God And Human Nature From The Perspective Philosophy
Religion was at the forefront during the eighteenth century; as a result, many different views and ideals arose. The Puritans derived all of their beliefs from the Bible, while Benjamin Franklin, a Deist, believed that the Bible was mostly a book of fables. Although the two maintained some basic similar beliefs, most of their convictions resulted in conflicting views. Both believed that there was an existing God; however, the Puritans believed that their God was merciful, allowing deliverance from their inherent sin and evil through predestined entrance into Heaven, and committing their lives to reading the bible, and compensating for their natural sin, while Franklin, who did not believe in the Bible, based his ideas off God's characteristic of being all good, allowing for no evil or sin in the world, therefore no sinful humans, and no need for a Heaven or Hell.
The Puritans' merciful God was thought of as an omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient creator. They believed he had all power, was present everywhere, and knew all that was happening in the past present and future. Although they believed that God knew everything that would happen and only wanted good things to result, they still acknowledged that bad and undesirable events could occur. The Puritans believed, in fact, that God allowed some bad things to happen to them in order to test their faith in a sense. They also believed that he had predetermined which people would go to Heaven and Hell. Entrance into heaven was God's way of forgiving people's sin. They believed that it was an immense honor that he would even consider giving them a chance to prove their faith and to be forgiven for their sin. These opportunities were so meaningful to them because they felt they were not worthy of his forgiveness. The Puritans believed that they did not deserve the compassion that God had for them. He had made many sacrifices for them, such as sending Jesus to die on the cross for their sin. They felt that nothing they could ever do would compare to his love. Any opportunity they were given to learn about God or prove their faith was a tremendous ordeal. Mary Rowlandson believed her experience in an Indian raid was a test from God, "I cannot but take notice of the wonderful mercy of God to me in those afflictions, in sending me a Bible" (Rowlandson, 17). The Bible, God's word, was, for the Puritans, a source of information and comfort from the evils and pain of the world. They lived by its every word; it was their book of laws.
Benjamin Franklin also believed that there was a mighty creator, God; however, his God was not the Christian God. In his pamphlet, Franklin approached the idea of an all powerful, all knowing, and all good God in order to develop his ideas about religion. Franklin derived a very literal interpretation of God's characteristics. "II. He is said to be all-wise, all-good, all powerful. III. If He is all-good, whatsoever He doth must be good. IV. If he is all-wise, whatsoever He doth must be wise" (Franklin, 26). He believed that if God was all good and all powerful, then everything he did and created must be good as well. If God was not capable of evil, then evil could not be done, therefore evil could not exist. He even refutes the potential argument that God allows bad things to happen to result in a positive ending, similar to the Puritans' accounts of being tested by God. Franklin argues that if these bad situations are meant to end positively, then the situation was meant to be good because God willed it to be, meaning that it was not, in fact, evil or bad initially. He goes out of his way to solidify his argument by restating his point in a rather circular manner. "It will be said, perhaps, that God permits evil Actions to be done, for wise Ends and Purposes. But this Objection destroys life; for whatever an infinitely good God hath wise Ends in suffering to be, must be good, is thereby made good, and cannot be otherwise.
Through the original sin described in the Bible, the Puritans believed that all people were born sinful entities. Michael Wigglesworth explains, "â€¦ everyone sinned in Adam and everyone deserves eternal death-no injustice would have been done if Christ had saved nobody" (Wigglesworth, 4). Sin could not be avoided or overshadowed by good deeds. Predestination was the basis of their beliefs: God had chosen who would enter heaven and who would be left to suffer in Hell. These decisions would not change under any circumstances. They did not believe that doing good could change ones fate: however, that did not permit evil practices to be done either. Their belief was that those who displayed good character and did things that would be viewed as pleasing to God, were the people that had been chosen to enter Heaven. Doing good deeds was proof that one was chosen by God. Likewise, doing evil things would not necessarily result in one being sent to Hell, but it offered an opportunity to redeem oneself and prove to be a faithful follower. John Dane reflects on his sinful nature and God's forgiveness, stating, "Although I have many times lost His special presence, yet he hath returned to me in mercy again." (Dane, 12) They believed that people had liberties; God did not control their decisions. Man had the power to choose to do whatever he pleased or submit to God. These liberties were believed to be evil and good respectively. The only true way to enter Heaven was by submitting to God and accepting the offer of salvation, and those who were not aware of it or did not understand it were condemned. Submitting to God meant accepting his word and living by it. Their whole way of life was by the Bible. It was customary for them to attend church and read their Bibles regularly. The importance of reading the Bible led to an emphasis on education. You essentially needed to be educated to be able to read and understand the Bible, which was their only believed route to salvation.
