Posts Tagged ‘United States’
Benjamin Franklin is widely recognized as a great American patriot and founding father of this nation. He wielded a powerful influence in the shaping of this country because of his intelligent, reasonable, pragmatic and practical approach to life. But the real power and vigor of his persuasive abilities came from the ideological principles that he embraced. Because of his tremendous reach and authoritative influence upon our nation, much has been written about the religious views of Benjamin Franklin. It is clear that he embraced different beliefs from colonial religiosity that preceded him. By his own account he was a product of the age of enlightenment and considered himself a Deist. He believed this world was organized by a divine creator.
Some have said that he was not a Christian and others have claimed that he was an atheist, occultist or mystic. However, a careful reading of Franklin’s writings leads us to conclude that he simply did not believe that the organized religions of his time fully represented the omnipotent power, majesty or wisdom of the great Creator. There is no doubt that Franklin was a religious man. His religion just didn’t conform to the orthodox views of his day. He did not participate in public worship services but endorsed and promoted the churches around him with his influence. In many ways, his religion was unique to him, formulated early in his life and refined with age and experience. His emphasis on seeking moral perfection, developing virtues and in doing good to all men constitute the heart and soul of his very practical religion. Clearly, based on the results of his life, he had a great understanding of how religion should work for a man.
One of the best sources to help us understand the religious views of Benjamin Franklin is his own autobiography, mostly written when he was 65 and added to some 13 years later. He wrote that he “never was without some religious principles; I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity, that he made the world, and governed it by his providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished and virtue rewarded either here or hereafter” (McQuade et al 215). That’s quite the creed. Just one month before his death in 1790, he wrote to Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale University, and offered a similar creed. “I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children. That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this” (Franklin Papers v46 p400).
It is obvious that Benjamin Franklin had a strong faith in God as the source of morality and goodness of man. He constantly acknowledged the hand of God in the affairs of men and gave God credit for his happiness and success in life (McQuade et al 185). He was a strong advocate of prayer to God, invoking the blessings of heaven upon his efforts to seek moral perfection. “And conceiving God to be the Fountain of Wisdom, I thought it right and necessary to solicit his Assistance for obtaining it; to this End I form’d the following little Prayer … for daily Use (McQuade et al 219). He then recited the prayer for us. In addition, it is well known that Franklin requested that prayer be a part of the proceedings during a critical impasse of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. “I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?” (Franklin Papers v45 p77) However, his motion for prayer did not carry.
While it is certain that Franklin was no dogmatist, it is just as clear that a driving force in his life was the pursuit of virtue. He wrote extensively about it in his autobiography. In a sense, this search for moral perfection was his religion, and one that he readily admitted was elusive. He considered it a “bold and arduous Project” to develop these virtues which he first enumerated when he was still young. He obviously still felt that it was a worthy enterprise as it wrote about it glowingly in part two of his autobiography, written at age 78. At one time he had hoped to expand his extensive comments about the “Means and Manner of obtaining virtue” into a book. He proposed to call it the Art of Virtue, but his intentions were never fulfilled. However, he left enough thoughts on the subject in his autobiography that many others have used his ideas to better their own lives and some have even written their own books and formulated improvement programs based on his writing. Almost all of Part Two of his autobiography was dedicated to the explanation of how he pursued virtue, the difficulties he encountered in attempting to dedicate these virtues to habit and his satisfaction of seeing his faults diminish.
As he wrote, “But on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the Perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell short of it, yet I was by the Endevour a better and happier Man than I otherwise should have been, if I had not attempted it …” (McQuade et al 220). He shared his list of virtues with his son and encouraged him to also follow their pursuit. The story he relates of how he added the thirteenth virtue of humility to his list has been endearing to readers through the years. “I cannot boast of much Success in acquiring the Reality of this Virtue; but I had a good deal with regard to the Appearance of it …” (McQuade et al 222). Although it has been over 200 years since he wrote these words, we get a sense that Franklin was much more humble than he led us to believe. It was this character trait that allowed him to be so persuasive in uniting others around him to his causes. He was not a threat to men and wanted only to unite them in the cause of doing good.
