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The Bloody Christian Faith--Thomas Paine




Thomas Paine




Thomas Paine (1737—1809) was born in England, the son of a Quaker, but came to the United States in 1784.  He immediately estab­lished himself as a leading propagandist for the American Revolution with the publication of Common Sense (1776).  Later; on a trip to Europe, he wrote two works that embroiled him in controversy: The Rights of Man (1791—92), in which he urged Englishmen to over­throw the monarchy, and The Age of Reason (1794—96), which was taken to be the work of an atheist in its scorn of religious revelation and dogma (in fact, Paine is probably to be classified as a deist).  These works caused him to be socially ostracized upon his return to the United States, and he was denied burial in consecrated ground upon his death.  In this extract from The Age of Reason,[1] Paine criticizes religion on two fronts: many evils have been committed in religion’s name, and religious morality itself is flawed and at times incoherent.

[1]   From Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1794—96), in The Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Moncure Daniel Conway, vol. 4 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894-96), pp. 183—88.



     REVELATION , , , , SO FAR AS THE term has relation between God and man, can only be applied to something which God reveals of his will to man; but though the power of the Almighty to make such a communication is necessarily admitted, because to that power all things are possible, yet, the thing so revealed (if any thing ever was revealed, and which, by the bye, it is impossible to prove) is revelation to the person only to whom it is made. His account of it to another is not revelation; and whoever puts faith in that account, puts it in the man from whom the account comes; and that man may have been deceived, or may have dreamed it; or he may be an impostor and may lie.  There is no possible criterion whereby to judge of the truth of what he tells; for even the morality of it would be no proof of revelation.  In all such cases, the proper answer should be, “When it is revealed to me, I will believe it to be revelation; but it is not and cannot be incumbent upon me to believe it to be revelation before; neither is it proper that I should take the word of man as the word of God, and put man in the place of God.”  This is the manner in which I have spoken of revelation in the former part of The Age of Reason; and which, whilst it reverentially admits revelation as a possible thing, because, as before said, to the Almighty all things are possible, it prevents the imposition of one man upon another, and precludes the wicked use of pretended revelation.


But though, speaking for myself, I thus admit the possibility of rev­elation, I totally disbelieve that the Almighty ever did communicate any thing to man, by any mode of speech, in any language, or by any kind of vision, or appearance, or by any means which our senses are capable of receiving, otherwise than by the universal display of himself in the works of the creation, and by that repugnance we feel in ourselves to bad actions, and disposition to good ones.[1]


   The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries, that have afflicted the human race, have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion.  It has been the most dishonourable belief against the character of the divinity, the most destructive to morality, and the peace and happiness of man, that ever was propagated since man began to exist.  It is better, far better, that we admitted, if it were possible, a thousand devils to roam at large, and to preach publicly the doctrine of devils, if there were any such, than that we permitted one such impostor and monster as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and the Bible prophets, to come with the pretended word of God in his mouth, and have credit among us.


Whence arose all the horrid assassinations of whole nations of men, women, and infants, with which the Bible is filled; and the bloody persecutions, and tortures unto death and religious wars, that since that time have laid Europe in blood and ashes; whence arose they, but from this impious thing called revealed religion, and this mon­strous belief that God has spoken to man?  The lies of the Bible have been the cause of the one, and the lies of the Testament [of] the other.


    Some Christians pretend that Christianity was not established by the sword; but of what period of time do they speak?  It was impossible that twelve men could begin with the sword: they had not the power; but no sooner were the professors of Christianity sufficiently powerful to employ the sword than they did so, and the stake and faggot too; and Mahomet could not do it sooner.  By the same spirit that Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant (if the story be true) he would cut off his head, and the head of his master, had he been able.  Besides this, Christianity grounds itself originally upon the  [Hebrew] Bible, and the Bible was established altogether by the sword, and that in the worst use of it—not to terrify, but to extirpate.  The Jews made no converts: they butchered all.  The Bible is the sire of the [New] Testament, and both are called the word of God.  The Christians read both books; the ministers preach from both books; and this thing called Christianity is made up of both.  It is then false to say that Christianity was not established by the sword.


