And so: Gee Whiz, we know so many things we never knew before, can't
you see that Christianity has been made obsolete? It's like today's
children on the internet. And what we never knew before: say, the
circumference of the earth, which was known to Eratosthenes,— well,
you see, you just make that stuff up. They still do it. There were
things not known to the ancients, but these people have no idea what, and evidently no means of finding out. How familiar is
This simplicity, or lack of information, turns up again and again.
He finds in the book of Jonah evidence that "the Gentiles" were
monotheists, calumnies of the Jews to the contrary: "The address of
this prayer shows that the Gentiles worshipped one Supreme Being,
and that they were not idolaters as the Jews represented them to
be." (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II - The Old Testament).
This view would not have survived a scanning of the Iliad. It is more than a
little odd that such an ill-informed person comes down through the years
as the champion of "Reason."
Thomas Jefferson is often identified as a
Deist, especially by atheists who hope to make themselves his fellow-travellers; however this
identification is careless. Thomas Jefferson held Jesus of Nazareth's
moral teaching in such high regard that he patterned his own life upon
this standard. While true Deists like Thomas Paine will sometimes offer
faint-hearted praise for Christian morality, they never go so far as to
commend actually living that way:
". . .but when it is said, as in the Testament, 'If a
man smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,' it
is assassinating the dignity of forbearance, and sinking man into a
spaniel." (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Chapter III).
According to Thomas Paine, God had revealed Himself in trigonometry,
not in the Bible. His dismissive attitude toward Jesus of Nazareth was
not shared by Thomas Jefferson, much less by Joseph Priestley,
Jefferson's sometime pastor. While these latter two were not orthodox
Christians, neither were they Deists. The unitarians of that day as a rule
did not join Thomas Paine in tossing out the Bible, rather they still
imagined it could be made to work for them. Of course, once the unitarians were obliged to admit the Bible does
not really work for their cause, their ardor for it cooled. Thomas Jefferson
was perhaps a fore-runner in advance of his own troop in realizing the
Bible would not serve as any support for unitarianism; he produced his
own edition, bereft of miracles, the virgin birth, etc.
Undoubtedly it goes a long way to understanding why the French Revolution unfolded the
way it did, and especially why, once the killing started, it could not stop, to realize the highest and
best morality of the revolutionists disallowed loving one's enemies: "Loving of enemies is another dogma of feigned morality, and
has besides no meaning." (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part II, Chapter III).
By contrast, Thomas Jefferson not only praised, but by the testimony of
by-standers also practiced to a considerable extent, the ethics of the
Sermon on the Mount: