What is Freethought?

Which of the following do you subscribe to?

Atheism, Skepticism, Rationalism, Agnosticism, Secular Humanism, Naturalism.

Many of us would describe our ideology as influenced by some or all of the above ways of perceiving the world around us. We also recognize that all of these ideas differ from each other to various degrees and in various ways, primarily from an epistemological (knowledge) point of view, but also in the area of focus prescribed by each of these ways of thinking. While most of us recognize that the goals that we have in common can best be achieved if we all work together, the entire movement has gotten caught up in branding issues. This awareness has brought into the fore the need for an all-encompassing term that subsumes the focus and meaning implied in all of the above ideas endorsing a reason-based worldview.

‘Freethought’ is one such term.

The word ‘Freethought’ does not simply represent the meaning implied in the coming together of the words ‘Free’ and ‘Thought’, contrary to what most people, including many freethinkers, seem to think. It is actually an idea that has been around for about more than 300 years.

The word ‘Freethought’ refers to a set of philosophies that adopt science, reason and logic as tools for understanding the natural world, rejecting sources of authority and tradition, such as religion, that claim infallible truth and require blind allegiance. The Freethinker magazine was first published in England in 1881 and is still around as a website. Today, the word ‘Freethought’ is used as an umbrella term encompassing a number of ideas including skepticism, application of the scientific method (scientific naturalism), philosophical naturalism, atheism, rationalism, humanism etc.

A common misconception is that freethought implies treating all ideas equally. This could not be farther from the truth. Freethinkers are extremely discriminatory of bad ideas, and adopt a refined reasoning process in judging factual claims.

It should be remembered that organized promotion of freethought is a political ideology, even if freethought itself is not. The process of building a culture of freethought involves first creating communities of freethinkers- people who can find and communicate with each other, while living amongst the masses of people who are not freethinkers. Once these communities begin to come together online (and off), much good can be accomplished through activism. This includes campaigning to establish equal rights and fair representation in society for all freethinkers/atheists/non-religious people, campaigning to be protected from discrimination based on religious belief (or, in this case, non-belief), to end religious indoctrination in government-funded public schools, to end tax exemptions for religious causes, working to advance a science-based public policy, working to advance the role of science in our educational, medical, judicial and various other social systems, and campaigning to eradicate the dangerous, pseudoscientific and superstitious practices that plague our culture.

“What is Freethought?” was developed from this blog post.