"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."
by:
Benjamin Franklin
(1706-1790) US Founding Father
Source:
letter to President of Yale, Ezra Stiles, March 9, 1790, in response to Stiles request for his opinion of Jesus of Nazareth
http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/44/Letter_from_Benjamin_Franklin_to_Ezra_Stiles_1.html
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Reader comments about this quote:
 -- dragonswizardz      
 -- j4kk      
I happen to agree on both counts, that the system of Jesus' morals is fine, but that changes made have corrupted it. That, and I question his divinity for allowing such corruption to change His word.
 -- Nick, Clifton Park, NY     
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    Rather bold statement for the times...I Disagree with him Whole Heartedly after reading "A case for Christ" by Lee Strobel
     -- Anonymous, Marietta, GA     
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    Yet another founding father who explicitly voices an opinion the Radical Religious Right would like to pretend does not exist...
     -- Anonymous, Reston, VA US     
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    Well, Ben got it half way right by his own admission, it is the second half of his comment does not ring true to me,because it was man that made all the changes and put in the on ad on's, that has gotten us to the place where we are today, Jesus standards never change,but man's mind did
     -- trinity dushon, S.F.,Calif     
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    How is this quote relevant to Liberty?
     -- dougmcr8, Springfield, VA     
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    There are, perhaps, three options to the statement Jesus made to his friends -- "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me" -- 1) he was a deceiver, 2) he was self-deceived, or 3) he was who he claimed to be. Relative to freedom, he said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" implies a personal relationship that is beyond mere intellectual comprehension. Old Ben was a brilliant man, however, the Apostle Paul said, "God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom."
     -- Ron Forberg, Decatur, GA     
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    I don't know really how to rate this. In Ben's earlier days he was definitely on the atheist side of agnostic. His writings showed a definite change in his belief structure until at the end of his life he acknowledged the Christ as Deity. At the time of the signing of the Constitution, he leaned more toward the Divine. So you'll get a different quote from him on God, depending his age and position. His life style was one of extremes and depicted his most current beliefs. The Constitution was not based on wether or not Jesus was the Christ but rather the biblical legal traditions that were proved historically correct.
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    Albert Camus wrote, "The only Christian I have ever liked was THE FIRST ONE". Seems that is what Ol' Ben is saying also. Jesus humanized the concept "God" that is why some find it hard to think of him as divine.
     -- Waffler, Smith, Arkansas     
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    Benjamin, welcome to the club. What are we stupid or something - Jesus didn't write a thing Man did and many years later and then changed and changed and changed - where do we come from saying these are Jesus Morals. This is the endemic problem we face today with regard to our mental evolution. While we continue to believe in this fairy tale as sacrosanct we will not progress as a human race - in actual fact, it will be our demise.
     -- RobertSRQ     
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    Yes, 'ol' Ben' was wise (unless he expresses doubt about what religionists believe, then he is an idiot). LOL! What does the quote have to do with liberty? Well, if the 'truth shall set you free' then what will the corrupted word do? We ought to keep Ben's words in mind and always remember corrupting influences do indeed veil fundamental truths. Look at how the form of our own government (that Franklin helped to found) has become corrupted by the lust for power -- just like Jesus' words have been corrupted into 'religion.' Everyone thinks their religion is 'the truth.' Forberg above is a good example -- he sees only 3 possibilities of one phrase in the Bible used to scare people into accepting Jesus' divinity -- I suggest a fourth option: that the words of Jesus are indeed the words of other men corrupted over a thousand years (Paul was the first corrupter of Jesus' teachings). But so what -- it is what we do with the myths that determine our worth and where we will go. Freedom of religion means freedom of thought, freedom to believe in far-fetched ideas, and the freedom to accept or reject the beliefs of another -- it is not the right to push them onto others as had been the history of religion in Europe and England -- that was no small thing for a new independent nation freeing itself from the rule of Church and Crown.
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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    Well said Archer
     -- RobertSRQ     
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    Jesus was an astonishing MAN.
