Enlightement Quote of the Day: Thomas Paine and his church-and-state “mule-animal”

In addition to our “Dummy of the Day” feature, we will try to post, on most days, a quote from an Enlightenment thinker that has relevance today.  We’ll call it our “Enlightenment Quote of the Day.”  Here’s installment one.

In a post a week ago about Mike Huckabee’s steamy embrace of Kim Davis (an embrace ultimately felled by corpulent mutuality, but one that was lovely to see while it lasted), I noted in passing a quote from Thomas Paine: “By engendering the church with the state, a sort of mule-animal, capable only of destroying, and not of breeding up, is produced, called, The Church established by Law. It is a stranger, even from its birth to any parent mother on which it is begotten, and whom in time it kicks out and destroys.”

I used that quote because the subject was, at least tangentially, the fusion of church (Apostolic Christianity) with state (Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky) in the person of Kim Davis (slovenly, sad human).  But I thought the quote worth hashing out a bit more.  In Part I of his Rights of Man, Paine wrote,

With respect to what are called denominations of religion, if every one is left to judge of his own religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is wrong; but if they are to judge of each other’s religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is right; and therefore all the world is right, or all the world is wrong.

This is an elegant exposition of an undeniable truth: there is not a single religious tenet among all humanity — not one– that is not, according to the vast majority of our kind, wrong.  We are awash in a sea of cross-condemnation — a churning cauldron of militant mythologies.  What good, therefore, could possibly come from a government over some body politic picking one?  There is no possible result except oppression, judgment, and strife.  paine

Paine’s Rights of Man was written in reply to arguments made by Edmund Burke, a hero of contemporary Republicans.  Burke railed against the swift discarding of time-honored traditions, believing that there was value in tradition alone.  Paine disagreed, and never more sharply than when Burke propped up the union of church and state as a good thing:

All religions are in their nature mild and benign, and united with principles of morality. They could not have made proselytes at first, by professing anything that was vicious, cruel, persecuting or immoral. Like every thing else, they had their beginning; and they proceeded by persuasion, exhortation, and example. How then is it that they lose their native mildness, and become morose and intolerant?

It proceeds from the connection which Mr. Burke recommends. By engendering the church with the state, a sort of mule-animal, capable only of destroying, and not of breeding up, is produced, called, The Church established by Law. It is a stranger, even from its birth to any parent mother on which it is begotten, and whom in time it kicks out and destroys.

The Inquisition in Spain does not proceed from the religion originally professed, but from this mule-animal, engendered between the church and the state. The burnings in Smithfield proceeded from the same heterogeneous production; and it was the regeneration of this strange animal in England afterwards, that renewed rancor and irreligion among the inhabitants, and that drove the people called Quakers and Dissenters to America.

Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion reassumes its original benignity. In America, a Catholic priest is a good citizen, a good character, and a good neighbor; an Episcopal minister is of the same description: and this proceeds, independently of the men, from there being no law-establishment in America.

If also we view this matter in a temporal sense, we shall see the ill effects it has had on the prosperity of nations. The union of church and state has impoverished Spain. The revoking the edict of Nantes drove the silk manufacture from France into England; and church and state are now driving the cotton manufacture from England to America and France.

Let then Mr. Burke continue to preach his anti-political doctrine of Church and State. It will do some good. The National Assembly will not follow his advice, but will benefit by his folly. It was by observing the ill effects of it in England, that America has been warned against it; and it is by experiencing them in France, that the National Assembly have abolished it, and, like America, have established UNIVERSAL RIGHT OF CONSCIENCE, AND UNIVERSAL RIGHT OF CITIZENSHIP.

And what about Kim Davis?  Did she remain a good neighbor — a benign, embracing, harmless fellow traveler — when she morphed into the mule-animal?  Ask all the gay couples who left her office humiliated, forsaken, overwrought, and without the marriage licenses to which they were legally entitled.

It is a wonder that those who agitate for theocracy in America — and they are legion — cannot simply survey the Middle East and decide that this might be a bad idea.  But theocracy has been tried in all parts of the world and throughout historical times, always to end in misery and suffering and the self-mutilation of our species as a caged animal.

We CONCUR with Thomas Paine’s arguments.

How about you?  Please file your concurring or dissenting opinion in the Comments section below.

by Brendan Beery


4 thoughts on “Enlightement Quote of the Day: Thomas Paine and his church-and-state “mule-animal”

  1. Great article – Paine’s religious views are reason itself. His book “The Age of Reason” is completely devoted to the topic of religion and is a wondrous thing considering its era. And he spares no words in it in blasting Edwin Burke, a early precursor of David Brooks. Paine is certainly a precursor (cursing before) to the critiques of Nietzsche (The Antichrist), whom he reminds me of rhetorically as well as philosophically.


      • Good question. Nowadays the problem is atheism versus religion in general. The church and state issue in colonial America had more to do with different Christian sects getting along, especially Protestant sects, as least as the most common and present and salient situation of the day. I believe that was what most of them thought about. Catholicism to be tolerated (with or without tolerance), Quakers as long as there weren’t too many of them (outside of Pennsylvania of course), etc. But most of the founders were intellectuals of the Age of Reason and tended to have deistic positions personally, which are non-sectarian, abstract, but nominally Christian. Even Paine didn’t go so far as to claim to be non-Christian. But he certainly lambasted the ways in which scripture was being interpreted in the day. So, I would say there is no Paine (thus no gaine) now because the religion thing is a very different issue. The Church and state and all the folderal around it nowadays as an issue that is coming out now is a direct outcome of the Republicans bringing the evangelicals and firebreathing fundamentalists into the fold, their brilliant coupling with the Southern Strategy in order to get the stupid vote along with the hate vote, which is now of course the only reason we have a Republican party. So this is not the issue of the Constitutional Congress at all; it is not philosophical, or justice based, a concern for equal rights or anything of the sort. Of course, originally, the old British belief was assumed, that only ownership of property made one a valid and legally active citizen allowed into the political process. But that disappeared a short while later. Then non-whites; then women less than a century ago. It is part of the pandering of the Plutalitarian state to get a powerful voting population behind them (most of whom would never have thought of voting for anything just a couple of decades ago) to bring them into power, which of course will immediately then be revoked as a right from everyone. Universal insufferage. Of a Similar Painean type we can have people like Hitchens and Chomsky and many others, but none quite so original and influential in the founding of a better society as he was.


  2. Wow, Jan — what a reply! I was wondering whether you’d mention Hitchens. I think he might have been as close as we’ll come in modern times.


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