Famous Deist: Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin is famous for his great intellect and for his important accomplishments, as well as for his profound altruism.

His accomplishments in advancing science and our understanding of nature are many. One very important one was his work to understand electricity. Franklin discovered that electricity has a positive and a negative charge, which was a huge advancement for science. He also used his knowledge to improve the lives of people by inventing the lightening rod, which protects homes and building from lightening strikes. He altruistically refused to patent this invention, and many other inventions including bifocals. In turning down an offer for a lucrative patent on his Pennsylvania Stoves, which eventually became known as Franklin Stoves, Franklin wrote, “But I declined it, as we enjoy great advantages from the invention of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.”

When Ben Franklin was a young man, he began to doubt the Bible and Christianity. Thankfully he read some books written by Christians which were intended to prove Deism wrong. Franklin wrote in his autobiography:

Books against Deism fell into my Hands; they were said to be the Substance of Sermons preached at Boyle's Lectures. It happened that they wrought an Effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them: For the Arguments of the Deists which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much Stronger than the Refutations. In short I soon became a thorough Deist.

Although Franklin was a Deist, he believed that many, if not most, people need religion and its threats of Hell and damnation to keep people from doing wrong, and that religion and its threats were necessary for a civil society. Other Deists like George Washington believed the same as Franklin on this topic. However, Deists like Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen did not. Paine and Allen believed that the cruelty promoted by the Bible and Quran, and which is taught as originating with God, only caused cruelty to spread among humanity. Paine summed it up well when he wrote in The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition, "Belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man."

While in London, England in 1774 Benjamin Franklin met 37-year-old Thomas Paine. Paine was financially destitute after suffering unemployment, a business failure and divorce. Paine and Franklin decided that Thomas Paine should go to America and restart his life as a writer. According to Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, "Franklin procured him passage and wrote to Richard Bache in 1774 asking him to help get Paine a job." If Ben Franklin had not performed this kind and altruistic act of paying for Paine's passage to America, there is a very good chance that the American Revolution would not have happened, as Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense is what caused enough people to believe in and to take action for the American Revolution to actually get started. Once it was started, the American rebels suffered one military defeat after another. Paine then wrote a series of inspiring pamphlets called The Crisis, which helped the rebels to keep the ideals that originally led them to revolt in mind, thus preventing them from quitting the world improving idealistic cause of the American Revolution. (Thomas Paine was also altruistic as is evident by his donating to the American Revolutionary cause his income from the sale of his best-seller Common Sense.)

One of the many writings of Ben Franklin is Poor Richard's Almanac. This is loaded with important principled quotes that are easy to incorporate into our own lives. Here's a sampling of them:

"The noblest question in the world is, What Good may I do in it?"

"The Way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason."

"Lost time is never found again."

"Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of."

"Fear to do ill, and you need fear naught else."

“If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.”

"Speak little, do much."

"Fish and visitors stink in three days."