A Commentary on Thomas Paine's "Age of Reason"
book called "Age of Reason" can be found at the following URL:
What I like about authors like Thomas Paine is not any philosophy of theirs per se. I would hardly even classify him as a philosopher. What I like about such writings is a layman's way of looking at religious doctrines, if allowing himself/herself to think in commonsensical ways about the religious claims. For example, if a teenager makes a claim like Mother Mary about being impregnated by God, all these Christian or Islamic fundamentalists would want her blood, but the foundation of their religion accepts such "heathen" myth, as noted by Thomas Paine, and they have no problem with it.
I also saw the same type of writing about political dogma in John Locke, when he argues about monarchy. He asks why should we believe that one family should be able to inherit a position of leadership of a nation, talking just like an ordinary person asking why his blood should be considered inferior and his kids should not be able to become kings. This simple way of thinking escapes many learned monarchists when they write. Of course, John Locke was a great social philosopher too, but his writing on the topic of monarchy is very much like Thomas Paine's way of writing about organized religions, writing like an ordinary person who has allowed himself/herself to think and question such *fundamentals* of the system and he ended up to escape from England and live in Holland because of writing this way about the monarchy.
Of course, in European scholarship, there were tons of great books, such as the works of Descartes or Leibniz, that questioned the scholastics' proofs of God, and Bertrand Russell has discussed most of them, and basically the proof of First Cause is what is the most discussed of today. But in the works of someone like Thomas Paine, one can see a good layman type of wondering about such claims, which helps any individual, to see it possible to think on such complex issues. I remember the kelAs-e taliimAt-e dini in Iran, the first thing they taught, was that oossole diin are not questionable and that you should not think about them (Shi'a Version: tohid/adl/nobovat/emaamat/moAd).
I do not remember that many authors in Iran who have written about the fundamental assumptions of religion or state, in a layman way. The only book I remember was bisto-seh-sAl, where the author asks like a layman why the Prophet Mohammad was able to have 23 wives but an ordinary person cannot. I just think this type of writing is a lot more valuable in countries like Iran. Even Voltaire's works are more of this style, in many of his works, of course with his great deal of humor. His shAhzadeh-khAnoom-e bAbel is popular in Iran.
I understand that atheists do not like Thomas Paine's belief in nondeified God. In fact, for me, the word God is very much a *wording* appropriate for ones who believe in a *personal God* like the Christians and Muslims, and I think ones like Paine should have used a terminology like those use by Buddhists, something like the ultimate mystery, force, etc. But we should remember that he is not a philosopher. He is writing like a layman and I think that is what makes his work interesting.
Among the new authors, I think Salman Rushdie is in the same style of writing, as far as writing like a layman about religious and philosophical topics. Again many criticize Rushdie as not being a top literary author, or philosopher, etc. I would say that is not the point. What is interesting in Rushdie is that the likes of him can get ordinary layman to think of such *fundamentals* of religion, which the religious authorities ban the layman from contemplating on. In fact, when those authorities first teach their religion in taliimAt-e diini classes, they make sure to tell the students that one should not ponder on the fundamental assumptions of their religion. I think this is exactly why the Christian fundamentalists hate the likes of Thomas Paine more than the all-out atheist philosophers, and the Islamic fundamentalists hate the likes of Salman Rushdie more than all out sophisticated atheist philosophers. Because these authors give the boldness to the layman to think about the most fundamental claims and dogmas of these religions.
Sam Ghandchi, Publisher
April 20, 2002