MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Practice Test 20

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It is not easy to define Benjamin Franklin's religious and moral beliefs; yet it is important to do so, because they are representative of a large body of men of his time, whose worldly success certainly derived from their beliefs. D. H. Lawrence, who was angered by all success, treats Franklin as a hypocrite who found the rules which lead to success and turned them into a religion. This analysis is certainly false, but even if it were true, it would not take us far enough. For it would not tell us what made Franklin respected by men as different as his American friends, his English enemies, and his French admirers. There was something in Franklin's beliefs which had a symbolic quality for them all.

The charge that Franklin was a hypocrite can be presented simply. He advocated many virtues at a time when he undoubtedly lapsed into some vices. He began his marriage in 1730 by bringing an illegitimate son into the house. Indeed, he may never have been very vigorous in resisting the temptations of the flesh. These lapses from the conventions of family life would not have outraged D. H. Lawrence if they had not been coupled with a certain priggishness in many of the household maxims which Franklin popularized. In 1732, Franklin began publishing Poor Richard's Almanac, which was by far the most successful work that he wrote, and in some ways the most influential. Like other almanacs, this is stuffed with those plums of wisdom which most people like to taste and few to digest-"hunger never saw bad bread," and "well done is better than well said." It is these crystallized plums, so eminently homely and homemade, which have made Franklin's beliefs seem commonplace.

But this criticism confuses the manner in which Franklin expressed himself-and expressed himself at all times-with the content of his thought. Franklin had a special gift for putting a thought into a simple and earthy sentence. This is a gift of expression: a rare gift, but Franklin had it to perfection. The gift has a drawback, however. In this form, Franklin's isolated thoughts do indeed wear a simple and sometimes a commonplace air. But it is a crude error to suppose therefore that the totality of Franklin's thoughts, the system into which the isolated thoughts lock and combine, is commonplace. In this respect, the simplicity of Franklin's sentences is as deceptive as the simplicity of Bertrand Russell's, and the outlook which they make up all together is equally complex.

The informality with which Franklin wrote and spoke is, however, just to his thought in one respect: he was opposed to formality and rigidity of belief. It is not merely that he did not care for the fine points of dogma; he thought it wrong in principle to wish to formulate religion in fine points. He did not acknowledge any sectarian monopoly of truth. For example, when, at the age of 83, he stated his belief in God, he coupled it with another belief, "that the most acceptable service we render Him is doing good to His other children."

At bottom, it is this tolerance in Franklin's make-up which we must understand. He was tolerant of others because he recognized in them the same humanity that he knew in himself. He never hid his motives from himself, but neither did he belittle the motives of others. We should recognize him as honest because he judges others exactly as he judges himself, with a realistic and generous sense of what can be expected of human beings. Sustained by humanity, he could gain the respect of those as religiously diverse as the anticlerical Tom Paine and the evangelist George Whitefield.

Material used in this particular passage has been adapted from the following source:

J. Bronowski and Bruce Mazlish, The Western Intellectual Tradition. ©1960 by HarperCollinsPublishers.

1. Which of the following statements best expresses the main point of the passage?

  • A. Benjamin Franklin's writings were distinctive in his day for arguing against religious dogma and in favor of tolerance, thereby attracting much criticism from other authors.
  • B. The simplicity of Benjamin Franklin's writing, although somewhat at odds with the sophistication of his thought, was connected to the broad-mindedness that gained him the respect of many of his contemporaries.
  • C. Despite being accused of hypocrisy, Benjamin Franklin became successful due to his gift for simple speech and to his impressive tolerance.
  • D. Benjamin Franklin's deep insights into moral and religious questions, although gaining him the respect of many, contrasted sharply with the simplicity of his writing style.

2. It is reasonable to infer from the passage that D. H. Lawrence:

  • A. was more critical of Franklin's writings than of his behavior.
  • B. upheld in his own household and writings the accepted conventions of family life.
  • C. was envious of Benjamin Franklin's wealth and popularity.
  • D. believed that successful religions are usually hypocritical.

3. In the context of the passage, the word "vigorous" most nearly signifies:

  • A. healthy.
  • B. vociferous.
  • C. diligent.
  • D. tolerant.

4. According the passage, the relationship of Franklin's writing style to his ideas is most analogous to which of the following?

  • A. A symphony which alternates between fast and slow sections.
  • B. An intricate painting composed entirely of basic geometric shapes.
  • C. A novel advocating virtues that the author does not uphold in his own personal life.
  • D. A movie showing the same events from different perspectives, each of which is equally valid.

5. The author probably quotes Franklin in paragraph 2 in order to:

  • A. illustrate his simple and unpretentious style.
  • B. contrast Franklin's and Lawrence's moral outlook.
  • C. deride the trite expressions common to his more popular writings.
  • D. emphasize his preference for action over speech.

6. Which of the following statements, if true, would most call into question the author's characterization of Benjamin Franklin's attitude towards religion?

  • A. Although Franklin often attended religious services, he did not claim formal membership in any religious institution.
  • B. Like D. H. Lawrence, Franklin was greatly intrigued by Eastern religions, helping to bring Buddhist and Hindu lecturers to Boston and Philadelphia.
  • C. Franklin was influential in removing sacred and undeniable from Thomas Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence and in replacing these words with self-evident.
  • D. Active with the Freemasons, Franklin published pamphlets denouncing the beliefs of the Catholic Church.

7. It may be inferred from the passage that each of the following describes Benjamin Franklin's writings EXCEPT:

  • A. they attracted some readership outside the United States.
  • B. they at times addressed controversial religious topics.
  • C. they were notable for their somewhat commonplace style.
  • D. their style reflected in a certain fashion Franklin's attitude towards religion.