At the end of the Constitutional Convention, after the reading of his impassioned speech in which he used his persuasive powers to urge the delegates to sign the document, he watched in disappointment as some delegates still refused to sign. While the majority was signing it, he watched and commented that it was always difficult for painters to show the difference between the rising sun and the setting sun. He said that during the convention he had often looked at the painted sun on the back of the President’s chair and wondered “…whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun” (Madison 763). A lady, identified as a Mrs. Powel, asked Dr. Franklin, “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” — ‘A republic,’ replied the Doctor, ‘if you can keep it’” (McHenry 618). Franklin emphasized that the new republic could survive only if the people were virtuous. He is also reported to have said on that occasion that “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”
The word virtue to Franklin signified so much more than we may ascribe to it today. He worked his whole life to acquire virtue, as he defined it for us in his autobiography (McQuade et al 216). He described his list of virtues in terms that could be applicable to an individual of any religion or no religious beliefs at all. He did, however, in adding the thirteenth virtue, suggest the path to obtain humility was to imitate Jesus and Socrates. Much is made in modern times of Franklin’s stated opinion of Jesus. From this quote most people draw the conclusion that he was not a Christian: “I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity” (Franklin Papers v46 p400). As he wrote this one month before he died, he said that he would soon find out for himself as to the validity of the claims of the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth.
As noted, Franklin considered himself a Deist, although not in the same vein as Thomas Paine who openly mocked Christianity. Franklin made it clear that he did not believe the true Church of Jesus Christ was to be found on the earth at that time. He noted the hypocrisy that he found among some who claimed to be religionists as a major reason for his decision to not attend public worship services. He clearly taught us that true religion means doing good to all men. Indeed, he retired from his business pursuits at age 42 and devoted the second half of his life to that very purpose. While he rejected much of the Puritan dogma of salvation and hell, he very much demonstrated the Puritan faith in God as the wellspring of morality and goodness in men. He believed that part of his purpose in life was to improve himself by hard work, diligence and his own efforts. In other words, he believed that it was up to him to make something of his own life. By almost all accounts, he did so admirably. Benjamin Franklin was by far one of the most admired men at the time of his death as evidenced by the 20,000 people who attended his funeral and all the ministers of the city of Philadelphia who walked arm in arm to his graveside.
By no means should we assume that Franklin perfected his moral character in his mortal life. It is clear that he was unable to adhere to the list of virtues he espoused by his own efforts. At one time he advised us to wary of wine, women, food and the cloth (fine clothes), and yet he was known to indulge in all of them. He drank too much, ate too much (and had gout), flirted and dressed well. Yet, he gave so much to the founding of this nation and was a statesman extraordinaire. Without his efforts, this nation might have been a very different place. He became the powerful and so very influential man that he was not so much by the practice of religious behaviors or religiosity but by the practical application of the virtues that he defined early in his life. His religion served him well and made him the man that he was. He was a reasonable man. He thought things out and let his reasoning powers guide his actions, unhampered by the prevailing religious dogma.
Franklin rejected dogma and much of the religious doctrine of his day. His was a God of ethics, morality and civic virtue. Because of his persuasive skills in helping to craft compromise, he was on occasion known as the prophet of tolerance. His political influence was an extension of his religion, with the intention to do good works and help others to do so. Later in his life he returned to a belief that organized religion could help to meet those aims of doing good. His pragmatic view was that without such organized communities, men will not be motivated to do good things on their own (Isaacson 46). His pragmatic ways also exhibited themselves when he said that he would soon know for himself concerning the divinity of Jesus Christ as he very much believed in an afterlife. In other words, he expected to be able to ask him directly. For a man who was not hobbled by the hand-clasping and soul-searching anxiety of some within the Puritan community, it did not seem to me that he rejected Jesus Christ as some have claimed. He was just waiting for someone to introduce him properly.
