Benjamin Franklin and Henry David Thoreau are by no means religious in any traditional
sense of the word. If, however, “religious” is taken to mean the “belief in any sort of supreme
being...that obliges ethical or moral conduct”, then both Franklin and Thoreau fall into this
category. Though the two are strikingly opposite in their manner and social interaction, they are
both held to a religious and personal standard. Their individual spiritual beliefs, ethical codes,
and their “quality of life”show that all of their actions and thoughts are held by themselves to a
Both men have specific beliefs about the existence of God and man’s place in the world.
Franklin is a self-proscribed “deist”, one who believes in God but not church, because of its
nature. His attitude was that man runs the church, it’s the beliefs that are important, the praising
and honoring of God on a daily basis, not the institution. Throughout the Autobiography, he
mentions his prayers and the fact that he enjoyed going to non-formal sermons. He also
supported the church monetarily for the benefit of others. Thoreau did none of these things, but
he was still a highly spiritual individual. He did not proscribe to any particular religion but did
hold the belief in one supreme being who created the universe. He believed that one should have
a true experience with the world according to how it was made and that man was endowed with
common sense by the creator. He says that humans “no longer camp as for a night, but have
settled down on earth and forgotten heaven”( Thoreau 25). This is why he believed societ...
... middle of paper ...
Philadelphia. This is consistent with his religious views. Thoreau on the other hand was anti-
machine, almost anti-society. He said that there are “a thousand [people] hacking at the branches
of evil to one who is striking at the root” (Thoreau 51). He believed society would be better off
not through inventions but if every individual took it upon themselves to find their own true path.
Though differing, these two views express the same idea: leading humanity towards what is right.
Regardless of their differences, Franklin and Thoreau are focused on a spiritual,
humanist, non-shallow viewing of the world. Both don’t just do things because it is the thing to
do or out of fear, but because of their beliefs. They feel obliged to a higher conduct because of
their religious views of the world, whether “religious” or not.
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