The Age of Reason

The Age of Reason

Overview
The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology is a deistic
Deism
Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the...

 pamphlet, written by eighteenth-century British radical and American revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

ary Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

, that criticizes institutionalized religion and challenges the legitimacy of the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, the central sacred text of Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. Published in three parts in 1794, 1795, and 1807, it was a bestseller
Bestseller
A bestseller is a book that is identified as extremely popular by its inclusion on lists of currently top selling titles that are based on publishing industry and book trade figures and published by newspapers, magazines, or bookstore chains. Some lists are broken down into classifications and...

 in the United States, where it caused a short-lived deistic revival
Revival meeting
A revival meeting is a series of Christian religious services held in order to inspire active members of a church body, to raise funds and to gain new converts...

. British audiences, however, fearing increased political radicalism as a result of the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, received it with more hostility.
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Encyclopedia
The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology is a deistic
Deism
Deism in religious philosophy is the belief that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator. According to deists, the creator does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the...

 pamphlet, written by eighteenth-century British radical and American revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

ary Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

, that criticizes institutionalized religion and challenges the legitimacy of the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, the central sacred text of Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. Published in three parts in 1794, 1795, and 1807, it was a bestseller
Bestseller
A bestseller is a book that is identified as extremely popular by its inclusion on lists of currently top selling titles that are based on publishing industry and book trade figures and published by newspapers, magazines, or bookstore chains. Some lists are broken down into classifications and...

 in the United States, where it caused a short-lived deistic revival
Revival meeting
A revival meeting is a series of Christian religious services held in order to inspire active members of a church body, to raise funds and to gain new converts...

. British audiences, however, fearing increased political radicalism as a result of the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, received it with more hostility. The Age of Reason presents common deistic arguments; for example, it highlights what Paine saw as corruption of the Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 Church and criticizes its efforts to acquire political power. Paine advocates reason in the place of revelation
Revelation
In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing, through active or passive communication with a supernatural or a divine entity...

, leading him to reject miracle
Miracle
A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws...

s and to view the Bible as an ordinary piece of literature rather than as a divinely inspired text. It promotes natural religion
Natural theology
Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds; and also from transcendental theology, theology from a priori reasoning.Marcus Terentius Varro ...

 and argues for the existence of a creator-God.

Most of Paine's arguments had long been available to the educated elite, but by presenting them in an engaging and irreverent style, he made deism appealing and accessible to a mass audience. The book was also inexpensive, putting it within the reach of a large number of buyers. Fearing the spread of what they viewed as potentially revolutionary ideas, the British government prosecuted printers and booksellers who tried to publish and distribute it. Paine nevertheless inspired and guided many British freethinker
Freethought
Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or other dogmas...

s of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and his influence and spirit endures in the works of contemporary writers like Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Eric Hitchens is an Anglo-American author and journalist whose books, essays, and journalistic career span more than four decades. He has been a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the...

.

Intellectual context: eighteenth-century British deism


Paine's book followed in the tradition of early eighteenth-century British deism. These deists, while maintaining individual positions, still shared several sets of assumptions and arguments that Paine articulated in The Age of Reason. The most important position that united the early deists was their call for "free rational inquiry" into all subjects, especially religion. Saying that early Christianity was founded on freedom of conscience, they demanded religious toleration
Religious toleration
Toleration is "the practice of deliberately allowing or permitting a thing of which one disapproves. One can meaningfully speak of tolerating, ie of allowing or permitting, only if one is in a position to disallow”. It has also been defined as "to bear or endure" or "to nourish, sustain or preserve"...

 and an end to religious persecution. They also demanded that debate rest on reason and rationality. Deists embraced a Newtonian worldview, and they believed all things in the universe, even God, must obey the laws of nature. Without a concept of natural law
Natural law
Natural law, or the law of nature , is any system of law which is purportedly determined by nature, and thus universal. Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. Natural law is contrasted with the positive law Natural...

, the deists argued, explanations of the workings of nature would descend into irrationality. This belief in natural law drove their skepticism of miracle
Miracle
A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws...

s. Because miracles had to be observed to be validated, deists rejected the accounts laid out in the Bible of God's miracles and argued that such evidence was neither sufficient nor necessary to prove the existence of God. Along these lines, deistic writings insisted that God, as the first cause or prime mover
Cosmological argument
The cosmological argument is an argument for the existence of a First Cause to the universe, and by extension is often used as an argument for the existence of an "unconditioned" or "supreme" being, usually then identified as God...

, had created and designed the universe with natural laws as part of his plan. They hold that God does not repeatedly alter his plan by suspending natural laws to (miraculously) intervene in human affairs. Deists also rejected the claim that there was only one revealed religious Truth or "one true faith"; religion could only be "simple, apparent, ordinary, and universal" if it was to be the logical product of a benevolent God. They therefore distinguished between "revealed religions" (which they rejected), such as Christianity, and "natural religion", a set of universal beliefs derived from the natural world that demonstrated God's existence (they were, thus, not atheist
Atheism
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

s).

While some deists accepted revelation
Revelation
In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing, through active or passive communication with a supernatural or a divine entity...

, most argued that revelation's restriction to small groups or even a single person limited its explanatory power. Moreover, many found the Christian revelations in particular to be contradictory and irreconcilable. According to these writers, revelation could reinforce the evidence for God's existence already apparent in the natural world, but more often it led to superstition among the masses. Most deists argued that priests had deliberately corrupted Christianity for their own gain by promoting the acceptance of miracles, unnecessary rituals, and illogical and dangerous doctrines (these accusations were typically referred to as "priestcraft"). The worst of these doctrines was original sin
Original sin
Original sin is, according to a Christian theological doctrine, humanity's state of sin resulting from the Fall of Man. This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred...

. By convincing people that they required a priest's help to overcome their innate sinfulness, deists argued, religious leaders had enslaved the human population. Deists therefore typically viewed themselves as intellectual liberators.


