Let’s play Start A Post with some Definitions!
Lack of belief in gods. I would add, to be consistent, in the supernatural as well, but lack of belief in gods is sufficient.
An atheist is one who doesn’t believe in any supernatural beings – gods.
Wow, that was great! Let’s have another definition!
Philosophical outlook which holds that “what we think” should be based upon observation of our natural reality and reasoned inferences from those observations. It holds that our opinions should be based, as far as is possible, on facts in our natural world and not upon authority, dogma, tradition, superstition, popular culture, your mom, etc.
A Freethinker then is one who uses the tools of freethought (scientific method, critical thinking, unruliness) in forming their opinions.
*All definitions cobbled together by the freethinking author. They are subject to change.
Freethought and atheism are related and intertwined in our popular mindset, our culture. Even we Freethinkers and atheists often use the terms almost as substitutes for one another, but there are differences. Historically, and today, not all Freethinkers are atheists and not all atheists are freethinkers.
It’s not an accident of nature, or god (!), that the terms are related to each other in our culture. They are related because Freethought has most often been identified with defiance of and attacks on whatever religious beliefs were currently most popular and/or powerful. So while I think that freethought and its tools are excellently fitted to work on any subject that can involve authority, tradition, dogma, superstition, etc. it’s most often been identified with resistance to religious beliefs and practices.
There have been freethinkers and non-believers and religious dissenters of various sorts probably ever since the first tribal shaman or priest stood up and started talking. I would bet a wooden nickel or a deed to the Brooklyn Bridge that the first time an elder or priest stood up and said something like:
There is another world, another side to our reality, and I, I alone can communicate with it and now deliver you a message from there!
There was some smartass in the back coughing or snorting:
Or, you know, the particular linguistic equivalent. That person was the original Freethinker. So, I would date the advent of Freethought to, at most, 3.5 minutes after the arrival of the first clergy/prophet/chieftain/patriarch/narrative salesman.
That first Freethinker, like many who would come later, wasn’t voicing a message of atheism necessarily. He or she may have thought that there was indeed some power, or powers, “out there,” maybe even the very power(s) that the authority figure referred to. Our Freethinker was calling bullshit on claims to special knowledge of things beyond the grasp of others, of things that go against what our Freethinker knew of the world.
The Freethinker was and is performing an essential task, honing essential tools. Freethought isn’t a creed, a set of dictates. It’s an attitude and an outlook that has been indispensable to the human animal and the human’s culture. It is the dedication to what is real and to the outing of bullshit.
Atheism is often (usually) found within circles of Freethought and vice versa but they are not exactly one and the same. I’d love to see a Venn diagram of the two become one big circle (can’t you picture it?!). It’s a realistic possibility (unlike certain supernatural beings) and a worthy project.
Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned, there’ll be more on Freethought and atheism.