Freethought

Why I Reject Hell and Why You Should, Too…


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From Godless In Dixie

I have lost my patience with this Hell business.  Completely.  Not too long ago, a reader wrote me this note:

“I was raised a fundamentalist, I took my faith very seriously, and I took it so seriously that eventually it all just disappeared. It couldn’t handle the contrary evidence, and eventually it just fell away. For three years after, I led a very happy life as an atheist, and didn’t give religion or theism a second thought until about 7 months ago I woke up in the middle of the night with a terrifying fear of hell. After a brief spat of trying to be a christian again, I realized once again that christian belief seemed both historically, philosophically, and scientifically unfounded, and I’m finally getting to the point where touching hot water or looking at a fire no longer sends me into a frenzy of imagining my whole body will be engulfed in flames for all eternity. However, I’m still tremendously saddened by core christian beliefs, and I feel so hurt that my life has been turned into a sort of high-stakes gamble for no apparent reason. I want to live my life freely, but it’s quite a challenge when every steeple serves as a reminder that most people in my country believe I’m going to be tortured for eternity, and when christian apologists are trolling the sites that I look to for help, making a very sophisticated case for how god is love – but that I’m still going to hell.

“I’m growing very tired of feeling trapped by religious thinking, and jumping at the sight of a church, a cross, or a Jesus fish. It hurts me that people could worship a deity who seems so morally bankrupt, and out of love (!) rather than fear. So, I was wondering, might you have any advice for how I can move forward in my life without feeling so bogged down by a belief system that I find so hurtful?” (emphasis mine)

Messages like this make my blood boil, and they should make yours boil, too.  How could it not?  Anger is the appropriate emotion when you encounter abuse, and that’s what this is no matter how well meaning the people were who put her in this position.

This Video Featuring the Children of Saudi Blogger Punished for “Insulting Islam” Will Bring Tears to Your Eyes…

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From Friendly Atheist

30-year-old Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi was punished last year for starting a progressive website that called for, among other things, religious tolerance and women’s rights. That was insulting to Islam, said his critics, and he now faces 10 Years in jail along with 1,000 lashes.

In a video created by Amnesty International Canada, his children narrate a letter they’ve written to their father… and… um… I’d tell you more but there’s something liquid-y streaming down my face.

The part at 2:21, especially, is just heartbreaking…

I don’t know if it’ll help, but you can easily write a letter to the King of Saudi Arabia right here urging him to drop all charges against Badawi.
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Wake up and oppose theocracy: Bill Maher, Rula Jebreal and the urgent Islam debate…

From Salon

Wake up and oppose theocracy: Bill Maher, Rula Jebreal and the urgent Islam debate

Since he delivered his “Real Time” monologue against liberals who treat Islam with excessive deference a month ago, the comedian Bill Maher has suffered all sorts of ill-informed censure aiming to set him on the Straight and Narrow about the faith of 1.6 billion Muslims the world over. Reza Aslan, a frequent guest on “Real Time,” chided him for coming from “a place of complete amateurness on religion” and using “facile” arguments against it. In an emotional confrontation on the show, Ben Affleck pronounced Maher’s (factual, poll-based) statements about Islam “gross” and “racist.” Yet another “Real Time” invitee, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, declared in print that those (including Maher) who “generalize” about Islam are tantamount to bigots and racial profilers.

The world is not your jurisdiction…

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From International Humanist

Wole Soyinka’s International Humanist Award acceptance speech…

From Chibok with Love

Perhaps Humanists should pause from time to time and ask themselves a simple, straightforward, even neighbourly question: what do religionists really want?  Not what they worship  –  that is beyond rational comprehension for many but – what do they really seek?   After all, society is built on the practical, unavoidable principle of co-existence. If this proposed exercise appears strange, it is perhaps because society is very much in denial, afraid to confront such a focused question lest it receive an answer that imposes unwanted responsibilities on the rest of its members. We prefer to take refuge in the narratives of ancient wrongs and even, sometimes legitimately, wallow in present contradictions. However, if society appears to be foundering, and along lines that clearly indicate religious factors –  the world being in no shortage of current exemplars – then it becomes a duty, even for self-preservation, to understand what the various constituent parts seek for their self-fulfilment.