Political context: French revolution


By the time Part I of The Age of Reason was published in 1794, many British and French citizens had become disillusioned by the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

. The Reign of Terror
Reign of Terror
The Reign of Terror , also known simply as The Terror , was a period of violence that occurred after the onset of the French Revolution, incited by conflict between rival political factions, the Girondins and the Jacobins, and marked by mass executions of "enemies of...

 had begun, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette ; 2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793) was an Archduchess of Austria and the Queen of France and of Navarre. She was the fifteenth and penultimate child of Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I....

 had been tried and executed and Britain was at war with France
First Coalition
The War of the First Coalition was the first major effort of multiple European monarchies to contain Revolutionary France. France declared war on the Habsburg monarchy of Austria on 20 April 1792, and the Kingdom of Prussia joined the Austrian side a few weeks later.These powers initiated a series...

. Those few British radicals who still supported the French revolution and its ideals were viewed with deep suspicion by their countrymen. The Age of Reason belongs to this later, more radical stage of the British political reform movement, one that openly embraced republicanism
Republicanism
Republicanism is the ideology of governing a nation as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity, often elections. The exact meaning of republicanism varies depending on the cultural and historical context...

 and atheism and is exemplified by such texts as William Godwin's
William Godwin
William Godwin was an English journalist, political philosopher and novelist. He is considered one of the first exponents of utilitarianism, and the first modern proponent of anarchism...

 Political Justice
Political Justice
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Modern Morals and Manners outlines the political philosophy of the 18th-century philosopher William Godwin....

(1793). By the middle of the decade, the moderate voices had disappeared: Richard Price
Richard Price
Richard Price was a British moral philosopher and preacher in the tradition of English Dissenters, and a political pamphleteer, active in radical, republican, and liberal causes such as the American Revolution. He fostered connections between a large number of people, including writers of the...

, the Dissent
English Dissenters
English Dissenters were Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.They originally agitated for a wide reaching Protestant Reformation of the Established Church, and triumphed briefly under Oliver Cromwell....

ing minister whose sermon on political liberty had prompted Edmund Burke's
Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke PC was an Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party....

 Reflections on the Revolution in France
Reflections on the Revolution in France
Reflections on the Revolution in France , by Edmund Burke, is one of the best-known intellectual attacks against the French Revolution...

(1790), had died in 1791, and Joseph Priestley
Joseph Priestley
Joseph Priestley, FRS was an 18th-century English theologian, Dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, and political theorist who published over 150 works...

 had been forced to flee to America after a Church–and–King mob burned down his home and church
Priestley Riots
The Priestley Riots took place from 14 July to 17 July 1791 in Birmingham, England; the rioters' main targets were religious Dissenters, most notably the politically and theologically controversial Joseph Priestley...

.

The conservative government, headed by William Pitt
William Pitt the Younger
William Pitt the Younger was a British politician of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He became the youngest Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of 24 . He left office in 1801, but was Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806...

, responded to this increasing radicalization by prosecuting several reformers for seditious libel
Seditious libel
Seditious libel was a criminal offence under English common law. Sedition is the offence of speaking seditious words with seditious intent: if the statement is in writing or some other permanent form it is seditious libel...

 and treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 in the famous 1794 Treason Trials
1794 Treason Trials
The 1794 Treason Trials, arranged by the administration of William Pitt, were intended to cripple the British radical movement of the 1790s. Over thirty radicals were initially arrested; three were tried for high treason: Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke and John Thelwall...

. Following the trials and an attack on George III, conservatives were successful in passing the Seditious Meetings Act
Seditious Meetings Act 1795
The Seditious Meetings Act 1795, approved by the British Parliament in November 1795, was the second of the well known "Two Acts" , the other being the Treason Act 1795. Its purpose was to restrict the size of public meetings to fifty persons...

 and the Treasonable Practices Act
Treasonable Practices Act
The Treason Act 1795 was one of the Two Acts introduced by the British government in the wake of the stoning of King George III on his way to open Parliament in 1795, the other being the Seditious Meetings Act 1795...

 (also known as the "Two Acts" or the "gagging acts"). These acts prohibited freedom of assembly
Freedom of assembly
Freedom of assembly, sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom of association, is the individual right to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests...

 for groups such as the radical London Corresponding Society
London Corresponding Society
London Corresponding Society was a moderate-radical body concentrating on reform of the Parliament of Great Britain, founded on 25 January 1792. The creators of the group were John Frost , an attorney, and Thomas Hardy, a shoemaker and metropolitan Radical...

 (LCS) and encouraged indictments against radicals for "libelous and seditious" statements. Afraid of prosecution and disenchanted with the French revolution, many reformers drifted away from the cause. The LCS, which had previously unified religious Dissenters and political reformers, fractured when Francis Place
Francis Place
Francis Place was an English social reformer.-Early career and influence:Born in the debtor's prison which his father oversaw near Drury Lane, Place was schooled for ten years before being apprenticed to a leather-breeches maker. At eighteen he was an independent journeyman, and in 1790 was...

 and other leaders helped Paine publish The Age of Reason; the society's more religious members withdrew in protest and the LCS lost around one-fifth of its membership.

Publishing history


In December 1792, Paine's Rights of Man, part II was declared seditious
Seditious libel
Seditious libel was a criminal offence under English common law. Sedition is the offence of speaking seditious words with seditious intent: if the statement is in writing or some other permanent form it is seditious libel...

 in Britain and he was forced to flee to France in order to avoid arrest. Dismayed by the French revolution's turn toward secularism and atheism, he composed Part I of The Age of Reason in 1792 and 1793:

Although Paine wrote The Age of Reason for the French, he dedicated it to his "Fellow Citizens of the United States of America", alluding to his bond with the American revolutionaries.

It is unclear when exactly Paine drafted Part I although he says in the preface to Part II:

According to Paine scholars Edward Davidson and William Scheick, he probably wrote the first draft of Part I in late 1793, but Paine biographer David Hawke argues for a date of early 1793. It is also unclear whether or not a French edition of Part I was published in 1793. François Lanthenas, who translated The Age of Reason into French in 1794, wrote that it was first published in France in 1793, but no book fitting his description has been positively identified. Barlow published the first English edition of The Age of Reason, Part I in 1794 in London, selling it for a mere three pence.

