By HonestDiscussioner

Religion, Philosophy, Politics, and anything else I'd like to talk about


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why You Can't Be a Religious Freethinker

Look, let's be honest here. A term commonly used is a term commonly abused.  There will be people on both sides of a debate that for whatever reason misuse a term, try to advocate for a different meaning, or some other confusing endeavor which likely misses the point of either the discussion or the purpose of language in general.  This isn't always a problem, if you can define your terms clearly and avoid equivocation (e.g. someone defining atheists as those who assert god doesn't exist and then calling "weak atheists" not true atheists and really just agnostics still searching for god) then you can use terms however you'd like.  If you are misunderstanding the definition of a word or using it in such a way that it differs from the popular understanding without informing anyone of the switch, then you are causing problems or arguing in bad faith if doing it on purpose.

The term "freethinker" is no exception to this. There are people who wrongfully assume the word is a synonym for atheism, as blogger ElijiahT from Hashtag Apologetics argues in his post Confessions of a Christian Freethinker.  Elijiah cites six different sources that maintain the term "freethinker" as concerning one who holds to an epistemology based on logic, reason, or evidence (or something quite similar). This is indeed the common understanding of the term, and on some unfortunate occasions this definition is replaced and rendered incorrectly as mentioned above.

Where Elijiah first goes wrong is not including the fact that this occurrence is actually rather rare. Most people who identify as freethinkers do so for the right reasons; they hold to a specific epistemology. Even the definition from cites the specific epistemology as being the defining characteristic of a freethinker.  Those who don't understand that definition are generally in the minority, but it can often seem like a more widespread issue because very few believers in God are considered freethinkers, and this makes it easy for Elijiah to maintain that there must be some sort of bias inherent in the system:

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? You’re not a freethinker unless you conform to our belief structure!’

 I don't think he's doing it purpose, but Elijiah is over-extrapolating the data. This seems to be his logic:

P1. The definition of a freethinker is X.
P2. One can use X to reach a conclusion advocated by a religion.
P3. It appears as though anyone who agrees with a conclusion advocated by a religion is disqualified by atheists as freethinkers.

Conclusion: Atheists are, en masse, misusing the term. They ironically display a lack of freethinking when declaring religious people in and of themselves not freethinkers. Religious people can and indeed should be freethinkers and there is no inherent contradiction.

This can seem sound when looking at it from very far away. If freethinking is about epistemology, then people who are Christians because of said epistemology are freethinkers and atheists just won't admit it. There must be some who follow such an epistemology, in fact what Christian really doesn't use logic in some way? Why, probably most Christians are freethinkers! Christianity seems logical and reasonable to them, after all.

But let's delve deeper.  Let's talk about two fictional people named Chris and Karen, both of which call themselves Freethinkers. They both find themselves on an island with their families, but no recollection of their past lives. After a few years living on the island, they discuss their beliefs. Karen believes in many strange things. She believes in an intangible force which binds all particles in the universe together. She believes in inperceivable energy that can penetrate the skin and damage the very fabric of a human being. She believes that there are vibrations all around us that can tell us secrets of our surroundings if we only took the time to perceive them properly. Chris believes in none of those things. He can't see these things or perceive them. The very nature of them means his immediate senses can't detect them. His father taught him to not trust such things, and so he doesn't.

Theists have long defended the virtues of faith, yet now in the face of the scientific revolution and new atheism they want to adopt the moniker of one who acts through pure reason.

So who is a freethinker here? Chris? Karen? Both? Neither? On the surface it sounds like Chris is the freethinker and Karen the woo-woo person. What you didn't know was that our hypothetical people are deaf, and the beliefs that Karen holds to are (in order) gravity, radiation, and sound waves.  Karen reached these conclusions through empirical study of her surroundings. Chris, while often following the path of the Freethinker, does so on the authority of his father.  Even though Karen's beliefs seemed to the uninitiated as far-fetched, she is the much greater freethinker. And what do we find with our friend Elijiah?

". . .secondly, because when freethinking is properly understood, I think all Christians should be freethinkers.

In Luke 10:27&Mark 12:30, we are instructed to love God with our entire mind.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:21, we are instructed to test everything and to hold on to that which is good. And if God is the truth (John 14:6), then truth is to be treasured as a reflection of God Himself."

So we have the following position: You should be open-minded and utilize logic, reason, and evidence for your beliefs . . . because the bible says so. Elijah doesn't merely maintain that freethinking and Christianity are compatible, no no no. Christians should be freethinkers "because they are instructed to be". To quote Elijiah's article "#irony".

Such irony doesn't end there, he also quotes, which defines apologetics as:

" . . . challenging believers to think and thinkers to believe”.

