Demonizing Thomas Paine

Believe it or not, Christian conservatives apparently have a problem with one of America’s Founding Fathers:

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.

  • Adam Selene

    Of course, something tells me that the Evangelical Right doesn’t much like Mr. Jefferson either.

    Even today, the evangelical right doesn’t feel they have what it takes to assault the demi-god stature of Jefferson. But Paine, who was probably the single most important thinker on the Revolutionary side, they feel safe in assaulting. Sad, but true.

  • Adam

    This is nothing new, Paine was attacked for his beliefs in America and ended up fleeing to France, later publishing his “Rights of Man” I believe. He was not “anti-God,” like many believe, and if those many would actually read his writing, they’d find Paine believed in a God solely on the creation he saw around him.

  • Dan Winkelman

    I’m an evangelical Christian, and happen to have a lot of respect for both Paine and Jefferson. In fact, I quote both of them regularly in support of liberty and smaller government.

    The key thing here is keeping church and state separate in an appropriate way. I agree with these Founding Fathers that religion shouldn’t be running our government, nor should our government be running our religion. Do I agree with everything Paine ever said? No. But that doesn’t mean that everything he stated was bunk. He made some very good points with regard to liberty and governance.