And so, to the question once again, what do religionists really want?  For most, the answer is simple:  “to serve God”,  by whatever name.  That, for the larger humanity should remain unexceptionable – the devil you know is better than the one you don’t. Unfortunately, not all religionists are content with that aspiration or else – even more critically! – raise issues of how they propose to fulfill such a supposedly harmless mission. We are speaking here of a resolute, but proliferating minority who declare their objective as the right to intervene dictatorially in the rights, mores and undertakings of others – all in the name of their presiding deity. This claim to the privileged exercise of Control is what plagues the world in ever expanding arenas of conflict, a belief that absolute authority is invested in them by a supreme, though invisible entity, to meddle in the lives of others, not even in an advisory role, not even as provider of optional guidelines, but with an absolutism that brooks no dissent. The ambition of such religionists is nothing less than to place all of humanity under their jurisdiction. That declaration is stark, undisguised. Its brutal efforts at actualization presently infest global existence, some parts more lethally than others but,  with increasing assertiveness, including the insertion of ‘sleeper’ warriors in seemingly insulated societies.

I broke up with Jesus because he wouldn’t return my calls…

From Godless In Dixie

About five years ago, I broke up with Jesus. Recently someone asked me why. There were plenty of reasons but one of the main ones was that he wouldn’t return my calls.

Since I couldn’t get in touch with him, I asked some of his friends to explain to me why he wouldn’t get back to me, but their answers were never helpful.  Each one had a different explanation and none of them really made me feel any better:

  • Some said he heard my messages but didn’t answer because what I wanted wasn’t the same as what he wanted, and he only answers calls he already agrees with.  Huh.  Okay.
  • Some told me he might not have liked my tone of voice.  Maybe I wasn’t asking for him to call me in the right way?  I dunno.
  • One guy said that Jesus would only answer me as long as I had no doubts that he would answer; but if I doubted, then he wouldn’t.  That sounded kind of sketchy.
  • Some said it was because he wasn’t ready to answer me—the timing wasn’t right somehow.  I wonder how many years you’re supposed to wait before you can conclude the other person has moved on?
  • Others said sometimes he doesn’t answer just because he wants to see how long people will go without an answer before they give up.  That sounds kind of…schmucky…if you ask me.
  • Finally, one guy informed me I shouldn’t expect an answer at all.  Like, maybe it was wrong for me to want for him to actually communicate with me.  Or if he did communicate with me, it would be telepathically through other people who wouldn’t necessarily even know they were communicating on his behalf.  I just don’t even know what to say to that.

I told them that the more I thought about it, the more I wasn’t sure Jesus had ever taken my calls and do you know what they said to that?  They told me in reality he always took my calls but made sure to do it in such a way that there would be no way to tell he took them.  He answered, they said, but in a way that looked exactly like not answering.  That’s…huh.  Okay.  That’s just weird.  Sounds a bit bootleg, really.

Who’s to Blame When Hell Gets Taught?

You want to hear an excuse I’m not going to accept anymore?

“You can’t blame them; they’ve been taught to believe these things since they were little.”

No. This is no longer acceptable to me, and I want to explain why.

They’re not young anymore.  They’re not children anymore.  When you are small, you believe what you are told.  All sorts of bad things get passed down to children when they are small:  racism, sexism, elitism, bigotry, substance abuse, you name it.  When you’re little you are impressionable and that’s not your fault.  Once you’re grown, however, it’s time to start taking responsibility for the things you do and the things you say.  Once you’re grown, the onus is on you.

You are capable of thinking for yourself now. You can analyze the things you were told to believe and decide for yourself if the reasons you were given for believing them were legitimate. When you’re grown, simply holding to what your parents told you won’t cut it.  You should know better than that by now.  You’re an adult.  You want to be treated like one, yes?  Well, this comes with that territory.  Once you’re a grown-up and you assume responsibility for your own decisions (and perhaps even for the lives of others who are dependent on you), it falls to you to make wise decisions and to think critically about the decisions you make.

