Monday, February 16, 2009

I’m a Free Thinker

That’s a phrase that appears a lot on atheist blogs. I remember when I wasn’t a Christian, I honestly believed that the further I got from God and all things Christian, the freer I’d be, the more fun that I’d have, the greater and more varied and interesting would be my experiences in all areas of life. In hindsight I now know that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A few days ago I was tripping around some blogs of those who specifically described themselves as free thinkers. I asked people what it meant when they used that description. From what I can gather, “free thinkers” are those who have found a certain enjoyment or sense of accomplishment in “questioning everything and accepting nothing at face value.” This is particularly true for messages that these thinkers have encountered from authority figures and / or from the Church. This is particularly true of those who feel they have “broken free” from religious instruction.

A significant number of those who spoke to me about their free thinking personality were quite certain that if a person agreed with what the Church taught, then that person must have accepted those teachings without question. I wasn’t able to find out what evidence they have for thinking that, other than perhaps their own childhood experience. That is however what children do. They believe what their parents tell them. On the other hand, it seems that many of these bloggers had parents who actually encouraged cynicism in their children at a very young age. It's a primary teaching that these people have carried with them into adulthood. As well, it doesn't sound like these adults bothered to question the appropriateness of this teaching. Personally I think it’s a bad idea, but to each his own, I guess.

Regardless, it seems to have never occurred to those who consider themselves free in their thinking that it might be possible to think and to think very deeply, to question and to question with great diligence the teachings of various religions and actually come to the conclusion that one of those religions is correct. It might even be the religion in which one was raised. I have no way of knowing of course but I wonder if the free thinkers themselves questioned both Christianity AND atheism or just the former while allowing the latter to get a free pass. I don’t know.

The atheist author of the blog whispersessions wrote:
"It’s imperative to understand that not all atheists are advocates of reason. We are all born atheists, therefore it is our default state. Many atheists don’t believe in a god because they simply never gave it a thought. They could very well be dishonest, angry people who have no moral code whatsoever. Some are atheists out of rebellion to their family. They may have never given a thought to philosophy or science, let alone ethics and morality. Some are atheists simply because they despise religion. Their “lack of belief” is actually a vicious anti-belief, and when asked about what they do believe, they’ll generally have nothing more to say than how badly they hate someone else’s beliefs. They will tell you that religion is wrong, but they’ll have nothing to say about what is right. They’ll say theism is false, but they will have nothing to say about what is true. To be sure, many atheists’ atheism rests upon nothing at all. They are not advocates of reason. They are advocates of nothing. They are atheist, non-rational, amoral, and anti-reason all at the same time."

While he was certain that none of these reasons applied to him (he was an atheist because he was so logical and reasoned in his thinking) he explained the situation very well.

Is a free thinker someone who rejects the beliefs of h/her parents as long as those beliefs are religious in nature? Or, in the case of a child raised in an atheist home, would you have to reject that teaching as well in order to be a free thinker? And if you could accept your parent's atheist arguments and be a free thinker, couldn’t another person consider h/her parents’ arguments for Jesus, conclude they are correct, and also be a free thinker? To listen to those who describe themselves as free thinkers, that doesn’t seem to be possible. The main evidence for being a free thinker, according to these people is to reject Christianity.

Now atheists tell us that we are born atheists; that atheism is our default position. I happen to agree with that and the Bible tells us that atheists have concluded correctly on this count. So if I remain in the state with which I was born, how exactly is that being free? If I have not thought my way out of my default position, or if I "bought into Christianity” at one point in my life, but was later sucked back into the vortex of my default position, how is that actually being free? By doing absolutely nothing about the thoughts and beliefs with which I was born, isn’t that staying in my cage?

The word associations on blogs that contain the phrase Free Thinker are interesting. Some of them include:
Free thinker - infidelity in marriage - This was seen as a good thing.
Free thinker - cynical and negative
Free thinkers have blogs that come with content warnings. What’s the connection there?

When I asked people to define what they meant by, “I’m a free thinker,” or how would you describe someone who isn’t a free thinker, they said things like:

“Those who prefer (and, yes, I do consider it a preference) to believe and do and buy as their (sic) told are simply sheep.”

