Bethany Wire ostracized me recently for simply writing to the paper about what is wrong with our politics. Yet, we Americans have a strong tradition of doing just that, starting with Founding Father Thomas Paine, who dominated the so-called “Age of Reason” much like John Locke dominated the thinking underlying both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
But some thought Paine’s influence was far from a good thing. Why? He was a deist, but so were most of the founding leaders. The press, however, pictured Paine as an arrogant, drunken atheist, but he was neither. Nevertheless, the infamous words of the cowardly Theodore Roosevelt stuck: “Filthy little atheist.”
Paine was the very first American to earn a living by writing. He had scarcely landed in the New World in November 1774 before writing to newspapers, taking the American position in the imperial crises. He thought like an American. After writing the pamphlet “Common Sense,” his life changed because he was an instant celebrity. He dismissed the king as the “Royal Brute,” and called for American independence immediately. Independence was his thing.
Paine was a man always out of joint with the times, and the press “killed” him. The good Christian critics labeled him an atheist — and that was “that.” Wrong, but that.
Maybe David McCullough will write a bestselling biography of Paine, reinstating him to the famous list, like he did for President John Adams, who thought American exceptionalism was a myth. Me, too.
Bill J. Paschal