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(Un)Civil Religion? Thomas Paine, John Locke, and the Role of the Churches in Liberal Society
Unformatted Document Text:  16 Part one of the Age of Reason contains Paine’s profession of deism, a critique of civil religion, a rejection of revelation, and a brief examination of the Old and New Testaments that culminates in Paine’s conclusion that they cannot be the word of God. Part two of the Age of Reason contains Paine’s response to the many angry reactions that part one elicited. 46 In part two, Paine is more thorough and specific in his rejection of Biblical authority; he offers a book-by-book critique of the Bible and the New Testament that ends with an ode to the rational principles of deism and a call to engage in the study of natural science. 47 According to Paine, deism is the only natural religion; unlike the Biblical faiths, it harms neither the intellect nor the moral character of man. Indeed, insofar as it encourages the study of nature and the application of knowledge for the improvement of society, Paine will maintain that it is the perfect religion for liberal society. Paine’s Critique of Revelation Paine begins the Age of Reason by announcing that he does not believe in the precepts of any of the established Churches: “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.” 48 He offers only a limited profession of faith, remarking only that he is monotheistic and has a “hope for happiness beyond this life.” 49 Early in the work, Paine discloses the chief reason for his 46 For a helpful account of American reaction to the Age of Reason, see James H. Smylie, “Clerical Perspectives on Deism: Paine's The Age of Reason in Virginia,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 6.2 (Winter 1972-1973) 203-220. 47 I will not catalogue Paine’s many objections to the Bible here; Job and Proverbs are the only two books that Paine does not condemn. 48 Age of Reason 8. 49 Age of Reason 7.

Authors: Parsons, William.
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16
Part one of the Age of Reason contains Paine’s profession of deism, a critique of
civil religion, a rejection of revelation, and a brief examination of the Old and New
Testaments that culminates in Paine’s conclusion that they cannot be the word of God.
Part two of the Age of Reason contains Paine’s response to the many angry reactions that
part one elicited.
46
In part two, Paine is more thorough and specific in his rejection of
Biblical authority; he offers a book-by-book critique of the Bible and the New Testament
that ends with an ode to the rational principles of deism and a call to engage in the study
of natural science.
47
According to Paine, deism is the only natural religion; unlike the
Biblical faiths, it harms neither the intellect nor the moral character of man. Indeed,
insofar as it encourages the study of nature and the application of knowledge for the
improvement of society, Paine will maintain that it is the perfect religion for liberal
society.
Paine’s Critique of Revelation
Paine begins the Age of Reason by announcing that he does not believe in the
precepts of any of the established Churches: “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.”
48
He offers only a
limited profession of faith, remarking only that he is monotheistic and has a “hope for
happiness beyond this life.”
49
Early in the work, Paine discloses the chief reason for his
46
For a helpful account of American reaction to the Age of Reason, see James H. Smylie, “Clerical
Perspectives on Deism: Paine's The Age of Reason in Virginia,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 6.2 (Winter
1972-1973) 203-220.
47
I will not catalogue Paine’s many objections to the Bible here; Job and Proverbs are the only two books
that Paine does not condemn.
48
Age of Reason 8.
49
Age of Reason 7.


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