Thomas Paine (1737-1809) could see that traditional Christianity makes no sense but he lived before Charles Darwin. Before Evolution and Natural selection were understood it was difficult to explain life without intelligent design. Therefore Paine became a deist rather than an atheist. Paine was a strong supporter of the rights of man, he opposed slavery and other types of oppression. Paine was important in developing democratic ideas worldwide.
Born in England, he worked as a corsetmaker, an excise officer (tax inspector), and other jobs, before emigrating to the North American colonies in 1774. Back in England, he got into political activism to improve the working conditions of excise officers, but it was in the colonies that he had the greatest career as an activist.
In early 1776, he wrote his famous pamphlet Common Sense, explaining his political ideas in simple, clear language. He defended republicanism and criticized monarchy and aristocracy as based on hereditary privilege. Even a mixed monarchy-republic like what England was at the time he found unsatisfactory. As to the North American colonies, he proposed independence for them, claiming that England was ruling them for England's benefit and not their benefit. Common Sense helped bring the question of independence out into the open, and on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress issued its Declaration of Independence.
Needless to say, Thomas Paine was a supporter of the Revolutionary War, writing his Crisis series of pamphlets in support of it. He also got involved in various activities, like secret negotiations with France and the establishing of a Bank of North America to finance the revolution. He afterward found work as a clerk and he went back to England in 1787.
He became involved in supporting another revolution, the French Revolution, eventually getting involved with it. He wrote Rights of Man, again criticizing hereditary privilege as illegitimate. He got charged with seditious libel, but he fled to France. Though he supported deposing King Louis XVI and creating a republic, he preferred that the ex-king be exiled to the United States rather than executed. In 1793, he wrote the first part of The Age of Reason, expecting to be imprisoned and executed for being in a faction that fell out of power. He was imprisoned late that year, and he narrowly escaped execution in the middle of the next year, when Robespierre was subjected to what he had used on so many others: the guillotine. He was freed, and he got involved in the French revolutionary government again. When Napoleon took over, he discussed with Napoleon invading England, but he turned against Napoleon as Napoleon became more dictatorial. He returned to the US in 1802, and he lived his last years in obscurity.
The Age of Reason
He started it with his personal creed:
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.
But, lest it should be supposed that I believe in many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
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.
He made many criticisms of religion in it:
- Different churches recognize different sacred books and consider each other heretical.
- A revelation is only a revelation to its receiver; to everybody else, it is hearsay.
- The story of Jesus Christ's divine paternity is like many pagan stories of divine paternity.
- Jesus Christ was a great man with a great system of morality, just like many others who were 100% human with 100% human parentage.
- Moses was almost certainly not the author of the books attributed to him. They refer to him in the third person, and stating that one is the humblest person ever is not an act of great humility.
- Moses once decreed that all the conquered men and boys were to be killed, all the married women also, but that his followers could have the unmarried women for themselves. "Here is an order to butcher the boys, to massacre the mothers, and debauch the daughters."
- Matthew and Luke cannot both be right about Jesus Christ's ancestry.
- King Herod's alleged massacre of those baby boys ought to have been better-known.
- Inconsistencies in the stories of Jesus Christ's crucifixion and resurrection.
About the Old Testament,
Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.
He then gets into cosmology, noting that the Earth is tiny in comparison with the Solar System, and he claimed that the Solar System is several objects to help us understand it or something like that. He also claimed that the other planets were inhabited, that the Universe was created for their benefit also, and he asked if the Christian story of original sin and salvation had to be repeated on each planet. Did Jesus Christ have to travel from planet to planet?