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[Library of Congress]
Pamphleteer & Propagandist for the Revolution
Education: grammar school
Occupation: various jobs, including stay maker & tax collector
Religious Affiliation: none
Summary of Religious Views:
Paine's mother was Anglican, & his father was a Quaker. Exposure to these two very different religious traditions probably had a significant influence on Paine's ultimate religious development.
Although he is often thought of as and atheist, Paine was actually a deist. Paine wrote extensively on the subject of religion, both promoting deism and criticizing Christianity and other religions, especially deriding belief in miracles other non-naturalistic occurrences.
Views on Religion & Politics:
Paine strongly favored the separation of church and state, believing that government should be based on reason, not faith. He believed that the only valid role of government in religious affairs was to protect freedom of religion.
"As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensible duty of every government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith. Let a man throw aside that narrowness of soul, that selfishness of principle, which the niggards of all professions are so unwilling to part with; and he will be at once delivered of his fears on that head. Suspicion is the companion of mean souls, and the bane of all good society. For myself, I fully and conscientiously believe, that it is the will of the Almighty, that there should be a diversity of religious opinions among us: it affords a larger field for our Christian kindness. Were we all of one way of thinking, our religious dispositions would want matter for probation; and on this liberal principle, I look on the various denominations among us, to be like children of the same family, differing only, in what is called, their Christian names." -- Common Sense, Ch. 1, 10 January 1776
"Persecution is not an original feature of any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law." -- The Rights of Man, 1791
"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 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.
"I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe." -- The Age of Reason, Pt. 1, 1794
"Upon the whole, Mystery, Miracle, and Prophecy, are appendages that belong to fabulous and not to true religion." -- The Age of Reason, Pt. 1, 1794
"Adam, if ever there was such a man, was created a Deist; but in the mean time, let every man follow, as he has a right to do, the religion and worship he prefers." -- The Age of Reason, Pt. 1, 1794
"The case, however, is, that the Bible will not bear examination in any part of it, which it would do if it was the Word of God. Those who most believe it are those who know least about it, and priests always take care to keep the inconsistent and contradictory parts out of sight." -- "The Tower of Babel," The Prospect, 24 March 1804
"It is from the Bible that man has learned cruelty, rapine, and murder; for the belief of a cruel God makes a cruel man." -- "An Answer To A Friend Regarding The Age Of Reason," The Prospect, 12 April 1804
"All our ideas of the justice and goodness of God revolt at the impious cruelty of the Bible. It is not a God, just and good, but a devil, under the name of God, that the Bible describes." -- An Answer To A Friend Regarding The Age Of Reason, The Prospect, 12 April 1804
"When I get through, there will not be five Bibles left in America." -- There is no evidence that Paine ever made such a remark. (See the discussion in Paul F. Boller & John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions, Oxford Univ. Press, 1989, p. 103)
References, Links, & Further Reading: Books, Articles, Links
John Alberger, "The Life and Character of Thomas Paine," The North American review, Vol. 57, Iss. 120, July 1843, pp. 1-58
Jon Katz, "The Age of Paine," Wired, Iss. 3.05, May 1995
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