revivalists like George Whitefield. Though the'sects' disagreed with each other over creeds that Franklin found irrelevant, he celebrated their contribution to moral seriousness.15
Franklin outlined his creed, one that matched that of the deists. He was not non-religious, and was anything but secular. Without needing the Bible or any other book of revealed religion, he would promote morality. For him, there was a God of Reason and Law, who held humans responsible. They could do good or evil, and would be rewarded or punished in this life or in a life to come. The churches, he thought, had a right to exist and could be allies of people of good will who did not adhere to their dogmas. But these dogmas were irrelevant, except insofar as they inspired and motivated people to good works. Some followers of Jesus, in his eyes, were good and some were bad. Some non-believers in the divinity of Jesus were also good or bad. So, he reasoned, it could not be the belief in the divinity of Jesus or any other Christian doctrine that was the mark of good citizenship.16
People like Franklin worked at the side of Whitefield and other clerics, and took pains not to antagonize them. Patriot Tom Paine, visiting for some years from England, was a more militant deist. In the model of more radical continental proponents of Enlightenment, he saw church religion as a distraction from the cause of liberty and maybe a barrier to it. Paine did inspire some of the church people to support liberty, without, of course, accepting his attack on the churches. But he was too radical for most domestic consumption.
Somewhere between Franklin and Paine was Thomas Jefferson, also a critic of Calvinism, 'priestcraft', dogma, and many church practices that struck him as incongruent with rational religion. With Paine he could say that his own mind was his church. Yet he could ally with professedly religious figures, especially dissenters against establishments, to fire up revolutionaries during the war and fighters for religious liberty thereafter.17
Was this article helpful?