a surgeon, (Mr. Bond,) part of the suite of
General O'Hara,21 were then in the Luxembourg: I ask not myself wheth-
er it be convenient to them, as men under the English Government, that I
express to them my thanks; but I should reproach myself if I did not; and also to the physician of the Luxembourg, Dr. Markoski.