Franklin’s Religion, somewhere between Jesus and Socrates.

Ben Franklin seems to form his own religious scripts around this idea of self-improvement through self-examination, which would appear to resemble the Puritan method of self-examination by confessing your sins; however, as Franklin recognizes his faults he also recognizes the potential to correct them, thus improving his moral being without feeling so guilt stricken as a Puritan would considering their notion of Total Depravity.  Franklin’s strive for self-improvement manifests itself in several ways: devoting Sundays to studying and self-contemplation rather than observing the Sabbath, creating a list of virtues, recording positive examples of these virtues, and marking his daily faults, which gives him the opportunity to literally erase away his imperfections.  Moral perfection is what every Puritan aspired to obtain and shows in their deep anxiety over the human’s condition of being naturally sinful, but their problem was they couldn’t see the potential to overcome their vices because of the strict Puritan doctrines such as the predestination of the elect and limited atonement.  Franklin’s self-improvement gives him a sense of spiritual satisfaction the same way the Puritan’s used their confessions and conversion stories. Despite his attempts to reach moral perfection, Franklin admits he “fell far short of it, yet…by the Endeavour of it made a better and happier Man,” which is similar to the Puritans sense of gratitude after feeling the grace of God in the interpretation of their conversions (92).  Franklin had religion in mind when he set out to create this list of virtues and track them, even during his process of self-examination he allowed the advice of a Quaker to alter his moral script when pride was introduced and added humility to his list of vices.  His precept to Pride states “Imitate Jesus and Socrates” which I think perfectly sums up Franklin’s theology that combines reason with spiritual morality (86).  Once the list is complied, Franklin believes “that it might be serviceable to People in all Religions” because he deliberately decided against including “any of the distinguishing Tenets of any particular Sect,” granted his justification of this reads as prideful when he says, “I had purposely avoided them; for being fully persuaded of the Utility and Excellence of my Method” (93).  Regardless of his motives for wanting to obtain “moral perfection,” be it for his own self-improvement or that of people of all religions, Franklin adhered to his daily examination with the determination and deep internal reflection as seen in any Puritan confession.


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