Originally Published: July 4, 2006 4 a.m.
In January 1776, Thomas Paine anonymously published "Common Sense."
Paine's political pamphlet brought the strong feelings of the revolutionaries into focus by blaming their hardships directly on the reign of British monarch, George III.
It became the battle cry of these early "insurgents." As a result, "Common Sense" helped strengthen colonists' resolve for independence and to end British colonization.
The struggle for independence turned Paine into a well-established champion of liberty, equality, and democracy.
In, 1980, at the Republican national convention, Ronald Reagan quoted Thomas Paine's "Common Sense:" "We have it in our power to begin the world over again." In recent times presidents have acclaimed Paine as a true patriot in the war for independence when they quoted from his "American Crisis" pamphlet: "These are the times that try men's souls."
These references failed to quote the rest of the paragraph: "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis turn from the service of his country, but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, yet we have the consolation with us, the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."
Christians hate and despise Paine's "Age of Reason," an application of reason to the Bible, to this day. To illustrate, president Theodore Roosevelt in the 1880s characterized Paine as a "filthy little atheist." Paine had done for the English world what Voltaire did for the people of France.
In addition, Paine portrayed the thinking of Thomas Jefferson who advised his nephew to "Fix reason firmly in her seat. And call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason, than of blindfold fear."
Thomas Paine, like other of our nation's founders (Ethan Allen, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Joel Barlow), considered himself a deist. Deism principally "religious rationalism." Deists believe that although a benevolent God initially created the universe, it operates on rational rather than supernatural principles. In "The Age of Reason," Paine outlines his objections to theism and his belief in deism. Paine departed from cautiously subtle approaches to religious issues as he vociferously rejected Judeo-Christian tenets and scriptures. He dissected the inconsistencies in both the Old and New Testaments.
Another of Paine's pamphlet, "The Rights of Man," also encouraged the colonists toward independence in their struggle to overthrow the crown. In addition to being a freethinking deist, Paine was a socialist.
"The Rights of Man" was a clear statement of a democratic socialist movement as Paine envisioned: "When it can be said by any country in the world, my poor are happy, neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them, my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars, the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive, the rational world is my friend because I am the friend of happiness. When these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and government. Independence is my happiness, the world is my country and my religion is to do good."
Reflect for a moment on Thomas Paine, a forgotten Founding Father, as we approach the 230th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. Download a copy of "Common Sense" from the Internet. Read and reflect on this inspirational historical document in light of today's War on Terror. Like the colonists, we once again face a war of independence as we challenge an apparent oppressive reign of theocracy from the religious right.
We must redeem Thomas Paine's revolutionary vision.
(Prescott resident Jim Powers is the former president of the Humanists of Prescott, member of Freethought Forum, and a local environmental activist.)