“If there is a sin superior to every other it is that of willful and offensive war”
Thomas Paine’s words written in The Crisis are no less true today than they were two centuries ago.
While the finding released to the public today by the Iraq Commission certainly didn’t characterize our adventure in Iraq as Paine may have if he were witness to it today, it is clear that we have committed sins of needless aggression, arrogance, and incompetence.
It is time for a tragically failed policy to change so that we might “manage the disaster”.
Next time we feel so compelled to bring about unprovoked warfare on a nation, we would do well to remember Paine’s words.
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“Reason and Ignorance, the opposite of each other, influence the great bulk of mankind”
We act with reason when we do what we know is right. We act with ignorance when we do what we are told is right.
And for most of us, it is an ongoing internal battle. Hang in there. Everybody else is struggling a little bit as well.
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“It is an age of Revolutions, in which everything may be looked for”
As Thomas Paine wrote this, he had already lived through the American Revolution, and now was witnessing first-hand the French Revolution. HIs time was indeed one of revolutionary change.
We, too, live in extraordinary times. It becomes clearer with each passing decade, and then each passing year, that our imminent survival as a civilized species depends on revolutionary changes, in our own time. We must embrace what is now called upon us and look for everything. It is in the least expected corner of our minds, of any collective wisdom we may be graced to posses, that we will find the road out of the wilderness.
It is incumbent on each new generation not to turn back, but to forever seek that road.
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“Of all the tyrannies that afflict mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst. Every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in, but this attempts a stride beyond the grave and seeks to pursue us into eternity.”
The right to believe as one sees fit, to observe any faith tradition, or no faith tradition, and allowing others to do the same was an ideal for which Thomas Paine firmly believed.
That he was highly critical of organized religion reflected his fear that an institutionalized, hierarchical structure of belief lends itself too readily to a tyranny even more destructive than those of governments and political tyrant
Believe as I tell you or you are condemned to eternal suffering creates a lifeless faith based on fear and despair.
As we know by his writings, most especially The Age of Reason, Paine was a deist. Where he found God was in the life all around him.
He allowed men to aspire to their highest nature, and in so allowing without prejudice, their faith. Thus, he was secure in his own.
While some claim this to be a “moral relativism” can it just as easily serve as the core moral value – the truth – that we claim to seek?
To declare earthly war or eternal damnation in the name of an angry, vengeful God certainly cannot be the only answer.
“I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies another this right makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.”
Thomas Paine did not shy away from expressing his opinion or of commenting on the opinions of others. He reveled in the ideas blossoming in the Age of Enlightenment with a zeal that helped foment revolution on two continents. He forcefully challenged those that refused to open their minds to the changing world around them, those that would condemn him simply because his ideas did not always conform to the mainstream of his day. For that he was reviled by many.
But if we deny the right of others to express their own opinion, most especially when it differs from our own, do we diminish the validity of our own ideas?
Paine understood that to agree with an opinion is far less important than having one of your own in the first place.
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“When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.”
Thomas Paine did not suffer fools lightly. He did not think highly of the “sunshine patriot”, and understood that the liberty he fought for and for which he inspired others to fight can only persist where there is ongoing diligence toward its preservation; where there is direct and ongoing limits of power. That once we abandon that diligence and give up the privilege of thinking for ourselves, giving in to distraction and comfort, allowing others to order our minds, then we will look up only to find our liberty and freedom disappearing over the horizon.
Questioning power is not sedition; it is not giving aide to any enemy. It is a patriotic duty, lest unquestioned, untested power exceed its bounds and infringe the rights that Paine and others fought to win for us hundreds of years ago.
What would Paine think if he were here today to look out over the landscape of our public and political discourse?
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