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(Un)Civil Religion? Thomas Paine, John Locke, and the Role of the Churches in Liberal Society
Unformatted Document Text:  15 swept through revolutionary France. Rather, Paine viewed the publication of the Age of Reason as “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.” 44 One could ask of Paine: why is the destruction of superstition and false theology so dangerous? If, as Paine argues elsewhere, the sociability, dignity, and equality of man are natural and self-evident, then how could the lack of religion lead to moral decline? 45 Is Paine implying that religion restrains impulses to immorality and inhumanity, and that reason alone is an insufficient guide for human affairs? Clearly, this is not Paine’s opinion. Early in the book, it becomes clear that Paine is not writing to bolster traditional theology; the “true theology” that Paine defends is a brand of deism that rejects—and is intended to replace—the Abrahamic religions. Paine does not believe that these religions are, as of late, too weak to support human morality: in his opinion, they have always been incapable of providing such support; they are not a source of morality, but corruption. According to him, the recent Revolution has merely exposed this corruption to the world, leading to the collapse of traditional religion. Into this moral vacuum, Paine introduces the Age of Reason, which heralds a radical brand of deism that Paine claims to be free of the superstition and corruption of the Abrahamic religions. This project also allows him to introduce his radical critique of the Bible, which he hopes will forever drive Christianity from the political landscape of Europe. 44 Age of Reason 7. 45 This feature of Paine’s thought is evident throughout his works, but is perhaps best expressed by his reflection in Part the Second that “nature has implanted in [man] a system of social affections, which, though not necessary to his existence, are essential to his happiness. There is no period in life where his love for society ceases to act. It begins and ends with our being. ” Part the First 177.

Authors: Parsons, William.
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15
swept through revolutionary France. Rather, Paine viewed the publication of the Age of
Reason as “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.”
44
One could ask of Paine: why is the destruction of superstition and false theology
so dangerous? If, as Paine argues elsewhere, the sociability, dignity, and equality of man
are natural and self-evident, then how could the lack of religion lead to moral decline?
45
Is Paine implying that religion restrains impulses to immorality and inhumanity, and that
reason alone is an insufficient guide for human affairs? Clearly, this is not Paine’s
opinion. Early in the book, it becomes clear that Paine is not writing to bolster traditional
theology; the “true theology” that Paine defends is a brand of deism that rejects—and is
intended to replace—the Abrahamic religions. Paine does not believe that these religions
are, as of late, too weak to support human morality: in his opinion, they have always been
incapable of providing such support; they are not a source of morality, but corruption.
According to him, the recent Revolution has merely exposed this corruption to the world,
leading to the collapse of traditional religion. Into this moral vacuum, Paine introduces
the Age of Reason, which heralds a radical brand of deism that Paine claims to be free of
the superstition and corruption of the Abrahamic religions. This project also allows him
to introduce his radical critique of the Bible, which he hopes will forever drive
Christianity from the political landscape of Europe.
44
Age of Reason 7.
45
This feature of Paine’s thought is evident throughout his works, but is perhaps best expressed by his
reflection in Part the Second that “nature has implanted in [man] a system of social affections, which,
though not necessary to his existence, are essential to his happiness. There is no period in life where his
love for society ceases to act. It begins and ends with our being. ” Part the First 177.


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