Thomas Paine, defender of freedom, independence, and rational common sense during America's turbulent revolutionary period, offers insights into religion which ring sharply true more than two centuries later. This unabridged edition of "The Age of Reason" sets forth Paine's provocative observations on the place of religion in society.
THOMAS PAINE was born in Thetford, England, on January 29, 1737. He was forced to leave school early to enter his father's trade of stay-making; but Paine rejected this and, following unsatisfying attempts at several other professions, he emigrated to the American colonies, arriving in Philadelphia in November 1774. On Benjamin Franklin's recommendation, Paine was hired for six months as managing editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, to which he contributed various poems and essays. During this time of growing dissent within the colonies, Paine first called for a reconciliation with England; however, after the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, he became a tireless propagandist for separation and, in January 1776, published his pamphlet Common Sense. This work, which was first published anonymously, and his American Crisis exercised a profound influ-ence on public opinion and morale. Following the War of Independence Paine returned to England where he was welcomed as a celebrity; the accolades soon ceased, however, with the publication of the Rights of Man (1791), a defense of the French Revolution meant to be a reply to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. Forced to leave England due to the public outcry his book had occasioned, Paine traveled to France, where he was granted citizenship. However, after he spoke out in defense of the deposed king Louis XVI, Paine was im-prisoned in 1793 and nearly executed. While in prison, Paine began composing his statement of religious belief, The Age of Reason. Although pilloried as a declaration of atheism, The Age of Reason actually espoused deism: Paine rejected the inerrancy of the Bible and disputed revelation. The God who had created the universe had given humankind the gift of reason which it would apply to the management of its own affairs and the discovery of the physical universe. Paine returned to the United States in 1802; while welcomed by President Thomas Jefferson, the former champion of liberty was ostracized by many as that "outrageous blasphemer." Never-theless, the influence of The Age of Reason began to grow as the nineteenth century progressed and freethought challenged out-dated religious beliefs. Thomas Paine died in New York City on June 8, 1809.