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(Un)Civil Religion? Thomas Paine, John Locke, and the Role of the Churches in Liberal Society
Unformatted Document Text:  Uncivil Religion? Thomas Paine’s Radical Critique of Christianity and the Liberal Church William B. Parsons, Carroll College Prepared for the annual conference of the Midwestern Political Science Association (April 4, 2008) Abstract This paper examines Thomas Paine’s thoughts on religion by comparing them with those of John Locke, as expressed in the Letter Concerning Toleration. The goal of this study is to illuminate the key features of Paine’s religious views, provide an explanation for his radical rejection of the Abrahamic religions, and explore the implications of Paine’s unabashed endorsement of Deism. Introduction Despite Thomas Paine’s many disagreements with his fellow Americans concerning human nature, property rights, and good government, his religious opinions remain his most infamous. While Paine’s early political radicalism presaged his eventual alienation from America, the publication of the Age of Reason—and the many angry responses it provoked—most clearly exposed the immense gulf that existed between Paine and America. Indeed, the publication of his deist manifesto prompted Paine’s final break with his adoptive country. 1 In the Age of Reason, Paine proudly announces his anti-Christian deism; his rhetoric and argument seem calculated to shock the reader. By doing so, Paine hopes to encourage the enlightenment of man, which he views as concomitant with the abolition of the Christian churches, and necessary to the cause of 1 Eric Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America, (New York: Oxford UP, 1976) 256-260; Lloyd S. Kramer, “The French Revolution and the creation of American political culture,” The Global Ramifications of the French Revolution, Ed. Joseph Klaits and Michael H. Haltzel (Melbourne: Cambridge Press, 1994) 45.

Authors: Parsons, William.
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Uncivil Religion? Thomas Paine’s Radical Critique of
Christianity and the Liberal Church
William B. Parsons, Carroll College
Prepared for the annual conference of the Midwestern Political Science Association
(April 4, 2008)

Abstract
This paper examines Thomas Paine’s thoughts on religion by comparing them with those of John Locke, as
expressed in the Letter Concerning Toleration. The goal of this study is to illuminate the key features of
Paine’s religious views, provide an explanation for his radical rejection of the Abrahamic religions, and
explore the implications of Paine’s unabashed endorsement of Deism.
Introduction

Despite Thomas Paine’s many disagreements with his fellow Americans
concerning human nature, property rights, and good government, his religious opinions
remain his most infamous. While Paine’s early political radicalism presaged his eventual
alienation from America, the publication of the Age of Reason—and the many angry
responses it provoked—most clearly exposed the immense gulf that existed between
Paine and America. Indeed, the publication of his deist manifesto prompted Paine’s final
break with his adoptive country.
1
In the Age of Reason, Paine proudly announces his
anti-Christian deism; his rhetoric and argument seem calculated to shock the reader. By
doing so, Paine hopes to encourage the enlightenment of man, which he views as
concomitant with the abolition of the Christian churches, and necessary to the cause of
1
Eric Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America, (New York: Oxford UP, 1976) 256-260; Lloyd S.
Kramer, “The French Revolution and the creation of American political culture,” The Global Ramifications
of the French Revolution,
Ed. Joseph Klaits and Michael H. Haltzel (Melbourne: Cambridge Press, 1994)
45.



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