Locke and Shaftesbury opened an intellectual world firmly in the deist camp, even though deism itself was more an outlook and reading list than a card-carrying affiliation. Franklin later described his religious sensibility as the sort of minimalist belief he found in Locke and Shaftesbury. These were, as he put it, “the essentials of every known religion” and contained nothing that “might shock the professors of any religion”:
That there is one God, who made all things.
That he governs the world by his providence.
That he ought to be worshiped by adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving.
But that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to man.
That the soul is immortal.
And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice, either here or in the hereafter.
These convictions did not keep deists from church membership or Sunday services. Indeed, Locke and Shaftesbury remained in the Church of England if only for the sake of respectability and the prayer book’s elegance. In other words, deism at least at this stage in its development was not anti-Christian. Franklin’s own deist convictions never required him to sever ties with the people and institutions of organized Christianity.
D. G. Hart | Benjamin Franklin: Cultural Protestant. Spiritual Lives. ed. Timothy Larsen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), 39.
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