Structuring Morality

Today I received a manuscript of a work in progress from my friend, Thomas Paine. And though it may seem contradictory in my response to him, I truly wish that he takes my criticism not as judgment but as advice given to a friend with the most genuine sentiments of helpfulness. I appreciate Paine’s passion for the subject he wishes to publicize, but I think it extremely unwise to expose it to the public. He discredits the entire premise of the religion that so much of our society relies on for moral structure. By asserting the idea of a general Providence but excluding the widespread acknowledgement of a specific and sole providential being, he will be taking a heavy blow to the foundation of society’s moral standing. I accept if this is how he feels and I understand where he is coming from, but this idea is far too dangerous for the delicate structure of morality as well as his own safety. Our world has constructed a way of living from the moral code that religion has supplied us. People like me may not need such guidelines to allow me to find my morality, as I have carefully constructed my own system, but for the greater portion of mankind, the widespread acceptance of religion has given millions a mandatory set of rules which they might not have otherwise followed. I do not think that religion is required for morality, but I think that for those who are not able to construct a code for themselves, religion obliges them to follow the same path as all their spiritual fellows. This is why we need it, and this is why Paine would be sorry if he ever pushes this idea into the light. It will only ignite mass upset and he may damage the system that keeps so many tied to some form of moral structure.

After years of pursuing an Enlightened reputation, I have finally become the darling of European Enlightened society! I cannot express my happiness for having achieved this status, for it has been a struggle to emerge from the isolation that living in America entails. Though I love my homeland and keep it close to my heart, Europe can appreciate what I have to offer so much more. Just look at my portraits over the years – I used to have simple, boring, common portraits painted of me staring blankly at the painter with little significance behind the image. But now I have just sat for a few paintings, one of which I look startlingly similar to Rosseau, if I do say so myself, in my large fur hat. If you see both paintings together, I doubt you could tell who is who! Another one bears a likeness to Voltaire, who I recently met in private, but everyone was so insistent that we meet in public as a ceremonial convergence of French and American Enlightenment! My portrait illustrates myself, seated in a study, engrossed in a text. My coat is a shiny light blue with gorgeous embellishments and detail – far better than the drab brown coats I used to wear in America. It may seem superficial, but this is part of how I can officially be seen as a true member of the European Enlightenment!

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