Puritan Religion Of The Colonies Philosophy
The clear cut Puritan religion of the colonies was a belief system many people began to question. None did so in quite the same fashion as Benjamin Franklin with his radical Deist ideas and pamphlet. Franklin's Deism and colonial Puritanism both viewed the idea of God and human nature in their own unique way, best demonstrated in the way that believers lived their lives. While many may focus on the various similarities, it is important to note their differences as well; including their views on God, notions about the Bible, and they way each sees human nature.
Franklin's Deist God and the colonial Puritan God are "said to be all-wise, all-good, and all powerful"(Franklin, 26). Franklin acknowledges that this God is the creator of all things in our universe. This God has created man in his image, and therefore we must submit to he who is all-powerful. So far, a Puritan would have to agree with the statements that have been made. Franklin though, makes a claim that he sees as both practical and rational. A God who is all-wise, all-good, and all powerful is incapable of doing evil. Franklin and other Deists see God doing evil as contradicting his very nature of being all-good. God does not bring evil upon his creatures in any form, ranging from inclement weather, to the loss of a family member, to damning any of his creations to Hell. Any pain that God may cause is a carefully planned and wise decision that will ultimately result in good. This God has no need for a Heaven or Hell, because you receive an equal amount of pleasure and pain in life. Franklin also states that death brings about "destruction of the body" and destruction of "the ideas contained in the brain"(Franklin, 29). Because these two entities are fuel for the soul's fire, the soul ceases to actively think and actively be. You are unable to remember any events from your life on Earth, and you cannot feel the pleasures of Heaven, making an afterlife a mute point. Because Franklin's God has no Heaven or Hell, there is no need for him to predetermine where any of his creations will go. Death is the same for all, so the only predestination found or possible in Deism is that all are destined to die at the end of their lives. To the Puritans, these ideas of a Deist God seem like direct attacks on their way of life and beliefs. The idea of God being all-wise, all-good, and all powerful is still very prominent in their beliefs, though they have different interpretations. God knows all, sees all, and wills all things to happen. There is no place to hide from him, as Dane finds out later in his life after ignoring his mother's warning that no matter where he goes, "God will find you out"(Dane, 7). Unlike the Deist beliefs, the Puritans believed in predestination. God has decided from birth whether you will be saved from the fires of Hell or not, and all those who are predestined for Hell deserve it for being wicked(Wigglesworth, 3). For those predestined to go to Heaven, the weight of sin will be lifted and they will forever be with God. For God to even consider you, you must be able to comprehend the Gospel and understand what the Puritan lifestyle entails. Therefore, God shows no love for "the mentally retarded...heathens and babies who had not been predestined for salvation"(Wigglesworth, 4). Because he is a just God, babies will be condemned to "the easiest room in hell," though Franklin's God could never be cruel enough to punish any human, let alone an unborn child(Wigglesworth, 4). One may start to think this Puritan God extreme, brutal, or even evil. What one must understand is that this God shows his love by allowing this small amount of believers to join him in Heaven, when in reality every man, woman, and child has so much sin that none should be given this pleasure(Wigglesworth, 4).
How each of these belief systems views the Bible fuels their beliefs about God and human nature. Puritans see the Bible as a sacred object that can guide them through their lives, help them through the bad times, and keep them humble during the good times. About her time in captivity Rowlandson says "I cannot but take notice of the wonderful mercy of God in those afflictions, in sending me a Bible," as if receiving this Bible solved all of her problems(Rowlandson, 5). She also provides her readers with many Bible verses that she uses to make sense of her plight. While the Bible is held in the highest esteem in Puritan eyes, Franklin sees it as little more than a piece literature. According to Deists, "Jesus was a wise man and the Bible mostly fables"(Franklin, 26). Franklin begins to doubt the Bible, along with the "dissenting Puritan way," at a young age(Franklin, 25). This is not to say that he disregarded the stories in the Bible. In fact, he believed that Jesus and other good men from the Bible should be used as models for the self. Franklin though, would equate these "fables" found in the Bible to something found in the "proverbial sentences" of his Almanac(Franklin, 36).
