I love reading Thomas Paine.
This is a very short work, around fifty pages. Actually, when I came to the end of it in my edition (the 1940s Modern Library selected works of Paine) there was a note explaining that there was a part II, which 'adds little to the searching moral inquiry of the first part, and his (Paine's) dissection of the Bible has only an antique interest today'. I am satisfied enough with this assessment that I am not going to seek out the second part at this time.
Even as someone who has read over the years plenty of arguments more or less of the sort that Paine makes here, the book struck me forcefully in a way that other writers addressing the same subject somehow failed to. Thomas Paine was sui generis as an author. I don't think the word genius as we have come to use it gives the sense of his peculiar talent, because he was not an otherworldly intellect, but his thoughts were so vivid and direct and certain--he is reminiscent of Blake in that regard--as to achieve a reality and a life that few writers are able to attain. I generally shy away from saying that people 'should' read this or that author: however I did think while I was reading this that Americans who have any identification with the founding of their country and interest in the revolutionary mindset that animated its early years should read Thomas Paine. First, because I think they will enjoy him, but also because I think reading the works of a genuine revolutionary spirit who never backed down an inch from the inevitable blowback and attacks that the powerful and comfortably ensconced continously fired his way, who wrote in their own language and general literary tradition, may serve to invigorate some of them, for nothing could be more certain than that we need some Paine-like minds and spirits to emerge in our own time to help us focus our minds on the real nature of our problems and the real solutions for them. Paine of course is not about reconciling opposing viewpoints or understanding and empathizing with the mindset of his enemies. I suppose that when the times come in which major historical shifts take place total belief in and commitment to one's ideas are required.
When I say that The Age of Reason acted with more force on my mind than similarly themed books and essays I do not mean to say that I was a committed and devout believer in the Christian religion as it is derived in the Bible whose whole mental system has been shattered. I am sure that I never really believed in the literal truth of miracles or that Jesus Christ was a divine being in a way fundamentally different from other humans. However I have always had a certain amount of fondness for the Western Christian tradition, for the art and music it has inspired, the Bible as literature, the order and aesthetic influence it interjected, or, if you will, imposed, on daily life in the West for so many centuries, and tended not to take its more fantastic elements all that seriously. Paine did not let anything wash over him, however, and the weaker aspects of the Christian faith with regard to reason--of which there were many--obviously stood out to him so starkly as absurd that in the writing it seems as if it was little work for him to line them up and shoot them down. I am sure it was not that easy, but the thought and the writing is very organized and clear and focused squarely on the truth or untruth of the subject and not the brilliant mental sophistication and acrobatics of the author. Such of these as there are comes out as a by-product.
1. Bart D Ehrman--God's Problem.............222
2. John Marco--The Eyes of God..................86
3. John Marco--The Sword of Angels...........22
4. John Marco--The Devil's Armor...............16
Four books received zero reviews in this weak challenge: Brian Chambers's The Bible's Healing Code Revealed, Thomas Churton's Aleister Crowley: The Beast of Berlin, Victor Hugo's Odes et Ballades/Les Orientales, and the Wordsworth Poetry Library Edition of the Complete Poems of Keats.
I think I will skip this one and move on to my next encyclopedia classic. I am not that enamored of modern academic theological or anti-theological writing, and it has been so hot that I have not had the energy to find all of the overdue library items that my children have out that are now lost somewhere in the house, without returning which I won't be able to take anything out anyway.