Franklin’s Reason over Faith

Despite Benjamin Franklin’s acknowledgment and acceptance of the basic tenets of Christianity, he makes an argument that, perhaps, reason should hold a higher place in modern society than faith.  In his dismissal of organized religion he states that they seemed to “divide us and make us unfriendly to one another.” (82).  He goes on to argue against the attendance of Sunday Sabbath church services in exchange for a day of “self-study”  claiming that there is a more personal relationship and interpretation of God within that context than one that follows strictures and dogmatic rituals.

Where Franklin seems to be his most progressive is in the idea that faith is a seemingly unreliable method by which to live life.  While he does admit that organized religion is for some people, he claims that reason is a far better judge of understanding than faith.  In his autobiography, he decides to catalogue his virtues and subsequently and systematically become master of the thirteen virtues towards which he strove.  He realizes that, not only is it impossible to master all of these virtues, but that if one were to connect with other people, being flawed is a necessity.  Franklin reasons that to be flawed is to be acceptable and that as long as man strove towards perfection, without ever reaching it, he was of virtue. He writes, “I should have (I hoped) the encouraging Pleasure of seeing on my pages the Progress I made in Virtue, by clearing successively my Lines from their Spots…” (88).  He goes so far as to reason that, though he had faltered, he could just as easily erase those faults because he has admitted to them and resolved to be better.

Unlike Jonathan Edwards and Anne Bradstreet, who reveled in the Puritan masochism of eternal damnation and constant repentance, Franklin revels in his acceptance of his imperfections.  While the Puritan belief is that faith is the only thing that will save the soul and body, Franklin argues that reason is of more importance because it is with reason that man can logically reach decisions.


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