Thomas Paine about Existence Hereafter
What Did He Say?
Written by Raymond Fontaine, PhD. - July 2004
On July 15, I received an E-mail from a Deist friend, requesting my thoughts on a quote of Thomas Paine taken from The Age of Reason. It reads as follows: " I trouble not myself about the manner of future existence. I content myself with believing, even to positive conviction, that the Power that gave me existence is able to continue it, in any form and manner He pleases, with or without this body; and it appears more probable to me that I shall continue to exist hereafter than that I should have had existence, as I now have, before that existence began." I was dismayed to read these words from Thomas Paine, the primary champion of Deism.
Before commenting on Paine's words, let me confess where I'm coming from. After years of preaching the revelations of God as based in Scripture and expounded by the Catholic Church, I finally, in 1967, no longer believed in any supernatural revelations of God. I left the priesthood, the Church and all its spiritual doctrines. For the absolute truth about the world and human life, I would henceforth rely solely on what Nature reveals as true and real to human reason.
One such truth is that the laws governing Nature, such as those uncovered by Einstein, presuppose an Originator. That Originator of Nature's laws, whom many call God, exists. He IS as truly as I AM. From God's work in Nature, human reason also concludes that God is supremely intelligent and powerful.
But Nature reveals nothing more about God's Being. It does not throw light on what God could have done in the past or could be doing now or could do in the future. I do not trouble my mind about that. I am satisfied to know for sure that the Creator exists.
Apparently Thomas Paine ventured from the real to the possible and probable. He writes, "I content myself with believing, even to positive conviction, that the Power that gave me existence is ABLE to continue it." In this essay, I am not questioning God's ABILITY to continue a human's existence indefinitely. But there's no evidence in nature that he ever did that - not with humans nor with any other living organism on earth.
In the above quote, Thomas Paine ventures to say that the continuation of his existence was not only possible but probable. His reason for saying so is that its origin was less probable than its continuation. Thomas Paine's convoluted sentence implies that, for God, the continuation of human existence is easier than its creation. If so, so what? I am not interested in the possibility or probability of human existence after death. I want to know if God ever did that or does it. As far as I know, Nature says nothing about that.
I don't reproach Thomas Paine for saying what appears like a bit of sophistry. But I am afraid that his remark may give false hope to his readers that humans continue to exist after death. Most everyone wants to hear that from someone with credibility, such as Thomas Paine.
It doesn't take much to transform a strong desire for life hereafter into a firm belief - even a conviction that this is so. Deists should not provide the nudge from hope to belief. If Deists, especially the leaders, publicly entertain the possibility and probability of human existence hereafter, Deism will lose its simplicity and purity and solidity. I believe that the dilution of Deism will not help its diffusion but hasten its dissolution. Like it or not, all organisms die. Some of their remains may be consumed by other organisms; but it is these organisms that now exist. And sooner or later they too will die, et cetera, et cetera.
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