The Baptist and the Freethinker (1998)
by John Patrick Michael Murphy
President Clinton would have had a friend in Ben Franklin. Franklin had an eye for the ladies, quick as you please. There are some who maintain that his statue leers when women show some thigh walking past Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Even as an old man, in France, negotiating the end of the Revolutionary War, he loved the ladies and they loved him. One of his French lovers is supposed to have said, "He wasn't called 'lightning rod Ben' because he invented it! Oh la la, there is a better reason."
Franklin, while yet young, fathered a child with a woman who remained secret. He raised the child openly with his own children after he married a sweetheart of his youth. He was a responsible father but an unfaithful husband. He was noted for helping to found our nation with his genius and courage, and famous for his skills as a statesman, diplomat, scientist - and a printer, but he had the cojones of a Bonobo chimp.
President Clinton is a member of a Baptist sect that discourages drinking and fornicating because it might lead to dancing. He publicly calls to god and asks his help or forgiveness, as the occasion demands, and goes to church regularly. Starr is still there, like a faithful dog, when he awakens each morning. Nothing, it seems, fails like prayer.
Franklin liked drinking and dancing and hoped they might lead to some serious pleasuring of the flesh. He only went to a church to hear a fine speaker, not to pray or 'partake' in the ceremony. Franklin was a deist. He found god in Nature. The laws of the universe, the unrelenting governance of Nature upon all life and matter was the only god he could find and he made no secret of it. He did not reject religion out of hand. He studied it and pondered about it. In a 1975 National Geographic article Alice Hall stated, "Franklin drank deep of the Protestant ethic and then, discomfited by church constraints, became a freethinker."
In school we learn "a stitch in time, saves nine," and "small leaks sink great ships," taken from his Poor Richard's Almanac, but schoolbooks leave out his equally valid observations, such as: "Lighthouses are more helpful than churches," and, "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."
Franklin never thought god would need the state legislature to help him carry out his plan for us, and said so loudly in floor debate, railing against any type of religious tests in the State of Massachusetts: "If Christian preachers had continued to teach as Christ, and his apostles did, without salaries, and as the Quakers now do, I imagine tests would never have existed; for I think they were invented, not so much to secure religion itself, as the emoluments [money] of it. When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself, and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."
The Irish have an expression, "Even the best man among us, if he had his failings written on his forehead, would wear his hat down low."
If we learned real history in schools - the warts along with the dimples - then folks might lighten up on one another. Character matters, but so does privacy. Some questions should be answered with a question, and questions of adultery are in that category. The question that should be asked of the questioner is, "Why do you ask?" Besides, I know of a married fellow who tried adultery once, and he said he could not tell the difference.
"The Baptist and the Freethinker" is copyright © 1998 by John Patrick Michael Murphy.
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