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Age of Reason: Chapter II—Of Missions and Revelations by Thomas Paine

TC_Thomas Paine age of reason

‘EVERY national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals. The Jews have their Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their apostles and saints; and the Turks their Mahomet [sic]; as if the way to God was not open to every man alike.’

This is what Thomas Paine said about religion more than two hundreds ago. Considering the times he lived in, and the times we have inherited (and shaped, and created over the centuries) it’s quite a statement. Right on the money.

Right on the holy nose.

It goes on with an argument on the difference between revelation and hearsay:

‘Each of those churches shows certain books, which they call revelation, or the Word of God. The Jews say that their Word of God was given by God to Moses face to face; the Christians say, that their Word of God came by divine inspiration; and the Turks say, that their Word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from heaven. Each of those churches accuses the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

‘As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some observations on the word “revelation.” Revelation when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.’

Having established the notion of revelation, Paine continues:

‘No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.’

Compelling stuff! Paine shows, by the power of logic, and even if one does believe in God, how religion is the result of a game of ‘telephone.’ A relay race of righteous messaging and edict-passing that maintains its authority through the powers of echo and ‘because-I-said-so.’

The chapter goes on to target specific hearsay and their respective limitations.

First the Jewish hearsay:

‘When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the commandments from the hand of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so, the commandments carrying no internal evidence of divinity with them.’

A valid argument. No proof, no certainty. There’s just obedience, blind faith, ‘I said so,’ ‘he said so,’ ‘they say so.’

Then there’s the content of the message.

‘[The Commandments] contain some good moral precepts such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver or a legislator could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention. (NOTE: It is, however, necessary to except the declamation which says that God “visits the sins of the fathers upon the children”. This is contrary to every principle of moral justice.—Author.)’

Well put. The notion of inheriting sin is by no means acceptable in this day and age. One can’t be held accountable for what something else did before him. Accountability is something we use to hold those responsible — and no one else — accountable. Blaming others in their stead is scapegoating. It’s prejudice and racism.

The only redeeming quality in the declamation about the sins of the fathers (Exodus 20:5-6; 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18) is its awareness of effect. Sin i.e. bad behavior, has aftereffects, which last a long time. In that sense, sin is inheritable. In practical terms, not moral ones. Pragmatically.

Food for thought.

Moving on, there’s Islam and the Quran . . .

From your deliciously irreverent Spin Doctor,

Watch this space for Part 2