Monday, January 17, 2011

Thomas Paine: Deist

There seems to be confusion in some circles as to the beliefs of the celebrated author and patriot, Thomas Paine. Curiously, he is being championed by many in the atheist community as one of their own, when in fact, Paine was never an atheist.

Thomas Paine is recognized as one of the preeminent advocates of Deism, a philosophy that, according to Wikipedia believes:

"that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that a supreme being created the universe. Further the term often implies that this supreme being does not intervene in human affairs or suspend the natural laws of the universe. Deists typically reject supernatural events such as prophecy and miracles, tending to assert that God (or "The Supreme Architect") has a plan for the universe that is not to be altered by intervention in the affairs of human life. Deists believe in the existence of God without any reliance on revealed religion, religious authority or holy books."

The following quotes from Paine demonstrate that he believed in God:

"I content myself with believing, even to positive conviction, that the power that gave me existence is able to continue it, in any form and manner He pleases, either with or without this body; and it appears more probable to me that I shall continue to exist hereafter than that I should have had existence, as I now have, before that existence began."
—The Age of Reason

"It has been my intention, for several years past, to publish my thoughts upon religion. . . . The circumstance that has now taken place in France of the total abolition of the whole national order of priesthood, and of everything appertaining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary, lest in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity and of the theology that is true."
-The Age of Reason

"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."
-The Age of Reason

"Every religion is good that teaches man to be good; and I know of none that instructs him to be bad."

"Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us."

Paine denied the claims of divine revelation that the religions of his day claimed, but also stated:

"No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases."

"When we examine an extraordinary piece of machinery, an astonishing pile of architecture, a well executed statue or a highly finished painting where life and action are imitated...our ideas are naturally led to think of the extensive genius and talents of the artist. When we study the elements of geometry, we think of Euclid. When we speak of gravitation, we think of Newton. How then is it, that when we study the works of God in the creation, we stop short, and do not think of God? It is from the error of the schools in having taught those subjects as accomplishments only, and thereby separated the study of them from the Being who is the author of them. . . ."
-The Study of God, Delivered in Paris on January 16, 1797

"The evil that has resulted from the error of the schools in teaching natural philosophy as an accomplishment only has been that of generating in the pupils a species of atheism. Instead of looking through the works of the creation to the Creator himself, they stop short, and employ the knowledge they acquire to create doubts of His existence."
-The Study of God, Delivered in Paris on January 16, 1797

Thomas Paine was highly critical of organized religion as he saw it practiced in society. He especially criticized Christianity and Judaism, and rejected the Bible as being the revealed word of God. It was his criticism of organized religion that has been so attractive to atheists to the present, however, to present Paine as an advocate of atheism is disingenuous at best.

As can be seen from the above quotes, Paine was never an atheist,and made it abundantly clear that he believed in a Creator God that sustained the Universe.

Paine, through his works, contributed to the development of Enlightenment philosophy and had a profound influence on the development of democracy and religious freedom and separation of church and state in the nascent United States. He was never though, an advocate of atheism, or agnosticism.