What is a Freethinker?


Freethinker (n.)  one who forms opinions as a result of thoughtful independent inquiry, rather than unquestioned acceptance of established views or teachings of others. 

Because of the 'Freethinker Movement,' this word has almost deteriorated into just another euphemism for 'atheist.'  I prefer to use it in the broader dictionary sense, which would fairly include independent inquiry regarding both religious and secular views and dogma.

A freethinker by definition, I have learned that not all claiming to be so have as much respect for dictionaries.  I must admit that until very recently I have no recollection of ever hearing the term, much less of the “Movement.”  Until after joining a relatively tiny subgroup of a large national RV club, I thought they had just come up with a clever name for their little bunch of social misfits, and the notion of a social club for the unchurched, based on the ideals of freedom and rational thinking, appealed to me.

Alas, I soon discovered my libertarian viewpoint, which is at least as opposed to the political agenda of the Marxist Left, as the political agenda of the Religious Right, along with my embrace of traditional American values (I mean nothing religious by this phrase), made me a misfit among misfits.  My unwelcome cannonball into their midst did embolden a few others of a libertarian bent, who had theretofore shown the good sense to lurk unobserved in the shade, but the clan soon rallied and chased us all out of their pool.

Initially, I was taken aback that a group calling themselves freethinkers could so easily tolerate a fair number of guru quoting mystics in their midst, yet get their knickers in a twist every time anyone made politically incorrect remarks regarding such sacred cows of the Left as academia, the antiwar movement, and particularly the environmental movement.  Irrational or not, It appeared that mystics’ supernatural beliefs were more tolerable.  New Agers often reject Christian dogma without challenging Marxist dogma, and usually have the touchy-feely peace-loving demeanor preferred by the Left.

Looking around the internet, however, I note that this is not at all atypical.  In every freethinker forum I have perused, Leftist political views abound, often derisively toward anyone to the right of Ted Kennedy.  The mission of these groups purports to be promoting the social acceptance of atheism in America through activism in the church vs. state political arena.  They do not appreciate anyone pointing out their own hypocrisy, or showing any untoward respect for traditional American values.  Remarkably, many even display compassion for the plight of the Muslim world at the hands of their common enemy, which they clearly see as the fundamentalist Christians in America.

It is amusing to note how they can blithely shrug off, as mere political expediency, the many prearranged photo ops of President Clinton toting a bible into a church; yet they get apoplexy at the thought of President Bush praying in the White House.  They are sure he is lying about everything else; but when he says he was “born again,” they believe every word.  I note that any atheist holding more libertarian political positions, and trying to be an equal opportunity critic of all dogma, soon finds himself crosswise with the majority in these forums.  This is fortuitous for otherwise, Thoughts Aloud would not even exist, and these rational minds at play would still be tiptoeing around politically correct dogma and sacred cows.

As for myself, my atheism is simply a product of my rational mind’s thought processes, not its focus, and certainly not its primary principle.  Nor do I find it the social impediment often lamented by other freethinkers.  It can be a fascinating topic for intellectual discussion occasionally; but once one has rationally concluded that he is an atheist, what is left to ponder about it?  I fail to see a need to organize one’s life around the notion, cloistered among only atheist friends, with everyone spending an inordinate amount of time commiserating with each other over the fact that nine out of ten of our neighbors have irrational beliefs.

Although I have admitted thinking since 9/11 that religion is almost as dangerous to Western civilization, my view that Marxism is a dire threat to our way of life is also a product of rational thought, and I don’t spend all my time fighting that evil either.  It too is a fine topic for debate, and its proponents often demonstrate the same irrational zeal for their Marxist dogma, as do the fundamentalist religious folks.

Yet, once one concludes that the theists have gotten the nature of creation and existence all wrong, and that the Marxists have gotten the nature of man (especially the one best known) and co-existence all wrong, there is little actual thinking left to do about these irrational beliefs.  As a libertarian, I could care less what others are doing in their own minds, as long as they don’t pester me with their silly notions.  Thankfully, it is not my job to eradicate from the face of the earth all such worship done at the altars of deified Prophets or deified Robin Hoods; though both concepts strike me as ridiculous and even evil.

