Freethought means Atheism, not Anarchy

8 Jan

Just as freedom of speech does not give one the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre, the coined word “Freethought”, as it relates to secularism, does not mean every kind of fringe spiritualist and conspiracy theory whack-job who embraces his imagination as proof.  The word was actually invented as a naked synonym for atheism, signifying a freedom from the thought control tactics of the church, and an insistence on evidence-based decision-making (itself a restriction of that freedom, but that’s another bit altogether).  It’s an unfortunate choice of words as it turns out, for after a good century of stagnation, especially in the New World, the resurrected term connotes something very different to many new listeners.  No one can be blamed for assuming that freethought means complete philosophical liberty of the sort enjoyed by many college-aged cognates as they stretch their youthful imaginations once more before settling inevitably on the obvious.  All of us who have clambered down the cobbled path of community organization in this growing movement of the non-religious have had to answer the same difficult question:

Will our secular group include fringe spiritualists who oppose theocracy yet cleave to some form of magic-based belief system?

This may include, among myriad others, Alien origin theorists, New Age Quasi-Buddhists, Pseudo-science practitioners, Wiccans, pagans, Jedis, Gnostics, and Unitarians.  Does their assistance in the fight against the Christian right outweigh the potential upset they bring to the sanctum of reason many atheists expect from their local organizations?  Take a closer look and the conundrum has layers. The crystal-lady likes the solstice party for sure, but she freaks out the “freethinker” whose stringent brand of secularism brooks no speak of spirituality.  Sadly. her inclusion in the community can hearken of hypocrisy to detractors of  the movement in general.  One such visionary, who believed that every myth that was ever invented was a valid manifestation of the same revealed truth, appeared at an atheist gathering.  A gathering of atheists, that is, who chose to leave the word “atheist’ out of their name in favor of the pandering euphemism that “freethinker” has become.  When he stated for the room that Jesus Christ was Lord and so was Odin, and Pele and countless others, heads exploded.  He was quickly expelled….for being the freest thinker at the freethought moot.  The community lost an ally….one with great energy and a true disdain for the religious establishment.

The answer is not that difficult to conjure.  In these days of failing atheist conventions, anyone who wants to be a respectful sponsor should be allowed to participate in our larger events.  Heck if they’re willing to pay the sponsor fee and take the grief,  I’d consider letting  religious groups table at my conference.  Let them try to change minds, it’s liable to make for a more interesting event in any case.  We already see unprecedented cooperation between secular groups of differing stripes at the larger gatherings, putting aside their quibbling differences to present a united front.  We need the the fringe spiritualists in this number, for it is they, along with atheists, who understand and value true freedom of religion.

Meanwhile, if you want to have an atheist group that’s a safe haven for atheists, try calling it that.  Because if you hang a shingle with the word “freethinker” on it, that’s what you’re going to get.  It is known.

 

 

 

 

 

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