The Masked Men
by Debra Conley
When I teach literary history of the 1700’s, two men gain prominence over many others in textbooks, but their stories often slight their true character by giving these men limited scope. I refer to them as The Masked Men. Why? Because their Christian backgrounds have been masked under the term deist; because their philosophy of religion has been masked behind the misused phrase “separation of church and state” and because their Christian contributions have been masked behind the influence of world cultures we have too long tolerated and allowed to overshadow our own Christian foundations.
Who are these masked men? Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are relegated to being no more than deists in any modern history textbook. Deism, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “thought based on natural religion of human reason rather than revelation, …denying the interference of the Creator.” The OED also claims deism as a belief that the Creator does not intervene in man’s life. To be a true Deist, one accepts creation, but no action by a Creator beyond that point, no guidance, revelation, or “interference” after creation.
When the Constitutional Convention of 1787 came to a standstill over disagreements in the document, it was Benjamin Franklin who rose to the floor on June 28 with this admonition:
“In the situation of this assembly, groping, as it were, in the dark to find political truth, and scarce being able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understanding? In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers were heard and graciously answered.
I have long lived, 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? We have been assured in the Sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that built it.’ I firmly believe this; I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better that the builders of Babel.
I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one of our clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.” (Library of Congress)
If Franklin believed that God does not intervene, why did he beg the Convention to seek God daily, to ask for His help, and to state that He governs in the affairs of men?