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The Rights of Man Paperback – August 2, 2007
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Some may not know that Thomas Paine wrote at least part of the Age of Reason while in prison, imprisoned in France by the French revolutionaries. It is thought by some that he only escaped being executed because of a clerical error (the cell door sign marking him as bound for the guillotine being misplaced); he was released after James Monroe pulled some strings for him.
Paine was a deist, and did not observe a particular doctrine or align himself with a particular church (the dictionary defines 'deist' as "A deist believes there is a God who created all things, but does not believe in His superintendence and government."). In the Age of Reason Paine makes the case *against* organized religion, and even the bible, arguing for a more rational explanation for the order of things, while still acknowledging the existence of a creator.
For example, he says "The most extraordinary of all the things called miracles, related in the New Testament, is that of the devil flying away with Jesus Christ, and carrying him to the top of a high mountain, and to the top of the highest pinnacle of the temple, and showing him and promising to him all the kingdoms of the World. How happened it that he did not discover America, or is it only with kingdoms that his sooty highness has any interest?"
Words sure to get the religious powers that were in a knot!
In our current age, of unreasonableness to the extreme, especially religious unreasonableness and intolerance, we definitely need a bit more reason. The Age of Reason is as timely today as it was back when it was first released.
Of course, the content is exceptional. It details the argument for independence from Britain, while giving insight into the historical context.
I first read this over fifty years ago. My appreciation for it has grown now that I am older than its author at the time. We stand on the shoulders of giants.
I first read Common Sense more than fifty years ago and remember well being impressed with Paine's ability to carry arguments and to anticipate those of his opponents before his tract even hit the street. Over the course of my lifetime, I was inspired by the author and became a pamphleteer of sorts myself. I always told my colleagues that I wanted to become a poor man's Tom Paine. But after reading the piece once again, I realize that almost all who aspire to follow in his footsteps, if not fill his shoes, are doomed to become but very poor copies of the original.
Other reviewers have noted the fluidity of his writing; it reads as simply, directly and forcefully today as it must have nearly a quarter of a millennium ago. Obviously, one did not have to be a great reader to be swayed by the force of Paine's words or to be inspired to the side of those wishing to throw off the English yoke.
I was struck by echoes of Paine in many great American speeches that were running through my mind as I read. A number of quotes from Robert F. Kennedy seemed to have been directly inspired by Common Sense, and I hastily looked them up and offer these two for your consideration:
"It is not enough to understand, or to see clearly. The future will be shaped in the arena of human activity, by those willing to commit their minds and their bodies to the task."
"All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity."
The Declaration of Independence itself is a direct offspring of this great tract. Jefferson and the others charged with developing the document were well aware of Paine and had the opportunity to evaluate his words and to use his methods in creating our declaration, and this takes nothing away from their genius.
This is a document that can be read in short order, and it is free at the Kindle Store. How can you say no to giving it a try?