Thomas Paine.

Age of reason, being an investigation of true and fabulous theology online

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Part I.— Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology. 6
Fart II.— Being an investigation of True and Fabulous Theologj 80
Part III. —Bein^ an Examination of the Passages in the New
Testament quoted from the Old, and nailed Prophe
cies of the coming of Jesus Christ. . . 196

The Book of Mark

The Book of Luke. 828

The Book of John 880

Contradictory Doctrines in the New Testament between

.Matthew and Mark. 250

An Essay on Dreams. 852

My Private Thoughts on a Future State. ... 261
Part IV.— A Letter to the Hon. Thomas Erskine. . . 267

Religious Year of the Theophilantlnopists. . 895

Precise History of the Theophilantlnopists. . . ',"."'>

A Discourse Delivered to the Society of Theophilanthro-

pists at Paris. 30'i

A Letter to Camille Jordan 310

Origin of Free Masonry. . . . . . 321

Extract from a Reply to the Bishop of Llaudatf. . 836

On the Names in the Book of Genesis. . . . 345

The Book of Job 349

Sabbath or Sunday. 355

Future State 362

Miracles. 363

A Letter, being an Answer to a Friend on the Publica-
tion of the Age of Reason. .... 368

Letter to Samuel Adams 373

Letter to Andrew A. Dean. ..... 380

Remarks on Robert Hall's Sermons 884

Of the word Religion. 387

Of Cain and Abel. 391

The Tower of Babel. 393

To Members of the Society Styling itself the Missionary

Society. 395

Of the Religion of Deism. 397

The Sabbath Day of Connecticut. .... 405

Ancient History. 407

Bishop Moore. l1 -'

To John Mason 416

Of the Books of the New Testament -121

On Deism and the Writings of Tnomas Paine. . 427





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New York:


35 Fulton Street.


I PUT the following work under your protection. It
contains my opinion upon religion. You will do me
the justice to remember, that I have always strenu-
ously supported the right of every man to his opinion,
however different that opinion might be to mine. He
who denies to another this right, makes a slave of him-
self to his present opinion, because he precludes himself
the right of changing it.

The most formidable weapon against errors of even-
kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust
1 never shall.

Your affectionate friend and fellow-citizen,


Luxembourg (Paris), 8th Pluvdise.
Second year of the French Republic, one and indivisible.
January 27th, O. S. 1794.



IT has been my intention, for several years past, to pub-
lish my thoughts upon religion. I am well aware of
the difficulties that attend the subject, and from that
consideration, had reserved it to a more advanced period
of life. I intended it to be the last offering I should
make to my iellow-citizens of all nations, and that at a
time when the purity of the motive that induced me to
it, could not admit of a question, even by those who
might disapprove the work.

The circumstance that has now taken place in France
of the total abolition of the whole national order of priest-
hood, and of everything appertaining to compulsive sys-
tems 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 human-
ity, and of the theology that is true.

As several of my colleagues, and others of my fellow-
citizens of France, have given me the example of making
their voluntary and individual profession of faith, I also
will make mine ; and I do this with all that sincerity and
frankness with which the mind of man communicates
with itself.

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
religions duties consist in doing- justice, loving mercy,
and endeavoring to make onr fellow-creatures happy.

But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many
other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress
of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my
reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish
church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by
the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by
any church that I know of. My own mind is my own

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 and profit.

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. Infidelity-
does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving ; it con-
sists 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. He takes up the
trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qual-
ify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can
we conceive any thing more destructive to morality than

Soon after I had published the pamphlet ( 'ommon Sense,
in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revo-
lution in the system of government would be followed by
a revolution in the system of religion. The adulterous


connection of church and state, wherever it had taken
place, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, had so
effectually prohibited by pains and penalties, every dis-
cussion upon established creeds, and upon first principles
of religion, that until the system of government should
be changed, those subjects could not be brought fairly
and openly before the world ; but that whenever this
should be done, a revolution in the system of religion
would follow. Human inventions and priestcraft would
be detected ; and man would return to the pure, unmixed
and unadulterated belief of one God, and no more.

Every national church or religion has established itself
by pretending some special mission from God, commu-
nicated to certain individuals. The Jews have their
Moses ; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their apostles
and saints ; and the Turks their Mahomet, as if the way
to God was not open to every man alike.

