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More on Ben’s beliefs

Franklin’s autobiography tells of his arguments about religion with his young friends and he even recounts how he was so tired from his trip at sea to reach Philadelphia, that as he sought lodging, he entered a Quaker meeting, dozed off and had to be roused when it was over. I found John Fea explained Franklin beliefs evolved from deist view of God rooted in reason to that more akin to his Calvinist upbringing. The following thus is an excerpt from “Religion And Early Politics: Benjamin Franklin and His Religious Beliefs.” This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine Volume XXXVII, Number 4, Fall 2011

“…At the age of fifteen, Franklin read a series of lectures, published by the estate of British scientist Robert Boyle (1627–1691), designed to counter the influence of Deism in English religious life. Deism was the belief that God created the world and allowed it to operate according to natural laws. Deists believed God did not intervene in the lives of his human creation. He did not perform miracles, answer prayer, or sustain the world by his providence. Religious belief was based on reason rather than divine revelation. In his Autobiography, Franklin wrote that these lectures ‘wrought an Effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them: For the Arguments of the Deists which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much Stronger than the Refutation.’ He claimed he had become a ‘thorough Deist.’"
“Franklin put his faith in an active God who watched over his natural creation and could, on occasion, intervene in the lives of his human creation as well. Thirty-six years after he claimed to embrace Deism, Franklin sounded like anything but an adherent to this religious system. ‘Without the Belief of a Providence that takes Cognizance of, guards and guides, and may favour particular Persons, there is no Motive to Worship a Deity, to fear its Displeasure, or to pray for its Protection,’ he wrote. This was also a God who answered prayer. Franklin wrote prayers for his own personal use and took time to rewrite the Lord's Prayer so that it was more suitable to contemporary readers. In July 1787, during the meeting of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Franklin called for prayer to bring reconciliation to the political differences of the body.

“This kind of morality made for a better, more humane society. Civil life could not function without virtue. Franklin believed it was vital to sustaining a moral republic. Not everyone needed religion to be virtuous. There were some, Franklin wrote, who could ‘live a virtuous life without the assistance afforded by Religion.’ Most of the world, he believed, was made up of ‘weak and ignorant Men and Women’ who needed religion to ‘restrain them from Vice, and to retain them in the practice of it [virtue] till it becomes habitual.’ He was horrified by the thought of a world without religion. ‘If Men are so wicked as we now see them with Religion,’ Franklin wrote, ‘what would they be if without it.’"

“Franklin's religious beliefs were quintessentially American and, in many ways, quintessentially Pennsylvanian. It did not matter what one believed about God, as long as one's religion contributed to a more benevolent society and made the world, one neighborhood at a time, a more enlightened and civilized place.”

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