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Case in point: Do you feel it is acceptable to tell children that if they’re bad, or if they don’t believe the right things, they will be brought back from the dead just to be burned alive forever and ever?  If so, please do not come near my children.  That is horrendous.  And who told you that?  How old were you when they did?  Looking back, do you feel that was acceptable behavior?  Were the adults who told you that responsible for the words they were using?

I understand the impetus to empathize with people who say these kinds of things.  I do.  It’s always helpful to try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and remind yourself that they were raised to believe that this kind of talk is totally normal.  I applaud such attempts at empathy.  But in your attempt to elicit compassion you are also excusing behavior that I don’t think we should so easily condone.

How can I presume to pass judgment on them in this way?  Because I’ve been through this thought process myself.  I’ve gone through this.  I’ve been in their shoes.  I, too, was raised to tell people they’d be eternally condemned if they didn’t believe the right things.  But then I got older, and I realized there comes a point at which you yourself must take responsibility for the things you say and the things you do.  It took me longer than it took many other people I know.  I was in my mid-30’s before it finally dawned on me that the things I was taught to believe didn’t make sense.

ON SECOND THOUGHT, THAT MAKES NO SENSE

What sorts of things do I no longer believe, and why don’t I believe them?  This notion of posthumous torture serves as a great example of what I mean, both because of its absurdity and because of its atrociousness.

The idea that people will be brought back to life after they die just to be tortured forever makes no sense to me whatsoever.  Leaving aside the paucity of evidence that dead things stop being dead, you can’t make any logical sense out of waiting until it’s too late just to torture people forever for things which at that point can no longer be corrected.  And it won’t do to threaten them with the existence of such a state if there aren’t clear and obvious ways to demonstrate that this whole concept isn’t made up out of thin air.

Think about the logic of this for a second.  For a single lifetime of non-criminal behavior, I deserve to suffer forever, for millions upon millions of years.  But then for the transgressions of a billion lifetimes, some involving the most atrocious of crimes, one guy suffers for twelve hours on a Friday?  Are you kidding me with this?  If you had saved this idea to tell me after I had become an adult, I don’t see how I could have ever accepted it in the first place.  It doesn’t add up. No wonder you told me while I was too young to know the difference.

Incidentally, it’s not that I was too dumb to get it, contrary to what many lifelong atheists seem to believe. People don’t cling to childhood beliefs because they’re dumb.  On the contrary, the smarter you are, the more skillfully you can rationalize the things you were taught to believe.  Many times the hardest people to teach new things are the smartest ones.  They’ve already considered how to defend their beliefs against a thousand different challenges, calcifying assumptions which should have been critically analyzed long before they became emotionally invested in their belief system.  In my case, I had built my entire life around my belief system.  Just try changing the mind of someone that invested in his faith.  It takes a lot of courage and determination to wrestle through all the questions and to deal with the social consequences of no longer holding to the things you were taught to believe.

But I did it.  Because it was my responsibility to do so as a thinking adult.  I’m a grown up now.  When I was small, I couldn’t have been held responsible for believing the things I believed.  But I’m not a little kid anymore.  That excuse won’t fly now.  I’m old enough now that I’m in a place of teaching other people how to think for themselves as well.  That makes it all the more important that I own my own beliefs.  I’m at an age now where I’m in charge of other people, so it behooves me to think critically about what I pass along to the more impressionable people in my care.

I realize not everyone will agree with me on this.  Personally I find myself taking a more diplomatic approach than most atheists when it comes to sympathizing with Christians about their beliefs.  I am one who should remember what it’s like to believe things that I now find unbelievable. And I do remember.  But I also remember that I was able to step outside of what I was taught in order to critically evaluate it.  I simply used the same analytical tools on my own beliefs that I had been taught to use on everyone else’s and guess what I found!  My own tradition was no more free from bias or human invention than anyone else’s.  If I could figure that out, then so can they. I don’t see why I should let them off the hook.

