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The Age of Reason

Paine, Thomas

Published: 1807

Categorie(s): Non-Fiction, Philosophy, Religion



About Paine:

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".[1] 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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Common Sense (1776)

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Part 1




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

with itself.

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond

this life.

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

own 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.

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

than this?

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