Confessions of a Christian Freethinker

by Elijah Thompson

What is a freethinker? What is free thought?

For whatever reason, the term freethinker has become associated exclusively with being skeptical of religious claims. No more. No less. If you are skeptical of religion… then congratulations, my friend! You are [apparently] thinking freely.

The presumption is that if you look at the world through a critical lens, you will undoubtedly agree with the atheists and conclude that “There’s Probably No God”.

There seems to be something inherently wrong with this idea, and the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that not all atheists are freethinkers, and not all freethinkers are atheists.

Being able to ‘think freely’ shouldn’t commit you to any position. If it did, in what way would it be considered free? Freethinking, it seems to me, is more of an approach to knowledge… an epistemological endeavor. Like skepticism, ‘free thought’ should be thought of as a methodology, not a goal.
Before going further… what do I mean by free thinker or freethought? Let’s ask the internet!

  • Merriam Webster says that a free thinker is “one who forms opinions on the basis of reason independently of authority; especially: one who doubts or denies religious dogma (look at the comments on this one… sheesh)
  • Wikipedia (as of March 8th, 2015) says “Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint which holds that positions regarding truth should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, or other dogmas
  • Atheism.about.com defines a freethinker as “… one who arrives at their beliefs through the use of reason, science, logic and empiricism rather than by relying on dogma, tradition, and authorities.” And then goes on to attach religious skepticism to the definition of a freethinker
  • Dictionary.com defines a freethinker as “a person who forms opinions on the basis of reason, independent of authority or tradition, especially a person whose religious opinions differ from established belief”
  • For the fun of it, I just typed ‘define: freethinker’ into Google and got “a person who rejects accepted opinions, esp. those concerning religious belief.”
  • Even the Urban Dictionary (which isn’t really known for its accuracy) has this definition of a freethinker with the most up-votes: “an individual whose opinions are formed on the basis of an understanding and rejection of tradition, authority or established belief.”

All of these definitions have one thing in common. They are all associating ‘freethinking’ with an epistemological approach to understanding reality that is independent of authority, dogma or tradition. A freethinker will be someone who forms their beliefs based on logic, science and reason.

Some attach skepticism of religious claims into the mix, but not all. It is unreasonable to say that religious skepticism is required for freethinking. If you’re absolutely required to reject the existence of God in order to call yourself a free thinker, are you really thinking freely?

Asserting that only atheists can be free thinkers is akin to saying ‘you’re not a freethinker unless you conform to our belief structure!’ That (ironically) self-referentially incoherent…

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Confessions of a Christian Freethinker | Theology Mix