Meanwhile, Paine, considered too moderate by the powerful Jacobin
Jacobin Club
The Jacobin Club was the most famous and influential political club in the development of the French Revolution, so-named because of the Dominican convent where they met, located in the Rue St. Jacques , Paris. The club originated as the Club Benthorn, formed at Versailles from a group of Breton...

 wing of the French revolutionaries, was imprisoned for ten months in France. He only escaped the guillotine
Guillotine
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out :executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which an angled blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body...

 by accident: the sign marking him out for execution was improperly placed on his cell door. When James Monroe
James Monroe
James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States . Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States, and the last president from the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation...

, at that time the new American Minister to France, secured his release in 1794, Paine immediately began work on Part II of The Age of Reason, despite his poor health. Part II was first published in a pirated edition by H.D. Symonds in London in October 1795. In 1796 Daniel Isaac Eaton
Daniel Isaac Eaton
Daniel Isaac Eaton was an English radical author, publisher and activist. He was tried eight times for selling radical literature and convicted in 1812 for selling Age of Reason....

 published Parts I and II, and sold them at a cost of one shilling
Shilling
The shilling is a unit of currency used in some current and former British Commonwealth countries. The word shilling comes from scilling, an accounting term that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times where it was deemed to be the value of a cow in Kent or a sheep elsewhere. The word is thought to derive...

 and six pence. (Eaton was later forced to flee to America after being convicted of seditious libel for publishing other radical works.) Paine himself financed the shipping of 15,000 copies of his work to America. Later, Francis Place
Francis Place
Francis Place was an English social reformer.-Early career and influence:Born in the debtor's prison which his father oversaw near Drury Lane, Place was schooled for ten years before being apprenticed to a leather-breeches maker. At eighteen he was an independent journeyman, and in 1790 was...

 and Thomas Williams collaborated on an edition which sold about 2,000 copies. Williams also produced his own edition, but the British government indicted him and confiscated the pamphlets.

In the late 1790s, Paine fled from France to the United States, where he wrote Part III of The Age of Reason: An Examination of the Passages in the New Testament, Quoted from the Old and Called Prophecies Concerning Jesus Christ. Fearing unpleasant and even violent reprisals, Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 convinced him not to publish it in 1802; five years later Paine decided to publish despite the backlash he knew would ensue.

Following Thomas Williams's sentence of one year's hard labor for publishing The Age of Reason in 1797, no editions were sold openly in Britain until 1818 when Richard Carlile
Richard Carlile
Richard Carlile was an important agitator for the establishment of universal suffrage and freedom of the press in the United Kingdom.-Early life :...

 included it in an edition of Paine's complete works. Carlile charged one shilling and sixpence for the work, and the first run of 1,000 copies sold out in a month. He immediately published a second edition of 3,000 copies. Like Williams, he was prosecuted for seditious libel and blasphemous libel. The prosecutions surrounding the printing of The Age of Reason in Britain continued for thirty years after its initial release and encompassed numerous publishers as well as over a hundred booksellers.

Structure and major arguments


The Age of Reason is divided into three sections. In Part I, Paine outlines his major arguments and personal creed. In Parts II and III he analyzes specific portions of the Bible in order to demonstrate that it is not the revealed word of God.

Creed



At the beginning of Part I of the Age of Reason, Paine lays out his personal creed:

Paine's creed encapsulates many of the major themes of the rest of his text: a firm belief in a creator-God; a skepticism regarding most supernatural claims (here the afterlife, later in the text, miracles); a conviction that virtues should be derived from a consideration for others rather than oneself; an animus against corrupt religious institutions; and an emphasis on the individual's right of conscience.

Reason and revelation


Paine begins The Age of Reason by attacking revelation
Revelation
In religion and theology, revelation is the revealing or disclosing, through active or passive communication with a supernatural or a divine entity...

. Revelation, he maintains, can only be verified by the individual receivers of the message and is therefore weak evidence for God's existence. Paine rejects prophecies and miracles, writing: "it is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it". He also points out that the Christian revelations appear to have altered over time to adjust for changing political circumstances. Urging his readers to employ reason rather than to rely on revelation, Paine argues that the only reliable, unchanging and universal evidence of God's existence is the natural world. "The Bible of the Deist", he contends, should not be a human invention such as the Bible, but rather a divine invention—it should be "creation". Paine takes this argument even further, maintaining that the same rules of logic and standards of evidence that govern the analysis of secular texts should be applied to the Bible. In Part II of The Age of Reason, he will do just this, pointing out numerous contradictions in the Bible.

Paine's analysis of the Bible


After establishing that he would refrain from using extra-Biblical sources to inform his criticism, but would instead apply the Bible's own words against itself, Paine questions the sacredness of the Bible, analyzing it as one would any other book. For example, in his analysis of the Book of Proverbs
Book of Proverbs
The Book of Proverbs , commonly referred to simply as Proverbs, is a book of the Hebrew Bible.The original Hebrew title of the book of Proverbs is "Míshlê Shlomoh" . When translated into Greek and Latin, the title took on different forms. In the Greek Septuagint the title became "paroimai paroimiae"...

 he argues that its sayings are "inferior in keenness to the proverbs of the Spaniards, and not more wise and economical than those of the American Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

". Describing the Bible as "fabulous mythology", Paine questions whether or not it was revealed to its writers and doubts that the original writers can ever be known (he dismisses the idea that Moses
Moses
Moses was, according to the Hebrew Bible and Qur'an, a religious leader, lawgiver and prophet, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed...

 wrote the Pentateuch, for example). Using methods that would not become common in Biblical scholarship until the nineteenth century, Paine tested the Bible for internal consistency and questioned its historical accuracy, concluding that it was not divinely inspired.

Paine also argues that the Old Testament
Old Testament
The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

 must be false because it depicts a tyrannical God. The "history of wickedness" pervading the Old Testament convinced Paine that it was simply another set of human-authored myths. He deplores people's credulity: "Brought up in habits of superstition," he wrote, "people in general know not how much wickedness there is in this pretended word of God." Citing Numbers
Book of Numbers
The Book of Numbers is the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible, and the fourth of five books of the Jewish Torah/Pentateuch....

 31:13–47 as an example, in which Moses orders the slaughter of thousands of boys and women, and sanctions the rape of thousands of girls, at God's behest, Paine calls the Bible a "book of lies, wickedness, and blasphemy; for what can be greater blasphemy than to ascribe the wickedness of man to the orders of the Almighty!"

