What Is Freethought? What is a Freethinker?

WHAT IS FREETHOUGHT?  WHAT IS A FREETHINKER?

©2012 The Church Of Freethought

 

Free thought, n. opinions about questions of religion formed independently of tradition, authority, or established belief.

 

Free think er, n. a person who forms his opinions about religion independently of tradition, authority, or established belief.

 

 

Are freethinkers atheists?

 

Freethinkers are people who are unconvinced of the existence of supernatural entities and phenomena generally: ghosts, gods, devils, leprechauns, reincarnation, heaven, hell, and so on.  Yet Freethinkers are not dogmatic about their unbelief.  They realize that the store of human knowledge and understanding is constantly growing.  Some of today’s beliefs will be swept away for better ideas tomorrow just as some of yesterday’s ideas have been replaced by today’s knowledge.  Nevertheless, it remains a fact that no convincing evidence supports the existence of the supernatural.  Nor does our ignorance about very many things demand that we believe in the supernatural.  To suppose the existence of such things as god(s) explains nothing.  In fact, it raises more questions than it claims to answer, some of which may not even have any answers.

 

What do freethinkers believe?

 

Freethought is not a religion of belief but, rather, the Religion of Thinking.  That is, Freethinkers do not assert beliefs for which there are insufficient facts and reason, much less beliefs that are inconsistent with facts and reason and so must be taken “on faith.”  This is because Freethinkers attach much more importance to the why of belief than to the what.  They champion the sort of human understanding that naturally follows from a careful and rational consideration of relevant factual evidence.  With regard to the natural world of human experience, therefore, Freethinkers regard the scientific method as the proper approach and scientific knowledge as the most reliable sort of human understanding.  Freethinkers also acknowledge that there is an inner, private, subjective world of human experience.  But they also recognize that our feelings and emotions cannot and should not be the basis of what we believe about the reality of the world which all human beings share.

 

Do freethinkers believe in morality?

 

Freethinkers believe that morality, like all other human understanding, arises out of the nature of reality as best we can understand it.  Currently, our best knowledge, for example, is that the many differences between human beings which were once thought to be important, including skin color and other racial characteristics, gender, “breeding,” and so forth, are trivial matters compared to our essential similarities.  Freethinkers believe that human behavior should be guided by this simple understanding of the moral equivalence of one person to another, which plainly puts such things as robbery, rape, murder, fraud, and otherwise endangering the lives and health of others into the category of wrongs.  Thus, Freethinkers take something like the ancient Golden Rule as drawing its authority from the nature of objective reality.  Moreover, they do not suppose that the rewards of good behavior and the penalties for wrongdoing await in some other world.  Rather, Freethinkers hold that, insofar as one’s own personal satisfaction and happiness are concerned, doing right is its own reward and doing wrong is its own punishment.  Nor can any ritual or “act of faith” change this fundamental reality.

 

What do freethinkers think of the Bible?  Or of Jesus?

 

There being no convincing evidence to the contrary, freethinkers consider the Bible to be the work of human beings.  In doing so, they note that the Bible is just the sort of document that one would expect of human beings, being filled, as it is, with errors, contradictions, and ideas, both admirable and abhorrent, insightful and ignorant, that reflect the peoples and times in which it was written.  Nothing about the Bible sets it apart from other human works, including other sacred texts from around the world, as being supernaturally authored or inspired.  Likewise, although the message preached by the Jesus of the Gospels is praiseworthy in many respects, it is hardly unique.  Similar teachings and accomplishments have been attributed to other figures of both history and legend.  Jesus also taught questionable doctrines, such as that of infinite and eternal hellfire as punishment for finite transgressions as trivial as that of unbelief.  Jesus’ referring to “men gather[ing]” those that “abide not in me” and “cast[ing] them into the fire” (John 15:6) was used for centuries to justify the burning at the stake of all who doubted or diverged from the orthodox teachings of Christianity.  Yet there is even reason to doubt the historicity of the central figure of the Christian religion, since the person of Jesus was not referred to by any of the writers that chronicled the times in which he was supposed to have lived.

 

How can life have meaning for freethinkers?

 

Freethinkers believe that if life is to have authentic meaning, they must create it or discover it for themselves.  To live life in compliance with or in obedience to someone else’s purpose, even the unknowable purpose(s) of a god or gods, is to be an unthinking slave.  Freethinkers, therefore, look for and find meaning in their daily lives: in their efforts to learn, to grow, to understand, to help others, and to try, at least, to leave the world perhaps a little better place than they found it.

 

How can freethinkers have hope without a belief in an afterlife?

 

Freethinkers consider this life as the only one we can be sure of having.  They regard it as shameful to trivialize this life by supposing that a better one will follow.  They think it absurd to believe that a deathbed repentance can undo or erase a lifetime of wrongdoing.  And they lament the false optimism of an afterlife with a system of future rewards and punishments that encourages complacency about suffering and death in this life.  But Freethinkers, like other human beings, continually hope for a better future.  Their hope, while not extending beyond the grave, yet persists as long as life persists, for life is hope.  Freethinkers do not expect to ever see again their loved ones who have died.  But, as with believers in an afterlife, their memories of their lost remain with them as a comfort and remembrance.

 

Why should I be a freethinker?

 

Those who embrace Freethought do so in order to participate in the awesome and magnificent enterprise of discovery and understanding through human experience.  For as it is the nature of fish to swim and birds to fly, so it is the nature of human beings to think.  Truly, it is the unique birthright of our species to continually renew and replenish ourselves through the power of thought.  Accordingly, Freethinkers attach the greatest importance and their greatest commitment to what is true and what is good.  They strive to learn to know and do what is right because they know it is right.  And because the Religion of Thinking is firmly and deeply rooted in both openness and honesty as well as in facts and reason, Freethinkers do not fear ignorance.  Indeed, they prefer ignorance to error.  Nor are Freethinkers afraid of making mistakes, so long as they can learn from them.  For they know that human beings are not born with their beliefs and that honest beliefs cannot be acquired by sheer force of will or “faith.”   The rewards of Freethought are a proportionate measure of respect for oneself, sympathy for others, and the liberation from fear of the unknown that comes with the freedom to think.  This is the basis on which Freethinkers lay legitimate claim to the best and noblest of what the human condition offers.

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