Monday, May 25, 2015

The Age Of Reason (Final Notes) by Thomas Paine

There is a certain fatigue to listening to eight hours of someone mocking, accusing and condemning your religion.  There is hopefully a constructive goal in all this beyond simply blurting "same to you".

One curious claim that Paine came up with is that God would never use human language to communicate with humans, because human language is imperfect.  Of course human language is imperfect because humans are imperfect, so we are left concluding that any attempt by God to bother with humans would be beneath His dignity.  Certainly we can argue that way, but it begs the question of why a deist would concern himself with God in any way.

Since Paine has denounced all classical studies as being useless, unless it is to criticize the Bible, I would note the points where Paine has taken on a classical viewpoint unwittingly.  Since I have no doubt that most of his opinions arrived from somewhere else, I doubt that they are independent.

The first area of similarity being Paine's claim that under deism God can never make an evil command.  This was first noted by Epicurus, who claimed that his gods who never interacted with men likewise never commanded anything evil.  Of course such gods never commanded anything good either, nor did they ever reprimand anyone for doing evil or speaking falsehood.  For this reason, Plato in his Laws asserted that both atheism and deism should be condemned equally, since those who embraced this viewpoint would not be restrained by anything.  It must also be noted that Epicurus was the one who popularized the notion that he believed in "science", not religion, and this was done about 300BC.

This gets to one of the key points: Paine asserts that organized religion is the source of evil.  Christianity asserts that evil has its origin in man, so that with or without organized religion man will be evil.  That some evil men would concoct religion for their purposes is hardly surprising.  If religion were good, evil men would corrupt it, as they will do with everything.  At this point Paine and I aren't too far apart, except that he has not taken the step of acknowledging that man is by nature evil, and instead has blamed evil on something external to man.

Another point where Paine seems to match the ancients is in the employment of attack tactics similar to the Academics.  It is never the case that evil isn't intertwined with some specious form of good, so that we usually have to temper an attack by separating these things out and weighing the overall recipe.  The academics indiscriminately attacked everything.  The Roman emperor Julian's attack entitled Against The Galileans was a similar diatribe.  Their opponents  (e.g. Epictetus) simply note that this kind of attack rhetoric can be employed against everything, including anything that the academic finds necessary for the tolerance of life.

3 comments:

Max Coutinho said...

Hi Looney,

In my personal opinion, it would be easier for all of us if people wouldn't label themselves as something as ridiculous as "atheists", for we all know that there's no such thing. Furthermore, it would be more honest of them to just say "I can't be bothered with religion because I don't have the intellectual or spiritual capacity to grasp it".
Paine had too much time in his hands.

Cheers

Looney said...

Max, I agree with you. In this case, however, Paine has embraced the label "deist", meaning that he believes in a god who can't or won't communicate directly with mankind, yet he claims to honor the god and he also claims that this leads to a morally superior religion. Plato argued that such deists were morally identical to "atheists", in that they deny any finally calling to account of mankind for their actions during their life.

Max Coutinho said...

Looney,

I agree with Plato's view.
Deism is interesting but flawed in the sense that if there is a Creator, who created nature, how can He (or she, for the fanatics) not intervene? Isn't creation an intervention per se?

Cheers