Franklin, next to George
Washington possibly the most famous 18th-century American, by 1757 had
made a small fortune, established the Poor Richard of his almanacs (written
under his pseudonym) as an oracle
on how to get ahead in the world, and become widely known in European scientific
circles for his reports of electrical
experiments and theories. What is more, he was then just at the beginning
of a long career as a politician, in the course of which he would be chief
spokesman for the British colonies in their debates with the king's ministers
about self-government and would have a hand in the writing of the Declaration
of Independence, the securing of financial and military aid from France
during the American Revolution, the negotiation of the treaty by which
Great Britain recognized its former 13 colonies as a sovereign nation,
and the framing of the Constitution, which for more than two centuries
has been the fundamental law of the United States of America.
And as impressive as Franklin's public service was, it was perhaps less remarkable than his contributions to the comfort and safety of daily life. He invented a stove, still being manufactured, to give more warmth than open fireplaces; the lightning rod and bifocal eyeglasses also were his ideas. Grasping the fact that by united effort a community may have amenities which only the wealthy few can get for themselves, he helped establish institutions people now take for granted: a fire company, a library, an insurance company, an academy, and a hospital. In some cases these foundations were the first of their kind in North America.
One might expect universal
admiration for a man of such breadth and apparent altruism. Yet Franklin
was disliked by some of his contemporaries and has ever since occasionally
been attacked as a materialist or a hypocrite. D.H. Lawrence, the English
novelist, regarded him as the embodiment of the worst traits of the American
character. Max Weber, the German sociologist, made him the exemplar of
the "Protestant ethic," a state of mind that contributed much, Weber thought,
to the less admirable aspects of modern capitalism. Those who admire Franklin
believe that his detractors have mistakenly identified him with Poor Richard,
a persona of his own creation, or that they have relied too largely upon
the incomplete self-portrait of his posthumously published Autobiography.
"He wrested the flash of lightning from heaven and the scepter from the tyrants."
So, here you have the idea of electricity connecting to the idea of political Prometheanism. But for all his fame, Franklin wasn't the first person to have the idea of the lightning rod. In fact, that credit goes to a Moravian named Prokop Divisch who was a Premonstratensian monk. One day he was sitting around and diddling around with electrostatic machines and he discovers the principle of the lightning rod. In fact, he came to Emperor Franz Josef and said, "Listen. I want to put a lightning rod on top of the Hofburg." But the Emperor wouldn't have any of it. So, if Franklin stands as the exoteric story of how we tame electricity and bring this mysterious force down to earth in order to exploit it for rational gain, we also have the monk who opens up this esoteric side that I am trying to point to, in which electricity is an imponderable fluid that becomes symbolized and related to the higher powers.
- Erik Davis -
_Spiritual Telegraphs and the Technology of Communication_ lecture
Like countless later American Masons,
including Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the astronauts John Glenn
and Buzz Aldrin, Franklin put into practice American's cult of the technological
sublime. As the American religious scholar Catherine Albanese argues
in her discussion of American Masonry, "if any genuinely new popular religion
arose in New World America, it was a nature religion of radical empiricism,
with the aim of that religion to conflate spirit and matter and, in the
process, turn human beings into gods.
- Erik Davis - _Techgnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism In The Age Of Information_
-- Benjamin Franklin