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Age of Reason

Age of Reason by Thomas Paine

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Paine's years of study and reflection on the role of religion in society culminated with this, his final work. An attack on revealed religion from the deist point of view — embodied by Paine's credo, "I believe in one God, and no more" — its critical and objective examination of Old and New Testaments cites numerous contradictions.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Reviews

5 out of 5 stars A defense of deism and a polemic against theism, May 15, 2004

By D. Cloyce Smith (Brooklyn, NY) (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    

This review is from: The Age of Reason (Great Books in Philosophy) (Paperback)

Thomas Paine, like others among our nation's founders (Ethan Allen, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Joel Barlow), considered himself a deist, a term that encompasses a wide range of beliefs but is principally based on "religious rationalism": that, initially created by a benevolent God, the universe operates on rational rather than supernatural principles. Paine (and Allen), however, departed from the cautiously nuanced approach to religious issues adopted by his peers and vociferously rejected Judeo-Christian tenets and scriptures. In "The Age of Reason," Paine outlines his objections to theism and his belief in deism, and he dissects the inconsistencies in both the Old and New Testaments.

Paine published the book in two parts: the first he hurriedly finished in January 1794 when he realized he would be arrested during the French Revolution (passages were in fact written from the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, where he was imprisoned). The second part was written the following year, and he responds to the critics of the first part with a no-holds-barred attack on the veracity of the Bible.

Paine presents his basic belief that "it is only in the creation that all our ideas and conceptions of a word of God can unite," and later in the book he says that "the creation is the bible of the deist." To Paine, the Bible is the word of man, not the Word of God, and he confronts many of the literalist beliefs proffered by the clergy and worshippers in his day. Many of his arguments, once shocking and blasphemous, are now taken for granted. For instance, he analyzes internal evidence in the books allegedly written by Moses, Joshua, and Samuel to show that it's impossible for Moses, Joshua, and Samuel to have written them--a view that most Christians and nearly all biblical scholars acknowledge today. In other ways, he is way ahead of his time, pondering the minuteness of our world in the immensity of the universe, speculating that other planets around other stars may well hold other intelligent species, and mocking the resulting conclusion that "the Son of God . . . would have nothing else to do than to travel from world to world, in an endless succession of death."

Paine believes that God made a complex multi-world universe (rather than a single world) so that it would serve as a textbook for humankind: "As therefore the Creator made nothing in vain, so also must it be believed that he organized the structure of the universe in the most advantageous manner for the benefit of man." It is through this "revelation" of nature that believers can know God: "The principles of science lead to this knowledge; for the creator of man is the creator of science, and it is through that medium that man can see God, as it were, face to face."

Even if one disagrees with Paine (and many obviously do),"The Age of Reason" is an essential book both historically and philosophically. It should be read whether you hope to provide support for your own beliefs or to discover what non-Christians thought two centuries ago. It's inevitable that every reader will approach this book with an agenda, but even Christians should wrestle with Paine's arguments--since many of them are still heard today.

5 out of 5 stars Age of Reason is still sparking debate, December 27, 2000

By  Sara (OK, USA)

This review is from: The Age of Reason (Great Books in Philosophy) (Paperback)

It is evident to me that the staying power of Paine's Age of Reason is strong-- I need only look through the mixed opinions here at Amazon to see how dramatically it impacts those who read it. For me, it was a great wake-up call. I read Age of Reason at the beginning of this year and didn't know much about what to expect. From the first few pages I knew that I had found a book that reflects how I feel about religion. Paine offers a sensible alternative to atheism and the vast supply of revealed religions that abound in the world. To be logical, Paine points out, you need not give up a belief in a Higher Power. But you also don't have to sell your soul to charlatans and holy books written hundreds of years ago by men, not gods.

The first half of Age of Reason outlines Paine's own beliefs as well as those he rejects. He gives reasons for every point he agrees or disagrees with and it is clear to the reader how Paine feels. Paine wants to spell out what his thoughts are so that he won't be misjudged by his peers. (Jefferson went through a similar ordeal-- because of his connections with France, he was labeled "a French infidel and atheist" neither of which was a true statement. See _The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson_ for more info.)

In the second half, Paine sets out to show the Biblical discrepancies to those who wanted to prove his ideas false by using the Bible as their "evidence". In a relatively small number of pages, Paine debunks and demystifies (in my opinion) a fair amount of 'Christian' theology and scripture. If one man can do it so well in only a few pages, what does that say for revealed religion? That question is for each of us to answer individually and Age of Reason is required reading for anyone who is serious in doing just that.

5 out of 5 stars The Most Remarkable Book Ever Written, August 14, 2000

By Bradley P. Rich (Salt Lake City, UT USA) (REAL NAME)    

This review is from: The Age of Reason (Great Books in Philosophy) (Paperback)

If the title above seems like hyperbole, I am prepared to defend it: Thomas Paine was one of the most important figures of the American revolution, his pamphlet "Common Sense" did more to bring the colonies to revolt than any other document. After the revolution he went to France believing the French revolution to be the next step in the development of the freedom of mankind. While there he was condemned to death by Robespierre and detained pending execution. Believing that his death was imminent, Paine wrote Part One of Age of Reason, which is a compelling critique of the Bible and the faults of Christianity. His analysis is thorough, detailed and compelling, which is particularly impressive since he did it entirely without access to a Bible! This topic will offend many (which explains Paine's current demise from the pantheon of revolutionary heroes) but it should be read both for its analysis of the Bible and for appreciation of one of America's founding fathers.


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