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Ben Franklin and Religious Liberty

31 Jul 2016, Posted by Founding Franklin in The Franklin You Thought You Knew

One of my pleasures this summer has been appearing as Benjamin Franklin on Tuesday mornings at Christ Church, and in the afternoon in the National Museum of American Jewish History. This echoes Dr. Franklin’s view of religion, one that acknowledges the legitimacy of each view. In perusing Franklin’s writings this week, I read a letter which he wrote near the end of his life, only one month before his death. The letter was sent to his dear friend, the Rev. Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College. In that letter, Ben mentioned some gifts which he was giving to Yale. At the end, he answered Dr. Stiles’ question about his religious beliefs. He said, “ here is my creed.” Then he proceeded to repeat what he had told the Brillon family in Paris years before, when they refused to give the hand of their daughter to Franklin’s grandson, citing the fact that he was not Catholic. “ I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other Children. That the soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this one. This I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever Sect I meet with them.”

Franklin went on to answer Stiles’ question of his opinion of Jesus of Nazareth, and said that his moral teachings were the best ever given. He did, however, express doubts as to his divinity. He said that he would probably know soon enough, as only Franklin would.

At the conclusion of his Teaching Franklin workshop this week, George Boudreau pointed out that Franklin had instructed his daughter to request the presence of three people at his funeral: the Rector of Christ Church Episcopal; the Priest of St. Joseph Catholic Church; and the Rabbi of Mikveh Israel Synagogue. In death, as in life, Benjamin Franklin made his faith known. An abiding faith in his Creator, and a leaving of dogma to others who felt they needed it. And, by the way, those ministers were joined in the funeral procession by some 20,000 others.

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