Sunday, January 12, 2014

Benjamin Franklin's creed

I just finished reading The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H.W. Brands. It was an excellent biography, and I highly recommend it. I've always kind of admired Franklin. This book disappointed me in some ways (not disappointment in the book, but disappointment in Franklin), but in some ways it strengthened my admiration.

Since a lot of people consider Benjamin Franklin to have been a deist, and since this is a religious blog, I thought I'd quote something he wrote about it. Toward the end of his life, a lot of people wrote him letters asking for details about his life story. Among them was Ezra Stiles who asked Franklin specifically about his religious sentiments. Here is what 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 worshipped. 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.

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, 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; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as it probably has, of making his doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure.

I shall only add, respecting myself, that, having experienced the goodness of that Being in conducting me prosperously through a long life, I have no doubt of its continuance in the next, though without the smallest conceit of meriting such goodness.

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