Personal · Religion

Benjamin Franklin’s Case for Pluralism

We can gain a sense of young Benjamin Franklin’s thoughts on religion in A Witch Trial at Mount Holly, which raised the concern of his Puritan parents that he held ‘erroneous’ religious opinions.  Franklin was not himself an emphatically religious man; while he believed in God, he did not subscribe to one particular creed.  What we do know about Franklin’s personal beliefs is that he frowned upon religious orthodoxy, writing to his mother, in citing Matthew 26, that ‘I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue’.   To escape the clutch of his parents and Puritanism, the young Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, a city more diverse in its religious makeup (with Quakers, Jews and Christian sects).  It was here in Philadelphia where Franklin famously raised money to build a new ‘religious hall’ that would be ‘expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something’.  And while colonial Philadelphia had few Muslims, Franklin also suggested that ‘Even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service’.  Franklin’s virtue was on display when in 1788, he donated money to each religious group in Philadelphia, including a sum for a new synagogue of the Mikveh Israel Jewish community.  Later in 1790, Franklin was carried to his resting place by clergymen from every single religious group in Philadelphia.  How is that for respect?  We as Americans would be wise to heed his message.

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