Friday, June 18, 2010

Benjamin Franklin

Just watched and enjoyed this PBS miniseries.  Franklin was such an astounding individual, and what is most amazing about the Founding Fathers is what a collection of astounding individuals came together, each with different strengths, to make America happen.  John Adams had the passion for independence that, with help, persuaded the Continental Congress to declare for it.  Thomas Paine had the writing talent to persuade the American public of its Common Sense.  Jefferson words in the Declaration has sparked more than one revolution.  Washington, with his strong sense of duty, took on the military role against impossible odds, and Franklin's diplomatic skills finally wrung from France the French troops and Navy without which independence would not have happened.  There were many others, not as famous, who were part of it as well.  They all had flaws, too... Adams, for one, had no diplomatic skills and almost torpedoed Franklin's efforts with the French.

The miniseries pointed out a couple of things that really resonate with me and I think have something to say to our country today.  Almost the first thing they pointed out was that Franklin was born only fifteen years after the Salem witch trials, that monument to the evils that can be perpetrated by irrationality and particularly irrationality due to the evil use of religion.  Those who argue that the U.S. was established as a Christian nation not only get their facts wrong, they misunderstand a lot about the Founding Fathers and their times.  They lived when each colony had its established church, mostly Anglican or Congregationalist.  Preachers of other denominations were often beaten, jailed, and fined..if not worse.  The Founding Fathers were much closer in time to the wars of religion that devastated large parts of Europe.  Many of them blamed clerics for some of humanity's worst oppressions, and they saw reason as the better guide to human affairs.  I think Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson would be appalled today by the irrational excesses and authoritarian nature of today's religious fundamentalism, whether it be Christian, Islamic, or other.

However, the miniseries pointed out how much Franklin's religion/philosophy was based on the idea of service, of making the world better.  He and Jefferson, while not being convinced of the divinity of Jesus, thought he created the best system of morals in the world.  Jefferson went so far as to create his own Bible, which cut out the miracles but kept the philosophy.  I think they would be as appalled by our loss of moral leadership, the careless narcissm of so many (including myself), and that we basically do the equivalent of fiddling while Rome - now the planet - burns...and it seems we can do nothing effective to stop it.

Posted via web from reannon's posterous

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