Sunday, February 19, 2012

Freethinker or free thinker?

Like many states, the one that we live in, Minnesota, has a program where people and groups can volunteer to clean up the trash that collects along the side of a highway.  The responsible person or group organizes a clean-up about three times a year, picking up litter and leaving it in large trash bags that the state then collects and disposes of.  Last week as we were returning home from a trip to Wisconsin we passed one of those signs that tells who is responsible for cleaning up one portion of the highway within our county.  The two-mile section was taken care of by the Rochester Area Freethinkers.

This was a sign I had seen many times before, one that I had thought about a little bit.  In my mind I had assumed them to be some sort of group that was primarily atheist in its intentions.  My curiosity being pricked, I went on-line and visited their website, which provided this definition:     

“A Freethinker is someone who strives to base their opinions and beliefs on facts.
As opposed to basing them on hearsay, dogma, superstition, or faith.
Faith is the opposite where you suspend rationality and the need for evidence.”

Reading that definition I think I can reasonably conclude that the essential premise of atheism, i.e. that God, if he/she exists, cannot act supernaturally, may not be their primary value but clearly underlies that which they choose to believe, as well as what they choose not to believe.  Investigating a bit further I learned that Freethinkers are practitioners of Freethought, which had a particularly strong base in Wisconsin as Germans immigrated there in the 19th century.

So on the one hand the Freethinkers have facts and reason, which they uphold as proofs against faith in the other hand.  Looking at faith in greater depth, beyond the definition given above, where is faith as defined by what it isn’t, we have these definitions:
1. Confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another's ability.
2. Belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3. Belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
4. Belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
5. A system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
6. The obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking faith.
7. The observance of this obligation; fidelity to one's promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.
8. Christian Theology: the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved.

I believe that the Freethinker would only object to definitions 3, 5 and 8.  And while they may agree with the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1, which is a definition of faith based on what it is rather than what it isn’t, they would not find any comfort in it.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

 Another thing that it appears Freethinkers are opposed to is dogma.  Here is a link to a dictionary definition of dogma.  Moving briefly to pop culture I want to cite a quote by Steven Jobs that circulated widely after his recent death, where he said this:

“Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking.”

I’m not so convinced that dogma in and of itself, or as Jobs phrased it, “the results of other people’s thinking,” is an inherently bad thing.  To me he certainly seemed happy to see his own thinking permeate the computer industry, shaping aspects of the entire industry according to his particular vision for it.

And I believe there is much that is based in dogma of one kind or another that the Freethinkers would agree with, such as the thinking that guided the Founding Fathers, particularly in establishing the Bill of Rights, which allows Freethinkers in this country the right to publicly express their views free of the threat of oppression.

This isn’t a blanket defense of dogma, for there certainly has been much evil done in the world that has been driven by dogma, such as the fascism found in Nazi Germany and the twisted variants of Christianity that condoned the Spanish Inquisition and the crusades. 

Yesterday, as I left my house to run near dawn, the waning moon hung low in the sky, with the barest sliver in view.  And as I heard the honking of geese, I turned my head to see a group of nine flying north towards their summer habitat, as improbable as that seems in mid-February. 

All around me there was evidence of creation, a creation that can not be fully explained by objective facts.  And neither can the intricacies of creation be fully understood by the testimony of the Bible.  But the Bible does testify to the Creator, who created this world for his pleasure, placing within it a people he could lavish his love on. 

I can’t prove that the Bible’s claims are true, outside of the testimony of my own story and where God has been actively involved in my life.  I do have the faith of Hebrews 11, and I trust in the promises of God, promises that find their fulfillement in the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The Freethinker, or any person who does not have faith in God as made known in Christ Jesus, may feel that they are free to live and act in the world as they see fit, believing in whatever ethical structure suits their fancy.  I thank God that he has revealed himself to me in the person of Christ, and that he has filled me with the presence of his Spirit.

In Galatians 4:8-9 Paul writes:

“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?”

Accepting the grace of God, by faith, allows me to think freely, and to know fellowship with my Lord and Savior, now and forever. 

I have many friends who are not Christians and if you are one of them and reading this blog, or any non-believer reading this blog, then I would encourage you to seek that which can not be known objectively but is certainly real, more real than anything that has ever existed, which is the deep and abiding love that God has, and offers, to you.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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