Was or Is America a Christian Nation? A Response.

Posted: April 23, 2009 in Uncategorized

Thomas Paine was easily one of the most influential figures of the American Revolution but he then fades from the annals of American history.  Why?

After the Revolution, Paine wrote “The Age of Reason”, which, among other things, argues against a providential God.  He sent a copy of the manuscript to his friend Benjamin Franklin to review.  Here is Franklin’s reply:

TO THOMAS PAINE.
DEAR SIR,

I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion. For without the belief of a Providence, that takes cognizance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion, that, though your reasonings are subtile and may prevail with some readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general sentiments of mankind on that subject, and the consequence of printing this piece will be, a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits against the wind, spits in his own face.  

But, were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? You yourself may find it easy to live a virtuous life, without the assistance afforded by religion; you having a clear perception of the advantages of virtue, and the disadvantages of vice, and possessing a strength of resolution sufficient to enable you to resist common temptations. But think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security. And perhaps you are indebted to her originally, that is, to your religious education, for the habits of virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. You might easily display your excellent talents of reasoning upon a less hazardous subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors. For among us it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots, that a youth, to be raised into the company of men, should prove his manhood by beating his mother.

I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person; whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a good deal of regret and repentance. If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it. I intend this letter itself as a proof of my friendship, and therefore add no professions to it; but subscribe simply yours,

B. Franklin
Paine, of course, published the work anyway.  What happened then?  One historian records the following:

Paine later published his Age of Reason, which infuriated many of the Founding Fathers. John Adams wrote, “The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard [scoundrel, rogue] Paine say what he will.”  Sam Adams wrote Paine a stiff rebuke, telling him, “[W]hen I heard you had turned your mind to a defence of infidelity, I felt myself much astonished and more grieved that you had attempted a measure so injurious to the feelings and so repugnant to the true interest of so great a part of the citizens of the United States.”

Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration, wrote to his friend and signer of the Constitution John Dickinson that Paine’s Age of Reason was “absurd and impious”;  Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration, described Paine’s work as “blasphemous writings against the Christian religion”;  John Witherspoon said that Paine was “ignorant of human nature as well as an enemy to the Christian faith”;  and Elias Boudinot, President of Congress, even published the Age of Revelation—a full-length rebuttal to Paine’s work.  Patrick Henry, too, wrote a refutation of Paine’s work which he described as “the puny efforts of Paine.”

William Paterson, signer of the Constitution and a Justice on the U. S. Supreme Court, learned that some Americans seemed to agree with Paine’s work, he thundered, “Infatuated Americans, why renounce your country, your religion, and your God?”  Zephaniah Swift, author of America’s first law book, noted, “He has the impudence and effrontery [shameless boldness] to address to the citizens of the United States of America a paltry performance which is intended to shake their faith in the religion of their fathers.”  John Jay, an author of the Federalist Papers and the original Chief-Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, was comforted by the fact that Christianity would prevail despite Paine’s attack,“I have long been of the opinion that the evidence of the truth of Christianity requires only to be carefully examined to produce conviction in candid minds.”  In fact, Paine’s views caused such vehement public opposition that he spent his last years in New York as “an outcast” in “social ostracism” and was buried in a farm field because no American cemetery would accept his remains.

Awful lot of animosity towards a deist for a group supposedly comprised of…well…deists!
More later.
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