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Book Discussion: "The Age of Reason" by Thomas Paine

From the book cover:

"Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst," declared Thomas Paine, adding, "every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity." Paine's years of study and reflection on the role of religion in society culminated with his final work, The Age of Reason. This coolly reasoned polemic influenced religious thinking throughout the world at the dawn of the nineteenth century, and its resonance remains undiminished by time.

The selfsame humanist and egalitarian views that made Paine a popular figure of the American Revolution brought him into frequent conflict with political authorities. Parts of The Age of Reason were written in a French jail, where Paine was confined for his opposition to the execution of Louis XVI. An attack on revealed religion from the deist point of view--embodied by Paine's credo, "I believe in one God, and no more"--this work undertakes a hitherto unheard of approach to Bible study. Its critical and objective examination of Old and New Testaments cites numerous contradictions as evidence against literal interpretations of the text. Well articulated and eminently readable, The Age of Reason is a classic of free thought.

Here is a great essay on Paine by Robert Ingersoll that is a good backgrounder on Paine's enduring importance. We will talk about it briefly before the book discussion.

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"I have always regarded Thomas Paine as one of the greatest of all Americans.... It was, indeed, a revelation to me to read that great thinker's views on political and theological subjects. Paine educated me then about many matters of which I had never before thought. I remember very vividly the flash of enlightenment that shone from Paine's writings, and I recall thinking at that time, 'What a pity these works are not today the schoolbooks for all children!' My interest in Paine was not satisfied by my first reading of his works. I went back to them time and again, just as I have done since my boyhood days." -- Thomas Edison

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