Benjamin Franklin

Scholarly analysis and quotes that demonstrate that our founding fathers were more likely Religious Deists than traditional Christians

“Historians usually have surmised that Franklin almost certainly adhered to the Deist school of thought that God can be known only through the use of reason in studying the physical universe. They also have concluded that Franklin probably believed that God, having created the universe and set it in motion, had not since interfered in its operation.” (Mapp, P. 32)

“Alfred Owen Aldridge¸ author of Benjamin Franklin and Nature´s God, the 20th Century´s most thorough student on that subject, wrote: “To him, religion was of primary, not incidental, importance. Franklin found many virtues in religion. To him, discovering the nature of God was the fundamental problem of philosophy.” (Mapp, P. 35) Importance of God and religion, not necessarily Christianity

“In the category of humility, he placed the admonition, “Imitate Jesus and Socrates”. He was not renouncing the foundation of Christianity, but he did seem to place the ancient Greek philosopher on the same plane.” (Mapp, P. 30)

“A more reliable indication of the character of Franklin´s faith during the last years is the letter that he wrote 3 months before his death to Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, a fellow scholar and liberal thinker. In part, Franklin said: “Here is my creed. I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshiped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental principles of all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.” (Mapp, P. 39)

“Industrious, temperate but outspoken, possessor of an almost pixyish humor, Benjamin Franklin was the 1st prominent American Deist and the most universal American of his time. Although Franklin grew up in the ethos of Calvinist New England, his youth coincided with the introduction of British Deistic thought in the colonies.” (Holmes, P. 53)

“Franklin adopted much from deism that would have alienated him from Puritanism”, one of his biographers asserted, “but nothing from Puritanism that would be incompatible with deism. By the age of 15, he had become a convinced Deist.” (Holmes, P. 53-54)

“Franklin´s new Deistic views and his absence from church services unsettled not only his parents but also such religious figures as Boston´s Puritan Patriarch Increase Mather. Some of the aphorisms in Poor Richard´s Almanac, which Franklin published from 1732 to 1757, display his Deistic concern that good beliefs beget good works. “Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden”, he wrote in his Almanac in 1739, “but it is forbidden because it is hurtful……Nor is a Duty beneficial because it is commanded, but it is commanded because it is beneficial.” In other passages Poor Richard observes in good Deistic fashion: “Many have quarreled about religion that never practiced it.” At another point he declares that “serving God is doing good to man, but praying is thought an easier service and therefore is more generally chosen.” (Holmes, P. 54)

“I have….some doubts as to his divinity.” (Holmes, P. 57) Referring to Franklin’s view about the divinity of Jesus.

“….offended by dogmatism and intolerance, opposed to the highly emotional conversion experiences of the Great Awakening, Franklin made morality primary in his interpretation of religion.” (Holmes, P. 56)

“Like other Deists, he believed that humans served God best when they performed good works on behalf of humanity and society. “I think vital religion has always suffered”, Franklin wrote to his parents shortly after his 30th birthday, “when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtues.” (Holmes, P. 56)

“He once defined a “good Christian” as someone who is “a good Parent, a good Child, a good Husband or Wife, a good Neighbor or Friend, a good Subject or citizen.” (Holmes, P. 56)

“Franklin believed that making the teachings of Jesus more accessible to the multitudes would accomplish more than any other activity toward the moral reform of humanity. As always, his impulse was not to talk about a solution but to work personally for one. He exemplified his own philosophy, as expressed in his autobiography and reiterated in letters, that “the most acceptable service of God is doing good to man.” (Mapp, P. 36)

“If the statement can be taken at face value – and the earnestness argues for such acceptance – we seem to have strong evidence that at the height of his career Franklin believed in a far more personal God than the tenets of Deism would allow. But knowing Franklin´s pragmatic penchant, there is room for a lingering suspicion that he just may have thought that the end justified the means.” (Mapp, P. 39)

“Unlike radical or anti-Christian Deists, Franklin perceived that organized religion could benefit society by encouraging public virtue as well as by promoting social order.” (Holmes, P. 55)

“He would satirize but seldom directly criticize other religious faiths. Although Franklin privately questioned such Christian doctrinal teachings as the incarnation, the Trinity, and the resurrection, he remained cautious when discussing them publicly. “(Holmes, P. 56)

“At various times, Franklin expressed faith in immortality. On other occasions, his comments on the subject might more accurately be described as expressions of pious hope. Sometimes he said that it was good that the hope of reward and fear of punishment could be held out to people as an inducement to good behavior. The same observation has been made by many people with strong personal faith in immortality without exciting any suspicion of weasel-wordiness.” (Mapp, P. 33)