Religion and the state



Paine also attacks religious institutions, indicting priests for their lust for power and wealth and the Church's opposition to scientific investigation. He presents the history of Christianity as one of corruption and oppression. Paine criticizes the tyrannical actions of the Church as he had those of governments in the Rights of Man
Rights of Man
Rights of Man , a book by Thomas Paine, posits that popular political revolution is permissible when a government does not safeguard its people, their natural rights, and their national interests. Using these points as a base it defends the French Revolution against Edmund Burke's attack in...

and Common Sense
Common Sense (pamphlet)
Common Sense is a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine. It was first published anonymously on January 10, 1776, during the American Revolution. Common Sense, signed "Written by an Englishman", became an immediate success. In relation to the population of the Colonies at that time, it had the largest...

, stating that "the Christian theory is little else than the idolatry of the ancient Mythologists, accommodated to the purposes of power and revenue." This kind of attack distinguishes Paine's book from other deistic works, which were less interested in challenging social and political hierarchies. He argues that the Church and the State are a single corrupt institution which does not act in the best interests of the people—both must be radically altered:

As Jon Mee, a scholar of British radicalism, writes: "Paine believed . . . a revolution in religion was the natural corollary, even prerequisite, of a fully successful political revolution." Paine lays out a vision of, in Davidson and Scheick's words, "an age of intellectual freedom, when reason would triumph over superstition, when the natural liberties of humanity would supplant priestcraft and kingship, which were both secondary effects of politically managed foolish legends and religious superstitions." It is this vision that scholars have called Paine's "secular millennialism
Millennialism
Millennialism , or chiliasm in Greek, is a belief held by some Christian denominations that there will be a Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which "Christ will reign" for 1000 years prior to the final judgment and future eternal state...

" and it appears in all of his works—he ends the Rights of Man, for example, with the statement: "From what we now see, nothing of reform in the political world ought to be held improbable. It is an age of revolutions, in which everything may be looked for." Paine "transformed the millennial Protestant vision of the rule of Christ on earth into a secular image of utopia," emphasizing the possibilities of "progress" and "human perfectibility" that could be achieved by humankind, without God's aid.

Paine's intellectual debts


Although Paine liked to say that he read very little, his writings belie this statement; The Age of Reason has intellectual roots in the traditions of David Hume
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

, Spinoza, and Voltaire
Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet , better known by the pen name Voltaire , was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, including freedom of religion, free trade and separation of church and state...

. Since Hume had already made many of the same "moral attacks upon Christianity" that Paine popularized in The Age of Reason, scholars have concluded that Paine probably read Hume's works on religion or had at least heard about them through the Joseph Johnson
Joseph Johnson (publisher)
Joseph Johnson was an influential 18th-century London bookseller and publisher. His publications covered a wide variety of genres and a broad spectrum of opinions on important issues...

 circle. Paine would have been particularly drawn to Hume's description of religion as "a positive source of harm to society" that "led men to be factious, ambitious and intolerant". More of an influence on Paine than Hume, however, was Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-politicus
Theologico-Political Treatise
Written by the philosopher Baruch Spinoza, the Theologico-Political Treatise or Tractatus Theologico-Politicus was published anonymously in 1670.It is an early criticism of religious intolerance and a defense of secular government...

(1678). Paine would have been exposed to Spinoza's ideas through the works of other eighteenth-century deists, most notably Conyers Middleton
Conyers Middleton
Conyers Middleton was an English clergyman.Middleton was born at Richmond in Yorkshire, and was educated at school in York and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He graduated from the University of Cambridge, took holy orders, and in 1706 obtained a fellowship, which he resigned upon entering into an...

. Paine would also more than likely have been familiar with Voltaire's mocking wit and the works of other deistic French philosophes.

Though these larger philosophical traditions are clear influences on The Age of Reason, Paine owes the greatest intellectual debt to the English deists of the early eighteenth century, such as Peter Annet
Peter Annet
Peter Annet was an English deist and early freethinker.-Early life and work:Annet is said to have been born at Liverpool...

. John Toland had argued for the use of reason in interpreting scripture, Matthew Tindal
Matthew Tindal
Matthew Tindal was an eminent English deist author. His works, highly influential at the dawn of the Enlightenment, caused great controversy and challenged the Christian consensus of his time.-Life:...

 had argued against revelation, Middleton had described the Bible as mythology and questioned the existence of miracles, Thomas Morgan
Thomas Morgan (deist)
-Biography:Morgan was first a dissenter preacher, then a practicer of healing among the Quakers, and finally a writer.He was the author of a large three-volume work entitled The Moral Philosopher. It is a dialogue between a Christian Jew, Theophanus, and a Christian deist, Philalethes...

 had disputed the claims of the Old Testament, Thomas Woolston
Thomas Woolston
Thomas Woolston was an English theologian. Although he was often classed as a deist, his biographer William H...

 had questioned the believability of miracles and Thomas Chubb
Thomas Chubb
Thomas Chubb was an English lay Deist writer, born near Salisbury.Chubb regarded Christ as a divine teacher, but held reason to be sovereign in matters of religion, questioned religions' morality, yet was on rational grounds a defender of Christianity...

 had maintained that Christianity lacked morality. All of these arguments appear in The Age of Reason, albeit less coherently.

Rhetoric and style


The most distinctive feature of The Age of Reason, like all of Paine's works, is its linguistic style. Historian Eric Foner
Eric Foner
Eric Foner is an American historian. On the faculty of the Department of History at Columbia University since 1982, he writes extensively on political history, the history of freedom, the early history of the Republican Party, African American biography, Reconstruction, and historiography...

 argues that Paine's works "forged a new political language" designed to bring politics to the people, using a "clear, simple and straightforward" style. Paine outlined "a new vision—a utopian image of an egalitarian republican society" and his language reflected these ideals. He originated such phrases as "the rights of man", "the age of reason", "the age of revolution", and "the times that try men's souls". Foner also maintains that with The Age of Reason Paine "gave deism a new, aggressive, explicitly anti-Christian tone". He did this by employing "vulgar" (that is, "low" or "popular") language, an irreverent tone, and even religious rhetoric.

