Demonizing Thomas Paine
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Thomas Paine may have helped inspire the American Revolution, but inspiring Arkansas lawmakers to commemorate a day in his honor is another matter.
The proposal by state Rep. Lindsley Smith, Fayetteville Democrat, to commemorate Jan. 29 as “Thomas Paine Day” failed in the state House of Representatives after a legislator questioned Paine’s writings criticizing the Bible and Christianity.
The vote Thursday was 46-20 in favor of the measure; 51 votes were needed for passage.
Paine, of course, was not anti-Christian. He was anti-religion which, in the context of the time that he lived, made perfect sense. This was the time of the Enlightenment. Beliefs were being questioned, even the belief in God. The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church were widely seen as authoritarian, justifiably so I think. It was also the era of the National Church, that strange and inappropriate melding of God and politics that the First Amendment was meant to protect against.
Here’s what Paine really said:
“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.”
Paine was not an atheist. He was, like Thomas Jefferson, a Deist. Of course, something tells me that the Evangelical Right doesn’t much like Mr. Jefferson either.