It is my view that Franklin’s life was well spent in the service of his fellow man, something that was appreciated during his lifetime and that ensured him a great legacy that lives on today. He did not worry himself about religious arguments that led to fruitless bickering among those who simply did not know how to live their lives in a manner that Jesus taught – to go about doing good things for others. I think Franklin was a wise man in his religious views. He did not offend and encouraged all with his generous contributions to the building of their churches and helping to publish their sermons. I suspect that Franklin was amply rewarded when he entered the afterlife. He was certain that God wanted him to be moral and virtuous. He pursued that life and exhibited it by his actions. It’s too bad that some today are insistent on proclaiming that our founding fathers were not religious men. It is obvious to anyone who studies his life that Franklin was very religious, and in a very real way. We would do well to follow his example and live our religions that way he lived his in service.
McQuade, Donald, et al, eds. The Harper Single Volume American Literature. 3rd ed. New York: Longman, 1999
Franklin Papers. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, digital edition, Yale University.
14 April 2010 http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp
Madison, James. Journal of the Federal Convention, ed. E. H. Scott, p. 763, 1893. Notes at the closing of the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 17, 1787.
McHenry, Dr. James. The American Historical Review, vol. 11. New York: 1906.
Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin – An American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
Like many of you, I have been following the actions of our nation’s leaders over the past year or two as they have struggled to find an adequate response to the economic distress in which we are now embroiled. At times I have wondered if the financial crisis has been painted to be worse than it actually is until I read reports of those added to the monthly unemployment rolls.
I had to stop and think for a minute if I knew of anyone in my immediate circle of associates who had lost their job. I couldn’t think of any, but Carol reminded me of two or three. In each case the reason given by the employer was “the recession.” I also remember that the usual cost of living raise granted by my own employer at the end of each year was not offered last year.
I think there can be no doubt that we are passing through some perilous and uncertain times. There are many doom and gloom prophets having a field day with this hue and cry, and in spite of the title of this essay, I don’t want to join their ranks. I am fundamentally an optimist and believe that given America’s freedom and opportunity, we will rise above this current situation.
A large part of my optimism about the immediate future of the United States comes from my religious beliefs. I follow closely the words of the leaders of my church whom I believe are prophets and seers. While they continue to teach us about personal righteousness, I do not find their conference addresses to be full of dire warnings or immediate calls for drastic action.
Don’t get me wrong. They have been warning us for many years to be prepared for emergencies, specifically by making sure that we have sufficient food, water and supplies on hand to last for many months. Mormons are well known for storing a year’s supply of such items in their homes and I am no different. I am confident that we could last several months without replenishment.
I am also confident that the time has not yet arrived for the catastrophic events that we usually associate with the end of the world scenario that can best be found in the Book of Revelation. However, I do not dismiss the possibility that the United States may pass through something similar to what happened in Russia when the former Soviet Union collapsed back in 1991.
Is it possible that the government of the United States could collapse? If so, what could bring that on and what would be the outcome? If you have studied the collapse of the Soviet Union, you know that a large part of the cause there was economic in nature. The government owned all property and businesses, subsidized money-losing farms and factories and controlled prices.
I am not the first to point out the similarities to the collapse of the Soviet Union with what is happening in the United States right now. The United States government is moving into a very similar position of becoming the owner of our highest financial institutions, subsidizing many of the money-losing enterprises. This draws us closer to socialism and away from a free market.
I am among the ranks of those who believe that the stimulus bill about to be passed is not a good thing for our nation. I am appalled by the cost of the measures being considered. I do not see how we can go into debt like this and not be burned in the long run. Will China continue to buy our debt and if so, what will they require in return for their huge investment in the United States?
Prophecies of early LDS leaders
We don’t hear much any more about what some of our early Mormon leaders said when they spoke of the future destiny of the United States. A lot of time has passed since these statements were uttered and I suspect that most members of the church have discounted them as being made without the benefit of the additional century of history now passed, giving us added perspective.
Joseph Smith stated on several occasions that, “the government will be utterly overthrown and destroyed,” and that “Congress…shall be broken up as a government.” In addition the prophet Joseph is quoted as saying, “A terrible revolution will take place in the land of America, such as has never been seen before; for the land will be literally left without a supreme government…”
President Woodruff was more emphatic when he asked, “…can the American nation escape? The answer comes, No; its destruction, as well as the destruction of the world, is sure…Sooner or later they will reap the fruits of their own wicked acts, and be numbered among the past.” On another occasion he said, “The American nation will be broken in pieces like a potter’s vessel…”
A nation in pieces
You may have read the predictions of the Russian academic Igor Panarin. From the Wall Street Journal we read, “…economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces.” Can you imagine a civil war here in the United States in the fall of 2009?