If Franklin's God was not enough to raise the brow of any Puritan, his ideas of human nature will certainly do the job. Logically, all Deist beliefs can be traced back to the idea of an all-wise, all-good, and all powerful God. Man, being created by God, is incapable of doing anything above or outside of what that God can do. Because God is all-good, he can do no evil in his universe, therefore man is also incapable of doing evil. In Franklin's mind, all these facts can point to only one possible solution; "Evil doth not exist"(Franklin, 26). Franklin defends this idea by stating that if evil did exist, it would be in direct violation of God's will, as God is all-good and wills his creations to be so. For a human to say that something is evil is undermining both God's wisdom and power, which is an impossibility(Franklin, 26). Human nature is limited to actions that only God himself would do. This means that the existence of free will is impossible. John Dane gives credit to God for saving him from the temptation of sexual intercourse when, according to Franklin, Dane never had a choice in the matter(Dane, 8). On the idea of predestination, because all actions of humans are willed by God to be actions of good, then all humans will have the same ethical standing and merit in God's eyes. Therefore, even if Deism believed in a Heaven or Hell as the Puritans did, all would be predestined for Heaven(Franklin, 27). Throughout one's life, we endure both pleasure and pain. Pain is essentially a feeling of uneasiness in the body or mind. Franklin's examples include being hungry after a long time without food, being tired after a hard day of work, and missing your friends if you have not seen them for some time(Franklin, 28). It is in our human nature to want to rid ourselves of this feeling. This is where pleasure comes in. Having a hearty meal, laying down in your bed after working, and seeing your missed friends all relieve that sense of uneasiness, and in turn provide you with a certain pleasure(Franklin, 27). These facts strengthen Franklin's argument that throughout one's life the pleasure will always equal the pain. A Deist could take Mary Rawlandson's plight and apply this idea to it. For all the pain Mary had to endure while in captivity, she finds great pleasure in being released and allowed to continue living her life with her remaining family(Rawlandson, 19). Mary would argue that this is God's way of testing her, and proving she could withstand these "trials and afflictions" would prove that she is predestined to join him in Heaven(Rawlandson, 20). Franklin's problem with his Deist pamphlet, which he learned soon after publishing it, is that people took this as their excuse to do whatever they wanted because all acts were God's good will. Franklin, being a morally upstanding gentleman, had underestimated the minds of others. He eventually creates thirteen virtues that serve the purpose of guiding oneself to moral perfection. Most of these virtues coincide with those of the Puritans, though Franklin makes it clear that these need not be done for religious reasons(Franklin, 33). He believes you should hold to these virtues for yourself on your journey to moral perfection.
While Deism speaks of mankind being capable of only good, the colonial Puritans are full believers that all are tainted with sin. According to their beliefs, "even your best duties are tainted, poisoned, and mingled with some sin," and therefor it is extremely hard to please your God(Wigglesworth, 4). The Puritans have a very structured church government, led by those who have performed acts that seem worthy of one who is predestined for Heaven. These leaders, including John Winthrop, make sure citizens abide by both the laws of God and of the people. Winthrop both contradicts and agrees with Franklin in his speech. Both he and Franklin agree that men cannot simply go around doing whatever they please as the beast does, but Winthrop says that the other "civil liberty" makes men responsible for doing good in the eyes of God(Winthrop, 1). It is the responsibility of every believer to submit to the authority of God, for he knows what is best for all. They "must rely on God himself, and [their] whole dependance must be upon him"(Rowlandson, 20). Should you submit to that authority in this way, you will be guided through your life by God, and may hope to reach Heaven.
The Deist ideas of Benjamin Franklin butted heads with the beliefs of the colonial Puritans over many issues. This is made evident in each groups view on God and how he rules over his creations. Also, how each belief system views the Bible and its contents shows their contrasting ways. Finally, Each group's feelings about human nature and the proper way to live one's life further demonstrates their differences.
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