Among the Founding Fathers, Franklin is usually thought to be one of the most secular. This is a serious misreading of Franklin who, while not an orthodox Christian, was a strong theist who consistently thought of his religious views in relationship with the general teachings of Christianity regarding Providence, the power of prayer, and the Last Judgment. Franklin even went so far as to update the Lord's Prayer from the New Testament for his own personal use, and that prayer definitely demonstrates Franklin's belief in a personal, Providential God who is the ground of the moral law and who cares for human beings.
1. Heavenly Father,Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, post-1784, quoted in The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson (Princeton Univ. Press: 2005), pg. 166.
2. May all revere thee,
3. And become thy dutiful Children and faithful Subjects.
4. May thy Laws be obeyed on Earth as perfectly as they are in Heaven.
5. Provide for us this day as thou hast hitherto daily done.
6. Forgive us our trespasses, and enable us likewise to forgive those that offend us.
7. Keep us out of Temptation, and deliver us from Evil.
If Franklin's version of the Lord's Prayer evidences a strong belief in a personal God who intervenes in human affairs and who answers prayer, the version provided by Thomas Jefferson in his own version of the Gospels, the so-called Jefferson Bible, is even more traditional -- deviating lightly from the version of the Lord's Prayer given in the Authorized King James Version. Jefferson is often invoked by those hostile to religion as someone who was opposed to religion. And it is true that Jefferson disagreed with orthodox Christianity and was a critic of organized religion for the most part. But he also was a strong believer in a theistic idea of God, a deity who governs the world through Providence. Jefferson's version of the Lord's Prayer evidences that belief.
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (Beacon Press: 1989), pg. 87.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
When referring to the religious view of the Founders, it is easy to fall into anachronism on either side, either viewing the Founders as a whole as proto-evangelicals or viewing them as proto-free thinking "New Atheists." Both views are incorrect. Even the most secular of the Founding Fathers were strikingly religious by modern standards, and affirmed beliefs in strong-theism, of a personal God who intervenes in human affairs, responds to prayer, who authors a moral law, and who will hold each human being accountable for their violations of that law as well as for how they treat those who have sinned against them. Ben Franklin and Tom Jefferson both testify to this fact.