But what does this actually say? Believers should use more thinking, but thinkers should just be convinced to believe. Were it truly a freethinking endeavor, it would merely be "Challenging people to think". After all, if you are a freethinker and believe that you have logic on your side, all you need to do to teach people how to properly think, to properly use logic. It's further worsened by following up with an appeal to William Lane Craig, who has repeatedly defined himself as being the direct opposite of a freethinker, and has encouraged other Christians to follow in his footsteps:

"For not only should I continue to have faith in God on the basis of the Spirit's witness even if all the arguments for His existence were refuted, but I should continue to have faith in God even in the face of objections which I cannot at that time answer."

For Craig, God is the conclusion. Christianity is the starting point. If evidence supports it, then use the evidence, but if the evidence is against it, the evidence is useless and should be discarded. All because of "personal experience". If you feel like God has contacted you in some way, then this must above all else be held to; pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  That Elijiah would quote him as a defender of Christian freethought is rather telling.

The problem with being a "Christian Freethinker" is that even in trying to establish reasons why one should be as such, an appeal to religious dogma is made. It's that ingrained. Theists have long defended the virtues of faith, yet now in the face of the scientific revolution and new atheism they want to adopt the moniker of one who acts through pure reason. Christianity entails a level of faith and dogma, entities entirely inconsistent with freethought. Even if you started out neutral to the idea of god, and were convinced with nothing but logic and reason that Jesus died for your sins, there will be a plethora of beliefs within Christianity that one will generally be required to maintain but that cannot be empirically verified. Disagree? Fine, then you are describing yourself as a faithless Christian. You cannot have it both ways, you cannot be a member of the faithful and a freethinker at the same time. To attempt to do so is to try to hijack the moniker of an objective rationalist for the purposes of bolstering your position while continuing to use non-rationalist methods when it suits you.

Could someone believe in a god and be a freethinker? Easily. Plenty of deists are considered freethinkers. Could someone believe in much of what the Bible says and be a freethinker. Maybe, but such a person would likely not be considered a Christian by most of the rest of those that refer to themselves as such. Could followers of a religion be freethinkers? No, for with religion comes dogma and as dogma comes, so does freethinking take its leave.


  1. What is freethinking? Freethinking is when a person places no premium on prior held assumptions in judging a present case. This person uses the instruments of reason and logic to judge a matter rather than tradition, authority, or dogma.

    Saying, "A Christian cannot be a freethinker" presents a much higher burden of proof (an impossible one, actually) than to say most Christians (you have met? from your extrapolation? with certainty the majority everywhere?) are not free thinkers.

    You can see very clearly when the category is exchanged with political sacred cows.

    "A black person cannot be a freethinker."

    "An Italian cannot be a freethinker."

    "A follower of [insert political party] cannot be a freethinker."

    This is a rigid dismissal that any in a category can transcend the category. And you couldn't possibly believe that. I think S.E. Cupp is a remarkable atheist and makes many valid points politically. I don't question whether she is a "true" atheist, or what type of atheist she is, (is she a freethinking atheist, or a dogmatic atheist?). I consider her position and if it has merit, but I don't consider her category to try to disparage the position. If it's worthy of ridicule, it should be ridiculed on its own merit.

    One could make similar arguments: Cartesians are not freethinkers. Monarchists are not freethinkers. Manichaeans are not freethinkers.

    Is that true or did their exercise of reason arrive at a conclusion you particularly detest?

    Finally, can we solve ground rules for what constitutes freethinking? Adhering to basic beliefs in Christianity, as to origins, as to cosmology, are really no different than any other conclusion. Having some concept about the origin of human life is still basically a concept about the origin of human life. Whether you posit it was photoelectric goop, extraterrestrial genetic engineering, or God created us, it doesn't really move me either way. I can't dismiss a person as being "locked in" for preferring one look to another. That is closed-minded.

    1. WTF? Does anyone really know what an atheist is these days?

      I say these days because its roots come from Romans calling christians atheists for only believing in one god, monotheists.

      “In fact, "atheism" is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a "non-astrologer" or a "non-alchemist." We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”

      ― Sam Harris, Letter to a christian Nation

      WTF is this shit here: "is she a freethinking atheist, or a dogmatic atheist?"

      “To most christians, the bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll to the bottom and click 'I agree'.”

      ― Bill Maher

      You cant jump and sleep on your back at the same time, you cant be wet and dry at the same time and you cant be religious and a free thinker, why?

      By definition, real simple.

      One question ends the debate:

      What led to the ultimate origins of the universe?

      Free thinker:

      "Thats a tough question. I dont know, nobody knows. We have evidence that looks promising, but in reality, nobody is privy to the secrets of the universe and its ultimate origins of creation. So as a free thinker I suggest we roll up our sleeves and dig into this universe to see what we find. If we never find out, just continue to say "I dont know yet", it's how free thinkers roll mofo's

      NON Free thinker: "Thats an easy question. Everyone knows god did it. However, not just any god like zeus or thor, I'm talking about the celestial chef with the recipe of dust and a rib to make people and the greatest act of genocide in story telling history via flood on his resume too. Oh, and him and his son, the slaughtered lamb chop, watch you masturbate

      Kids these days :)

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  3. There is one blatant flaw in your article, though I respect your opinion for what it is. You have relied strictly on the logic of a "misuse" in the term "free thinker". If we look at the origin of free thinking, originating in the 1700s to describe dissidents to common doma (source:, it defines these individuals not dissidents merely because they rebelled, but because they developed personalized opinions through a foundation of logical and scientific reasonings.