Perhaps you recall this statement by Orson Pratt, an early LDS apostle. “State will be divided against state, city against city, town against town, and the whole country will be in terror and confusion; mobocracy will prevail and there will be no security, through this great Republic, for the lives or property of the people.” This statement was made after the Civil war of 1861-65.
Referring to the Civil war of 1861-65, President John Taylor said, “We had a great war upon this continent some years ago; but there will yet be wars pass through these United States…” He also said, “You will see worse things that that, for God will lay his hand upon this nation, and they will feel it more terribly than even they have done before. There will be more bloodshed…”
The coming civil war
“Their great and magnificent cities are to be cut off. New York, Boston…and numerous other cities will be left desolate…the whole nation will be broken up. There shall be a fleeing from one city to another, from one state to another, from one part of the continent to another, seeking refuge, from the devastations of bandits and armies; then shall their dead be left unburied.”
The above quote is from Orson Pratt, who left us the best descriptions of the great American civil war of the last days, a prophecy yet to be fulfilled. He said, “It will be a war of neighborhood against neighborhood…they will go forth destroying and being destroyed…going forth in bands and destroying and pillaging the land…the whole country…will be wasted away…”
“The time will come when there will be no safety in carrying on…peaceable pursuits…these will be neglected and the people will think themselves well off if they can flee from city to city, from town to town and escape with their lives.” In one particularly foreboding statement, Brigham Young agreed with Orson and said that the whole government will become a mob. Hmmm…
Summary and conclusion
Yes, I believe that the government of the United States will collapse and that we will then see another American civil war. I also believe that the government will become much larger before that day arrives. I am opposed to government growth and more government indebtedness. But it seems clear that we have started down that path and nothing seems to keep us from following it.
I am not so sure that Igor Panarin was that far off in his predictions of how America would become split up into six pieces. It may not happen as soon as he foretells, but the scenario he describes seems plausible. I am also fairly confident that his reasons offered for the collapse are accurate – economic decline and moral degradation. It is obvious that they are both happening.
This was all foretold by the Prophet Joseph Smith and other leaders of the LDS Church over 160 years ago. The fact that it is not being emphasized by our current leaders leads me to believe that it is not as eminent as Mr. Panarin believes. I am hopeful that we yet have time to accomplish much good before these terrible prophesied catastrophic events of the last days come upon us.
For additional information, including the sources of the quotes from Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt, Brigham Young and John Taylor, see “The United States in Prophecy,” chapter four from The Coming of the Lord by Gerald N. Lund. Also see “Internal Wars and Collapse of the United States Government,” chapter IV from Prophecy – Key to the Future by Duane S. Crowther.
Credit for the graphic of America in six parts goes to the Wall Street Journal
I feel a desire to move beyond the provincial, local view of my LDS experience and step up to a larger worldview. This is going to be hard for me because except for the two years I spent in Central America as a missionary (1976-1978), I have not traveled much beyond Southern California and Utah. My career just has not required much travel of me. I like that just fine.
Now I know some of you are world travelers and according to Google Analytics, some of my readers are in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, South Korea, Finland, Philippines, New Zealand, India, Taiwan, Japan, Norway, Brazil and the list goes on and on. I have had visitors from 95 countries in the last six months, the latest just today from Belgium.
Take a look at Miguel Lomelino’s blog. He was my visitor from Belgium today. I think he has got a great world view already. He is reaching out to LDS members in the United States and has a lot of material that is from all over the world. I’m impressed. He speaks four languages and served as a missionary from 1987-1989. He has been married 14 years and has 3 children.
Baptisms in the U.S. are down
I suspect that I am not alone in my US-centric view that, frankly, can be offensive to some who do not live here in the land of the nativity of the LDS church. We can get so wrapped up in our local issues, like Proposition 8 in California, or even the Presidential elections that it is easy to forget that there is a whole world of interesting people living their religion all over the world.
