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This handwritten manuscript comes from the collection of Paine-related material gathered by humanist and activist Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner, held today at the Bishopsgate Institute. Radical freethinker Thomas Paine exerted enormous influence during his own lifetime and on subsequent generations, and in The Age of Reason, first published in 1794, Paine outlined his views on religion. In his preface to the work, Paine wrote of his belief that ‘The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason.’ Best remembered for his maxim, ‘my country is the world and my religion is to do good,’ Paine advocated an essentially humanist philosophy, rooted in reason and centred on our responsibilities to one another. Generally considered a deist (someone who rejects revealed religion, and the concept of an ‘interventionist’ god), Paine wrote:

I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavouring to make our fellow creatures happy… I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

In The Age of Reason, Paine criticised the intermixing of Church and state, argued for the freedom of individual conscience, and took aim at the concept of revelation. Any direct communication from god, he argued, was true to the hearer alone, with every other account being nothing more than hearsay. Although the Ten Commandments ‘contain some good moral precepts,’ they are no evidence of divinity, being ‘such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver or a legislature could produce himself without having recourse to supernatural intervention’. The Age of Reason was banned in Britain into the 1820s, and a number of publishers and booksellers – including Richard Carlile and Susannah Wright – were imprisoned for selling the works of Paine and other ‘blasphemous’ thinkers like him. Their stories form part of a strong humanist tradition of the defence of freedom of thought and freedom of the press.

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