One of the most important obligations of the American Philosophical Society, one would hope, is to keep a little bit of Franklin and Jefferson (the authors of the Declaration) alive and well in America. After all, the Declaration contains the values that define America (whether we honor them or not). The American Philosophical Society has utterly failed to do so, certainly in the realms where Franklin and Jefferson matter the most, i.e., the realm of theology and human rights.
Largely as a result of capitalism's dominion, Franklin's Society now occupies a position where it lives with the religious capitalism and conservative coercion of the Bush administration as being somehow consistent with what Franklin and Jefferson had in mind. In other words, Franklin's Society, not for America's sake but for the Society's sake, has de-evolved right along with the rest of American democracy. This would have been impossible in a land where the people were truly free and brave.
In considering Jefferson's Declaration, it was Franklin who scribbled out Jefferson's wording that "We hold these truths to be sacred" and he replaced the line with "We hold these truths to be self-evident." Franklin did not want any truths to be held "sacred," certainly not in the absolutist manner of religion. He did not want the Declaration to be beyond human abilities to update and revise.
In addressing the American Philosophical Society about the need to update the natural philosophical basis of American democracy so as to be consistent with postmodern (post-Einstein) knowledge, the response from the Society is of more than passing interest. "Although the word 'philosophy' is part of our title, we use an eighteenth-century definition of the word, which is more scientific in nature." (personal communication).
In other words, Franklin's Society maintains an ideological stance that has everything to do with turn-of-the-20th century "American" pragmatism with its abandonment of Why questions and theology, leaving that realm to religion. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the nascent Christian theology of human rights which Jefferson and Franklin embedded into the Declaration as the dialectic (middle human ground) basis for democracy.
Franklin was willing to feign support for a Constitution that veered sharply away from the values of the Declaration because America had fought a war and it had lost 25,000 good people in order to win freedom from monarchical and papal oppression. The new nation clearly needed a Constitution, even "with all its faults."
The values of the Declaration had, in the formulation of the Constitution, been so compromised by the values of Old Testament religion and British capitalism as to be difficult to recognize as being derived from the Declaration at all. It failed to even give women the vote (not to mention blacks and non-landowners). In other words, the problem seen by Franklin and Jefferson was the failure to translate the human rights-based values of the Declaration into a viable Constitutional action policy.
Today, the American Philosophical Society, like everything else in America, has been so compromised by the values of religious capitalism that it can no longer see any of the larger truths that flow from Franklin's and Jefferson's natural philosophy. By adopting a definition of philosophy "that is more scientific in nature," it implies that Franklin and Jefferson had no theology, that these two men had no ability to ask intelligent Why questions.
Jefferson, perhaps one of the most enlightened theologians to have walked on this earth, dealt with religious theology head on. In 1793, in a Cabinet Opinion, he dismissed the supernatural Roman god and placed America's God in the "head and heart" of every person. He replaced the highest authority, the "will of god," with the "will of the people, substantially declared." (Edward Dumbauld, The Political Writings of Thomas Jefferson, The Liberal Arts Press, NY, 1955).
In complete agreement with Jefferson's nascent Christian theology, Franklin even went so far as to say, "He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive [before Rome] Christianity will change the face of the world." Like it or not, this was a direct assault on everything Roman and religious, made in the name of the Christ and human rights.
In order to preserve itself in the name of everything that is good about America, the American Philosophical Society had gone right along with everything that is bad in America. This is tragic, because it was Franklin's view that "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." So much for the American Philosophical Society under religious capitalism.
God, as the will of the people, ought bless Benjamin Franklin on this 4th of July. Two hundred years ago, that one man had more to say than the entire American Philosophical Society has to say at present under the oppression of religious capitalism. Two hundred years ago, that one man was not afraid of Why questions and theology and not afraid to speak out in the interest of human rights and the people.