In a letter to Elihu Palmer
Elihu Palmer
Elihu Palmer was an author and advocate of Deism in the early days of the United States.-Life:Elihu Palmer was born in Canterbury, Connecticut in 1764. He studied to be a Presbyterian minister at Dartmouth College, whence he graduated in 1787. Soon after his graduation, however, he became a Deist...

, one of his most loyal followers in America, Paine describes part of his rhetorical philosophy:

Paine's rhetoric had broad appeal; his "pithy" lines were "able to bridge working-class and middle-class cultures" and become common quotations.

Part of what makes Paine's style so memorable is his effective use of repetition and rhetorical questions in addition to the profusion of "anecdote, irony, parody, satire, feigned confusion, folk matter, concrete vocabulary, and . . . appeals to common sense". Paine's conversational style draws the reader into the text. His use of "we" conveys an "illusion that he and the readers share the activity of constructing an argument". By thus emphasizing the presence of the reader and leaving images and arguments half-formed, Paine encourages his readers to complete them independently.

"Vulgar" language


The most distinctive element of Paine's style in The Age of Reason is its "vulgarity". In the eighteenth century "vulgarity" was associated with the middling and lower classes and not with obscenity; thus, when Paine celebrates his "vulgar" style and his critics attack it, the dispute is over class accessibility, not profanity. For example, Paine describes the Fall
The Fall of Man
In Christian doctrine, the Fall of Man, or simply the Fall, refers to the transition of the first humans from a state of innocent obedience to God to a state of guilty disobedience to God. In Genesis chapter 2, Adam and Eve live at first with God in a paradise, but the serpent tempts them into...

 this way:

The irreverent tone that Paine combined with this vulgar style set his work apart from its predecessors. It took "deism out of the hands of the aristocracy and intellectuals and [brought] it to the people".

Paine's rhetorical appeal to "the people" attracted almost as much criticism as his ridicule of the Bible. Bishop Richard Watson
Richard Watson (bishop)
Rt Rev Richard Watson was an Anglican clergyman and academic, who served as the Bishop of Llandaff from 1782 to 1816. He wrote some notable political pamphlets....

, forced to address this new audience in his influential response to Paine, An Apology for the Bible, writes: "I shall, designedly, write this and the following letters in a popular manner; hoping that thereby they may stand a chance of being perused by that class of readers, for whom your work seems to be particularly calculated, and who are the most likely to be injured by it." But it was not only the style that concerned Watson and others, it was also the cheapness of Paine's book. At one sedition
Seditious libel
Seditious libel was a criminal offence under English common law. Sedition is the offence of speaking seditious words with seditious intent: if the statement is in writing or some other permanent form it is seditious libel...

 trial in the early 1790s, the Attorney–General tried to prohibit Thomas Cooper from publishing his response to Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, arguing that "although there was no exception to be taken to his pamphlet when in the hands of the upper classes, yet the government would not allow it to appear at a price which would insure its circulation among the people." Similar concerns drove the prosecution of those who printed, published, and distributed The Age of Reason.

Irreverent tone



Paine's style is not only "vulgar", it is also irreverent. For example, he says that once one dismisses the false idea of Moses being the author of Genesis, "The story of Eve and the serpent, and of Noah and his ark, drops to a level with the Arabian tales, without the merit of being entertaining." Although many early English deists had relied on ridicule to attack the Bible and Christianity, theirs was a refined wit
Wit
Wit is a form of intellectual humour, and a wit is someone skilled in making witty remarks. Forms of wit include the quip and repartee.-Forms of wit:...

 rather than the broad humor Paine employed. It was the early Deists of the middling ranks, and not the educated elite, who initiated the kind of ridicule Paine would make famous.

It was Paine's "ridiculing" tone that most angered Churchmen. As John Redwood, a scholar of deism, puts it: "the age of reason could perhaps more eloquently and adequately be called the age of ridicule, for it was ridicule, not reason, that endangered the Church." Significantly, Watson's Apology directly chastises Paine for his mocking tone:

Religious influences


Paine's Quaker upbringing predisposed him to deistic thinking at the same time that it positioned him firmly within the tradition of religious Dissent
English Dissenters
English Dissenters were Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.They originally agitated for a wide reaching Protestant Reformation of the Established Church, and triumphed briefly under Oliver Cromwell....

. Paine acknowledged that he was indebted to his Quaker background for his skepticism, but the Quakers' esteem for plain speaking, a value expressed both explicitly and implicitly in The Age of Reason, influenced his writing even more. As the historian E. P. Thompson
E. P. Thompson
Edward Palmer Thompson was a British historian, writer, socialist and peace campaigner. He is probably best known today for his historical work on the British radical movements in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in particular The Making of the English Working Class...

 has put it, Paine "ridiculed the authority of the Bible with arguments which the collier or country girl could understand". His description of the story of the Virgin Birth
Virgin Birth
The virgin birth of Jesus is a tenet of Christianity and Islam which holds that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus while remaining a virgin. The term "virgin birth" is commonly used, rather than "virgin conception", due to the tradition that Joseph "knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn...

 demystifies Biblical language and suggests that Mary was just another unfortunate fallen woman: it is "an account of a young woman engaged to be married, and while under this engagement she is, to speak plain language, debauched by a ghost". Quaker conversion narrative
Conversion Narrative
Broadly speaking, a conversion narrative is a narrative that relates the operation of conversion, usually religious. As a specific aspect of American literary and religious history, the conversion narrative was an important facet of Puritan sacred and secular society in New England during a period...

s also influenced the style of The Age of Reason; Davidson and Scheick argue that its "introductory statement of purpose, a fervid sense of inward inspiration, a declared expression of conscience, and an evangelical intention to instruct others" resemble the personal confessions of American Quakers.

Paine takes advantage of several religious rhetorics beyond those associated with Quakerism in The Age of Reason, most importantly a millennial
Millenarianism
Millenarianism is the belief by a religious, social, or political group or movement in a coming major transformation of society, after which all things will be changed, based on a one-thousand-year cycle. The term is more generically used to refer to any belief centered around 1000 year intervals...

 language that appealed to his lower-class readers. Claiming that true religious language is universal, Paine uses elements of the Christian rhetorical tradition to undermine the hierarchies perpetuated by religion itself. The sermon
Sermon
A sermon is an oration by a prophet or member of the clergy. Sermons address a Biblical, theological, religious, or moral topic, usually expounding on a type of belief, law or behavior within both past and present contexts...

ic quality of Paine's writing is one of its most recognizable traits. Sacvan Bercovitch
Sacvan Bercovitch
Sacvan Bercovitch is a Canadian Americanist, literary and cultural critic and academic.-Education and academic career:Bercovitch is perhaps the most influential and controversial Americanist of his generation. Born in Montreal, Quebec, He received his B.A. at Sir George Williams College, now...

