Saturday, June 23, 2012

Benjamin Franklin & the Electric Ministers

We all know Benjamin Franklin...Hell, we do all know Benjamin Franklin? He hasn't cut out of the history books? Omitted for time altogether, right?

Ben Franklin. Poor Richard. Printer. Writer. Thinker. Inventor. Founding Father. Booze hound. Horn dog.

So many ways to see this historic figure. But for the moment let's consider his scientific interests. As you should know, he did love to tinker with science, inventing useful items and gadgets and plumbing the depth of our understanding of nature.

Of course the most remember aspect of this is involving lightening. You know the image.

Franklin and his dog's body Baldrick. (Yes, that is a

Franklin. The kite. The storm.

What came from this work though, which many have forgotten was the lightening rod. Now, there were some ancient places in the world where this was worked out before, and in some areas of Europe like work was being done. But Franklin helped advance the idea of the rod and established the scientific understanding around lightening and electricity. Plus, for a long while it was called the Franklin Rod (Hey, hey! ...Told you he got around.).

But the reaction to preventing lightening strikes on buildings, preventing fire and other damage DID NOT go down well in some circles. Religious leaders were pissed.

You see, lightening was widely accepted as the angry text message of the day from Zeus...uh, know, pick a god. So by actually building a doodad that could throw off "god's will" you were only pissing the Almighty Alangry all the more. He may also be that way about seat belts and condoms...but I'm not a holy man.

Now Christian apologists (Those are the people you see constantly trying to work out how to shovel god's manure onto other people's worldviews, without anyone seeing.) have worked to explain the thinking away, centuries after the fact. One point being, it's a pagan idea that some carried over to Christianity, so it doesn't count. ...And then it was enforced and used at pulpits. It was embraced as part of Christian culture. And, frankly, almost nothing in Christianity doesn't come from Judaism, "paganism", or other ancient beliefs.

But at least the apologist nicely made a note of the religious silliness of the times.
In Switzerland, France and Italy, popular prejudice against the lightning rod was ignited and fueled by the churches and resulted in the tearing down of lightning rods from many homes and buildings, including one from the Institute of Bologna, the leading scientific institution in Italy. The Swiss chemist, M. de Saussure, removed a rod he had erected on his house in Geneva in 1771 when it caused his neighbors so much anxiety that he feared a riot.
Panicky religious mobs. Those are always fun.

Phil. Mus. of Art, "Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky" 
by Benjamin West (1738-1820).
Going back to Franklin though, he had some interesting. A few years after Franklin's discoveries, there was an earthquake in Massachusetts. A massive one. Many divine explanations were sought to explain it all. And at least one pastor, Thomas Prince, leapt at this as PROOF that Franklin and his Rod (Heh heh.) were to blame.

If God can't blast your house down, or pick off the occasional church bell ringer, he's going to go TECTONIC on us.

"God shakes the earth because he is wroth," insisted Prince in a sermon he published soon after the quake. He warned his flock that the more lightning rods were erected around Boston, the more earthquakes would afflict the city as a result. 
While not present at this sermon, Adams wrote that he heard idle talk of the "presumption of philosophers in erecting iron tods ... attempting to control the artillery of heaven," and dismissed it a drunken nonsense. For his part, Franklin was amused by the reaction. Why, he wryly asked, was it acceptable to build a roof to keep out the rain but blasphemy to place a rod upon the roof to keep out the lightning? 

Of course this should all be quite familiar to us today. It is still the bread and butter on many preachers to cry out about how we are bringing about damnation and suffering for how we live and act.

What doesn't get the blame on a god's wrath for one action or another?

We keep having to live through this demagoguery. It shouldn't be surprising to us, it should just make us sick and tired. Particularly when they want to parley it into political and social change (To manipulate us into regressing.).

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