Irrationality and self-imposed ignorance in an individual is usually benign to his neighbors.  It is only when power hungry “leaders” latch onto one of these notions as the best way to organize our society, and exploit the ignorance of individuals for the furtherance of their own utopian dreams, that we have a problem.  They cleverly craft dogmas based on either ideology, complete with repressive rules for individual behavior, and insist that it be inculcated in the young before they learn to think for themselves.

Then, of course, they demonize a requisite external “enemy,” without which few men can be manipulated to sacrifice self-interest for the benefit of a large group.  They set about recruiting followers for their dogmatic ideology by frightening the public into believing that if they don’t join the “good” guys in a righteous battle, the “bad” guys will take over the country.  It rarely occurs to anyone that without these leaders constantly stirring us up to distrust and even despise one another, most of us would get along just fine as cooperative neighbors.  There would still be thieves, moochers, shamans, and other nare-do-wells about; but without the mantle of “leaders” of a respectable enterprise, they would certainly be far less dangerous.  As it is, they are actually protected by the state from the ire of those of us who see them for what they are.

The chagrin it causes me that this nonsense always works is limitless, especially when it works on me.  I know better, yet the number of times I have allowed myself to vote for the lesser of two evils, because one of them seemed especially evil, disgusts me.  Yet this very fact gives me a significant measure of sympathy for the average American who is just being manipulated by these characters.  Although at times I am not beyond referring to them in exasperation as “sheeple,” the hapless folks are not my enemy; it is the preachers on the Right, the academics on the Left, and the opportunistic politicians on either side, who exploit the ideological zeal of both, that I despise.

So, I can’t get as worked up as some freethinkers I have encountered over public prayer rituals or religious holidays.  Logical or not, they have been part of our cultural heritage for a very long time, and I don’t recall ever being actually offended by such matters before 9/11.  I can verbally assault a preachy evangelical with the best of them; but if I can silently tolerate the inanity of hearing someone call a policeman a police-person, I should be able to overlook an “Amen” now and then, without the need to whittle a sharp point on a wooden stake.

Prior to 9/11, without thinking much about it, I had bought the notion that religious beliefs among the masses were probably useful for keeping order.  That it was merely a mind-numbing opiate for them, was the one thing about which I agreed with Marx.  Even now, were I to encounter a group of young men walking toward me at night on a sidewalk, in or near a ghetto, it would give me much comfort to know that they had just left a church service, even if the preacher had been railing about us heathens.

To extend the analogy, it would not give me much comfort, if any at all, to learn that they had just left a political rally where some rabble-rouser was pounding the notion into their young minds that they were being oppressed.  I can’t deny some rather hateful Christians exist, and plenty of politicians who will pander to them for votes; but their numbers pale in comparison to the insufferable venom in evidence among the radical Left these days.

Moreover, I would venture it only common sense that the average Christian is far less likely to desire, or even consider tolerating, the subverting of America into a theocracy, than the average Leftist is likely to desire turning it into a welfare state.  It only takes about two seconds of thought for anyone to realize that coming to a consensus regarding an acceptable religious leader for all of America would cause infinitely more heartburn among disparate religious sects, than the current struggle over secular politics.

I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which is the more imminent threat to our American way of life, yet it would seem to me that a true freethinker would reject both ideologies, and be appalled by either's dogma.  Admittedly, contemporary authors like Harris et al make a compelling case for the danger to civilization of religious dogma, but Ayn Rand et al made an even more persuasive case for the danger of Marxism long ago, and I have not forgotten those eye-opening lessons.

Alas, most of the kids being indoctrinated by academia today are never exposed to the personal wisdom she brought to these shores as a defector of Stalinist Russia.  If you fancy yourself a freethinker, and have not read her “Atlas Shrugged,” you are probably undereducated for the task.  If you have not reread it in the past twenty years as an adult, you may have missed how prophetic it was.

While Rand was an unabashed atheist, who extolled the rational mind like none other, it wasn’t the churched that she was principally warning us about.  I would highly recommend that anyone currently in a dither over the evils of religion set aside Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett long enough to read or reread “Atlas Shrugged” for a reality check.  John Galt wasn’t purloining the great rational minds of the country from environs where their talent was appreciated, and neither am I.

If you have not done so yet, please review my discussion of the Political Spectrum as a circle rather than a Left/Right line, and see if it resonates with your thinking on this subject.  If so, welcome and I hope you stick around; you are likely to find your particular manner of freethinking more appreciated in Our Forum than in others where you may have been less welcome.  Look therein for Galt’s Gulch.


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