, a scholar of the sermon, argues that Paine's writing often resembles that of the jeremiad
Jeremiad
A jeremiad is a long literary work, usually in prose, but sometimes in poetry, in which the author bitterly laments the state of society and its morals in a serious tone of sustained invective, and always contains a prophecy of society's imminent downfall....

 or "political sermon". He contends that Paine draws on the Puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

 tradition in which "theology was wedded to politics and politics to the progress of the kingdom of God". One reason Paine may have been drawn to this style is because he may have briefly been a Methodist preacher, although this suspicion cannot be verified.

Reception and legacy


The Age of Reason provoked a hostile reaction from most readers and critics, although the intensity of that hostility varied by locality. There were four major factors for this animosity: Paine denied that the Bible was a sacred, inspired text; he argued that Christianity was a human invention; his ability to command a large readership frightened those in power; and his irreverent and satirical style of writing about Christianity and the Bible offended many believers.

Britain


Paine's Age of Reason sparked enough anger in Britain to initiate not only a series of government prosecutions but also a pamphlet war. Around 50 unfavorable replies appeared between 1795 and 1799 alone and refutations were still being published in 1812. Many of these responded specifically to Paine's attack on the Bible in Part II (when Thomas Williams was prosecuted for printing Part II, it became clear its circulation had far exceeded that of Part I). Although critics responded to Paine's analysis of the Bible, they did not usually address his specific arguments. Instead, they advocated a literal reading of the Bible
Biblical literalism
Biblical literalism is the interpretation or translation of the explicit and primary sense of words in the Bible. A literal Biblical interpretation is associated with the fundamentalist and evangelical hermeneutical approach to Scripture, and is used almost exclusively by conservative Christians...

, citing the Bible's long history as evidence of its authority. They also issued ad hominem
Ad hominem
An ad hominem , short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it...

attacks against Paine, describing him "as an enemy of proper thought and of the morality of decent, enlightened people". Dissenters
English Dissenters
English Dissenters were Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.They originally agitated for a wide reaching Protestant Reformation of the Established Church, and triumphed briefly under Oliver Cromwell....

 such as Joseph Priestley
Joseph Priestley
Joseph Priestley, FRS was an 18th-century English theologian, Dissenting clergyman, natural philosopher, chemist, educator, and political theorist who published over 150 works...

 who had endorsed the arguments of the Rights of Man
Rights of Man
Rights of Man , a book by Thomas Paine, posits that popular political revolution is permissible when a government does not safeguard its people, their natural rights, and their national interests. Using these points as a base it defends the French Revolution against Edmund Burke's attack in...

turned away from those presented in The Age of Reason. Even the liberal Analytical Review
Analytical Review
The Analytical Review was a periodical established in London in 1788 by the publisher Joseph Johnson and the writer Thomas Christie. Part of the Republic of Letters, it was a gadfly publication, which offered readers summaries and analyses of the many new publications issued at the end of the...

was skeptical of Paine's claims and distanced itself from the book. Paine's deism was simply too radical for these more moderate reformers and they feared being tarred with the brush of extremism.

Despite the outpouring of antagonistic replies to The Age of Reason, some scholars have argued that Constantin Volney's deistic The Ruins (translations of excerpts from the French original appeared in radical papers such as Thomas Spence's
Thomas Spence
Thomas Spence was an English Radical and advocate of the common ownership of land.-Life:Spence was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England and was the son of a Scottish net and shoe maker....

 Pig's Meat and Daniel Isaac Eaton's
Daniel Isaac Eaton
Daniel Isaac Eaton was an English radical author, publisher and activist. He was tried eight times for selling radical literature and convicted in 1812 for selling Age of Reason....

 Politics for the People) was actually more influential than The Age of Reason. According to David Bindman, The Ruins "achieved a popularity in England comparable to Rights of Man itself". However, one minister complained that "the mischief arising from the spreading of such a pernicious publication [as The Age of Reason] was infinitely greater than any that could spring from limited suffrage and septennial parliaments" (other popular reform causes).

It was not until Richard Carlile's
Richard Carlile
Richard Carlile was an important agitator for the establishment of universal suffrage and freedom of the press in the United Kingdom.-Early life :...

 1818 trial for publishing The Age of Reason that Paine's text became "the anti-Bible of all lower-class nineteenth-century infidel agitators". Although the book had been selling well before the trial, once Carlile was arrested and charged, 4,000 copies were sold in just a few months. At the trial itself, which created a media frenzy, Carlile read the entirety of The Age of Reason into the court record, ensuring it an even wider publication. Between 1818 and 1822, Carlile claimed to have "sent into circulation near 20,000 copies of the Age of Reason". Just as in the 1790s, it was the language that most angered the authorities in 1818. As Joss Marsh, in her study of blasphemy in the nineteenth century, points out, "at these trials plain English was reconfigured as itself 'abusive' and 'outrageous.' The Age of Reason struggle almost tolled the hour when the words 'plain,' 'coarse,' 'common,' and 'vulgar' took on a pejorative meaning." Carlile was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to one year in prison, but spent six years instead because he refused any "legal conditions" on his release.

Paine's new rhetoric came to dominate popular nineteenth-century radical journalism, particularly that of freethinker
Freethought
Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or other dogmas...

s, Chartist
Chartism
Chartism was a movement for political and social reform in the United Kingdom during the mid-19th century, between 1838 and 1859. It takes its name from the People's Charter of 1838. Chartism was possibly the first mass working class labour movement in the world...

s and Owenites
Robert Owen
Robert Owen was a Welsh social reformer and one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement.Owen's philosophy was based on three intellectual pillars:...

