Few things say more about the character of a person than his or her religious beliefs. No, it is not because of their religion, nor, perhaps, even because of the importance of religion, but rather because of the importance people give to religion and the important place religion holds in the life of the religious. Benjamin Franklin was no different. Living in the time of a new frontier, America, where the new settlers had arrived in part to escape religious tyranny and have the freedom to practice their religious beliefs as they chose, Benjamin Franklin clearly had a religious upbringing.
It also meant that he had to make choices, not just about food, clothes, shelter and the other cares and needs of any given day, but about God, life, existence and, yes, religion. No doubt, religion builds character. Perhaps his struggles with the ideologies and concepts of religion were among the most central in his life. He certainly seems point out how they affected his thinking even from early in his life. People often base the fundamental practices and ideas of their life around their religion and their religious beliefs. To the extent that the individual is open and flexible, their religious beliefs are likewise.
For most people, religious beliefs, once established, are set and inflexible. We generally form our religious beliefs when young and begin our religious practices and philosophies as we grow from a very young age. Whatever flexibility there is in an individual personality is perhaps reflected in the way they practice their religion and tolerate others. Often, those in one religion have very little tolerance of other religions. One sign of an open personality is the person’s tolerance for other religions and his or her ability to adopt principles and ideals from other religious philosophies.
After being introduced to a particular religious ideology, a child must struggle with those ideas and pick and choose between those he or she will accept and those he or she will not. I did, and it is obvious that Old Ben did as well. Ben is not reticent to acknowledge that religious concepts played a central and crucial role in shaping his thinking and ideas as he grew. He says, “Before I enter upon my public Appearance in Business, it may well to let you know the then State of my Mind, with regard to my Principles and Morals, that you may see how far those influenc’d the future Events of my Life.
My Parents had early given me religious Impressions, and brought me through my Childhood piously in the Dissenting way. But I was scarce 15 when, after doubting by turns of several Points as I found them disputed in the different books I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself. ” (p. 45) His view that aspects of his own character in the present would influence the course of future events is instructive, and foremost among the principles he mentions are those of religion.
Perhaps those words betray a hint of willingness or desire to change aspects of his character if required, but they certainly demonstrate his realization that change is sometimes necessary, that change from what we are taught in childhood may be required once we reach adulthood. He only says that his morals and principals at one point in his life “influenc’d the future Events” of his life. Perhaps that says nothing directly about his character, but to me it reveals his recognition that the morals and principles he held early in life served as a beacon or guide for him later in life.