Friday, July 7, 2017

Mark David Hall: "A Calvinist Deist Polytheist Skeptic?"

Mark David Hall reviews Thomas Kidd's book on Ben Franklin's religion here. A taste:
Franklin may well have adopted radical religious ideas as a youth. But by the early 1730s he seems to have moved toward a “reasonable” version of Christianity that emphasized the necessity of living virtuously and that did not insist on doctrinal specifics. He delineated his core religious convictions in his autobiography:
That there is one God who created the universe, and who governs it by his Providence.
That He ought to be worshiped and served.
That the best service to God is doing good to men.
That the soul of man is immortal, and
That in a future life, if not in the present one, vice will be punished and virtue rewarded.
From a traditional Christian perspective, the problem with this list is not so much the tenets themselves (although some would quibble with the third point) but what is left out. At best, Franklin was uninterested in pondering doctrines such as the trinity, incarnation, or atonement. For example, in a 1790 letter to Yale president Ezra Stiles, Franklin admitted to having “some doubts as to [Christ’s] divinity: though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it.” He concluded that it is “needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble.”

Like Thomas Jefferson, Franklin thought that the Bible contained good moral advice even as he rejected the traditional Protestant doctrine that it is the “only rule for faith and practice.” ...

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