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If one person single-handedly pushed this country into a War of Independence from England, it is patriot and pamphleteer Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809). His book “Common Sense” is a clarion call to open rebellion. Today’s religious right hates and ignores him with an unholy passion.
When “Common Sense” appeared in January 1776 it sold 50,000 copies. One copy for every eight citizens. Its stirring prose and cogent reasoning motivated Americans to defy King George III. The rest is glorious, 13 stars-and-stripes history. Don’t tread on me!
Tom Paine’s second book “The Age of Reason” — a well-crafted Bible sandblasting — terrifies Christian fundamentalists who, in their misguided zeal, would have us believe America’s founding fathers were gung-ho for making this a Christian Nation. And to hell with separation of church and state.
(Scary, too, for Bible Belters who seldom publicized the religious background checks of George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and a majority of the original signers of the U.S. Constitution.)
The main reason Paine’s name is foam on the parched and cracked lips of the biblical boob-ocrats is because Paine was a caustic skeptic.
“Every national Church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God,” he wrote in “The Age of Reason.” “Each accuses the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.”
Paine said that, “If someone claimed to hear the voice of God, it is a revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person it becomes hearsay; and consequently, no one is obligated to believe it.”
He questioned important and key Christian religious doctrine.
“It appears that doubting Thomas did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and would not believe without ocular and manual demonstration himself,” he wrote. “So neither will I: and the reason is equally good for me and every other person as for Thomas.”
Paine called himself a Deist. He found that God was revealed in Nature. Jesus was human, not God. That both Old and New Testaments are replete with myths and errors. He gave hundreds of examples to prove it. Reason, rather than blind faith and revelation, is mankind’s greatest gift from the creator, Paine maintained.
Other important American patriots challenged Christianity. John Adams was a Unitarian — and we all know what they’re like — as was his son, John Quincy. Thomas Jefferson put together his own version of the New Testament, editing out mythology and dogma in favor of ethical content. Jefferson urged his nephew to, “Question with boldness even the existence of God.” (Would that he had said the same of slavery.)
James Madison was jailed for criticizing the Episcopal Church when it was Virginia’s established religion. Benjamin Franklin, another freethinker, was a Mason and a Rosicrucian occultist. He told many a true believer of his day to go fly a kite!
George Washington, nominally an Episcopalian, rarely attended church, although he spoke of the importance of religion in the life of the newly independent nation. Our first president was also a Mason, as were some 26 signers of the U.S. Constitution.
Come to think of it, instead of being a Christian Nation, as political right-wingers like to pretend, we are actually a Masonic nation, with not six, but 32 degrees of separation. I belong to the Fraternal Order of Moose myself. Or, is it the Odd Fellows? Or DAR?