YOU’RE NOT BEING VERY RESPECTFUL

Inevitably someone will charge that it’s disrespectful to speak out against someone’s religious beliefs.  I would say there are definitely better and worse ways of going about it, but no, I don’t buy that at all.  Here’s why.

They have no qualms discrediting other people’s religions, particularly if they have a harmful effect on those who believe them.

I’ve sat through so many sermons while people cheered on Elijah as he mocked the prophets of Baal.  “Perhaps your god has fallen asleep!” he shouted. “Perhaps he’s gone to the bathroom!”  Christians revel in the mockery of this foreign religion and I’ve never once heard one of them stop and denigrate Elijah for being so disrespectful.  Perhaps he shouldn’t have mocked the poor prophets, right?  I mean, that was disrespectful to their cherished beliefs, right?  (Crickets chirping)

When I point out the irrationality of posthumous torture, people tell me I shouldn’t be so hard on the people still teaching it.  It’s not their fault, they say.  But those very people would shudder at the notion of genital mutilation or polygamy even though those are both rooted in someone’s religion.  That’s because they’re rooted in other people’s religions.  And there’s the rub.  It’s a double standard.  It’s not that they feel religious beliefs are above correction, or deserving of special respect.  It’s just that they feel certain beliefs (usually theirs) should be privileged above others.

But I don’t see why.  I see harm in beliefs like this.  In fact, I see direct adverse effects on people’s relationships with each other caused by an irrational belief in Hell.  If you believe people will be tortured forever, you’ll stop at nothing to persuade them to capitulate to your religion.  Even the sweetest people will become manipulative, and they’ll give their kids horrendous nightmares after describing flames licking the undead, screams and sores and…I’ll just stop right there.  Truly we should feel shame for ever perpetuating this sadistic nonsense.

Is it respectful to tell people they deserve to be tortured?  No, it’s not.  Yet I’ve had more complete strangers than I can count tell me I’m bad enough to deserve to suffer forever, and for the life of me I can’t even think of a crime that deserves eternal torment. Certainly not anything I’ve done.  How dare you tell someone that?  What an awful thing to say to someone!  And utterly disrespectful.  That’s the irony here.  You can tell me it’s disrespectful to call out someone’s religious beliefs, but I’m only encouraging them to work through the same questions I’ve worked through myself. In reality it’s those who tell me I deserve a fate worse than death who are showing the most disrespect.

So I’m done with permitting this kind of talk without speaking up about it.  This is one of four or five things I’ve decided I can be resolutely against without any reservations.  I wouldn’t consider myself an anti-theist; rather I consider myself an anti-fundamentalist.  In one of my next posts I intend to talk about what I mean by that. So stay tuned.
~~

 

Sam Harris Answers Charges of Islamophobia and Other Distortions of His Views…

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From Sam Harris
Version 2.4 (June 21, 2014)

A few of the subjects I explore in my work have inspired an unusual amount of controversy. Some of this results from real differences of opinion or honest confusion, but much of it is due to the fact that certain of my detractors deliberately misrepresent my views. The purpose of this article is to address the most consequential of these distortions.

A general point about the mechanics of defamation: It is impossible to effectively defend oneself against unethical critics. If nothing else, the law of entropy is on their side, because it will always be easier to make a mess than to clean it up. It is, for instance, easier to call a person a “racist,” a “bigot,” a “misogynist,” etc. than it is for one’s target to prove that he isn’t any of these things. In fact, the very act of defending himself against such accusations quickly becomes debasing. Whether or not the original charges can be made to stick, the victim immediately seems thin-skinned and overly concerned about his reputation. And, rebutted or not, the original charges will be repeated in blogs and comment threads, and many readers will assume that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.

Such defamation is made all the easier if one writes and speaks on extremely controversial topics and with a philosopher’s penchant for describing the corner cases—the ticking time bomb, the perfect weapon, the magic wand, the mind-reading machine, etc.—in search of conceptual clarity. It literally becomes child’s play to find quotations that make the author look morally suspect, even depraved.

