I'm currently taking American Literature 1 (from colonization to the Civil War) and had to read some Thomas Paine for class. Two excerpts from the Age of Reason, to be exact The First, sections 8 and 9. And in section 8 I found this quote:
As to the Christian system of faith, it appears to me as a species of Atheism — a sort of religious denial of God. It professes to believe in a man rather than in God. It is a compound made up chiefly of Manism with but little Deism, and is as near to Atheism as twilight is to darkness. It introduces between man and his Maker an opaque body, which it calls a Redeemer, as the moon introduces her opaque self between the earth and the sun, and it produces by this means a religious, or an irreligious, eclipse of light. It has put the whole orbit of reason into shade.

The effect of this obscurity has been that of turning everything upside down, and representing it in reverse, and among the revolutions it has thus magically produced, it has made a revolution in theology.

That which is now called natural philosophy, embracing the whole circle of science, of which astronomy occupies the chief place, is the study of the works of God, and of the power and wisdom of God in his works, and is the true theology.

[emphasis added]

I love it. It's a way of thinking about christianity and science that I'd never been cognizant of before (not surprising considering the distance, both chronologically and intellectually, between TPaine and myself). Christians, in the literally meaning, which I happened to be obsessed with, means the followers of the anointed one (christos). They follow a man, thus the use of Manism to describe the cult. And if a god existed, studying that which he made, i.e. the universe, would be the true theology.

Yeah, there's no god, don't worry, I'm not going to turn believer on you... But how different would the religion be if people thought that way? What follows in the rest of section 8, with a few Platonic echoes, is an elegant questioning of the purposes of both theology and science and the existence of natural law .

It is a fraud of the Christian system to call the sciences human invention; it is only the application of them that is human. Every science has for its basis a system of principles as fixed and unalterable as those by which the universe is regulated and governed. Man cannot make principles, he can only discover them.


Since, then, man cannot make principles, from whence did he gain a knowledge of them, so as to be able to apply them, not only to things on earth, but to ascertain the motion of bodies so immensely distant from him as all the heavenly bodies are? From whence, I ask, could he gain that knowledge, but from the study of the true theology?

[emphasis added]

Obviously I need to read more TPaine.

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Comment by Howard S. Dunn on February 17, 2010 at 12:35pm
I'm proud to live in Thomas Paine's other hometown - Bordentown, NJ. He is one of my top three founders and the most responsible for the idea of the 'popular vote' (even though only white, male landowners originally qualified.)

I noticed at a very young age that one reading of Jesus was the opposite of the common conception. I thought he was trying to get us to sop fretting about death and focus on what we could do today - that every person had the opportunity to exhibit 'godlike' attributes such as love, compassion, and creativity. ("Don't worry about tomorrow", "Love thy enemy", "Don't bury your talent", etc.) What I found was that, for me, Jesus was a proto-enlightenment thinker - but the church built around him tended to promote the opposite view. The Church focused on self-sacrifice rather than transcendence of selfishness. It pointed at eternal life not as a means of allaying obsession with death, but as a way of suggesting that this life is a sham.

St. Augustine developed a system of looking at this life as if it were no more than an external metaphor for 'message of Christ.' Monks, for example, would look at a rose and see the red blood of Christ, the crown of thorns, etc. Every object in nature was simply a tangible symbol. Reality became the myth and the myth, reality.

Einstein, Carl Sagan, Hawking, Dawkins, etc. all spoke of nature as the 'true theology' (so to speak (in modern English, of course.) Oscar Wilde said: "The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible." When offered any reward he wanted by Alexander the Great Diogenes asked him to move out of his sunlight.

This 'train of thought' is, pretty much, a constant case of the Emperors new clothes. All through history we have been told by many that light is darkness, up is down, death is life, war is peace - and reminded by a few that that is pure bullshit.



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