    The only sect that has not persecuted are the Quakers; and the only reason that can be given for it is, that they are rather Deists than Chris­tians.  They do not believe much about Jesus Christ, and they call the scriptures a dead letter.  Had they called them by a worse name, they had been nearer the truth.[2]


    It is incumbent on every man who reverences the character of the Creator, and who wishes to lessen the catalogue of artificial miseries, and remove the cause that has sown persecutions thick among mankind, to expel all ideas of a revealed religion as a dangerous heresy, and an impious fraud.  What is it that we have learned from this pretended thing called revealed religion?  Nothing that is useful to man, and every thing that is dishonourable to his Maker.  What is it the Bible teaches us?  — rapine, cruelty, and murder.  What is it the Testament teaches us?  —to believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married; and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.


    As to the fragments of morality that are irregularly found thinly scat­tered in those books, they make no part of this pretended thing, revealed religion.  They are the natural dictates of conscience, and the bonds by which society is held together, and without which it cannot exist; and are nearly the same in all religions, and in all societies.  The Testament teaches nothing new upon this subject, and where it attempts to exceed, it becomes mean and ridiculous.  The doctrine of not retaliating injuries is much better expressed in Proverbs, which is a collection as well from the Gentiles[3] as the Jews, than it is in the [New] Testa­ment.  It is there said, (xxv. 21) “If thine enemy be hungry give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty give him water to drink:” 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.


Loving of enemies[4] is another dogma of feigned morality, and has besides no meaning.  It is incumbent on man, as a moralist, that he does not revenge an injury; and it is equally as good in a political sense, for there is no end to retaliation; each retaliates on the other, and calls it jus­tice: but to love in proportion to the injury, if it could be done, would be to offer a premium for a crime.  Besides, the word enemies is too vague and general to be used in a moral maxim, which ought always to be clear and defined, like a proverb.  If a man be the enemy of another from mis­take and prejudice, as in the case of religious opinions, and sometimes in politics, that man is different to an enemy at heart with a criminal intention; and it is incumbent upon us, and it contributes also to our own tranquillity, that we put the best construction upon a thing that it will bear.  But even this erroneous motive in him makes no motive for love on the other part; and to say that we can love voluntarily, and without a motive, is morally and physically impossible.



Morality is injured by prescribing to it duties that, in the first place, are impossible to be performed, and if they could be would be produc­tive of evil; or, as before said, be premiums for crime.  The maxim of doing as we would be done unto does not include this strange doctrine of loving enemies; for no man expects to be loved himself for his crime or for his enmity.


Those who preach this doctrine of loving their enemies, are in gen­eral the greatest persecutors, and they act consistently by so doing; for the doctrine is hypocritical, and it is natural, that hypocrisy should act the reverse of what it preaches.  For my own part, I disown the doctrine, and consider it as a feigned or fabulous morality; yet the man does not exist that can say I have persecuted him, or any man, or any set of men, either in the American Revolution, or in the French Revolution; or that I have, in any case, returned evil for evil.  But it is not incumbent on man to reward a bad action with a good one, or to return good for evil; and wherever it is done, it is a voluntary act, and not a duty.  It is also absurd to suppose that such doctrine can make any part of a revealed religion.  We imitate the moral character of the Creator by forbearing with each other, for he forbears with all; but this doctrine would imply that he loved man, not in proportion as he was good, but as he was bad.


If we consider the nature of our condition here, we must see there is no occasion for such a thing as revealed religion.  What is it we want to know?  Does not the creation, the universe we behold, preach to us the existence of an Almighty power that governs and regulates the whole?  And is not the evidence that this creation holds out to our senses infi­nitely stronger than any thing we can read in a book, that any impostor might make and call the word of God?  As for morality, the knowledge of it exists in every man’s conscience.




Thomas Paine, the American patriot, was like a number of our founding fathers a Deist; but unlike them he went public, for he had, obviously, decided against seeking public office.   The Age of Reason is a mature example of the Deist (rationalist) analysis of Christianity.--jk 

[1]    Here Paine is presenting the teleological argument for the existence of God and a subspecies of that argument, that among the things so arranged is the moral sense in humans. 

