Thomas Paine

On this date in 1737, Thomas Paine was born in Thetford, Norfolk, England, emigrating to British colonial America in 1774. Paine wrote the pamphlet “Common Sense” in 1776, fanning the flames of the American Revolution. Paine is best known for his political writings. No better index to his character can be found than his reply to Ben Franklin’s remark, “Where liberty is, there is my country.” Paine replied, “Where liberty is not, there is mine.” Without the pen of Paine, said one contemporary, the sword of George Washington would have been wielded in vain.

A freethinker in the 18th-century mode of deism, although he never described himself as a deist, Paine wrote the classic criticism of the bible, The Age of Reason (1792), completing the second volume under arduous conditions of imprisonment in France. “I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy. 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 church.”

He wrote that organized religion was “set up to terrify and enslave” and to “monopolize power and profit.” Paine repudiated the divine origin of Christianity on the grounds that it was too “absurd for belief, too impossible to convince and too inconsistent to practice.” He was vilified for his unabashed analysis of the bible when he returned to America in 1802. Even a century after his death, Theodore Roosevelt referred to Paine, the man who named the United States of America, as “a filthy little atheist,” ignoring the fact that Paine wrote in The Age of Reason, “I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.” In Rights of Man (1791) he wrote, “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

Paine married Mary Lambert in 1759. She died in early labor a year later, along with the child. He married again in 1771 but legally separated three years later just before leaving for America. He died in New York City at age 72. (D. 1809)

Freedom From Religion Foundation