Autobiography and Other Writings, The
by Benjamin Franklin
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Benjamin Franklin was not a Christian. Saying this should amount to pointing out a very obvious historical fact, and for the most part students don’t get too excited about obvious historical facts. But my students certainly get fired up about this one!
Because they hold the mistaken idea that America could only have had a Christian foundation if all of the founding fathers were Christians, my students think it their civic duty to fight tooth and nail to baptize Ben Franklin. And they’re not the only ones. I’ve had several well-meaning parents pull me aside and whisper something like, “You know, Franklin may have changed in his later years—after all, he’s the one who recommended praying at the Constitutional Convention.”
True enough. But this prayer demonstrates only that Franklin understood people and was a good tactician. We have his own word, very late in life, that he was not a Christian.
Included in this edition of his Autobiography—which is not as juicy as you might hope but certainly reveals the man—are some excerpts of his essays and letters. One of the last letters he wrote, a little more than a month before he died, was in response to a person wondering what he believed about Jesus. This is what he said: “As to Jesus of Nazareth . . . I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity . . .”
Barring some mute death-bed conversion, Benjamin Franklin will not be in heaven. To argue otherwise is to ignore the man’s own statement of faith.
I bring this up not to delight in one man’s blindness, but to point out two things. First, just because some of America’s founders were Deists (or worse), it doesn’t mean that American law and government are not built on biblical foundations. Second, you will know a man by his fruit. You have to ignore not only Franklin’s stated convictions but most of his personal life as well to argue that he was a Christian. In other words, he makes a massively inconsistent Christian, but a very consistent Deist.
You will not understand his “bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection,” or much else you find in this reading, until you understand that his values and actions were rooted in his unbiblical worldview.
by Jeff Baldwin