I know this is a concern to the Brethren. You probably know that baptisms in the United States have been flat or down over the past decade. If you really press me, I’ll go digging for the source of those stats, but I’ve seen it in multiple places, from Stake Leadership meetings to Dr. B’s blog. If you dig enough, you may be able to find some details on the Cumorah project website.
I don’t think this is any surprise to any of us living in the United States. We have seen it in our stake and ward leadership meetings. People simply aren’t flocking to the LDS Church here in the U.S. like they used to. Each year, our ward baptismal goals decrease and we fail to meet them. But if you look at the chart, you’ll see that church growth is up worldwide. Why is that?
America is wealthy
In a word: pride. America is rich. We are prosperous. You wouldn’t know that by reading the national dialog, but it sure bears out where I live in Camarillo California. Sure, the average price of homes has come down from $700,000 to $500,000 in the past two years, but we still seem to have more Hummers in our little neck of the woods than seems appropriate for a non-war zone.
Don’t get me wrong. I think we are a blessed nation. We have worked hard and have improved our standard of living tremendously. Unfortunately, we have also increased our indebtedness at the same time. So many homes and cars purchased on credit surely can’t be a good thing. How does your personal financial health stack up – could you weather a long season of no income?
I am convinced that Boyd K. Packer was right – it is about time the Lord taught us a lesson. Oops – we can’t use that talk. It wasn’t official. Never mind. Strike that. My point is that too many in America live paycheck to paycheck with assets obtained on high interest credit. It has been that way for many years. Thus, we are consumed with work and paying on those debts.
Non-existent financial security
Now I know that not everybody in America lives as I have described. There are plenty of people who have no debt and with savings that will last them for years. But those people are few and far between. Besides, how safe are investments in the Stock Market these days? Our little 401k has lost 20% of its value over the past year and I’m just your average middle-income American.
There are also plenty of people who have no savings at all – no 401k and no hope for retirement income other than Social Security. They mostly live in big cities on both coasts and not in the suburbs where it is typically more expensive. They also live paycheck to paycheck but don’t have as many assets accumulated because their education or income levels are just not as high.
I’m sure I’ve offended a few people because I am making generalities and assumptions, but let’s face it. For the most part, every citizen of the United States is rich beyond belief when compared to the places where most of the convert baptisms are coming from. I’m talking about Brazil and Chile and the Philippines and Mexico and Central America – places where most people are poor.
Humility brings conversion
When I served in Central America as a missionary, we had phenomenal baptism rates that are unheard of here in the United States except in the Spanish branches of the stakes I have been in. My first month out we had 13 baptisms. I ended the mission with 68 baptisms overall. I think that the retention rate was abysmally low, but what caused these people to join the church?
Hope. These people were looking for hope and a change. Many of them found that hope and were able to make permanent changes in their lives that raised their standard of living because they sought and obtained a higher education. I’m not saying that worked in all cases, but I saw enough examples myself to see that the gospel of Jesus Christ also improved standards of living.
These people were poor and they were humble. They also trusted in God and had a lot of faith. When we taught them the gospel of Jesus Christ, they responded by doing as we asked – reading the Book of Mormon and praying. God fulfills his promises and sent the spirit to bear witness to them that what they were learning was true. Many of them responded by joining the church.
Summary and conclusion
So am I saying that the church only does well among the poor people in poor countries? You decide that for yourself. I’m just pointing out that the United States is a wealthy country and that baptisms are down in the United States. Are baptism and conversion rates directly related to poverty? No. They are directly related to humility. There’s a big difference. Think about it.
Humble people are teachable. Humble people are looking for help and for hope. Humble people realize their dependence upon the Lord. They may be poorly educated and poorly trained but they are sensitive to the power of the spirit of the Lord when it is carried into their homes by humble Elders and sisters who heed the call of a prophet to spread the gospel to all the world.
Truly humble people, while they seek change, are not seeking a handout. They want to work and they want to improve their lives, including their standard of living. Once they have hope, they do not expect to stay in miserable circumstances all their lives. They will work to move ahead. That’s why baptisms are down in the United States. There just aren’t many humble people left.