Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fortenberry Self Publishes Book on Franklin

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.)

I 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.

On 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.

I 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."

1 comment:

Edwardtbabinski said...

I responded to Fortenberry's claim that Franklin was a "born again" Christian here: