SERIOUS PAINE

These are the times that try men’s souls.  –Thomas Paine, December 19, 1776

God knows I have a sense of humor, even as I raised the question (in my last post) as to whether God has a sense of humor. So, researching Thomas Paine quotes (as a follow-up to Paine comments on my Sept. 2 post TO DEist OR NOT TO DEist), I hoped to find a few witticisms among the sober words of his Common Sense and other writings. No such luck — these were indeed “the times [the American and French Revolutions] that try men’s souls.” There’s not much to laugh about when the fates of lives and countries hang in the balance.

Paine (1737-1809), born in England into a poor family, was still poor in 1774 when he gained the friendship of Benjamin Franklin, who was then in London and advised him to go to America. Armed with letters of recommendation from Franklin, he soon became contributing editor to PENNSYLVANIA MAGAZINE and began pressing for American independence.

In 1776 he served as a soldier and published his famous pamphlet Common Sense in support of the colonies, which Washington, Jefferson and other leaders read with approval. This was followed by a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis, the first of which began with this post’s opening quote.

Paine subsequently supported the French Revolution — at least, initially — and was made a French citizen by the National Assembly of France in August 1792 and then a member of the National Convention, until his outspoken opposition to the revolution’s excessive bloodshed and violence got him expelled, deprived of French citizenship, and imprisoned.

While in prison, Paine worked on The Age of Reason, which advocated freedom from oppressive and organized religions. Although it began “I believe in one God, and no more,” it was called “the atheist’s bible” by those who couldn’t abide deviance from religious orthodoxy. By proclaiming deism, Paine became “one of the most hated men of his time” (source: The World Book Encyclopedia).

After James Monroe, American Minister to France, claimed Paine as an American citizen and obtained his release, President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 arranged for Paine’s return to the U.S.  But Paine found that people remembered him more for his opinions on religion than for his Revolutionary War service, and he died poor, ill and a social outcast.

How far America and the world have come since those centuries-old days of religious intolerance (to use the kindest possible euphemism), I leave for you to consider. It’s time for me to get to a few of those understandably serious Paine quotes :

The World is my country, all mankind are my brethern, and to do good is my religion.

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…. 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.

We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

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11 comments on “SERIOUS PAINE

  1. Don Frankel says:

    We’ve sort of had this conversation before Muse. People will manipulate people to their advantage. Religion has no corner on this market. Just turn on the TV and watch people tell you that you can lose 30 or 40 pounds and you don’t have to diet or even exercise. Just sprinkle this stuff on your food or buy the pills. Or explain to me what the TSA does other than put a lot of people’s useless in-laws on the government payroll at 8 billion a year?

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  2. mistermuse says:

    Don, religion may not have a corner on the market, but they have a monopoly on the afterlife, and more people will buy a chance on losing 30 or 40 pounds than will take a chance on losing their souls (as if their religion – or any religion – has that power). Believe me, having been a practicing Catholic for decades, I know how power can cower a person. It takes some serious thinking to get beyond that.

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  3. If God doesn’t have a sense of humor, I’m in big trouble…

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  4. I thought it was a good post and I was reminded about the life of Thomas Paine. His life was a “pain” for sure. “Poor” writer of truths and then he was despised by countries on both sides of the Atlantic. I think he must have been an intelligent person and a deep thinker who knew that religion could make a follower miserable. mistermuse, if you recall I was a Catholic, also. So I understand the intensity of “God -brainwashing” done in Catholic schools. After life kicked me down, then I wised up to the fact that no matter what one believes or not, we have one life to live to the fullest and we better get on with that challenge.

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  5. Don Frankel says:

    Muse, they’ve got a pretty good routine. I’ll grant you that but they’re not the only game in town. There are people who do practice what they preach too.

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    • I can’t remember exactly who was it that first noted that, without religion, good men would still be good – and bad men would continue to be bad. But for good men to do evil, requires religion. I think that pretty well sums up the unique relationship that can exist, between orthodoxy and evil.

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      • Outlier Babe says:

        What an interesting saying. Does it mean that an evildoer must have religious faith in order to perform evil (say, acts of personal violence not done from immediate temper–particularly acts which prolong the victim’s suffering)?

        Or only that a third party must have faith to consider such acts evil?

        I reject the premise, in any event. I believe it requires only the Sneetch Effect: A power imbalance. Once otherwise-good people (not just men) are positioned to perceive they are superior to other exactly-good people, evil seeds will sprout. Even if God were to first manifest and declare “For the purposes and duration of this experiment, none of you believe I exist.”

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  6. mistermuse says:

    Don, as long as they don’t preach jihad, I can live with it.

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  7. mistermuse says:

    I also reject the premise that “for good men to do evil, requires religion” – or at least, I reject the word “requires” in that statement. It can’t be denied that a lot of evil has been done in the name of religion, but it also can’t be denied that a lot of good has been done as well. But I think D R Hosie is probably right is saying that “without religion, good men would still be good.”

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