     -- amy, jersey     
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    Amy good point but it doesn't wash - by the way the word MAN come from the Hindu Manu
     -- Anonymous     
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    Robert most scholars believe Jesus said many things and they were written down by others. I agree 100% that they were added to and I also agree and Jesus even admitted that his speech and teachings were taken from 1000 years of Hebrew teaching. Whether any of us ascribe to Christianity or any other religion we cannot understand western civilization or the histroy of the United States without understanding Jesus' and Christianity's influence. I still recommend "The Religious History of the American People" by Ahlstrom. It is not a theology book but a history book.
     -- Waffler, Smith, Arkansas     
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    The quote I like best of Franklin's that has religious overtones is as follows; " I have lived, Sir, a long time, 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, Sir, in the sacred writings, that "except the Lord build the house they labour in vain that build it." I firmly believe this." If memory serves me the quote we have to look at today was taken from a lettter Franklin wrote towards the end of his life to a friend that asked his opnion of Jesus. He goes on in the letter to say he is unsure but since he is a good deal closer to the end of the road then the begining he will just wait and see what the truth may be. Unfortunately for Ben if the words of Christ are to be believed that decision must be made on this side of the grave. By not deciding, he decided. As Ben closed the quote from above - I firmly believe this.
     -- Bob, North Carolina     
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    Bob, maybe Christ will be looking more closely at who actually does the will of his Father than in who acknowledges he is the Christ. Only he knows how deeply 'ole Ben' really loved him in the end and maybe there was a reason beyond our understanding as to why God didn't choose to give Ben this particular revelation!
     -- Paula, Grand Rapids, MI     
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    Remember that believing in God does not automatically make someone a Christian -- Deists, Muslims, Hindus, and Native American tribes believe in God, too -- only in a newly free and independent nation like America could Franklin (Jefferson and Adams, too) safely declare publicly his doubts of Jesus' divinity. Freedom of religion includes freedom FROM what is believed to be the corruption of the sacred truths that are the basis of spirituality -- and to suggest that maybe Emperor Constantine's council of Nicaea corrupted the doctrines of Jesus is certainly VERY relevant to freedom from the corruption of religion. The word Protestant implies this fundamental 'protest' against religious tyranny. Forget about religion -- search for Truth, and for God's sake (and your own) learn how to be honest with yourself -- if there is a God, he certainly would respect that, wouldn't he? It is not a sin to admit that you do not know.
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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    Excellent Archer
     -- RobertSRQ     
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    Ben made perfect sense. After being forced to believe in a religion that did not always make sense to him, in England, he sought to develop his own personal relationship with God. He never failed to recognize a supreme being. He was much too intelligent for that. How awesome it must have been for him to come to a land and practice freedom of religion. And, Archer, there would have been no liberty in this country if there had not been a moral compass, which our founding fathers gleaned from the Bible. One does not need to be a Christian to understand and embrace moral principles. I have friends that are Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh (and many others) that believe exactly in the basic principles that our founding fathers set forth. They are LEGAL immigrants, now citizens of these United States.
     -- Mike, Marion, OH     
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    The system is the problem, in addition to the use of fables to explain the natural world which is knowable, not mystical. Ben only got the non-divine part right but not the moral part which is based on the non-existant which is wrong. Let's stop mysticism.
     -- Wolfbite, Holland, PA     
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    "There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds." Quoted from atheists display, Seattle WA
     -- Zeus, Southampton, PA     
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    To think we in the 21st Century still believe a collection of 27 books selected from a much larger collection, all claiming to be gospels, written when so little was known about the world, science, or much else is sad indeed. Franklin, as well as Jefferson, Washington, Madison and other of the deists (definitely not Christian), was closer to the truth than most. With all that is known today it is more likely he would doubt that Jesus could have been anything other than a wandering fellow preaching a more loving, compassionate version of his Judaism.