. Its legacy can be seen in Thomas Wooler's
Thomas Jonathan Wooler
The publisher Thomas Jonathan Wooler was active in the Radical movement of early 19th century Britain, best known for his satirical journal The Black Dwarf....

 radical periodical The Black Dwarf
The Black Dwarf
The Black Dwarf was a satirical radical journal of early 19th century Britain. It was published by Thomas Jonathan Wooler, starting in January 1817 as an eight page newspaper, then later becoming a 32 page pamphlet. It was priced at 4d a week until the Six Acts brought in by the Government in 1819...

, Richard Carlile's
Richard Carlile
Richard Carlile was an important agitator for the establishment of universal suffrage and freedom of the press in the United Kingdom.-Early life :...

 numerous newspapers and journals, the radical works of William Cobbett
William Cobbett
William Cobbett was an English pamphleteer, farmer and journalist, who was born in Farnham, Surrey. He believed that reforming Parliament and abolishing the rotten boroughs would help to end the poverty of farm labourers, and he attacked the borough-mongers, sinecurists and "tax-eaters" relentlessly...

, Henry Hetherington's
Henry Hetherington
Henry Hetherington was a leading British Chartist.- Early years :Henry Hetherington was the son of a London tailor, John Hetherington , and was born on 17 June 1792, at 16 Compton Street, Soho, London...

 periodicals the Penny Papers and the Poor Man's Guardian, the works of the Chartist William Lovett
William Lovett
William Lovett was a British activist who was a leader of the political movement Chartism as well as one of the leading London-based Artisan Radicals of his generation....

, George Holyoake's
George Holyoake
George Jacob Holyoake , English secularist and co-operator, was born in Birmingham, England. He coined the term "secularism" in 1851 and the term "jingoism" in 1878.-Owenism:...

 newspapers and books on Owenism
Robert Owen
Robert Owen was a Welsh social reformer and one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement.Owen's philosophy was based on three intellectual pillars:...

, and freethinker Charles Bradlaugh's
Charles Bradlaugh
Charles Bradlaugh was a political activist and one of the most famous English atheists of the 19th century. He founded the National Secular Society in 1866.-Early life:...

 New Reformer. A century after the publication of The Age of Reason, Paine's rhetoric was still being used: George Foote's
George William Foote
George William Foote was a British secularist and journal editor.He was born in Plymouth, England and brought up in the Anglican tradition...

 "Bible Handbook (1888) . . . systematically manhandles chapters and verses to bring out 'Contradictions,' 'Absurdities,' 'Atrocities,' and 'Obscenities,' exactly in the manner of Paine's Age of Reason." The periodical The Freethinker
The Freethinker (journal)
The Freethinker is a British secular humanist magazine, founded by G.W. Foote in 1881. It is the world's oldest surviving freethought publication.It has always taken an unapologetically atheist, anti-religious stance...

(founded in 1881 by George Foote) argued, like Paine, that the "absurdities of faith" could be "slain with laughter". In Britain, it was this freethinking tradition that continued Paine's legacy.

France


The Age of Reason, despite having been written for the French, made very little, if any, impact on revolutionary France. Paine wrote that "the people of France were running headlong into atheism and I had the work translated into their own language, to stop them in that career, and fix them to the first article . . . of every man's creed who has any creed at all – I believe in God" (emphasis Paine's). Paine's arguments were already common and accessible in France; they had, in a sense, already been rejected.

While still in France, Paine formed the Church of Theophilanthropy
Theophilanthropy
The Theophilanthropists were a deistic sect, formed in France during the latter part of the French Revolution.-Origins:...

 with five other families; this civil religion held as its central dogma that man should worship God's wisdom and benevolence and imitate those divine attributes as much as possible. The church had no priest or minister, and the traditional Biblical sermon was replaced by scientific lectures or homilies on the teachings of philosophers. It celebrated four festivals honoring St. Vincent de Paul
Vincent de Paul
Vincent de Paul was a priest of the Catholic Church who became dedicated to serving the poor. He is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He was canonized in 1737....

, George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

, Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

, and Rousseau. Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. As a politician in colonial Massachusetts, Adams was a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution, and was one of the architects of the principles of American...

 articulated the goals of this church when he wrote that Paine aimed "to renovate the age by inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity and universal philanthropy". The church closed, however, in 1801, when Napoleon
Napoleon I of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

 concluded a concordat
Concordat of 1801
The Concordat of 1801 was an agreement between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII, signed on 15 July 1801. It solidified the Roman Catholic Church as the majority church of France and brought back most of its civil status....

 with the Vatican
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

.

United States



In the United States, The Age of Reason initially caused a deistic "revival", but was then viciously attacked and soon forgotten. Paine became so reviled that he could still be maligned as a "filthy little atheist" by Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...

 over one hundred years later.

At the end of the eighteenth century, America was ripe for Paine's arguments. The First Great Awakening
First Great Awakening
The First Awakening was a Christian revitalization movement that swept Protestant Europe and British America, and especially the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s, leaving a permanent impact on American religion. It resulted from powerful preaching that gave listeners a sense of personal...

 had, in demolishing the "Calvinist hegemony, created a climate of theological and speculative ambivalence" that welcomed deism. Ethan Allen
Ethan Allen
Ethan Allen was a farmer, businessman, land speculator, philosopher, writer, and American Revolutionary War patriot, hero, and politician. He is best known as one of the founders of the U.S...

 published the first American defense of deism, the Oracles of Reason (1784), but deism remained primarily a philosophy of the educated elite. Men such as Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 and Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 espoused its tenets, while at the same time arguing that religion served the useful purpose of "social control". It was not until the publication of Paine's more entertaining and popular work that deism reached into the middling and lower classes in America. The public was receptive, in part, because they approved of the secular ideals of the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

. The Age of Reason went through seventeen editions and sold thousands of copies in the United States. Elihu Palmer
Elihu Palmer
Elihu Palmer was an author and advocate of Deism in the early days of the United States.-Life:Elihu Palmer was born in Canterbury, Connecticut in 1764. He studied to be a Presbyterian minister at Dartmouth College, whence he graduated in 1787. Soon after his graduation, however, he became a Deist...