Each of those churches show 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 accuse 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 other
observations on the word revelation. Revelation, when
applied to religion, means something communicated im-
mediately from God to man.

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 f ells 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.

It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call any-
thing a revelation that conies to us at second-hand, either
verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited
to the first communication — after this, it is only an
account of something which that person says was a reve-
lation made to him ; and though he may find himself
obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to
believe it in the same manner ; for it was not a revela-
tion made to mc, and I have only his word for it that it
was made to him.

When Moses told the children of Israel that he received
the two tables of the commandments from the hands 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 carry no internal
evidence of divinity with them ; they contain some good
moral precepts, such as any man qualified to be a law-
giver, or a legislator, could produce himself, without
having recourse to supernatural intervention.

When I am told that the Koran was written in Heaven
and brought to Mahomet by an angel, the account comes
too near the same kind of hearsay evidence and second
hand authority as the former. I did not see the angel
myself, and, therefore, I have a right not to believe it.

When also I am told that a woman called the Virgin
Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without
any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed hus-
band, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a
right to believe them or not ; such a circumstance u

* It is, how< lary to except the de< laration whh li »aj • that God ui'siti ih,-

titu •■/ the father* upon the children / it is contrar) to ever) principle ol moral iu itlci


quired a much stronger evidence than their bare word for
it ; but we have not even this — for neither Joseph nor
Mary wrote any such matter themselves ; it is only re-
ported by others that they said so — it is hearsay upon
hearsay, and I do not choose to rest my belief upon such

It is, however, not difficult to account for the credit
that was given to the story of Jesus Christ being- the son
of Cod. He was born when the heathen mythology had
still some fashion and repute in the world, and that my-
thology had prepared the people for the belief of such a
story. Almost all the extraordinary men that lived un-
der the heathen mythology were reputed to be the sons
of some of their gods. It was not a new thing, at that
time, to believe a man to have been celestially begotten ;
the intercourse of gods with women was then a matter of
familiar opinion. Their Jupiter, according to their ac-
counts, had cohabited with hundreds : the story, there-
fore, had nothing in it either new, wonderful, or obscene ;
it was conformable to the opinions that then prevailed
among the people called Gentiles, or Mythologists, and
it was those people only that believed it. The Jews who
had kept strictly to the belief of one God, and no more,
and who had always rejected the heathen mythology,
never credited the story.

It is curious to observe how the theory of what is called
the Christian church sprung out of the tail of the heathen
mythology. A direct incorporation took place in the
first instance, by making the reputed founder to be ce-
lestially begotten. The trinity of gods that then followed
was no other than a reduction of the former plurality,
which was about twenty or thirty thousand : the statue
of Mary succeeded the statue of Diana of Ephesus ; the
deification of heroes changed into the canonization of
saints ; the Mythologists had gods for even-thing ; the
Christian Mythologists had saints for everything ; the


church became as crowded with one, as the Pantheon
had been with the other, and Rome was the place of both.
The Christian theory is little else than the idolatry of
the ancient Mythologists, accommodated to the purposes
of power and revenue ; and it yet remains to reason and
philosophy to abolish the amphibious fraud.

Nothing that is here said can apply, even with the
most distant disrespect, to the real character of Jesus
Christ. He was a virtuous and an amiable man. The
morality that he preached and practised was of the most
benevolent kind ; and though similar systems of morality
had been preached by Confucius, and by some of the
Greek philosophers, many years before ; by the Quakers
since ; and by many good men in all ages, it has not
been exceeded by any.

Jesus Christ wrote no account of himself, of his birth,
parentage, or any thing else ; not a line of what is called
the New Testament is of his own writing. The history
of him is altogether the work of other people ; and as to
the account given of his resurrection and ascension, it
was the necessary counterpart to the story of his birth.
His historians having brought him into the world in a
supernatural manner, were obliged to take him out again
in the same manner, or the first part of the story must
have fallen to the ground.

The wretched contrivance with which this latter part
is told exceeds every thing that went before it. The first
part, that of the miraculous conception, was not a thing
that admitted of publicity ; and therefore the tellers of
this part of the story had this advantage, that though
they might not be credited, they could not be detected.
They could not be expected to prove it, because it was
not one of those things that admitted of proof, and it was
impossible that the person of whom it was told could
prove it himself.

