Comparing the social and religious values expressed in Franklin’s Autobiography with those in Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity.”

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both works display a belief that social redemption is possible through the actions of the individual.  Franklin's autobiography reveals this in the detailing of his own life.  His story is the one of the self- made individual. Accordingly, there is a great deal of hope within his autobiography that someone from a limited context can better themselves.  Franklin's vision is one in which the individual can do great things if one is committed to their goals:  "Often I sat up in my Room reading the greatest Part of the Night, when the Book was borrow'd in the Evening and to be return'd early in the Morning lest it should be miss'd or wanted."  In this, the notion of social advancement rests in the individual's aspirations and hopes.  

Winthrop presents an equally redemptive vision of social advancement. Winthrop believes that the individual can show improvement and better both themselves and society if they recognize their own communal instinct:  "We must love brotherly without dissimulation; we must love one another with a pure heart fervently." Winthrop believes that social advancement lies within individual aspiration geared towards solidarity. This idea is where individual betterment and social redemption can exist: "For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man." Very similar to Franklin, Winthrop presents a vision of social redemption in his narrative.  Both writers' works can speak to a society that envisions what can be from what is.  

A significant point of difference could be in how both view religious notions of the good. Franklin presents a secular vision of social advancement and individual improvement. When Franklin speaks of how individuals advance and make both themselves and their social setting better, it is not dependent on spiritual identity or an external notion of the divine.  Such power rests within the capacities of the individual:"Reading became fashionable...Books, and in a few Years were observ'd by Strangers to be better instructed and more intelligent than People of the same Rank generally are in other Countries." Franklin's affirmation of literacy and education is a self- empowering notion.  In this configuration, religion is not as important. 

Winthrop's work speaks to a different end.  In Winthrop's mind, the only way for social advancement and individual betterment to happen is through the faith in the divine. When Winthrop speaks of "the city upon a hill," his dependence on the divine is evident:

For we must consider that we shall be the City upon a hill. They eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our god in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present from us, we shall be made a story and a by word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors of God's sake. We shall shame the faces of the ways of God, and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are a going.

Winthrop's "Model" highlights service to a Christian God as the only way social advancement and individual improvement is possible. The "City" is one of the divine. The individual should aspire to enter such a domain. Such a primacy on religion becomes one of the basic values in Winthrop's and resonates as the basis of his belief in social and individual redemption.