They Were Believers, Benjamin Franklin, 1728
I believe that there is one supreme most perfect Being, author and father of the Gods themselves. For I believe that man is not the most perfect being but one, rather that as there are many degrees of beings his inferiors so there are many degrees of being superior to him.
Also, when I stretch my imagination through and beyond our system of planets, beyond the visible fixed stars themselves into that space that is every way infinite, and conceive it filled with suns like ours, each with a chorus of worlds forever moving around him, then this little ball on which we move seems, even in my narrow imagination, to be almost nothing, and myself less than nothing and of no sort of consequence.
When I think thus, I imagine it great vanity in me to suppose that the Supremely Perfect does in the least regard such an inconsiderable nothing as man. More, especially, since it is impossible for me to have a positive clear idea of that which is infinite and incomprehensible, I cannot conceive otherwise than that he, the Infinite Father, expects or requires no worship or praise from us, but that he is even infinitely above it.
But, since there is in all men something like a natural principle, which inclines them to devotion, or the worship of some unseen power;
And since men are endued with reason superior to all other animals that we are in our world acquainted with;
Therefore I think that it seems required of me, and my duty as a man, to pay divine regards to Something.
I conceive, then, that the Infinite has created many beings or Gods, vastly superior to man who can better conceive his perfections than we, and return him a more rational and glorious praise.
As, among men, the praise of the ignorant or of children is not regarded by the ingenious painter or architect, who is rather honored and pleased with the approbation of wise men and artists.
It may be that those created gods are immortal; or it may be that after many ages, they are changed and others supply their places.
Howbeit, I conceive that each of them is exceeding wise and good, and very powerful; and that each has made for himself one glorious sun, attended with a beautiful and admirable system of planets.
It is that particular wise and good God who is the author and owner of our system that I propose for the object of my praise and adoration.
For I conceive that he has in himself some of those passions he has planted in us and that, since he has given us reason whereby we are capable of observing his wisdom in the creation, he is not above caring for us, being please with our praise and offend when we slight him or neglect his glory.
I conceive for many reasons that he is a good Being; and as I should be happy to have so wise, good, and powerful a Being my friend, let me consider in what manner I shall make myself most acceptable to him.
Next to the praise resulting from and due to his wisdom, I believe he is pleased and delights in the happiness of those he has created; and since without virtue man can have no happiness in this world, I firmly believe he delights to see me virtuous, because he is pleased when he sees me happy.
And since he has created many things which seem purely designed for the delight of man, I believe he is not offended when he sees his children solace themselves in any manner of pleasant exercises and innocent delights; and I think no pleasure innocent that is to man hurtful.
I love him therefore for his goodness and adore him for his wisdom.
Let me then not fail to praise my God continually, for it is his due and it is all I can return for his many favors and great goodness to me; and let me resolve to be virtuous, that I may be happy, that I may please him, who is delighted to see me happy. Amen!
Source: Benjamin Franklin, (written 1728, published posthumously in 1818), this version – with language modernized – found in “A Treasury of American Literature” Vol. I., Davis, Frederick and Mott, Spencer Press, Chicago 1948. The original source quoted is “The Writings of Benjamin Franklin,” ed. with a Life and Introduction by Albert Henry Smyth, 10 volumes, 1905-1907.
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They Were Believers is researched, compiled, and edited (with occasional commentary and introductory or explanatory notes) by The Moral Liberal Founder and Editor In Chief, Steve Farrell.
The collection as a whole, as well as any commentary, notes, and unique online formatting Copyright © 2013 Steve Farrell.
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