Thomas Paine Answers: Main ideas

This page gives suggested answers to the reading exercise on Thomas Paine’s ‘The Age of Reason’.

Main ideas.
1. acknowledges the difficulty of writing about religion
2. even though religion may be abolished, it is important to reflect on the subject so that equally false beliefs or superstitions do not replace it.
3. Intends to set forth clearly what he does believe.
4. He believes in one God and the afterlife.
5. He believes in the equality of men, and the importance of justice, mercy and general public service aimed at social happiness.
6. Intends to set forth what he does not believe and the reasons why not.
7. Does not believe in any institutionalised religion.
8. All institutionalised religions are human inventions aimed at controlling people and establishing a hierarchy of power.
9. The right to believe differently is avowed, but Paine insists we must believe with integrity.
10. Hypocrisy in religion is morally destructive.
11. The connection between church and state stifles objective evaluation of religion. Contemporary political events in the US and Europe (The War of Independence in the US, and the French Revolution in France) suggest now is the time for an objective evaluation.
12. All institutionalised religions pretend to have been established according to some privileged message from God.
13. Each religion accuses others of heresy and disbelief, because they do not attest to the verity of each others source. Paine disbelieves them all.
14. Defines ‘revelation’ in religion as something communicated from God to man.
15. The revelation can only be between God and the person/s who have received the message. All other who attest to it do so second-hand. ‘hearsay’ / heresy compare differences of meaning.
16. Ex hypothesi, revelation is limited to the first communication. Others cannot be rightfully expected to believe in the revelation if they did not receive it first hand.
17. Moses ‘Ten Commandments’, for example, contain no internal authority of revelation, even if they are useful or good moral precepts.
18. Similarly, Mohammed’s ‘Koran’ is not revealed to others who heard it from Mohammed.
19. Similarly, the story of the virgin birth has no objective evidence to support it. We are not compelled to believe it based on others testimony that it was so.
20. Christian mythology is easy to explain, because it is shares the same form/pattern as other myths that were generally accepted in those times.
21. Examples of how Christian mythology is generated out of prior pagan/heathen beliefs.
22. Paine is not claiming that Jesus was not a religious man. Only that the stories told about him bear no external authority.
23. Jesus wrote nothing himself, so we do not even have his own testimony that the things said of him are true.
24. The virgin birth is a story that admits of no possible evidence.
25. The resurrection, however, is something that could be publicly witnessed, yet there are no independent or verifiable witnesses to it. Even in his own time, there were doubters (Thomas) among those that had not witnessed it.
26. The fact that all the evidence that could be given for this kind of event is lacking is highly suspicious. It is curious that one of the arguments for its truth is that the enemies of Christianity do not believe the story. That, Paine suggests, is highly illogical and hardly convincing.

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