The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Thomas Paine's belief that political freedom would result in the overthrow of organized religion's stranglehold on humankind seems overly optimistic. Nevertheless, he raises a number of questions about religion that many people would acknowledge they have asked at some point in their lives. What impressed me greatly about him was his intellectual honesty and fairness. When he declares that he sees all organized religions as "human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit" he refuses to condemn those that believe otherwise, though he does point out the difference between the person who truly believes and the one who merely professes belief in order to secure power and profit.
"...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. It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime."
Thomas Paine was a braver man than many. He certainly paid the price for his outspoken courage, being reviled for the ideas he expressed in "The Age of Reason." Only six people attended his funeral in 1809 and the famously tolerant Quakers refused to allow his body to be buried in their graveyard as his will had requested. Perhaps it was payback for this:
"Though I reverence their philanthropy, I cannot help smiling at the conceit, that if the taste of a quaker could have been consulted at the creation, what a silent and drab-colored creation it would have been! Not a flower would have blossomed its gaieties, nor a bird been permitted to sing."
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