This is really starting to irritate me. We’ve had to correct the absurd claims of the religious right for years, but now more and more we’re having to correct the equally absurd claims of atheists who want to turn the founding fathers into images of themselves as well. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins seem to be the major culprits here, though Hitchens may bear more blame than Dawkins since Dawkins appears to have accepted Hitchens’ distortions at face value without bothering to do any research himself. That makes him sloppy, while Hitchens, it appears more and more, is just plain peddling nonsense. Jon Rowe catches Hitchens’ latest distortion, this time about Ben Franklin:
Of Franklin it seems almost certainly right to say that he was an atheist (Jerry Weinberger’s excellent recent study Benjamin Franklin Unmasked being the best reference here), but the master tacticians of church-state separation, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were somewhat more opaque about their beliefs.
No, no, a thousand times, no. Only someone with an enormous axe to grind and without a shred of intellectual honesty would claim that Ben Franklin was an atheist. Rowe rightly cites a letter that Ben Franklin wrote to Ezra Stiles defining his own beliefs a mere 6 weeks before he died:
Here is my 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. These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever Sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, 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: tho’ it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble. I see no harm however in its being believed, if that Belief has the good Consequence as probably it has, of making his Doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the Believers, in his Government of the World, with any particular Marks of his Displeasure.
To claim that Ben Franklin was an atheist is to tell a lie every bit as bad as, perhaps worse than, anything David Barton has ever shoveled out. His own words clearly and absolutely prove otherwise. We don’t need a Liars Against Jesus to match the Liars For Jesus; what we need is intellectual honesty at all times, no matter how much we may want to make someone else appear to agree with us. For crying out loud, will Hitchens next be invoking fake deathbed deconversions?