Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ben Franklin's Proto-Mormonism

I was thinking of writing this post only to see that I had already written it in 2009.

I find it fascinating how (in 1728) Franklin, were he serious, thought a cold deistic all powerful God created the universe but that the warm theistic deity he would worship was the God of our solar system, created by the ultimate unknowable God.

So maybe God the Father is actually a created being. That answers the "what caused Him?" question.


Mark D. said...

Not just Franklin, but Adams and Jefferson also voiced opinions very close to Mormonism's when it comes to the nature of God, etc.

I am becoming more and more convinced that Mormonism's theological distinctives are the product of a reworking of the theological concerns of the Founding and early Republic. Essentially, in its theology of the Godhead, Mormonism incorporates a good deal of the "high church" unitarian critique of of the Trinity -- that the notion of one God with three Persons is simply not reasonable. However, unlike the unitarians who rejected the notion of a three-personed Godhead, Mormonism retained that idea while rejecting the notion of a single God. Hence, in Mormonism, there are three Gods in the Godhead (and a possibility infinite number of Gods besides those three existing elsewhere in the cosmos), rather than a single unitary Godhead.

Now, as a Catholic, I disagree both the unitarians and the Mormons, but that isn't the point. The point is, Mormonism has a much more solid grounding in the religious thought of the early American Republic than is generally acknowledged. It is not an alien religion to America, but one that incorporates key points from the religious views that were common in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mark: I agree completely.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ben Franklin is only 22 when he wrote those musings on the nature of God.

People have been known to change.

God the Father is actually a created being.

He refers to God the Father as "Author," there is no evidence I'm aware of Franklin believing---musing---that this God was created.

The references to other "Gods" is interesting, of course: I dunno if he mentions them later in life. They are created beings, by the "Author." Further, they may not even be immortal

It may be that these created Gods, are immortal, or it may be that after many Ages, they are changed, and Others supply their Places.

so "Gods" is a relative term: not quite like, say the Greek pantheon. They could also comport with "angels," or something similar---Franklin is only proposing there may be beings "higher" than man.

Further, it does not appear Franklin owes them any worship, except the One, rather similar to the "Unknown God" who Paul the Apostle refers to on Mars Hill in Acts 17:

It is that particular wise and good God, who is the Author and Owner of our System, that I propose for the Object of my Praise and Adoration.

But on the whole, I would not hold him strictly to anything he wrote at age 22. He was also a deist around that time, which he abandoned as "not very useful."

By 1790, Franklin's cosmology is pretty lean, with no bells and whistles like "Gods":

"Here is my creed. I believe in One God, the Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped."

Jonathan Rowe said...

It could be this is a thought experiment by BF. I'm not sure how seriously to take it.


"He refers to God the Father as 'Author,' there is no evidence I'm aware of Franklin believing---musing---that this God was created."

Franklin's "Father of the Gods" -- whom he said he would not worship -- is an "Author" and so is the created being whom Franklin says he owes his worship.

"Howbeit, I conceive that each of these is exceeding wise, and good, and very powerful; and that Each has made for himself, one glorious Sun, attended with a beautiful and admirable System of Planets.

"It is that particular wise and good God, who is the Author and Owner of our System, that I propose for the Object of my Praise and Adoration."

My reading is that this created God that "owned" our Solar System and that Franklin said he would worship is the active PERSONAL God the Father BF said he would worship:

"And since he has created many Things which seem purely design'd for the Delight of Man, I believe he is not offended when he sees his Children solace themselves in any manner of pleasant Exercises and innocent Delights, and I think no Pleasure innocent that is to Man hurtful." [Bold face mine.]

Again, not sure how seriously to take this whole creed.

Tom Van Dyke said...

OK, I agree with yr reading here, Jon, on worshipping the creator of the solar system, not the Big "G." My reading was wrong.

As we see by 1790, he's a classical monotheist, I think we both agree. I suppose the question is how soon the echoes of 1728 disappear.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Great. It could be the 22 year old Franklin was in his transition phase from deism to classical theism, with some kind of eccentric bridge in between.