Benjamin Franklin, born in January 1706, is one of the founding fathers of the United States of America. He made various contributions in the fields of science and politics. Franklin also held various beliefs in religion. He was raised as an Episcopalian during his childhood. His religious beliefs changed when he was an adult and he became a Deist.
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Franklin’s parents wanted him to become a minister in the church. They began teaching him religious principles with this intention in mind. He also attended a convent to expose him to the clergy. He later dropped out as his parents could not afford to finance his education. Franklin began working for his father.
He was much later employed as an apprentice in his brother’s publishing house. This is where he gained experience in writing and publishing. Later on, Franklin got into an argument with his brother and he was forced to run away from home. He was considered to be a fugitive since he was still under the apprenticeship of his brother.
During his adulthood, Franklin liked to think about religious matters in the privacy of his home. Matters about eternity and God were fascinating subjects to him. He became a member of the Presbyterian Church in one instance. Franklin attended the church five times in a row during this period. Moreover, he was a contributor to the church and he became a pew holder. After five weeks, Franklin became less frequent in attending the church’s weekly services. In the end, he stopped attending the church.
Franklin did not have negative opinions on Christianity. Instead, he considered Christianity highly, although his beliefs were different from the norm. Franklin summarized his beliefs in writing six weeks before his death. This summary was known as his religious creed. They contained points on the opinions he held about religion and Christianity. Franklin considered Jesus as an individual who left humanity with important moral principles (Franklin 72).
Moreover, he never sought to question the Bible. Instead, Franklin chose to accept religion as it was and did what was expected in religion. Franklin stated that “the system of morals and religion as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw” (90). He was of the opinion that the moral obligations that the Bible advanced for man were important pillars of society. These were the beliefs he considered most valuable about religion. He also believed in a supreme being and that God had power over human beings.
From his creed, it can be seen that Franklin also considered religion to be worthless. His beliefs showed that religion was only important since it promoted moral behavior within society. He considered the teachings important since they provided guidance to society. Moreover, the belief in God made the religious teachings more effective, thus it was a worthy consequence. He also posed a question regarding how society would be like without religion since morality still exists amidst religion (48).
Franklin had doubts about the divinity of Jesus. Being a deist, Franklin did not consider Jesus as the son of God. Despite this, he reasoned that was a better choice to accept him, instead of taking more time to study and question his divinity. Moreover, he considers having such a figure influences people to believe in the Bible. Humans have an inherent belief in a supreme being. Thus, having a religion with a supreme and a supernatural being at the helm ensures that humans will follow the doctrines.
Franklin also wrote prayers for his own use. He believed that God answered prayers and that prayer was a powerful action. He also rewrote the Lord’s Prayer in a form that would be easier for people to understand during his time. Franklin also called for prayers to solve the political differences that existed among the members of the Constitutional Convention.
He believed that man could be happy through the power of prayer. Prayer would easily calm a person and give them hope in times of need. Prayer also had the ability to encourage morality since a person would be willing to do good to achieve what they prayed for.
Franklin cannot be considered a very religious person due to the doubts he had. Franklin, together with the founding fathers, was uncertain about combining religion and government. To him, the government could easily corrupt religion and make religion lose its significance in society. Franklin had lived in Europe for several years and was able to experience how religion and government were intertwined.
Various risks would arise. For instance, the clergy would easily forget about their congregation since they had assistance from the government. Thus, the influence that religion had on society would be compromised. People would also consider religion as part of the government.
It would be hard to convince people of the importance of religion since disagreements about the government’s activities were common within society (28). Even though he was not very religious, Franklin still held some religious beliefs that he considered important. These include his beliefs that the moral teachings provided by religion are paramount to peaceful human co-existence.
Franklin was not involved in sectarian disputes. Instead, he encouraged religious tolerance. Thus, his beliefs did not negatively affect other religious institutions even though his beliefs were different from the norm. Moreover, some of the individuals who supported Franklin were clergymen; for instance, Weems.
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They agreed with Franklin’s beliefs that the best way to act as a servant of God is by showing acts of kindness and being good to fellow men. Franklin’s devotion to his belief could be seen in his activities. He was involved in philanthropic duties and sought to ensure fairness within society. He was also in the front line in fighting against slavery (108). Many people considered him a very religious statesman, although it was not so in reality.
Franklin also wrote about various religious denominations in his book. These included Desists, Quakers, Dunkers, and Moravians. Franklin did not believe in Christian denominations. For him, being religious did not require one to be part of a denomination. Thus, to him communication with God was a personal affair with the use of his own methods and means. Personalized religion was a better option as the person would avoid the corrupt changes that mainstream religion had undergone through.
Moreover, Franklin was against organized religion because it was characterized by rituals that would not be of benefit. Such rituals included religious holidays, activities within churches, and crusades. He considered such activities as having a negative impact on the basic doctrines of religion. People have also used such activities to their advantage, thus ignoring what religion is meant for (68).
Franklin’s autobiography has also detailed how those who practice organized religion have forgotten the basic requirements of religion. Such individuals are, instead, focused on the broad requirements advanced by religion. They follow the rules and practices that religion has established. Franklin argues against such principles by saying that religion should only be about working on the basic ideas of humility and virtue.
Franklin believed that humans could live peacefully and co-exist without religion. He stated that there were people who could live moral lives without the need for religion. Despite this belief, he also mentions that there are individuals in this world who are wicked by nature. Thus, religion is important in controlling such individuals. Religion would be able to provide a basis for their daily existence, becoming habitual in the long run.
Without religion, the world would be riddled with vice. Franklin also believed that the doctrines provided by religions were false and could not be followed. This includes the beliefs opposing reason or the laws of nature. Thus, it would be harder to be moral if such aspects of religion are followed (52).
The actions are not applicable to human nature as they have more destructive consequences, instead of being helpful. The nature of man should be respected. This will allow a person to develop positively without the restrictions created by Christianity.
In conclusion, Franklin regarded religion as a personal affair. It did not matter if a person believed in God. The most important aspect was that a person’s religion led him to have a positive influence on society and contribute to its development. He considered Christianity to have made better sense when in its purest form. Franklin’s weakness in religion was not easily noticed as he encouraged harmony and religious tolerance.
Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: With Related Documents / Edited With an Introduction By Louis P. Masur. 2nd ed, New York, NY: Macmillan, 2003. Print.