On Churches and Lighthouses


“Were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a light-house.”

– Benjamin Franklin


Benjamin Franklin wrote this in a letter to his wife on 17 July 1757, after narrowly avoiding a shipwreck. These lines are often misquoted as “Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.” Instead, Franklin—who identified himself as a Deist, not as a Christian, let alone a Roman Catholic—rather wittily remarks he is sceptical about the practical value of a chapel at the seaside to prevent shipwreck, as if to say “if I were to do anything to help prevent ships running aground, I would build a tower containing a guiding light and not some place of worship.”

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One thought on “On Churches and Lighthouses

  1. According to the Franklin institute:

    “Lighthouses are more useful than churches.”
    Franklin never penned this statement, which is frequently attributed to him nonetheless. It’s likely that it came from a letter he wrote to his wife in July 1757, after he narrowly escaped a shipwreck off the British coast: “The bell ringing for church, we went thither immediately, and with hearts full of gratitude, returned sincere thanks to God for the mercies we had received. Were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint; but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a light-house.”

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