The Great American Religion and The Resurrection of Thomas Paine
A colleague of mine just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. where he and his family visited all the great monuments, museums and institutions. I agreed with him, you get saturated and overwhelmed by the history in that wonderful city.
Since we just came through the hyper-patriotic Memorial Day weekend, when The Great American Religion (GAR) is unfurled in full glory (that’s NOT Christianity by the way), and since my wife and I watched “Monuments Men,” and since someone I know died this week, I’m reflecting on our obsession with monuments. While we’re at it, I’ll propose a New Monument!
Why does the Nation’s Capitol not have a monument to Thomas Paine? This is the man who first wrote “The United States of America,” who championed Human Rights and Separation of Religion and State. He has No Monument on the Mall. One WAS authorized by Congress, with bipartisan support (Ted Kennedy and Jesse Helms!) in 1992, but was Never Built! In his probing article about the Strange Case of Thomas Paine in Washington, Professor Richard Robyn of Kent State says,
“This case of a forgotten hero echoes our own contemporary culture wars over religion and politics.”
“Does the failure of this attempt [to create a monument], added to the fact that no other memorial to Paine has ever been erected, show that his reputation has effectively been damaged in America’s culture wars? Is Thomas Paine just too “hot” to handle?”
In a recent post I spoke of Thomas Paine as a Secular Chaplain, someone who acted for others with courage and conscience. More than a true blue Revolutionary who wrote a little rag that fired up the Freedom Fighters in 1776 (“Common Sense”), who fought beside Washington and donated money to the troops, Paine railed against the tyranny of Religion (“The Age of Reason”) and got himself in big trouble. His trouble didn’t end in the grave either!
When I was an Evangelical on a fervent “campus crusade for Christ” one of our apologetic arguments for the “truth of Christianity” and the “uniqueness of Christ” was the Resurrection. If the Nazarene Rabbi rose from the dead, well then, He was God, everything he said was 100% guaranteed true, and the whole world should now accept this and become Christians! The evangelistic logic is easy: if there is no body in the tomb, then, presto! Resurrection! And, for further “proof”: LIVES were changed! People gave their lives for the cause, in the name of this “revolutionary message.”
Ok. So let’s use this “logic” with another great leader, a radical sort whose message changed the world and caused thousands of people to give their lives; one who ended up with only a handful of “followers” at the end; another firey prophet kind of guy who got himself thrown in prison (in France), challenged the religiously correct of his day and was crucified (in the press). Yes: Thomas Paine.
You see, here’s the actual historical fact: Thomas Paine’s body disappeared! No one knows where his bones went! This must mean that Paine Lives! His freethinking gospel of freedom (in body, mind and conscience) echoes in our country and our world even today.
Maybe, ultimately, we cannot or perhaps should not build a monument to this Freethought Champion. Indeed, maybe Andrew Jackson was correct when he said (quoted by Robert Green Ingersoll):
“Thomas Paine needs no monument made with hands; he has erected a monument in the hearts of all lovers of liberty.”
Maybe it’s enough that Great Minds like Thomas Edison could say of Paine:
“I consider Paine our greatest political thinker. . . . We, perhaps, remember him best for his declaration: ‘my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.’. . . . The man had a sort of universal genius. He was interested in a diversity of things; but his special creed, his first thought, was liberty.”
Yes. Good and noble words. However, I would say. . .Let’s Build a Monument on the Mall for Thomas Paine. He deserves the honor.
Another Great Reason to honor this man of Great Reason: The Man, his Message and his Monument have been shunned, shamed and silenced (so they think) by One of the Newest of the World Religions: The GAR. (I’ve taught courses in World Religion for many years. In my mind, GAR–or simply AMERICA–qualifies as a New Religion).
Creed of the Great American Religion (AMERICA)
1) God and Country! (always with vibrato and emotional emphasis!). The American God is the Greatest and Our Freedom trumps the “freedoms” of all other nations. Ours is the ONLY “Exceptionally Loved and Blessed” nation on the planet and if YOU don’t love it and honor it just the way WE do, you are NOT a patriot! Go Home!
2) The Pledge. Stand and say it loud and often! Without the added “One Nation Under God” it is not a true American loyalty oath. You cannot pledge your heart and mind to the Country without pledging to Our God. Children should be taught this at the earliest age.
3) The Flag. This is Everything. This is what our heroes have fought and died for. It is Sacred. Do not “desecrate” this cloth! If you mistreat this piece of fabric you are not patriotic, not a true American. The more flags we fly, the more we Love America! If you can pledge to the flag while standing in a True American Church (especially while singing “God Bless America”). . .this makes Us and God very happy.
4) The Constitution/Bible. Don’t touch it or change it from what We Say it Says! Conserve it, preserve it, and our Theologian-Preacher-Judges will tell us what it Really Says and Really Means. When in doubt what the Constitution means. . .look to the Bible (the last word and final authority of the American God–in English of course!)
5) Heroes. Our troops, every single one of them, is a HERO! Even if we send them into a needless war and countless civilians are killed in the crossfire. . .NEVER question they are HEROES! They serve God by serving America. They are sacred soldiers and cannot be questioned.
6) Prayer. Loud, public and proud. Liberals and Atheists took prayer out of our public schools and they’re trying to take away our “right to pray wherever and whenever we want.” We want prayer and God back in our schools, courts, congress–everywhere!
7) In Money We Trust. No, not really the money. We trust in the True American God and when you are a true follower of AMERICA you will not be poor or in need of any handouts from Anyone. All GAR institutions should never have to pay taxes imposed by godless, secular legislation.
8) Monuments. We love monuments; we can never have too many Monuments. The greatest monuments celebrate the Wars our Heroes have fought for God and Country, under the patriotic pledge and flag of freedom. No matter how much it costs; no matter how much land is used; no matter how many White Males are honored above all others, there is always room for another monument consecrated for AMERICA by AMERICA!
Now, anyone still wondering why Thomas Paine has no National Monument?
In the good mind of Thomas Paine,
A Patriotic Matriot living in One Beautiful Land of Many