I've spent a great deal of time arguing with Bill Fortenberry on the religion of the American Founders. He's a smart guy who does meticulous research. But, as is often the case, the differences come in how we "understand." How we put facts together and the conclusions we draw.
He wrote a book on Ben Franklin's religion which you can purchase here. I do expect to get through it and provide critical feedback.
(He sent me a free copy.)
have studied Franklin's writing on religion a great deal. Still, there
is a lot out there and a closer and more careful reading of the record
can yield new discoveries and understandings. Still, I've seen a lot
both from Franklin and from Fortenberry.
As I told Bill
in an email I will read what he wrote with an open mind. But given what
I've already seen, I strongly doubt he -- by using facts or logic --
will convince me I have it wrong.
Though I do suspect
that, if his conclusions differ substantively from mine, there will be
lots of sophisticated twists and turns to navigate.
point of agreement, before reading anything, I may have with Mr.
Fortenberry is I think Franklin was a theist who believed in an active
personal God. I think he understood himself to be a "Christian" in some
sense. I think he believed parts of the biblical canon were divinely
inspired in a God speaking to man sense and disbelieved in other parts.
On the other hand, I
don't see him as a Trinitarian. Though I do search for more of a
smoking gun case like we have with Jefferson and J. Adams of identifying
as a unitarian. I would say the preponderance of the evidence
demonstrates him to be unitarian. He attended unitarian services when it
was controversial to do so; and he seemed to gently proselytize for
unitarian sermons and expressed concerned at least one of those
ministers was properly supported.
I don't think Franklin
had a problem with the orthodox Trinitarian theology in which he didn't
believe, provided it yielded virtue or good works, which was his test of
whether a religion was laudable.
And I think Franklin
rejected "Sola Fide" (that men are saved by faith alone) while accepting
some combination of works, faith and grace for salvation.
also think he believed in purgatory and endorsed some kind of
universalistic faith -- one that taught a future state of rewards and
punishments -- but where no one suffered anything like what Jonathan
Edwards described in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."