Wisdom of Life

Thomas Paine: On the Wisdom of Life and the Man of Reason

“Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are,
without regard to place or person;
my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.

Give me liberty, or give me death.

“When it can be said by any country in the world, my poor are happy, neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them, my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars, the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive, the rational world is my friend because I am the friend of happiness. When these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and government. Independence is my happiness, the world is my country and my religion is to do good.

It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving, it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe. Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us.

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it. The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.

Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice. An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot. 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. The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.

To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.

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.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.

The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries, that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most dishonourable belief against the character of the divinity, the most destructive to morality, and the peace and happiness of man, that ever was propagated since man began to exist. It is better, far better, that we admitted, if it were possible, a thousand devils to roam at large, and to preach publicly the doctrine of devils, if there were any such, than that we permitted one such impostor and monster as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and the Bible prophets, to come with the pretended word of God in his mouth, and have credit among us.

Whence arose all the horrid assassinations of whole nations of men, women, and infants, with which the Bible is filled; and the bloody persecutions, and tortures unto death and religious wars, that since that time have laid Europe in blood and ashes; whence arose they, but from this impious thing called revealed religion, and this monstrous belief that God has spoken to man? The lies of the Bible have been the cause of the one, and the lies of the Testament of the other.

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of humans; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy.

I do not choose to be a common person. It is my right to be uncommon– if I can. I seek opportunity–not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the State look after me. I want to take the calculated risk–to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole; I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence, the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of Utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid, to think and to act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations and to face the world boldly and say, This, with God’s help, I have done.”

We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

…for though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal can never expire.

***

~Thomas Paine was an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary.

Excerpts from Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason

Excellence Reporter 2020

Categories: Wisdom of Life

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