free thought, n.: opinions about questions of religion formed independently of tradition, authority, or established belief.
freethinker, n.: a person who forms his opinions about religion independently of tradition, authority, or established belief.
Are Freethinkers Atheists?
Yes. Freethinkers do not believe that deities are any more real than leprechauns, fairies, ghosts, reincarnation, heaven, hell, devils, unicorns, Santa Claus or Superman. Freethinkers are unconvinced of the existence of supernatural entities and phenomena generally. On the other hand, Freethinkers believe that all of these fictions and others are expressions of our humanity and of the human condition. In addition, Freethinkers are not dogmatic about their unbelief. They are perfectly willing to believe in anything that is sufficiently rooted in and supported by facts and reason. After all, 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 Some of today’s beliefs will be swept away for better ideas tomorrow just as some of yesterday’s ideas have been replaced by today’s knowledge.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 very durable fact that there is no convincing evidence for the supernatural. Worse, there are nearly insurmountable logical problems with supernaturalism as it is commonly conceived. 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) in order to ‘explain’ anything raises even more difficult questions than any that we have difficulty in answering. There are many questions that no one has yet had any idea of how to answer. This is why Freethinkers often say that it is better to not know, and better not to believe than to be in error and to let false beliefs put an end to questioning.
What do Freethinkers Believe?
Freethinkers attach much more importance to the ‘why’ of belief than to the ‘what.’ Freethinkers believe in the sort of human understanding that naturally follows from a careful and rational consideration of the 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?
Of course they do. But 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, hair form and many other physical characteristics, gender, social class, 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 or “the law of reciprocity” as drawing its authority from the nature of objective reality.
What about the Bible?
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. Likewise, although the message preached by the Jesus Christ 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 burnings at the stake of all who doubted or diverged from the teachings of Christianity. Yet there is even reason to doubt the historicity of the central figure of the Christian religion, since Jesus Christ is 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, we must create it or discover it for ourselves. 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 means to someone else’s end. 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 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 loss remain with them as a comfort and remembrance.
Why Should I Be A Freethinker?
Freethinkers think for themselves. Their greatest attachment and commitment is to truth, and to learning to know and do what is right. They are honest with themselves, and with others. They prefer to form their opinions based on fact and evidence, but are not afraid of making mistakes, and learning from them. For they know that human beings aren’t born with their beliefs, nor can honest people truly believe in something by sheer force of will or ‘faith.’ Freethinkers submit themselves to facts and reason, following humbly wherever and to whatever they are led. They speak their minds, and are unafraid of saying, ‘I don’t know.’ And in return for all of this, freethinkers respect themselves, they have sympathy for their fellow human beings, and they lay legitimate claim to the best and noblest of what the human condition offers.
From the North Texas Church of Freethought, Arlington, Texas