We Have To Be Honest About The Actual Doctrines of Islam…


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Stoicism 101…

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From Tanner Campbell

“Sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy,” – Epictetus

Why is Stoicism so hard?

There’s learning to be a Stoic, then there’s the practicing of Stoic principles and ideals, and finally there’s being a Stoic. I only think of myself as a practicing Stoic, that is to say I’m not completely confident in calling myself a true Stoic this early on in my study of Stoicism. I practice Stoicism because practice makes perfect and becoming a true Stoic may be one of the most difficult endeavors a human being can undertake. It’s harder than CrossFit, it’s harder than learning Aramaic, it’s harder than being a Rocket Scientist – I really do believe it’s one of the hardest things in life to achieve because what Stoicism really is is the conquering of your own mind.

Words of Robert Ingersoll Still Ring True…

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From Freedom From Religion Foundation

Read these quotes and imagine:

“It may be that ministers really think that their prayers do good and it may be that frogs imagine that their croaking brings spring.”

“If there be an infinite Being, he does not need our help — we need not waste our energies in his defense.”

“The inspiration of the Bible depends upon the ignorance of the gentleman who reads it.”

Imagine an auditorium, filled to capacity to hear an orator known worldwide discuss atheism and question Christian tenets. Imagine thousands of people willing to pay a substantial admission to hear his eloquence and irreverent wit. Ingersoll, “The Great Agnostic,” would speak extemporaneously for three hours.

He was a lawyer and former colonel in the army. He was called the “most brilliant speaker of the English tongue of all the men on the globe.” Who could this be — Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens? You may be surprised to learn this remarkable speaker was popular over 130 years ago!

Congratulations, Atheists! America is Growing Increasingly Churchless…

 

new study released by the Barna Group, in conjunction with David Kinnaman‘s book Churchless, shows that more people than ever before have no need for a church, even if they’re religious.

That’s one of several factors Kinnaman uses to describe those he calls “post-Christian” (which is quite the euphemism):

Is Christianity Beneficial or Harmful to Society?

Christopher Hitchens memorably wrote about why God Is Not Great. Now, John W. Loftus has compiled a new anthology building off of that premise and showing us why faith is far from a virtue.

In his book, Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails, Loftus and a panel of experts (including Peter Boghossian, Victor J. Stenger, and Annie Laurie Gaylor) write about why the problem with religion isn’t just a fringe group of believers, but faith itself.

In the excerpt below, Loftus answers the question: “Is Christianity beneficial or harmful to society?”

Christopher Hitchens Says Goodbye…

Transcript:

I’m not as I was.
Some of you I’d urgently felt I ought to do while saying,
and one mustn’t repine or relate to self pity about that,
but at this present moment I have to say.
I feel very envious of someone who’s young and active
and starting out in the argument.
Just think of the extraordinary things that are happening to us,
Go for example to the Smithsonian museum,
To the new hall of human origins,
magnificently curated and new in exhibition.
Which Shows among other things the branch,
or branches along which perhaps three,
certainly three,
maybe four if you count Indonesia,
humanoid shall we say anthropoid species,
died out,
not very long ago
within measurable distance of 75, 000 years or so
possibly destroyed by us possibly not, we don’t know
We know they decorated their graves,
we think they probably had language ability,
we don’t know if they had souls,
I’m sorry I cant help you there
But I so envy those who could glimpse…
I’ve only mentioned three or four of the things that have
magnetized and charmed and Gratified me to think about in the recent past,
and how much I hope that each of you form some such ambition this evening
and carries it forward,
In the meantime,
we had the same job we always had,
to say as thinking people and as humans that
there are no final solutions,
there is no absolute truth,
there is no supreme leader,
there is no totalitarian solution,
that says if you would just give up your freedom of inquiry,
if you would just give up,
if you would just abandon your critical faculties
the world of idiotic bliss can be yours
but we have to begin by repudiating all such claims
grand rabbi’s,
chief ayatollahs,
infallible popes,
the peddlers or surrogate
and mutant quasi political religion and worship.
The dear leader,
the great leader,
we have no need for any of this,
and looking at them and their record
and the pathos of their supporters
I realize that it is they who are the grand imposters
and my own imposture this evening
was mild by comparison,
Thank you very much.
~~

Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself?