But the resurrection of a dead person from the grave,



and his ascension through the air, is a thing very differ-
ent as to the evidence it admits of, to the invisible
conception of a child in the womb. The resurrection and
ascension, supposing them to have taken place, admitted
of public and ocular demonstration, like that of the as-
cension of a balloon, or the sun at noon-day, to all Jeru-
salem at least. A thing which everybody is required to
believe, requires that the proof and evidence of it should
be equal to all, and universal ; and as the public visibility
of this last related act was the only evidence that could
give sanction to the former part, the whole of it falls to
the ground, because that evidence never was given. In-
stead of this, a small number of persons, not more than
eight or nine, are introduced as proxies for the whole
world, to say they saw it, and all the rest of the world
are called upon to believe it. But it appears that Thomas
did not believe the resurrection, and, as they say, would
not believe without having ocular and manual demonstra-
tion himself. So neither ixrill /, and the reason is equally
as good for me, -and for every other person, as for Thomas.
It is in vain to attempt to palliate or disguise this
matter. The story, so far as relates to the supernatural
part, has every mark of fraud and imposition stamped
upon the face of it. Who were the authors of it is as
impossible for us now to know, as it is for us to be as-
sured that the books in which the account is related
were written by the persons whose names they bear ; the
best surviving evidence we now have respecting this
affair is the Jews. They are regularly descended from
the people who lived in the times this resurrection and
ascension is said to have happened, and they say^j^/s )iot
true. It has long appeared to me a strange inconsistency
to cite the Jews as a proof of the truth of the story. It
is just the same as if a man were to say, I will prove the
t nith of what I have told you by producing the people
,vho say it is false.


That such a peison as Jesus Christ existed, and that
he was crucified, which was the mode of execution at
that day, are historical relations strictly within the limits
of probability. He preached most excellent morality
and the equality of man ; but he preached also against
the corruptions and avarice of the Jewish priests, and
this brought upon him the hatred and vengeance of the
whole order of priesthood. The accusation which those
priests brought against him was that of sedition and con-
spiracy against the Roman government, to which the
Jews were then subject and tributary ; and it is not im-
probable that the Roman government might have some
secret apprehensions of the effects of his doctrine, as well
as the Jewish priests ; neither is it improbable that Jesus
Christ had in contemplation the delivery of the Jewish
nation from the bondage of the Romans. Between the
two, however, this virtuous reformer and revolutionist
lost his life.

It is upon this plain narrative of facts, together with
another case I am going to mention, that the Christian
Mythologists, calling themselves the Christian Church,
have erected their fable, which, for absurdity and ex-
travagance, is not exceeded by anything that is to be
found in the mythology of the ancients.

The ancient Mythologists tell us that the race of
Giants made war against Jupiter, and that one of them
threw a hundred rocks against him at one throw ; that
Jupiter defeated him with thunder, and confined liim
afterward under Mount Etna, and that every time the
Giant turns himself Mount Etna belches fire.

It is here easy to see that the circumstance of the
mountain, that of its being a volcano, suggested the idea
of the fable; and that the fable is made to fit and wind
itself up with that circumstance.

The Christian Mythologists tell us that their Sat.i
made war against the Almighty, who defeated him,


confined him afterward, not under a mountain, but in a
pit. It is here easy to see that the first fable suggested
the idea of the second ; for the fable of Jupiter and the
Giants was told many hundred years before that of Satan.

Thus far the ancient and the Christian Mycologists
differ very little from each other. But the latter have
contrived to carry the matter much farther. They have
contrived to connect the fabulous pa :t of the story of
Jesus Christ with the fable originating from Mount Etna ;
and in order to make all the parts of the story tie together,
they have taken to their aid the traditions of the Jews ; for
the Christian mythology is made up partly from the an-
cient mythology and partly from the Jewish traditions.

