The Nazarene Way of Essenic Studies
~ Theology of America's
Founding Fathers ~
Excerpts from the Age of Reason, written by Thomas Paine in 1794

Most of America's Founding Fathers were Deists, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson,

"One of the most common statements from the "Religious Right" is that they want this country to "return to the 'Christian principles' on which it was founded".  However, a little research into American history will show that this statement is at the very least misleading. The men responsible for building the foundation of the United States had little use for Christianity, and many were strongly opposed to it. They were men of The Enlightenment, not men of Christianity. They were Deists who did not believe the bible was historically true or scientifically accurate.

"When the Founders wrote the nation's Constitution, they specified that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." (Article 6, section 3)   This provision was radical in its day-- giving equal citizenship to believers and non-believers alike.  They wanted to ensure that no single religion could make the claim of being the official, national religion, such as England had.  Nowhere in the Constitution does it mention religion, except in exclusionary terms.  The words "Jesus Christ, Christianity, Bible, and God" are never mentioned in the Constitution-- not once.

"The Declaration of Independence gives us important insight into the opinions of the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the power of the government is derived from the governed. Up until that time, it was claimed that kings ruled nations by the authority of God. The Declaration was a radical departure from the idea of divine authority.

"The 1796 treaty with Tripoli states that the United States was "in no sense founded on the Christian religion" (see below). This was not an idle statement, meant to satisfy Muslims-- they believed it and meant it. This treaty was written under the presidency of George Washington and signed under the presidency of John Adams.

"Most of the Founders were Deists, which is to say they thought the universe had a creator, but that he does not concern himself with the daily lives of humans, and does not directly communicate with humans, either by revelation or by sacred books. They spoke often of God, (Nature's God or the God of Nature), but this was not the God of the bible. They did not deny that there was a person called Jesus, and praised him for his benevolent teachings, but they flatly denied his divinity. Some people speculate that if Charles Darwin had lived a century earlier, the Founding Fathers would have had a basis for accepting naturalistic origins of life, and they would have been atheists.  Most of them were stoutly opposed to the bible, and the teachings of Christianity in particular.

"Yes, there were Christian men among the Founders. Just as Congress removed Thomas Jefferson's words that condemned the practice of slavery in the colonies, they also altered his wording regarding equal rights. His original wording is here in blue italics: "All men are created equal and independent. From that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable."  Congress changed that phrase, increasing its religious overtones: "All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights."  But we are not governed by the Declaration of Independence-- it is a historical document, not a constitutional one.

"If there are some who truly wish to return this country to its beginnings, so be it... because it was a climate of Freethought.  The Founders were students of the European Enlightenment. Half a century after the establishment of the United States, clergymen complained that no president up to that date had been a Christian.  In a sermon that was reported in newspapers, Episcopal minister Bird Wilson of Albany, New York, protested in October 1831: "Among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism."  The attitude of the age was one of enlightened reason, tolerance, and free thought.  The Founding Fathers would turn in their graves if the Christian Extremists should have their way with this country." (Borrowed from

One of the most important people in the early days of the Colonies was Thomas Paine. On January 10, 1776, his 50-page pamphlet advocating independence from England came off the press; it was called, Common Sense. It is credited with being the spark that started the fire that led to the American Revolution. A Royal Proclamation against seditious writings was issued on May 21, 1792, and on June 8 Pain was charged with sedition and his trial was set for December 18. Replying to these charges, Paine wrote:

"If to expose the fraud and imposition of monarchy and every species of hereditary government - to lessen the oppression of taxes - to propose plans for the education of helpless infancy, and the comfortable support of the aged and distressed - to endeavor to conciliate nations to each other - to extirpate the horrid practice of war - to promote universal peace, civilization, and commerce - and to break the chains of political superstition, and raise degraded man to his proper rank; - if these things be libellous, let me live the life of a libeller, and let the name of libeller be engraven on my tomb!"

On December 18 Paine's work, Rights of Man was prosecuted in England and he was found guilty of seditious libel and labeled an outlaw. He sought refuge in France.

In a later work, Agrarian Justice, Paine argued that there were two kinds of property: "natural property" (the earth in its uncultivated stage) and "improved" property. Individuals could claim "improved property," but he proposed that "...the earth, in its natural uncultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race." The introduction of private property added, through cultivation, a "tenfold" value to created earth. At the same time, however, it "dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without indemnification for that loss, and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before." To remedy this situation and assist the persons thus dispossessed, Pain maintained that every proprietor of cultivated land owed to the community a ground-rent for the land which he held. With this money Paine proposed that a National Fund be set up out of which there would be paid to every person, "when arriving at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the system of landed property," and "the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age."

Paine believed that this system would so organize civilization "that the whole weight of misery can be removed." It would aid the blind, the lame, and the aged poor, and at the same time guarantee that the new generation would never become poor. "It is not charity, but a right," he claimed, "not bounty but justice, that I am pleading for."

Angry over the exploitation of workingmen by employers, Paine wrote: "...if we examine the case minutely it will be found that the accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little for the labor that produced it; the consequence of which is, that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer abounds in affluence." What might Paine, Jefferson, and Franklin say about employers who use foreign slave labor to produce their wealth, throwing millions of Americans out of work and out of their homes, yet complaining that progressive taxation is unfair to them?