From SAM HARRIS

My recent collision with Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s show, Real Time, has provoked an extraordinary amount of controversy. It seems a postmortem is in order.

For those who haven’t seen the show, most of what I write here won’t make sense unless you watch my segment above:

So what happened there?

I admit that I was a little thrown by Affleck’s animosity. I don’t know where it came from, because we hadn’t met before I joined the panel. And it was clear from our conversation after the show that he is totally unfamiliar with my work. I suspect that among his handlers there is a fan of Glenn Greenwald who prepared him for his appearance by simply telling him that I am a racist and a warmonger.

Reza Aslan and Ben Affleck Are Wrong About Islam and This is Why…

From Friendly Atheist

This past week, a clip of Reza Aslan responding to comedian Bill Maher’s comments about Islamic violence and misogyny went viral. Also, Ben Affleck went ballistic (new movie promo?) on Bill Maher’s show here.

This is a guest post written by Muhammad Syed and Sarah Haider (below). They are co-founders of Ex-Muslims of North America, a community-building organization for ex-Muslims across the non-theist spectrum, and can be reached at @MoTheAtheist and @SarahTheHaider.

Maher stated (among other things) that “if vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe, and they do, that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea or drawing a cartoon or writing a book or eloping with the wrong person, not only does the Muslim world have something in common with ISIS, it has too much in common with ISIS.” Maher implied a connection between FGM and violence against women with the Islamic faith, to which the charming Aslan seems to be providing a nuanced counterbalance, calling Maher “unsophisticated” and his arguments “facile.” His comments were lauded by many media outlets, including Salon and theHuffington Post. Although we have become accustomed to the agenda-driven narrative from Aslan, we were blown away by how his undeniably appealing but patently misleading arguments were cheered on by many, with the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple going so far as to advise show producers not to put a show-host against Aslan “unless your people are schooled in religion, politics and geopolitics of the Muslim world.”

Ebola: Where is Oral Roberts now that we need him?

oexChristian.net
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It’s Not Me, It’s You: Children of Christian Narcissists…

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From Godless In Dixie

[…]People with character impairments are unskilled in practicing empathy.  Granted, while many of them likely have zero empathy for others, they are often quite practiced in appearing as if they do.  Some have empathy for those whom they consider to be like them, a part of their tribe, but none for anyone they consider to be “the other.”  Some of them become aware that their self-absorbed behavior is negatively affecting their relationships and then begin to practice the skill of empathy in order to make positive changes.  I think we see this when people change their opinions on homosexuality because someone they love “comes out” to them.  Others who are deeply entrenched in their personality will never be able to change, or even see that their behavior is harmful.  We see this in the people who abandon the people they pretend to love, because they are not living up to their (God’s) expectations.  What they fail to grasp is that no one feels the love when their parents abandon them in the hope that this emotional manipulation will draw them back to God.  Love usually feels like love, and this feels like exactly what it is:  It is hate masquerading as love.

Liberals Giving Islam a Pass…

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From Atheist Revolution

What is it called when we routinely criticize one group of people for objectionable behavior while virtually ignoring the same behavior when committed by another group? Perhaps there is a more precise name for this sort of thing, but the one that most readily springs to mind for me is hypocrisy.

Yes, we usually think of hypocrisy as condemning someone else for doing what we ourselves are doing (e.g., “It’s okay when we do it!”). But condemning the behavior of one group while giving another a pass for doing the same thing – or even worse things – certainly strikes me as hypocritical. At the very least, it is the sort of thing we should seek to avoid.

Bill Maher (HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher) recently scolded liberals for giving Islam a pass on all sorts of human rights violations. I think he’s right that this is a problem, and it is one of a handful of things that has come to irk me about my fellow liberals. Yes, I am still a liberal. And no, that does not mean I have found it necessary to drink the kool-aid that prevents me from thinking critically about liberalism and its more problematic aspects. I suppose one could say that I’m a freethinker before I’m a liberal.

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