The Christian Mythologists, after having confined
Satan in a pit, were obliged to let him out again to bring
on the sequel of the fable. He is then introduced into
the Garden of Eden, in the shape of a snake or a serpent,
and in that shape he enters into familiar conversation
with Eve, who is no way surprised to hear a snake talk ;
and the issue of this tete-a-ttte is that he persuades her
to eat an apple, and the eating of that apple damns all

After giving Satan this triumph over the whole creation,
one would have supposed that the Church Mythologists
would have been kind enough to «end him back again
to the pit ; or, if they had not done th^s, that they would
have put a mountain upon him (for they say that thei'"
faith can remove a mountain), or have put him 'under a
mountain, as the former mythologists had done, to pre-
vent his getting again among the women and doing
more mischief. But instead of this they leave him at
large, without even obliging him to give his parole — the
secret of which is, that they could not do without him ;
and after being at the trouble of making him, they
bribed him to stay. They promised him all the Jews,
ALL the Turks by anticipation, u'.ne-tenths of the world


beside, and Mahomet into the bargain. After this, who
can doubt the bountifulness of the Christian Mythology?

Having thus made an insurrection and a battle in
Heaven, in which none of the combatants could be either
killed or wounded — put Satan into the pit — let him out
again — giving him a triumph over the whole creation —
damned all mankind by the eating of an apple, these
Christian Mythologists bring the two ends of their fable-
together. They represent this virtuous and amiable man,
Jesus Christ, to be at once both God and Man, and also
the Son of God, celestially begotten, on purpose to be
sacrificed, because they say that Eve in her longing had
eaten an apple.

Putting aside everything that might excite laughter
by its absurdity, or detestation by its profaneness, and
confining ourselves merely to an examination of the
parts, it is impossible to conceive a story more derogatory
to the Almighty, more inconsistent with his wisdom,
more contradictory to his power, than this story is.

In order to make for it a foundation to rise upon, the
inventors were under the necessity of giving to the being
whom they call Satan, a power equally as great, if not
greater than they attribute to the Almighty. They have
not only given him the power of liberating himself from
the pit, after what they call his fall, but they have made
that power increase afterward to infinity. Before this
fall they represent him only as an augel of limited exist-
ence, as they represent the rest. After his fall, he
becomes, by their account, omnipresent. He exists
everywhere, and at the same time. He occupies the
whole immensity of space.

Not content with this deification of Satan, they repre-
sent him as defeating, by stratagem, in the shape of an
animal of the creation, all the power and wisdom of the
Almighty. They represent him as having compelled
the Almighty to the direct necessity either of stirren-


dering the whole of the creation to the government and
sovereignty of this Satan, or of capitulating for its re-
demption by coining down upon earth, and exhibiting
himself upon a cross in the shape of a man.

Had the inventors of this story told it the contrary
way, that is, had they represented the Almighty as com-
pelling Satan to exhibit himself on a cross, in the shape
of a snake, as a punishment for his new transgression,
the story would have been less absurd — less contradic-
tory. But instead of this, they make the transgressor
triumph, and the Almighty fall.

That many good men have believed this strange fable,
and lived very good lives under that belief (for credulity
is not a crime), is what I have no doubt of. In the first
place, they were educated to believe it, and they would
have believed anything else in the same manner. There
are also many who have been so enthusiastically enrap-
tured by what they conceived to be the infinite love of
God to man, in making a sacrifice of himself, that the
vehemence of the idea has forbidden and deterred them
from examining into the absurdity and profaneness of the
story. The more unnatural anything is, the more it is
capable of becoming the object of dismal admiration.

But if objects for gratitude and admiration are our de-
sire, do they not present themselves every hour to our
eyes? Do we not see a fair creation prepared to receive
us the instant we are born — a world furnished to our
hands, that cost us nothing? Is it we that light up the
sun, that pour down the rain, and fill the earth with
abundance? Whether we sleep or wake, the vast ma-
chinery of the universe still goes on. Are these things,
and the blessings they indicate in future, nothing to us?
Can our gross feelings be excited by no other subjects
than tragedy and suicide? Or is the gloomy pride of
man become so intolerable, that nothing can flatter it
but a sacrifice of the Creator ?


I know that this bold investigation will alarm many,
but it would be paying too great a compliment to their
credulity to forbear it on their account ; the times and
the subject demand it to be done. The suspicion that

Online LibraryThomas PaineAge of reason, being an investigation of true and fabulous theology → online text (page 1 of 34)