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(Un)Civil Religion? Thomas Paine, John Locke, and the Role of the Churches in Liberal Society
Unformatted Document Text:  25 particularly poetic passage in Common Sense: “…however our eyes may be dazzled with show, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and reason will say, it is right.” 72 Paine concludes that because man is reasonable, society—and society’s religion—must reflect that fact. He insists that revealed religion—with its fraudulent miracles, its inscrutable Gods, and its sanguinary punishments—is inconsistent with liberal society. Unlike Locke, Paine is not content merely to undermine the authority of the present Churches. Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent to practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists or fanatics. As an engine of power, it serves the purposes of despotism; and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests; but so far as respects the good of man in general, in leads to nothing here or hereafter. 73 Deism, then, claims two principal advantages: it appeals to and is consistent with human reason and is impervious to governments’ attempts to distort and exploit it. It brooks neither miracles nor Churches, and rejects the intercession of priests and saints. It is the religion of the rational individual, and is thus most consistent with the liberal society that Paine imagines. Paine advances the argument that the Bible miseducates human beings and he takes a very broad view of the dangers of this miseducation. Locke also attacks Biblical teachings of patriarchy, wealth and poverty, and the divine right of 72 Common Sense 7. Paine’s faith in human reason is a persistent theme of his works and has been noted by many scholars, including Cecilia Kenyon, “Where Paine Went Wrong,” The American Political Science Review 45.4 (Dec. 1951) 1086- 1099. 73 Age of Reason 185.

Authors: Parsons, William.
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25
particularly poetic passage in Common Sense: “…however our eyes may be dazzled with
show, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest
darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and reason will say, it is right.”
72
Paine concludes that because man is reasonable, society—and society’s religion—must
reflect that fact. He insists that revealed religion—with its fraudulent miracles, its
inscrutable Gods, and its sanguinary punishments—is inconsistent with liberal society.
Unlike Locke, Paine is not content merely to undermine the authority of the present
Churches.
Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more
derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to
reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity.
Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent to
practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists or fanatics.
As an engine of power, it serves the purposes of despotism; and as a
means of wealth, the avarice of priests; but so far as respects the good of
man in general, in leads to nothing here or hereafter.
73
Deism, then, claims two principal advantages: it appeals to and is consistent with
human reason and is impervious to governments’ attempts to distort and exploit it. It
brooks neither miracles nor Churches, and rejects the intercession of priests and saints. It
is the religion of the rational individual, and is thus most consistent with the liberal
society that Paine imagines. Paine advances the argument that the Bible miseducates
human beings and he takes a very broad view of the dangers of this miseducation. Locke
also attacks Biblical teachings of patriarchy, wealth and poverty, and the divine right of
72
Common Sense 7. Paine’s faith in human reason is a persistent theme of his works and has been noted by
many scholars, including Cecilia Kenyon, “Where Paine Went Wrong,” The American Political Science
Review
45.4 (Dec. 1951) 1086- 1099.
73
Age of Reason 185.


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