The Spirit of Thomas Paine

Americans ignore Tom Paine at their peril. No one influenced the American Revolution more than he, whose 'Common Sense' was the manifesto of the patriots. His Deist's creed, quoted below, was adopted by Ben Franklin, and his political thought made an indelible impression on Jefferson, though Jefferson did not go as far as Paine because he owed too much land and too many slaves.

(From Paine's The Age of Reason)

"I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

"I believe the equality of man, and 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 (Muslim) church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.


"When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the commandments from the hand of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so, the commandments carrying no internal evidence of divinity with them. They contain some good moral precepts such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver or a legislator could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention.

"When I am told that the Koran was written in Heaven, and brought to Muhammad by an angel, the account (is) hearsay evidence and second hand authority. I did not see the angel myself, and therefore I have a right not to believe it.

"When also I am told that a woman, called the Virgin Mary, said that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not: such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it: but we have not even this; for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves. It is only reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not chose to rest my belief upon such evidence."

"Some perhaps will say--Are we to have no word of God, no revelation? I answer yes. There IS a Word of God; there IS a revelation. THE WORD OF GOD IS THE CREATION WE BEHOLD. And it is in this word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaks universally to man."


"It is, however, not difficult to account for the credit that was given to the story of Jesus Christ being the Son of God. He was born when the heathen mythology had still some fashion and repute in the world, and that mythology had prepared the people for the belief of such a story. Almost all the extraordinary men that lived under the heathen mythology were reputed to be the sons of some of their gods. It was not a new thing at that time to believe a man to have been celestially begotten. The intercourse of gods with women was then a matter of familiar opinion. Their Jupiter, according to their accounts, had cohabited with hundreds. The story therefore had nothing in it either new, wonderful, or obscene. It was conformable to the opinions that then prevailed among the people called Gentiles, or mythologists, and it was those people only that believed it. The Jews, who had kept strictly to the belief of one God, and who had always rejected the heathen mythology, never credited the story...

"It is curious to observe how the theory of what is called the Christian Church sprung out of the tail of the heathen mythology. The trinity of gods... was no other than a reduction of the former plurality, which was about twenty or thirty thousand. The statue of Mary succeeded the statue of Diana of Ephesus. The deification of heroes changed into the canonization of saints. The Mythologists had gods for everything; the Christian Mythologists had saints for everything. The church became as crowded with the one, as the pantheon had been with the other; and Rome was the place of both. The Christian theory is little else than the idolatry of the ancient mythologists, accommodated to the purposes of power and revenue..."

(from Agrarian Justice)

"The earth, in its natural uncultivated state, was and ever would have continued to be the common property of the human race...

"There could be no such thing as landed property originally. Man did not make the earth, and, though he had a natural right to occupy it, he had no right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of it; neither did the Creator of the earth open a land-office, from whence the first title-deeds should issue."