    The reason that "free thought" confines itself to the modern connotation is because religion is one of the most observable instances of mass conformity to date. Although the less observable, if one were to take but a second to reflect upon media, politics, educations, and the liking, they would recognize a multitude of examples of this same conformity. However, religion (specifically Christianity) has received the lashing from conforming nonconformists.

    An opinion as to what "free thinking" -should- be defined as opposed to -what- it is defined as does not eliminate the fact that any individual, who is not bound by the conformity of the mainstream public or the conformity of the rebels, may express the mindset of a free-thinking individual, regardless of gender, race, education, and most certainly religion.

  4. "@Catholicahafan"
    Sorry 2 yrs late to the party.
    I'm going to try my best with this.

    I have come to a conclusion while rediscovering my faith (that had lapsed for 24 yrs) that though I understand and believed what my faith teaches, I at the same time, feel that my agreement with what my faith teaches shouldn't be only because I am a member of that faith. In other words:
    "I am a Catholic.
    "I am Pro-Life at every stage."
    "I am not Pro-Life BECAUSE I am Catholic, I am Pro-Life because I can't condone the taking of life at any stage by any means because it is not anyone's place to take any life. If you would not want to be murdered then why do you think you have the right/obligation to murder others.

    "99%" of Catholics when asked why they are Pro-Life:

    "I'm a Catholic!"
    "Catholics don't believe in abortion."
    "Catholics don't believe in euthanasia."
    ...I could go on but you get it.

    It offends the daylights out of me. It sounds like a laundry list of beliefs but not personal convictions that aren't always heartfelt and ultimately tick those same believers off when they are confronted with an emotional conflict.

    Then it goes:

    "I know I'm Catholic and that "we" (not I) we believe we can't do X but...

    It always goes back to what people are told they can't do but individuals never seem able to discuss their own beliefs without touching back to church teaching and often cannot give the reason why they personally agree instead just say they agree with the church.

    I believe I am a catholic because my personally held beliefs align with what the church teaches and if my beliefs were contrary to what Catholicism teaches I would be a member of another faith.

    Coincidentally, my husband believes just as I do about pro-life and reproductive ethics except he's an atheist and has never been part of a religion and his parents weren't either. I asked him how it is that he as an atheist can have beliefs similar to mine and he stated that he just always felt that life (irregardless of what people think created life) life in of itself should not be taken by anyone because the nature and mandate of human beings is to reproduce and raise future generations to sustain the species. If we tamper with that through, abortion, war, genocide and abuse of our resources and planet, we will ultimately see humans as disposables and worthless in eachother's eyes. If that happens, he says, then we will drive ourselves to extinction.

    Religion isn't the issue. Not knowing why you say you believe-outside of the touchy feely sentimental stuff-is.

    Having a religious affliation for the sake of having one is mindless and amounts to rote spirituality that will be empty and for show and might impress some people but when asked to explain the "whys" you will be hard pressed.

    Thanks All, Mary

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  6. If materialism and atheism were true, our every thought and feeling would be the result of brain activity we can't control. No matter how much sense something makes to someone, no one could know what to trust because anything our brain does we'd believe because of it anyway. So no one can justify faith being ignorance, because one prefers to believe one thing more than another. It's our brains making us do it. But some things obviously have to be true, or else this very argument from reason would also be a forced thought unable to determine if true or false either. So the only way rationality cannot be an illusion is if beings are of immaterial essence. Atheism and materialism are contradictory to free thinking and rational deduction even being possible.
    Another, but similar thing that contradicts atheism and materialism, is that if there were no eternal continuation of consciousness then everything anyone could know and experience is then invalidated, because we wouldn't remember anything, so everything and one might as well have never existed. Atheists basically teach that the only thing logical to conclude is that all logic (consciousness) is worthless. But one needs logic in order to even be able to think that. It's literally impossible to even live and be consistent with atheism and materialism.
    Many philosophers say there's no such thing as a true nihilist, because then the only logical thing to do would be to commit suicide, and so the more appropriate term for their belief is absurdism. Yet most self claimed nihilists are content deluding themselves into making up their own purpose, when they assert there is none. And atheists are adamant that atheism isn't the same as nihilism, since it's only the belief in no deity. Hello, the implications of that logically conclude nihilism

  7. It is the exclusivity of religion that turns away honest seekers because regardless of how enthusiastic we are about connecting to the divine in some way, there just are no pure answers in any one religious doctrine that ring true for everyone. eye of the psychic