Thomas Paine wrote The Age of Reason in his fifty-seventh year and was immediately labeled an atheist by many of his detractors. Paine wrote, "Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst; every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity."

The following excerpts from The Age of Reason are taken from a series of lessons delivered to The Nazarene Communions Group. These excerpts reveal a great deal about the religious beliefs of Thomas Paine and his fellow Deist, Benjamin Franklin and Unitarian, Thomas Jefferson.

Part One

Theology of America’s Founding Fathers

Excerpted from The Age of Reason,

written by Thomas Paine in 1794

 “True Theology and That of Superstition” 

“As to the Christian system of faith, it appears to me a species of Atheism – a sort of religious denial of God. It professes to believe in a man rather than I God. It is a compound made up chiefly of Manism with but little Deism, and is as near to Atheism as twilight is to darkness. It introduces between man and his Maker an opaque body, which it calls a Redeemer, as the moon introduces her opaque self between the earth and the sun, and it produces by this means a religious, or an irreligious, eclipse of light. It has put the whole orbit of reason into shade.

“The effect of this obscurity has been that of turning everything upside down, and representing it in reverse, and among the revolutions it has thus magically produced it has made a revolution in theology.

“That which is now called natural philosophy, embracing the whole circle of science, of which astronomy occupies the chief place, is the study of the works of God, and of the power and wisdom of God in His works, and is the true theology.

“As to the theology that is now studied in its place, it is the study of human opinions and of human fancies concerning God. It is not the study of God Himself in the works that He has made, but in the works or writings that man has made; and it is not among the least of the mischiefs that the Christian system has done to the world, that it has abandoned the original and beautiful system of theology, like a beautiful innocent, to distress and reproach, to make room for the hag of superstition.”

 Part Two

 “The Book of Job and the 19th Psalm, which even the Church admits to be more ancient than the chronological order in which they stand in the book called the Bible, are theological orations conformable to the original system of theology.

“The internal evidence of those orations proves to a demonstration that the study and contemplation of the works of creation, and of the power and wisdom of God, revealed and manifested in those works, made a great part in the religious devotion of the times in which they were written; and it was this devotional study and contemplation that led to the discovery of the principles upon which what are now called sciences are established; and it is to the discovery of these principles that almost all the arts that contribute to the convenience of human life owe their existence.

“Every principal art has some science for its parent, though the person who mechanically performs the work does not always, and but very seldom, perceive the connection.

“It is a fraud of the Christian system to call the sciences ‘human invention’; it is only the application of them that is human. Every science has for its basis a system of principles as fixed and unalterable as those by which the universe is regulated and governed. Man cannot make principles, he can only discover them.” 

Part Three

 “Every person who looks at an almanac sees an account when an eclipse will take place, and he sees also that it never fails to take place according to the account there given. This shows that man is acquainted with the laws by which the heavenly bodies move. But it would be something worse than ignorance, were any church on earth to say that those laws are a “human invention.”

“It would also be ignorance, or something worse, to say that the scientific principles by the aid of which man is enabled to calculate and foreknow when an eclipse will take place are a human invention. Man cannot invent anything that is eternal and immutable; and the scientific principles he employs for this purpose must be, and are of necessity, as eternal and immutable as the laws by which the heavenly bodies move, or they could not be used as they are to ascertain the time when, and the manner how, an eclipse will take place.

“The scientific principles that man employs to obtain the foreknowledge of an eclipse, or of anything else relating to the motion of the heavenly bodies, are contained chiefly in that part of science which is called trigonometry, or the properties of a triangle, which, when applied to the study of the heavenly bodies, is called astronomy; when applied to direct the course of a ship on the ocean it is called navigation; when applied to the construction of figures drawn by rule and compass it is called geometry; when applied to the construction of plans or edifices it is called architecture; when applied to the measurement of any portion of the surface of the earth it is called land surveying. In fine, it is the soul of science; it is an eternal truth; it contains the mathematical demonstration of which man speaks, and the extent of its uses is unknown.”

Part Four

  “It may be said that man can make or draw a triangle, and therefore a triangle is a human invention.

“But the triangle, when drawn, is no other than the image of the principle; it is a delineation to the eye, and from thence to the mind, of a principle that would otherwise be imperceptible. The triangle does not make the principle, any more than a candle taken into a room that was dark makes the chairs and tables that before were invisible. All the properties of a triangle exist independently of the figure, and existed before any triangle was drawn or thought of by man. Man had no more to do in the formation of these properties or principles than he had to do in making the laws by which the heavenly bodies move; and therefore the one must have the same divine origin as the other.

“In the same manner, as it may be said, that man can make a triangle, so also, may it be said, he can make the mechanical instrument called a lever; but the principle by which the lever acts is a thing distinct from the instrument, and would exist if the instrument did not; it attaches itself to the instrument after it is made;  the instrument, therefore, cannot act otherwise than it does act; neither can all the efforts of human invention make it act otherwise – that which, in all such cases, man calls the effect is no other than the principle itself rendered perceptible to the senses.”

