July 31, 2004

Sunday Sermon: What Freethought Is...

from - smijer

I was called upon recently to explain the signifcance of the "freethought" designation. I believe that I did a poor job of it. I hope to rectify the mistake now.

Freethought, as I define it, is freedom of thought from the bonds of irrational religion. As such, it does not exlude people who believe in a transcendent God. It is meant to exclude certain types of thinking... thinking that is not free from the smothering influence of religion. That does not mean only atheists walk under the umbrella of freethought. Agnostics may, too (if they aren't scared into agnosticism by lingering fears from religious indoctrination). Even devout believers in a transcendent God may belong in the freethought universe, if their belief comes from direct revelation or rational deduction, rather than religious indoctrination. True, no one seems to fit this final category. That may be explained by the absence of any deducible or self-revealing transcendent God, or it may be explained by the effecacy of religious programs to co-opt and subsume such revelations or deductions into its own fabric - a form of spiritual theft. It is certainly true that religions have very effective methods of reassigning credit for the work of doctors (or of our own bodies), rescue workers, social institutions, and even simple chance, to its own constructs (God, Allah, Karma, or the Dharma, for instance) in order to bolster its own authority. Such a mechanism might be responsible for undermining some revelation or deduction for its own purpose as well. Or, there may be no such revelation or deduction possible in the first place.

Religious people, especially the leaders who recieve the financial benefit of religion, have noticed the growing bad reputation that goes with the name "religion". They have created a new appeal, claiming that Christianity isn't a religion, but a "personal relationship with Christ". Asking the "who, what, how, when, and where" questions, nevertheless, always reveal that their "personal relationship" is nothing more than a euphemism for religion. The elements of the "personal relationship" always reduce to such religious rituals as prayer (sometimes done in a style to mimic familiarity), and other practices, such as ascribing all good fortune, some bad fortune, and certain aspects of personal intuition to personal "answers" to prayer. They never reduce to anything remotely resembling an actual personal relationship. So Christianity remains a religion.

Religious doctrines, that is to say doctrines that are incompatible with free thought, can and must only be believed in as a form of acquiescence. As an example, I present the Christian doctrine that the "blood" of Jesus atones for the wrong-doing of sinners. Blood, in this case, is a metaphor for killing. It is simply impossible to be convinced by reason or experience that the killing of any individual in the distant past can bring atonement for our wrongdoing today. Such a thought could only be accepted by submission to the authority of other people. Not free thought, but manipulated thought. Although this example is among the more egregious, it is by seeing the process at work in such a clear case of submission to religious indoctrination that we can often learn the attributes of this kind of belief, and learn to recognize it in cases where it isn't so clear. Islam, for instance, advertizes itself as a form of submission (the word can be translated as "surrender"). It's false claim is that the religion is a surrender to God. It is this deception that makes followers willing to submit. The religious leaders and their holy books require submission, and gain it by representing themselves as agents of God. The same is true for all of the major monotheistic religions, both extinct and extant.

Thus concludes the sermon for this Sunday.

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Posted by smijer at July 31, 2004 10:47 PM
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