Unlike the Puritans Franklin did not believe in the bible, in fact his whole method to religion was through questioning the bible. He created his own ideas of what was pleasing in God's eyes. Franklin's views on human nature stemmed from his belief that evil and sin do not exist. "If He is all-powerful, there can be nothing either existing or acting in the Universe against or without his Consent, and what He consents to must be good, because He is good; therefore Evil doth not exist" (Franklin, 26). He argues that if evil does not exist then sin does not exist because sin is evil. Franklin argued that God created all creatures, and, being all powerful, he has complete control over all that his creatures are capable of doing. Through his line of reasoning, people are only able to do what God will allow and God only allows good things to be done; therefore, humans are not capable of sin because it does not exist. Franklin carries on his argument to discuss liberty. He explains that because humans are not capable of doing anything except what God commands, free will does not exist. In Franklin's idea of human nature, Winthrop's good and evil liberties do not exist. Winthrop poses that there are two types of liberties: the liberty of free will, which he considers evil, and the liberty to a choice to submit to God, which he believes is a civil, good liberty. Under Franklin's beliefs, people are naturally given to submit to God because it is the only choice they have.
The Puritans believed that pain outweighed pleasure on Earth but would result in eternal happiness in Heaven after death, while Franklin believed that pain and pleasure on Earth coincide, one balancing the other. Franklin states, "This Uneasiness, whenever felt, produces Desire to be freed from it, great in exact proportion to the Uneasiness" (Franklin, 27). Pain causes one to want to experience some sort of pleasure to take its place, therefore every pain that is felt is countered by pleasure. The ultimate balance that is desired by the Puritans is, in Franklin's view, already occurring on Earth. He concludes that because we are already experiencing our desired balance and ultimate happiness, there is no need to look for this in an afterlife. He goes on to refute ideas that this Earthly balance does not exist because some people are less fortunate and experience more suffering than others. He defends himself by saying that people cannot be the judges of what is considered good and bad fortune, because everyone has different views of what is to be considered good or bad. Franklin also discusses the state of the soul after death. He agrees that the soul cannot be destroyed, but he believes that once the body dies the soul can no longer "think or act", it is incapable of feeling any kind of pleasure or pain that would be experienced in an afterlife in Heaven or Hell. He believes that the soul can be reincarnated in another body, but will have none of the memories or ideas that were present in the previous body.
Franklin realized later, that some of his ideas may not have been as well thought out and concrete as he had initially though they were. He revisits the idea that good and evil do not exist, realizing that this could not be so because it would make it alright for people to cause harm to one another and be careless. He concluded that some things were not to be done because they simply weren't good for the well being of people, while some things should be considered good because they would bring benefit. He wrote, "â€¦though certain actions might not be bad because they were forbidden by it, or good because it commanded them, yet probably these actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, in their own natures, all the circumstances of things considered" (Franklin, 29). Franklin's initial pamphlet on religion, written while he was nineteen, seemed a bit farfetched, but, with maturity, he seems a bit more reformed in some of his ideas.
Both the Puritans and Franklin believe in one God who posses characteristics such as omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence. They believe that this being possesses power which man could never obtain. Though both believe in this central God their beliefs about his doings and about human nature, in terms of good and evil, and pain and pleasure, differ significantly. The Puritans believe in a God that allows them to make their own choices and that they must compensate for their inherent sin. Franklin, on the other hand, believed, especially at the start of his religious journey, that God would not allow evil to exist and that people should live their lives because everything balances out in the end, concluding that no wrong can be done.
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