I’m not quite sure what that means. If I've decided to trust the person who is telling me something, as opposed to questioning everything that s/he's telling me, doesn’t that actually make me a free thinker? Haven’t I made the choice to trust?

I ask this because my experience with atheists has led me to believe that they actually can’t NOT question authority and / or the Church. It seems to be a personality trait, and it’s one, I might add, that I’ve seen in my work with thousands upon thousands of drug addicts, alcoholics and criminals. “No one is going to tell me how to live my life.” And they’re proud of it! Like the Marlboro Man who is proud to be independently smoking himself to death. I actually think that a certain personality type is predisposed to being an atheist. Rigid and repetitive, black and white, pervasive and persistent ultra literal thinking seems to be a very common trait in the atheists with whom I’ve communicated. But listen to the next comment.

“a "non" free thinker to me would be like someone who reads the bible and assumes there is a god b/c this storybook is telling them so.”

Again, there seems to be an assumption that someone reading, say, the four accounts of Jesus’ life on earth, cannot in an unbiased way come to a rational conclusion that there is something strikingly genuine in these accounts. And there seems to be a very, um, un free inability to acknowledge that some of the brightest minds both past and present have concluded that these accounts have something very important to teach us. Bigotry of course must be some type of antonym for free thinking. Yet bigotry (I know. It’s on both sides of the fence) against Christianity seems to account for much of the anecdotal evidence for people describing themselves as free thinkers. They may be not nearly as free in their thinking as they would like to imagine. The next response came in one paragraph but I’ve broken up the sentences to make room for my comments.

“I am a free thinker because, I do not allow the media, or popular culture, or religious doctrine to influence my opinions.”

Again, what if you actually agree that there is enough evidence for Jesus’ resurrection? There are many, many historical scholars, both religious, agnostic and atheist who agree that the New Testament accounts of this event are historically accurate. Is it fair to judge them as not being free thinkers on the basis of their beliefs. Are they sheep because they’ve allowed the evidence to influence their opinions? I believe that the people with whom I spoke would say that is in fact, the case.

“People who, I believe, are not thinking for themselves are the ones who make their decisions based on what their church says.”

So how do free thinkers make decisions? Isn’t everything that we read or listen to the same as someone “telling” us something. Richard Dawkins said, not long ago, “Thinking is anathema to religion.” Can someone who believes what Richard says still be a free thinker?

Remember, the following is from the same writer who made the above comments -

“My wife and I were watching TV last night, a show on Biography called Psychic Kids, the mother of one of the kids was taught by her church that their (sic) were no spirits, only angels and demons. Her daughters (sic) abilities conflicted with her beliefs, so therefore her daughter was doing something evil or being tricked by the demons. She refused to open her mind to new possibilities because it didnt (sic) mesh with the religious doctrine she had been brainwashed with all her life.”

But I thought that refusing to open your mind to just any new information was the sign of a free thinker? Wasn’t the mother approaching the child’s psychic ability in a critical manner? I thought that was supposed to be a good thing? And are we to believe that this guy, who apparently believes in “Psychic Kids,” someone who has researched this subject carefully and come to the conclusion that psychic ability is real? Or is he siding with psychics because it, at least in this case, seems to be proving how awful it is to be taught things in Church? Again, is he a free thinker, or has his atheist bias actually prevented him from weighing the evidence fairly and impartially?

“She only thought what the church told her to think, thus [she is] NOT a free thinker.”

Right. Un like this atheist “free thinker” who believes what psychics tell him, I suppose.

“He ended with, “Thanks for the challenging question, you sound like a free thinker too.”

That’s kind of funny. Don’t you think? I agree with atheists that we're all born in rebellion to the idea that a God exists to whom they will someday be accountable.

. Atheists maintain that position throughout their lives by adhering to evidence that supports their position and discarding evidence that doesn’t.

. Christians have come to free their thinking and change their minds through spiritual and intellectual exploration. Christians come to their position by admitting and accepting evidence that cannot be successfully challenged or refuted.

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