Part Five

 “True Theology and That of Superstition”

 “Since…man cannot make principles, from whence did he gain a knowledge of them, so as to be able to apply them, not only to things on earth, but to ascertain the motion of the bodies so immensely distant from him as all the heavenly bodies are? From whence, I ask, could he gain that knowledge but from the study of the true theology?

“It is the structure of the universe that has taught this knowledge to man. That structure is an ever-existing exhibition of every principle upon which every part of mathematical science is founded. The offspring of this science is mechanics; for mechanics is no other than the principles of science applied practically.

“The man who proportions the several parts of a mill uses the same scientific principles as if he had the power of constructing a universe; but as he cannot give to matter that invisible agency by which all the component parts of the immense machine of the universe have influence upon each other and act in motional unison together, without any apparent contact, and to which man has given the name of attraction, gravitation and repulsion, he supplies the place of that agency by the humble imitation of teeth and cogs.

“All the parts of a man’s microcosm must visibly touch; but could he gain a knowledge of that agency so as to be able to apply it in practice we might then say that another canonical book of the Word of God had been discovered.”

Part Six

 “The Almighty Lecturer, by displaying the principles of sience in the structure of the Universe, has invited man to study and to imitation. It is as if He had said to the inhabitants of this globe that we call ours, ‘I have made an earth for man to dwell upon, and I have rendered the starry heavens visible, to teach him science and the arts. He can now provide for his own comfort, and learn from my munificence to all, to be kind to each other.”

 Part Seven

Deism: Theology of America’s Founding Fathers

Excerpted from The Age of Reason,

written by Thomas Paine in 1794

“Christianity and Education, in the Light of History” 

“…the Christian system of faith could not but foresee that the continually progressive knowledge that man would gain, by the aid of science, of the power and wisdom of God, manifested in the structure of the Universe and in all the works of creation, would militate against, and call into question, the truth of their system of faith; and therefore it became necessary to their purpose to cut learning down to a size less dangerous to their project, and this they effected by restricting the idea of learning to the dead study of dead languages.

“They not only rejected the study of science out of the Christian schools, but they persecuted it, and it is only within about the last two centuries that the study has been revived. So late as 1610, Galileo, a Florentine, discovered and introduced the use of telescopes, and by applying them to observe the motions and appearances of the heavenly bodies afforded additional means for ascertaining the true structure of the Universe.

“Instead of being esteemed for those discoveries, he was sentenced to renounce them, or the opinions resulting from them, as a damnable heresy. And, prior to that time, Virgilius was condemned to be burned for asserting the antipodes, or in other words that the earth was a globe, and habitable in every part where there was land; yet the truth of this is now too well known even to be told.

 Part Eight

Deism: Theology of America’s Founding Fathers

Excerpted from The Age of Reason,

written by Thomas Paine in 1794

“Comparing Christianism with Pantheism” 

“Any person who has made observations on the state and progress of the human mind by observing his own cannot but have observed that there are two distinct classes of what are called thoughts – those that we produce in ourselves by reflection and the act of thinking, and those that bolt into the mind of their own accord. I have always made it a rule to treat these voluntary visitors with civility, taking care to examine, as well as I was able, if they were worth entertaining, and it is from them I have acquired almost all the knowledge that I have. As to the learning that any person gains from school education, it serves only, like a small capital, to put him in a way of beginning learning for himself afterward.

“Every person of learning is finally his own teacher, the reason of which is that principles, being a distinct quality to circumstances, cannot be impressed upon the memory; their place of mental residence is the understanding and they are never so lasting as when they begin by conception.”

From Wikipedia: "

"In the United States, Enlightenment philosophy (which itself was heavily inspired by deist ideals) played a major role in creating the principle of separation of church and state, expressed in Thomas Jefferson's letters, and the principle of religious freedom expressed in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. American Founding Fathers, or Framers of the Constitution, who were especially noted for being influenced by such philosophy include Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Cornelius Harnett, Gouverneur Morris, and Hugh Williamson. Their political speeches show distinct deistic influence. Other notable Founding Fathers may have been more directly deist. These include James Madison, John Adams, possibly Alexander Hamilton, Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine (who published The Age of Reason, a treatise that helped to popularize deism throughout America and Europe). Elihu Palmer (1764–1806) wrote the "Bible" of American deism in his Principles of Nature (1801) and attempted to organize deism by forming the "Deistical Society of New York."


"In the United States there is controversy over whether the Founding Fathers were Christians, deists, or something in between. Particularly heated is the debate over the beliefs of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.


"Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography, "Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist. My arguments perverted some others, particularly Collins and Ralph; but each of them having afterwards wrong'd me greatly without the least compunction, and recollecting Keith's conduct towards me (who was another freethinker) and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble, I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful."


"For his part, Thomas Jefferson is perhaps one of the Founding Fathers with the most outspoken of Deist tendencies, though he more often referred to himself as a Unitarian. In particular, his treatment of the Biblical gospels which he titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, but which subsequently became more commonly known as the Jefferson Bible, exhibits a strong deist tendency of stripping away all supernatural and dogmatic references from the Christ story."


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