Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Monday, February 12, 2007

Paine in the Butt

Thomas Paine won't get his own special day in Arkansas -- in part because some modern-day legislators believe he was down on religion.

A proposal to declare Jan. 29 "Thomas Paine Day" failed after supporters fell short of the 51 votes it needed to pass, according to a story from the Associated Press.

Paine, author of the book "Common Sense" that helped spur the American Revolution, is recognized as one of the United States' founding fathers. But when it came to honoring the guy with "Thomas Paine Day," Representative Sid Rosenbaum balked.

"He did some good things for the nation, but the book that he wrote was anti-Christian and anti-Jewish," Rosenbaum said to AP. "I don't think we should be passing things out like this without at least debating it and letting people in the House know what we're voting on."

Rosenbaum's right about Paine's religious leanings. Paine was a deist, who thought Christianity was a stumbling block on the path to the Divine. He was openly critical of the faith in several writings.

Paine wasn't alone, of course. The revolution was fostered in the Age of Enlightenment -- an age that tended to snicker at overt religious devotion -- and many of our first presidents were Unitarians, a denomination where deists tend to hang out. That said, many founders were very religious, and even deists such as Paine tended to talk about God an awful lot.

All of this brings us to two basic questions.

1. Just how important was Judeo-Christian thought and sensibility to the foundation of the United States?

2. Does rejecting Thomas Paine Day on religious grounds shift the line between church and state yet again?


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