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(Un)Civil Religion? Thomas Paine, John Locke, and the Role of the Churches in Liberal Society
Unformatted Document Text:  10 our religious dispositions would want matter for probation; and on this liberal principle, I look on the various denominations among us, to be like children from the same family, differing only in what is called their Christian names.” 26 As in Locke’s Letter, we see Paine diminish, if only by omission, the importance of charity to a Christian, preferring instead to depict “kindness” as the predominant Christian virtue. 27 In this context he reminds his reader that the protection of religious liberty, personal freedom, and property are to be cornerstones of the new American constitution. Common Sense is a political pamphlet of limited aims, written to appeal to a popular—and overwhelmingly Christian—audience, and so it is unsurprising that Paine avoids a contentious discussion of religion there. 28 In The Rights of Man, which purports to be a broader, philosophical, study of human nature and political life, Paine is more eager to discuss the thorny issue of religion. In Part the First he begins by critiquing governments that are founded on what he describes as “priestcraft.” 29 Like Locke, he criticizes the intertwining of the Church and the state and characterizes the theory of divine right as imitative of the Pope, whose mixing of the Church and the State stands “in contradiction to the Founder of the Christian religion.” 30 Except for a description of Europe as “Christendom” and a passing reference to Christ as having descended from Adam, however, this condemnation of “priestcraft” is the only mention of Christianity or the Bible in all of Part the First. 31 Nonetheless, Paine 26 Thomas Paine, Common Sense, Ed. Isaac Kramnick (New York: Penguin Books, 1982) 41-42. 27 “I fully and conscientiously believe, that it is the will of the Almighty, that there should be a diversity of religious opinions among us: it affords a larger field for our Christian kindness.” Common Sense 41. 28 Indeed, Paine cites the Bible as support for many of the arguments in Common Sense. 29 Thomas Paine, Common Sense and The Rights of Man, Ed. Tony Benn (London: Phoenix Press, 1993) 91. Written in two parts, The Rights of Man will hereafter be referred to as either Part the First or Part the Second. Both Part the First and Part the Second are filled with Paine’s anti-Catholic gibes. 30 Part the First 91. 31 Part the First 101; Part the First 87.

Authors: Parsons, William.
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10
our religious dispositions would want matter for probation; and on this liberal principle, I
look on the various denominations among us, to be like children from the same family,
differing only in what is called their Christian names.”
26
As in Locke’s Letter, we see
Paine diminish, if only by omission, the importance of charity to a Christian, preferring
instead to depict “kindness” as the predominant Christian virtue.
27
In this context he
reminds his reader that the protection of religious liberty, personal freedom, and property
are to be cornerstones of the new American constitution.
Common Sense is a political pamphlet of limited aims, written to appeal to a
popular—and overwhelmingly Christian—audience, and so it is unsurprising that Paine
avoids a contentious discussion of religion there.
28
In The Rights of Man, which purports
to be a broader, philosophical, study of human nature and political life, Paine is more
eager to discuss the thorny issue of religion. In Part the First he begins by critiquing
governments that are founded on what he describes as “priestcraft.”
29
Like Locke, he
criticizes the intertwining of the Church and the state and characterizes the theory of
divine right as imitative of the Pope, whose mixing of the Church and the State stands “in
contradiction to the Founder of the Christian religion.”
30
Except for a description of Europe as “Christendom” and a passing reference to
Christ as having descended from Adam, however, this condemnation of “priestcraft” is
the only mention of Christianity or the Bible in all of Part the First.
31
Nonetheless, Paine
26
Thomas Paine, Common Sense, Ed. Isaac Kramnick (New York: Penguin Books, 1982) 41-42.
27
“I fully and conscientiously believe, that it is the will of the Almighty, that there should be a diversity of
religious opinions among us: it affords a larger field for our Christian kindness.” Common Sense 41.
28
Indeed, Paine cites the Bible as support for many of the arguments in Common Sense.
29
Thomas Paine, Common Sense and The Rights of Man, Ed. Tony Benn (London: Phoenix Press, 1993)
91. Written in two parts, The Rights of Man will hereafter be referred to as either Part the First or Part the
Second
. Both Part the First and Part the Second are filled with Paine’s anti-Catholic gibes.
30
Part the First 91.
31
Part the First 101; Part the First 87.


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