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Capitalism and Religion in the Works and Lives of Franklin and Equiano.

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Introduction

Amelia Heagerty SID# 15861751 English 45B November 3, 2003 Capitalism and Religion in the Works and Lives of Franklin and Equiano Capitalism and religion are two subjects which appear frequently in both "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" and "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano," because these were important parts of the lives of these two men. Both men were able to be players in the capitalist market while still following a spiritual doctrine because each man chose which was more important to him-capitalist goals or Christian morals. For each man, the one which was less important submitted to the one which was more valuable to him. Both men take part in capitalism and religion, but Franklin places capitalism first and Equiano places religion first. Each man made life choices according to this hierarchy of importance, sacrificing parts of the less important in order to pursue and excel in the one they held dearer. Franklin, a hard-working and frugal businessman who many have said embodies the capitalist spirit, made his religious choices around his identity as a capitalist, while the extent of Equiano's participation and success in the capitalist market was determined by his faith. Both spiritual, both capitalist businessmen, Franklin and Equiano brought together these two seemingly opposed components of their lives by blending the two and taking aspects from each to use in their participation in the other, but always letting the one they considered more important to trump the other in situations where a choice between capitalism and religion had to be made. ...read more.

Middle

But Equiano did not participate actively in the capitalist system as a person (rather than an article of trade) until much later, when he bought and sold tumblers and other small objects during his trips at sea to earn enough money to purchase his freedom from his master. If it had not been necessary for Equiano to acquire his freedom, it is possible Equiano would never have entered the business arena. Equiano was not interested in having more money than what was required to survive because being greedy was contrary to his religious beliefs, and from the moment of his conversion to Christianity, Equiano's faith guided his every decision. Unlike Franklin, Equiano did not cherish the spirit of capitalism. To him, money meant freedom, and later, the choice to go where he wanted and not be tethered to one ship or master, but Equiano did not equate money with happiness and instead looked to religion for solace in an unfamiliar world. Capitalism and Christianity were not at odds for Equiano because he never did anything non-Christian in order to achieve success in the capitalist world. When people owed Equiano money for goods delivered but not paid for, Equiano did not act out in revenge towards his debtors. He did what he could within the bounds of the law, and when that did not amount to anything, Equiano forgave the debts and simply continued on, because of his moral outlook on life. ...read more.

Conclusion

For Equiano, capitalism was just a system in the world of man, and money was not worth risking his eternal well-being over. Both Benjamin Franklin and Olaudah Equiano were successful businessmen who lived their lives according to religious principles-Franklin by his made-to-fit capitalist-influenced list of virtues, and Equiano by the teachings of Christianity and the Bible. But Franklin was a bigger financial and public success, because his achievement as a capitalist was most important to him. Franklin laid out a list of virtues for himself in order to pave the way for the most possible financial success and public acclaim-his "religion" served the spirit of capitalism. Equiano was only a mediocre financial success because he was not oriented towards the accumulation of wealth. Instead, he chose to achieve on the religious front. Equiano's actions within the capitalist framework were mere details in the larger picture of his life as a good Christian. Both men were passionate-Franklin about capitalism and Equiano about his Christian faith-and both sacrificed other parts of their lives in order to keep intact their number one priority. Franklin was religious in the way that most promoted capitalist success, and Equiano was a capitalist businessperson only in the ways that were aligned with his religious beliefs. They reconciled capitalism and religion by choosing one over the other and allowing the lesser to function on a smaller scale and only within the framework of the more important. ...read more.

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