By Larry Imhoff, October 2, 2011
At 50 paces, freethinkers are indistinguishable from our religious counterparts — we have similar families, careers, hopes and dreams. We enjoy the same successes and suffer the same disappointments. Politically we are all over the place. So how are we different?
We do not adhere to any religious faith. This frees us to evaluate any and all philosophies, religious or otherwise. This freedom even simplifies the math — three no longer equals one.
Rational moral code
Many religions claim that without their moral code there would be total chaos; everyone would act without restraint. In fact, moral codes are not a result of some deity’s proclamation but rather a realization that certain behaviors promote a more harmonious environment and conversely other behaviors are detrimental to the group’s well-being. Any group, tribe or civilization worthy of the name would come to a similar position with or without a deity.
We freethinkers certainly understand right and wrong, ethical and unethical, legal and illegal; but sin is strictly a religious concept, albeit a poorly defined one. It has no place in our philosophy.
When some holy spokesperson preaches that sin is simply not being godly enough or when they rage against homosexuals, we can dismiss their tirades as personal bias. The spokesperson has cherry-picked the Scriptures to reflect a personal view.
And concepts such as heaven, hell, salvation and original sin likewise fall into the realm of myth for this freethinker. Our heaven or hell exists here on Earth — and is generally of our own making.
Freethinkers also recognize that religions have an abysmal record of living up to their own moral codes. Historically they have the crusades, the inquisitions, the witch burnings and countless religious wars, including those currently raging. And don’t forget the Catholic Church’s perpetual pedophile scandal. Religion’s past and present behavior disqualifies it from being the sole arbiter of moral judgment.
Our moral codes, rather than being dictated by an often questionable theology, are gleaned from studying the universal truths repeated in history, literature, philosophy, drama and the arts throughout the ages.
Holy books as literature
We read the various holy books as simple literature. We are under no obligation to profess or defend any such writing. Is the Christian Bible the word of God or simply a compilation of stories about a late bronze-age nomadic tribe living in the Middle East? Is the biblical Genesis story to be taken literally or is it another of hundreds of creation myths? Does evolution not supply better answers?
Did Joseph Smith really find the golden tablets? Did Zoroaster ascend into heaven to obtain religious law for the nation of Persia? Did Gilgamesh really experience the great flood?
To the extent that a narrative contains worthwhile information, it doesn’t matter whether it comes from so-called holy scriptures or Aesop’s fables. The value is in the individual’s interpretation.
When I read that someone has seen an image of the Virgin Mary in his beer, I can question whether the vision occurred during the first beer or deeper into the keg?
Science vs. supernatural
We freethinkers must recognize that some questions are outside the realm of both science and religion. Neither can advise us on marriage or career choices, though both often try.
Some religions explain the natural universe in terms of, “God made it that way.” One can understand this from a historical viewpoint. Religions formulated “gods” long before there were any viable alternative explanations.
But now science and technology are revealing provable answers to our questions. It’s not that science has or will ever have all the answers, but the default — “God made it that way” response — provides no answers.
A co-worker once noted that human blood is red because “God made it that way.” Such answers deprive us of any deeper understanding of the subject. Fortunately medical science didn’t accept that approach, and we are all the better for it. The same can be said for other branches of science.
Religious miracles similarly need be given no more than a passing glance. There is no independent evidence, no credible witnesses and you can be sure they can’t be replicated today. So what are we to glean from these?
Are we to be impressed by the deity’s power or the writer’s imagination? An exercise left to the reader.
So while the religious and the nonreligious share many of the same values, we freethinkers enjoy the freedom to explore and to reject belief in the unbelievable.