[2]    It is held by them that it is contrary to the revealed will of God for a person to do an act of violence.  The majority of them refuse military service, and some during times of war even refuse to pay taxes, for some of the paid will be used to pay for acts of violence. 

[3]  “The best way of avenging thyself is not to become like the wrongdoer.”  —Marcus Aurelius, vi, 6.  A popular maxim, stated by Horace and others:  “Above all cause no harm.”  “There is this fine circumstance connected with the character of a Cynic that he must be beaten like an ass, and yet, when beaten, must love those who beat him, as the father, as the brother of all.”  —Epictetus, Discourses, ii, 12. 

[4]   It is a common error of translation for to assume that the term enemy extends among the gentile.  For the Hebrews meant brethren.  This doctrine brought when practiced brought peace within a community, and thus made them better in battle.  For obviously with all the warfare, the term enemy did not extend to the gentile whom they were according to their war god, Yahweh, were to slay.  The same is of the term mistranslated as neighbor, it should read brethren.  For brethren makes the teachings consistent.

Age of Reason:  Part II



Among the detestable villains that in any period of the world have disgraced the name of man, it is impossible to find a greater than Moses, if this account be true. Here is an order to butcher the boys, to massacre the mothers, and debauch the daughters.

Let any mother put herself in the situation of those mothers, one child murdered, another destined to violation, and herself in the hands of an executioner: let any daughter put herself in the situation of those daughters, destined as a prey to the murderers of a mother and a brother, and what will be their feelings? It is in vain that we attempt to impose upon nature, for nature will have her course, and the religion that tortures all her social ties is a false religion.

After this detestable order, follows an account of the plunder taken, and the manner of dividing it; and here it is that the profanenegs of priestly hypocrisy increases the catalogue of crimes. Verse 37, "And the Lord's tribute of the sheep was six hundred and threescore and fifteen; and the beeves were thirty and six thousand, of which the Lord's tribute was threescore and twelve; and the asses were thirty thousand, of which the Lord's tribute was threescore and one; and the persons were sixteen thousand, of which the Lord's tribute was thirty and two." In short, the matters contained in this chapter, as well as in many other parts of the Bible, are too horrid for humanity to read, or for decency to hear; for it appears, from the 35th verse of this chapter, that the number of women-children consigned to debauchery by the order of Moses was thirty-two thousand.

People in general know not what wickedness there is in this pretended word of God. Brought up in habits of superstition, they take it for granted that the Bible is true, and that it is good; they permit themselves not to doubt of it, and they carry the ideas they form of the benevolence of the Almighty to the book which they have been taught to believe was written by his authority. Good heavens! it is quite another thing, it is a book of lies, wickedness, and blasphemy; for what can be greater blasphemy, than to ascribe the wickedness of man to the orders of the Almighty!


{A litter further in the Chapter}

A distant, but general time is also expressed in chapter viii.; where, after giving an account of the taking the city of Ai, it is said, ver. 28th, "And Joshua burned Ai, and made it an heap for ever, a desolation unto this day;" and again, ver. 29, where speaking of the king of Ai, whom Joshua had hanged, and buried at the entering of the gate, it is said, "And he raised thereon a great heap of stones, which remaineth unto this day," that is, unto the day or time in which the writer of the book of Joshua lived. And again, in chapter x. where, after speaking of the five kings whom Joshua had hanged on five trees, and then thrown in a cave, it is said, "And he laid great stones on the cave's mouth, which remain unto this very day."

In enumerating the several exploits of Joshua, and of the tribes, and of the places which they conquered or attempted, it is said, xv. 63, "As for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah AT JERUSALEM unto this day." The question upon this passage is, At what time did the Jebusites and the children of Judah dwell together at Jerusalem? As this matter occurs again in judges i. I shall reserve my observations till I come to that part.


Paine was concerned with the contradictions and other problems with the Testaments, however, I have collected in a reading the atrocities of which there are over a dozen—almost, for the conquest is a folk tale.



John Stuart Mill on the evils of religion--one page says it all!