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since there is so much contradiction among them. The first, therefore, are, in my opinion, on the safest side.
I presume you are so far acquainted with ecclesiastical history as to know, and the bishop who has answered me has been obliged to acknowledge the fact, that the Books that compose the New Testament, were voted by yeas and nays to be the Word of God, as you now vote a law, by the Popish Councils of Nice and Laodocia, about fourteen hundred and fifty years ago. With respect to the fact there is no dispute, neither do I mention it for the sake of controversy. This vote may appear authority enough to some, and not authority enough to others. It is proper, however, that every body should know the fact.
With respect to the Age of Reason, which you so much condemn, and that, I believe, without having read it, for you say only that you heard of it, I will inform you of a circumstance, because you cannot know it by other means.
I have said in the first page of the first part of that work, that it had long been my intention to publish my thoughts upon religion, but that I had reserved it to a later time of life. I have now to inform you why I wrote it, and published it at the time I did.
In the first place, I saw my life in continual danger. My friends were falling as fast as the guillotine could cut their heads off, and as I expected every day the same fate, I resolved to begin my work. I appeared to myself to be on my death bed, for death was on every side of me, and I had no time to lose. This accounts for my writing at the time I did, and so nicely did the time and intention meet, that I had not finished the first part of the work more than six hours before I was arrested and taken to prison. Joel Barlow was with me, and knows the fact.
In the second place, the people of France were running headlong into atheism, and I had the work translated and published in their own language, to stop them in that career, and fix them to the first article (as I have before said) of every man's creed, who has any creed at all, I believe in God. I endangered my own life, in the first place, by opposing in the Convention the executing of the king, and labouring to show they were trying the monarch and not the man, and that the crimes imputed to him were the crimes of the monarchial system; and endangered it a second time by Opposing atheism, and yet some of your priests, for I do not be
lieve that all are perverse, cry out, in the war-whoop of monarchial priest-craft, what an infidel! what a wicked man is Thomas Paine! They might as well add, for he believes in God, and is against shedding blood.
But all this war-whoop of the pulpit has some concealed object. Religion is not the cause, but is the stalking horse. They put it forward to conceal themselves behind it. It is not a secret that there has been a party composed of the leaders of the Federalists, for I do not include all Federalists with their leaders, who have been working by, various means for several years past, to overturn the Federal Constitution established on the representative system, and place government in the new world on the corrupt system of the old. To accomplish this a large standing army was necessary, and as a pretence for such an army, the danger of a foreign invasion must be bellowed forth, from the pulpit, from the press, and by their public orators.
I am not of a disposition inclined to suspicion. It is in its nature a mean and cowardly passion, and upon the whole, even admitting error into the case, it is better, I am sure it is more generous to be wrong on the side of confidence, than on the side of suspicion. But I know as a fact, that the English Government distributes annually fifteen hundred pounds sterling among the Presbyterian ministers in England, and one hundred among those of Ireland; and when I hear of the strange discourses of some of your ministers and professors of colleges I cannot, as the Quakers say, find freedom in my mind to acquit them. Their anti-revolutionary doctrines invite suspicion, even against one's will, and in spite of one's charity to believe well of them.
As you have given me one Scripture phrase, I will give you another for those ministers. It is said in Exodus chapter xxiii, verse 28, "Thou shalt not revile the Gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people." But those ministers, such I mean as Dr. Emmons, curse ruler and people both, for the majority are, politically, the people, and it is those who have chosen the ruler whom they curse. As to the first part of the verse that of not reviling the Gods, it makes no part of my Scripture: I have but one God.
There must undoubtedly be a very gross mistake in respect to the amount said to be expended; the sums intended to be expressed were probably fifteen hundred thousand, and one hundred thousand pounds.-EDITOR.
Since I began this letter, for I write it by piecemeals as I have leisure, I have seen the four letters that passed between you and John Adams. In your first letter you say. "Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, unite their endeavours to renovate the age, by inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity and universal philanthropy." Why, my dear friend, this is exactly my religion, and is the whole of it. That you may have an idea that the Age of Reason (for I believe you have not read it) inculcates this reverential fear and love of the Deity, I will give you a paragraph from it.
"Do we want to contemplate his power? We see it in the immensity of the Creation. Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incom prehensible whole is governed. Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful.”
As I am fully with you in your first part, that respecting the Deity, so am I in your second, that of universal philanthropy; by which I do not mean merely the sentimental benevolence of wishing well, but the practical benevolence of doing good. We cannot serve the Deity in the manner we serve those who cannot do without that service. He needs no services from us. We can add nothing to eternity. But it is in our power to render a service acceptable to him, and that is, not by praying, but by endeavouring to make his creatures happy. A man does not serve God when he prays, for it is himself he is trying to serve; and as to hiring or paying men to pray, as if the Deity needed instruction, it is in my opinion an abomination. One good school-master is of more use and of more value than a load of such parsons as Dr. Emmons, and some others.
You, my dear and much respected friend, are now far in the vale of years; I have yet, I believe, some years in store, for I have a good state of health and a happy mind: I take care of both, by nourishing the first with temperance, and the latter with abundance.
This I believe you will allow to be the true philosophy of life. You will see by my third letter to the citizens of the United States, that I have been exposed to, and preserved through many dangers; but, instead of buffeting the Deity with prayers, as if I dis
trusted him, or must dictate to him, I reposed myself on his protection: and you, my friend, will find, even in your last moments, more consolation in the silence of resignation than in the murmuring wish of prayer.
In every thing which you say in your second letter to John Adams, respecting our rights as men and citizens in this world, I am perfectly with you. On other points we have to answer to our Creator and not to each other. The key of heaven is not in the keeping of any sect, nor ought the road to it to be obstructed by any. Our relation to each other in this world is, as men, and the man who is a friend to man and to his rights, let his religious opinions be what they may, is a good citizen, to whom I can give, as I ought to do, and as every other ought, the right hand of fellowship, and to none with more hearty good will, my dear friend, than to you.
Federal City, Jan. 1, 1803.
I received your friendly letter, for which I am obliged to you. It is three weeks ago to day (Sunday, Aug. 15,) that I was struck with a fit of an apoplexy, that deprived me of all sense and motion. I had neither pulse nor breathing, and the people about me supposed me dead. I had felt exceedingly well that day, and had just taken a slice of bread and butter, for supper, and was going to bed. The fit took me on the stairs, as suddenly as if I had been shot through the head; and I got so very much hurt by the fall, that I have not been able to get in and out of bed since that day, otherwise than being lifted out in a blanket, by two persons; yet all this while my mental faculties have remained as perfect as I ever enjoyed them. I consider the scene I have passed through as an experiment on dying, and I find that death has no terrors for me. As to the people called Christians, they have no evidence that their religion is true.† There is no more proof that the Bible is the word of God, than that the Koran of Mahomet is the word of God. It is education makes all the difference. Man, before he begins to think for himself, is as much the child of habit in Creeds as he is in ploughing and sowing. Yet creeds, like opinions, prove nothing.
* Mr. Dean rented Mr. Paine's farm at New Rochelle.
Mr. Paine's entering upon the subject of religion on this occasion, it may be presumed was occasioned by the following passage in Mr. Dean's letter to him, viz:
"I have read with good attention your manuscript on dreams, and examination on the prophecies in the Bible. I am now searching the old prophecies, and comparing the same to those said to be quoted in the New Testament. confess the comparison is a matter worthy of our serious attention; I know not the result till I finish; then, if you be living, I shall communicate the same to you; I hope to be with you soon."