However, a close reading of “On the Origin of Free-Masonry” shows that Paine was not a Freemason at the time of its composition and that the essay’s purpose is to attack organized religion as much as to explicate Freemasonry’s beginnings.
Deism is generally associated with British religious thought.
However, a number of major continental religious thinkers of the late sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries clearly qualify as Deists under the principal meaning of the term. (Both Voltaire and Kant, however, repudiated the label "Deist" and always described themselves as "Theists.") There were outspoken Deists among the founding fathers of the United States of America, notably Benjamin Franklin (17061826).
Freemasonry and deism intersected often in revolutionary America and France, and due to Paine’s associations with members of the fraternity in both places and sympathy with certain of its beliefs and aims, he devoted an essay to Freemasonry’s origins, while simultaneously attacking revealed religion in his exploration of the subject.
Biographer Jack Fruchtman notes that there are no records pointing to Paine’s membership in the fraternity: “It has long been questioned whether Paine was a member of the Masons. There is no specific date known on which he joined nor a specific lodge to which he was attached.” Nonetheless, Masonic membership has regularly been ascribed to him.
Thus, even the principal sense of deism, which refers to belief in God without belief in supernatural revelation, is inherently imprecise.
No sharp dividing line can be drawn between Christian or revelationist Deists and Deists who recognized no revelation.
Deism was most prominent in England, the only place where it approached the status of a movement.
Among its best-known representatives were Lord Herbert of Cherbury (15831733), author of Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730), often described as "the Deist's Bible." The powerful influence of English Deism is attested by the sizable number of attacks on it by the orthodox, including not only Stillingfleet, but also Richard Bentley, Charles Leslie, Samuel Clarke, and (most famously) Joseph Butler in his Analogy of Religion (1736).
Greater tolerance of diversity of opinion within Christian society has also lessened the need for an epithet whose principal function was to scourge independent thinkers.