     -- Dick, Fort Worth     
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    Along with Jefferson & Emerson, he was one of our true early genuises -- all without the "benefit" of formal education such as we have today. The fact that he changed his position over his lifetime only shows that he was thinking & growing!
     -- Diane Snyder, Phoenix     
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    Good Archer you said it for me and the two Robert's from Sarasota agree
     -- RBESRQ     
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    I think man's interpretation of the morals are all that's changed... and often wrongly so. God s standard never changes, and if you deny the transcendency of that standard, you might as well have no standard at all. The very concept of "right" and "wrong" implies that there exists a True and Consistent standard by which to judge something. Morality does not exist apart from a standard higher than our own. Otherwise it would not be a standard, but merely opinion.
     -- Beth     
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    Everyone is going to know in the end whether Jesus was divine or not. In the meantime we should find a little (un)common courtesy to tolerate each others' nonsense. Somebody's nonsense may turn out to be right.
     -- Ken, Allyn, WA     
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    Beth; I agree with this absolutely. This Standard pertains to all people and it IS a moral/ethical measuring tool one uses to not only judge ones' behavior in relation to God, but to also judge ones' behavior in relation to the highest ethical standards. Regardless of where anyone believes this Standard originated it IS a naturally existing self evident truth, law of nature or a natural law we are, without choice, bound to whether one admits it or not. We can only become good people who do right or evil people who do wrong with most, if not all of us, living in varying degrees of both some where in between. This true and consistent standard IS a self evident truth and no "one" can truly say it doesn't exist. One can ignore it as something trivial but that doesn't make it disappear. Since it is a system of judgement some believe God will use it to judge us and others that we judge ourselves by it. I say no matter what one believes, the debate over belief causes confusion and contention leading to no agreement at a time in history where it is vital to end it and find and agree upon the common natural laws we share and through AGREEMENT on self evident truths we can alleviate much of the many contentions that threaten to divide us as a Nation. The highest good that we can attain on the Standard is selfless sacrifice to others and the worst evil, selfish sacrifice of others. Which way it goes from here is still up to us but we must actively search for issues as they pertain to natural law to find agreement rather than trying to get others to believe this or that way which common sense historical evidence says doesn't work and always leads to divisiveness and in too many cases violence. Peace comes with a cautious open hand seeking agreement, not with a raised sabre. The "various corrupting changes" Jefferson speaks of are doctines of men that oppose the mandates of natural law. This also applies in our political, economic and social lives.
     -- Anon     
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    If Jesus would come back now, he would probably say what Yogi Berra said, "I didn't say half the things I said." Or maybe "I didn't say half the stuff written in the red letter editions of the Bible."
     -- jim k, austin     
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     -- Anonymous      
    Why was my entry deleted and you allow all the others?
     -- Joshua, Texas     
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    First of all, BRAVO, Archer. Second of all, while I believe in God and the divinity of Christ, I really admire Ben's honesty. So, Bravo to you too, Ben Franklin.
     -- Anonymous     
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    Benjamin Franklin was an intelligent, honest seeker of truth. But he coud see obvious errors in the bible (contradictions, missing scripture, even differing stories on the birth of Christ), which may have caused him to doubt the divinity of Christ. I don't think we should judge him harshly, he was doing the best he could with what he had. Religion HAS come a long way since his time, honest seekers of the truth can be led to it.
     -- J. Hanks, Vidor TX 77662     
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    It saddens me to find this quote, because he was one of my heroes, and it means he likely was not a christian whewn he died. It explains a lot of things about him, though.
     -- Michael, Arcadia     
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    Believe what you will. But you will be accountable to God when you stand before Him for either accepting or rejecting the claims of Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God as He claimed and all of history affirms His divinity. Remember, YOU alone stand before God and you give an account of what you did with His Son, Jesus Christ. No one else can be blamed. There will be no excuses. You have the truth. Now what will you do with it?
