5. "Common Sense" and "The Age of Reason"

by Thomas Paine

I picked up Common Sense for a re-read after brother Dan read it recently. Once again I was struck by the sheer guts of such revolutionary writing. The pamphlet was wildly popular in the colonies leading up to the war, effectively arguing for independence from English monarchical rule and the establishment of a government that held individual rights above all else. It also spells out ideas for a radical new republic. Good stuff.

It was an important reminder of what the true purposes of government should be in this country and how closely power should reside with the people. Wow, are we a far cry from that!

The Age of Reason is a tract on religion Paine wrote later in life. He weighs in on religion in a way that both respects the right of all to express ideas... and rejects religion! He is certainly not an atheist as I have so often read and heard, but lays out a convincing criticism of Christianity as it has been practiced - specifically the use of the bible, the establishment of "churches," etc. He is especially concerned with the freedom of ideas and how religious systems tend to be designed to fix those ideas and assert authority and power over them. For example, the Christian assertion of exclusivity (there is only one true God, Jesus is the only way to Heaven, all other religions are incomplete or false, etc.), despite the fact that Biblical stories and ideas were recycled from older religions and mythologies, which is why people were able to believe in immaculate conception, Jesus dying and then rising through the air to Heaven, turning water into wine for a wedding, making loaves and fishes from thin air, 40 days and nights in the desert, etc.). Oh, they are great stories and speak truths about deity and humankind. Paine's concern, though, is that people have come to use OTHER people's accounts of the deity, OTHER people's revelations, to instruct their lives and beliefs. In an "age of reason," the reasonable person must either do some measure of self-deception, or lying, or stick one's head in the sand in order to maintain a belief in mythological Biblical stories and the pastor's reinforcement of those stories as instruction for living life today.

Paine is mostly concerned with individual liberty and attacks religion for its attempts to corner the market on ideas and ultimately people's lives, either out of benevolent concern for them, or for power, or profit.

I very much appreciated reading this tract as I have been feeling similarly about Christianity for the past decade. I am with Paine in the assertion that if you, or your community, have experienced a revelation (hopefully from the deity, not from some other's claims) and other people have not, perhaps it is only for you. Leave everyone else alone to have their own revelations and form their own ideas. Honor them by refraining from the impulse to claim your own revelation as the only truth, the only way, the only...

4. Shutter Island

by Dennis Lehane

I really like Blake's review of this book. Wow.

I read the novel after watching the movie and really enjoyed it. My biggest problem though is that the movie leaves very little of the novel's details out (which is rare), so reading the novel was amazingly familiar territory. Still, it's a fun thriller with a human darkness that Lehane is great at creating. I am only familiar with Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and now Shutter Island (does he have others?) but it has become clear that one of his prevailing themes is child abuse and murder. That's the darkness that I'm talking about. So there is the great thriller aspect -- wily cops, inept cops, unknowing regular folk, really bad criminals, corruption, confusion -- all the things you need to make for small human disasters, but he is also a master at the plot twist. Brilliant.

But underlying the usual thriller motif is this profound tale of loss, guilt, suffering and sometimes redemption. Great stuff.