freethinker, n.: a person who forms his opinions about religion independently of tradition, authority, or established belief.
free thought, n.: opinions about questions of religion formed 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 Some of today's beliefs will be swept away for better ideas tomorrow just as some of yesterday's ideas have been replaced by today's knowledge.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) in order to 'explain' something raises more questions than it answers, questions that no one could ever hope to answer.
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?
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.
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, 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 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.