     -- Terry Blackwood, Franklin, TN     
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    It always amazes me that folks who know little about anything in this world are somehow experts on what happens when we die. Consider Franklin wrote this letter shortly before he died after a lifetime of study and experience. This is a sign of wisdom. The fundamentals of Jesus' teachings are indeed wise -- to declare Jesus to be God is indeed bearing false witness as none of us lived during his time nor had any direct experience of him. Christianity was created 200-300 years after he supposedly existed. We have no true accounts of his life from witnesses alive during his time. In the early days of the church, the Christ story was allegorical not historical. As a myth, the Jesus story is still full of value. As an historical account, it is highly doubtful. Christianity is a tradition that has indeed been co-opted by those seeking power over others. Do good for goodness' sake -- virtue is its own reward.
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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    Paul said of such wisemen, "professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."
     -- cal, lewisville, TX     
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    cal, very appropriate quote. (-; Archer, I'm not exactly sure what / how / etc. happens on the other side - I just know there is another side; kinda like the same with India / I dunno - but, when I get their, I'll come back and let you know. ;-) [the other side, not India]
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    oops, not their, but rathere there
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    If you say so, Mike. ;-) I have yet to meet anyone who has returned from the 'other side' and even those who believe in reincarnation have had nothing to report on the last go 'round. I trust in the process of life and death, and have a tremendous respect for life and all living things. Death is imminent, but life is now. Eternity is a long time -- if we do go on forever, there is no rush to get there and really no need to concern ourselves with anything I suppose. All I know is that I have one life -- this one. And my time in this Earthly shell is temporal. What a grand mystery -- I will not spoil it with blind belief. I thirst for knowledge -- I only wish it could be transferred to another, but that is life...
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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    To the folks above who think that Ben changed his mind, keep in mind that quote was just over a month before HE DIED.
     -- Randy, Roanoke, VA     
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    Archer, I have had occasion to meet people who have been clinically declared dead, and upon returning to life have very similar stories. A natural occurring happenstance? — maybe? I have stated on this blog many miracles beyond an explanation by science that I have personally witnessed or have been a part of (by example: my sister was in a coma for near 4 months and expected to die. Her long hair had been shaven because there was a crack in her skull that was oozing liquid. Upon having hands laid on her head she woke up and almost immediately — within minutes — all her hair was restored and there was no sign of any medical problem). I know, people can attribute that to anything but, I have a certain "KNOWLEDGE" beyond faith and epistemology of what happened there, and more beyond science personal occurrences.

    The quote though is about taking divinity out of the lawfully corporeal application of administering personal inalienable rights, liberty, the laws of nature and of nature's God (gravity, science, life, liberty, property, etc.) by servants and applying that which has best been historically accurate to secure and promote such. Those blind that claim since Jesus didn't live in a time of cars, trains and planes, his statements on personal action have no political validity today. Those same ignorant do not have a clue what eternal law or truth are nor, do they want to.


     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    Mike, those eye-witness accounts of healing and 'liberation' are my favorites to hear!  Let the Truth be told.  As a child, I attended church every Sunday (sometimes Fridays, too).  One grand father was a Church of Christ minister, another step-grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher, I attended Catholic school (much to the consternation of my Southern Baptist grandmother).  My mother remarried a Jew, and I have been to Temple for all the rites of passage of my fellow Jewish family.  My other grand mother was a Christian Scientist, where healing the sick and raising the dead is a matter of practice  it's on the cover of Science and Health, by Mary Baker Eddy.  There are too many stories to tell of miraculous healing as a result of prayer to deny.  I credit my own health and empowerment with the same 'source.'  

    For me, Christ is in the spirit of the allegory.  How does one pass on profound wisdom across nations, languages, and time?  While I accept the Christ story as an allegory, I do treat it as an expression of profound truth.  As a reformer, Jesus serves as a liberator from the obligations to priests and dogma, and breathes new life (spirit) into the sacred way.  It is the 'Way' that liberates.

    I believe God takes on whatever form you will accept.  There are literally thousands of religions and belief systems, but there is commonality between them all  turn away from evil and do good, because as you sow, so shall you reap.
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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