, "a blind renegade minister" and Paine's most loyal follower in America, promoted deism throughout the country. Palmer published what became "the bible of American deism", The Principles of Nature, established deistic societies from Maine to Georgia, built Temples of Reason throughout the nation, and founded two deistic newspapers for which Paine eventually wrote seventeen essays. Foner writes that "The Age of Reason became the most popular deist work ever written. . . . Before Paine it had been possible to be both a Christian and a deist; now such a religious outlook became virtually untenable." Paine presented deism to the masses and, as in Britain, educated elites feared the consequences of such material in the hands of so many. Their fear helped to drive the backlash which soon followed.

Almost immediately after this deistic upsurge, the Second Great Awakening
Second Great Awakening
The Second Great Awakening was a Christian revival movement during the early 19th century in the United States. The movement began around 1800, had begun to gain momentum by 1820, and was in decline by 1870. The Second Great Awakening expressed Arminian theology, by which every person could be...

 began. George Spater explains that "the revulsion felt for Paine's Age of Reason and for other anti-religious thought was so great that a major counter-revolution had been set underway in America before the end of the eighteenth century." By 1796 every student at Harvard was given a copy of Bishop Watson's rebuttal of The Age of Reason. In 1815, Parson Weems
Parson Weems
Mason Locke Weems , generally known as Parson Weems, was an American book agent and author. He is best known as the source of some of the apocryphal stories about George Washington...

, an early American novelist and moralist, published God's Revenge Against Adultery, in which one of the major characters "owed his early downfall to reading 'PAINE'S AGE OF REASON'". Paine's "libertine" text leads the young man to "bold slanders of the bible", even to the point that he "threw aside his father's good old family bible, and for a surer guide to pleasure took up the AGE OF REASON!"

Paine could not publish part III of The Age of Reason in America until 1807 because of the deep antipathy against him. Hailed only a few years earlier as a hero of the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

, Paine was now lambasted in the press and called "the scavenger of faction", a "lilly-livered sinical [sic] rogue", a "loathsome reptile", a "demi-human archbeast", "an object of disgust, of abhorrence, of absolute loathing to every decent man except the President of the United States [Thomas Jefferson]". In October 1805 John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

 wrote to his friend Benjamin Waterhouse
Benjamin Waterhouse
Benjamin Waterhouse was a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School...

, an American physician and scientist:

Adams viewed Paine's Age of Reason not as the embodiment of the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 but as a "betrayal" of it. Despite all of these attacks, Paine never wavered in his beliefs; when he was dying, a woman came to visit him, claiming that God had instructed her to save his soul. Paine dismissed her in the same tones that he had used in The Age of Reason: "pooh, pooh, it is not true. You were not sent with any such impertinent message. . . . Pshaw, He would not send such a foolish ugly old woman as you about with His message."

The Age of Reason was largely ignored after 1820, except by radical groups in Britain and freethinkers in America, among them Robert G. Ingersoll
Robert G. Ingersoll
Robert Green "Bob" Ingersoll was a Civil War veteran, American political leader, and orator during the Golden Age of Freethought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. He was nicknamed "The Great Agnostic."-Life and career:Robert Ingersoll was born in Dresden, New York...

 and the abolitionist Moncure Daniel Conway
Moncure Daniel Conway
Moncure Daniel Conway was an American abolitionist, Unitarian clergyman, and author.-Early life and education:Conway was born of an old Virginia family in Falmouth, Stafford County...

, who edited his works and wrote the first biography of Paine, favorably reviewed by The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

. Not until the publication of Charles Darwin's
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

 The Origin of Species
The Origin of Species
Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, published on 24 November 1859, is a work of scientific literature which is considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. Its full title was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the...

in 1859, and the large-scale abandonment of the literal reading of the Bible that it caused in Britain, did many of Paine's ideas take hold. As writer Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

 said, "It took a brave man before the Civil War to confess he had read the Age of Reason...I read it first when I was a cub pilot, read it with fear and hesitation, but marveling at its fearlessness and wonderful power." Paine's criticisms of the church, the monarchy, and the aristocracy appear most clearly in Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is an 1889 novel by American humorist and writer Mark Twain. The book was originally titled A Yankee in King Arthur's Court...

(1889).

Paine's text is still published today, one of the few eighteenth-century religious texts to be widely available. Its message still resonates, evidenced by Christopher Hitchens's
Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Eric Hitchens is an Anglo-American author and journalist whose books, essays, and journalistic career span more than four decades. He has been a columnist and literary critic at The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation, Free Inquiry, and became a media fellow at the...

 statement that "if the rights of man are to be upheld in a dark time, we shall require an age of reason". His 2006 book on the Rights of Man ends with the claim that "in a time . . . when both rights and reason are under several kinds of open and covert attack, the life and writing of Thomas Paine will always be part of the arsenal on which we shall need to depend."

Some modern reprints of The Age of Reason

  • Paine, Thomas. The Age of Reason. Ed. Kerry Walters. Peterborough: Broadview Press
    Broadview Press
    Broadview Press is an independent academic publisher that focuses on the humanities. Founded in 1985 by Don LePan, the company now employs over 25 people, has over 500 titles in print, and publishes approximately 50 titles each year...

    , 2011. ISBN 978-1-55481-045-1.
  • Paine, Thomas. The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition World Union of Deists, 2009. ISBN 978-0-939040-35-3
  • Paine, Thomas
    Thomas Paine
    Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

    . The Age of Reason. Ed. Philip Sheldon Foner. New York: Citadel Press, 1974. ISBN 0-8065-0549-4.
  • Paine, Thomas. Thomas Paine: Collected Writings. Ed. Eric Foner
    Eric Foner
    Eric Foner is an American historian. On the faculty of the Department of History at Columbia University since 1982, he writes extensively on political history, the history of freedom, the early history of the Republican Party, African American biography, Reconstruction, and historiography...

    . Library of America, 1995. ISBN 1-883011-03-5.
  • Paine, Thomas. The Life and Major Writings of Thomas Paine. Ed. Philip S. Foner. Replica Books, 2000. ISBN 0-7351-0077-2.
  • Paine, Thomas. The Thomas Paine Reader. Eds. Michael Foot
    Michael Foot
    Michael Mackintosh Foot, FRSL, PC was a British Labour Party politician, journalist and author, who was a Member of Parliament from 1945 to 1955 and from 1960 until 1992...

     and Isaac Kramnick. New York: Penguin Books, 1987. ISBN 0-14-044496-3.

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