Book Review: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

September 9, 2010

Ok. Obviously not a new release here. But Franklin is relevant today given that the “Founding Fathers” are being brought up a lot these days with the 1st amendment issues surrounding the mosque at Ground Zero and the Koran burning in Florida.

There really are two questions: 1) what does the constitution mean? 2) is it right?

Franklin was a consultant for both the declaration of independence and the constitution and therefore his thought can give us insight into the intent of those documents. He sincerely believed that all religions could be paired down to some central moral and philosophical axioms that everyone could agree on. He even (in his autobiography) draws up the central tenants of such a religion. He explicitly mentions Islam as a religion that could sign up to his paradigm. When he helped found the University of Pennsylvania he intentionally included board members from every significant sect. It is interesting that neither the constitution nor the declaration of Independence mentions the name of Christ or the Trinity. This is striking given that the US was an overwhelmingly Christian nation at the time.

All this is to say, that I think that Ben Franklin (and probably Thomas Jefferson and many other Founding Fathers) believed that the first Amendment did cover Islam as much as it did Catholicism or Presbyterianism. If so, we need to think about the implications. If the Amendment is only referring to the private exercise, we run into problems. What if a Presbyterian President decides that Catholics may practice their faith privately but may not build anymore churches….are you ok with that? I don’t think Ben Franklin would be ok with it.

With that being said,  reading Franklin’s autobiography I was struck by how flawed much of his thought was. He was a brilliant man but clearly very foolish when it came to philosophy/theology. I think that the same can be said for Jefferson. I don’t think it is blaspheme for one to say, “The 1st Amendment grants Muslims the right to build mosques….and that is a major error in the 1st Amendment.” I personally believe that the failure to make the US Constitution explicitly Trinitarian was a mistake that will forever haunt this nation.

I will write more on this book soon because it was very interesting.

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