This I Believe
During a heated discussion about the separation of church and state, I was asked, “Just what do you believe, are you a Christian or an atheist?
I suspect the topic of religious preference may be too controversial for “This I Believe,” but it is certainly pertinent to what I believe. It is a topic, which usually stirs emotion and blurs reason.
I chose to answer what I thought was an inappropriate question. I could have answered, “I am a secular humanist, or agnostic, or atheist, or skeptic, or even Unitarian, but I replied, “I am a Freethinker.”
Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to be all of the above, but often such tags elicit negative feelings from those who have strong religious beliefs. I understand why the question was asked; it always helps to know the philosophical roots of a debating opponent, or for that matter, a newsreporter or pundit.
A freethinker can believe many things including the existence of God. Freethinking is a methodology of thinking rather than what a person does or does not believe. Like the guidelines for scientific research or for a good judge and juror, a freethinker should be free of bias and consider all claims, including his own, with a measure of skepticism. As a freethinker, I try not make decisions based solely upon tradition or emotion. I try to follow good evidence wherever it leads and reject my most cherished and long held beliefs if they are invalidated by reasonable evidence. This I have believed most of my seventy years.
I believe each new day brings new truths; Iron Age concepts of justice, science, and morality have evolved as history abundantly documents. I believe freethinking liberates the human mind, makes Jihads and inquisitions impossible, and wars unlikely. I believe freethinking is preferable to orthodoxy; the first allows freedom of thought and change, the second does not allow dissent and encourages stagnation.
As a freethinker, I believe a nation must not forcibly impose its world-view or theology upon others. Consensus and uniformity on all matters should not be required, contrary opinions must be heard and fairly evaluated. Variety is much more than the “spice of life”; it is the natural force that drives the inquiring mind, as well as biology.
My debate opponent’s brow furrowed, I suspected freethinking was not for him. He was comfortable and secure in his beliefs, and unwilling to consider others. Debates seldom change closed minds.
I answered his question, “Just what do you believe, are you a Christian or an atheist?” the best I could, but to him everything was white or black; there were no in between grays, no rainbow of colors. He did not understand my words. Perhaps some National Public Radio listeners will. This I hope.
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