“You’re drifting away from the truth”. These were the words of my fundamentalist Christian parents a couple of years ago. Since then, I’ve felt quite proud of my “freethinking” identity for liberating me from dogma, emancipating me from tradition and freeing me from the mental slavery of religion.
Labeling yourself as a “freethinker” really does boost your personal morale. It makes you feel as though you belong to a special and elite group of intelligentsia – much preferable to the groupthink “peasants” out there … that’s until the reality check comes, and you realize that you weren’t as “freethinking” as you once thought.
At least to me, freethinking isn’t simply about being an “irreligious skeptic” as common perceptions would infer. Freethought implies a lot more than simple rebellion against religious dogmas, beliefs and creeds. To me, intelligent freethought implies a willingness to entertain and explore all possibilities, whether logical or illogical, reasonable or unreasonable, empirical or supernatural.
It seems fair-minded for me to say that freethinking is not simply a stubborn unwillingness to accept established belief, tradition or authority, but a willingness to question all things in life, whether institutional, sociological or psychological. As rock legend (and yes, LSD enthusiast) Frank Zappa famously mused: “a mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open”. And yes, if the mind is too open, the brain may fall out. However, that’s the risk you take for opening up to life: chaos and uncertainty.
An Atheist Isn’t Necessarily a Freethinker
It’s unfortunate that freethinking has to be associated with “secularists”, “atheists”, and other reactive groups of people in society.
Look up “freethought” on internet search engines and you’ll find a number of keywords associated with the phrase: knowledge, logic, reason, facts, scientific inquiry … etc. etc. You’ve probably also met a variety of “freethinkers” in your lives who, most probably, aggressively challenge anything verging on supernatural with as much steaming passion and dogma as a ranting and raving Pentecostal missionary. They usually relish names like “secular humanist”, “post-theist”, “anti-clericalist”, “skeptic” or simply “atheist”.
Also, you tend to want to keep at least a 30-mile radius from them when any topic that tangles their knickers in a knot arises. In fact … you could say that they’re almost as scary and difficult to be around as religious people. Ironic that the very thing “freethinking” atheists despise is the very thing they resemble in the end: two-dimensional thinking devotees.
Why is this? Because atheism, just like religious fundamentalism, is a reaction. It’s a black to the white of religion – and there are rarely any black and whites in life. There are rarely any “either or’s”, “right or wrongs”, “good or bad’s”. Rather, life comes in a fascinating variety of grey’s – the neutral color, the color in between the two extreme poles of existence.
In my experience of growing up in a moralist family, who saw people as both “us or them” and “good or evil”, I can say that religion is a nice pacifier. Its purpose is to provide certainty to fearful and neurotic minds that can’t accept the mysterious uncertainty of life. Religion also provides people with hope, comfort and meaning – albeit in exchange for homogeneous, dulled and stagnant thinking.
Atheism, although providing freedom from religious dogma and creed, presents its own dogma masquerading as “reasonable truth” for its doubtless angry adherents to lap up. It goes something like this: “There is no god! God is dead! Spirituality is a lie! Anything that we can’t see or touch is irrelevant and doesn’t exist! There is no heaven, hell or life after death! This is all we have!” etc.
The atheist ‘faith’ is precisely why they’re not successful freethinkers to me. They make assumptions that they can in no way prove, and push it into people’s lives. Their minds are narrowed against possibilities that could very well exist. Why? Because militant atheists are just as neurotic as religious people. When a person has extremist thought, it’s usually a sign that something is wrong with them. Psychologists call it “black and white” thinking or “all-or-nothing” thinking. It’s usually observed in people with Narcissistic or Borderline Personality disorders. What does that say about the atheist? That they crave certainty? Safety? The need for control?
That is why I love Old Soul Emily Dickinson’s phrase “I dwell in possibility“. It encapsulates the whole meaning of freethought.
Freethinking vs. Two-Dimensional Thinking
Most of us overlap both freethinking and two-dimensional thinking, and that is the nature of life. But in order to grow as people it is good that we examine our thinking processes.
As you can see, a big philosophy of this blog is “thinking differently” and I invest a lot of time in my life exploring what exactly composes “thinking in a different way” from the people in society. This includes challenging all we hold as true, all that we hold as “common wisdom”, and all that we unquestioningly accept.
Why? Because as spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti once said “it is not a measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society“. With all the pollution, murders, suicides, physical illnesses, psychological illnesses, emptiness and deceit circulating in our midst, we must be doing something wrong!
And those who have managed to bring peace to their lives have dwelt in possibility, and have opened their minds to question, explore and think.
So where exactly do we stand in life? Are we more of a freethinker, or more of a two-dimensional thinker?
- Acceptance of uncertainty and a lack of stability.
- Not “needing” to know. Accepting “not knowing”.
- A desire to challenge established ideas, rules, expectations and beliefs.
- The ability to dwell in possibility for all things, including supernatural and metaphysical potentialities.
- A “grey” mindset – life is rarely considered as “either, or”, “black or white” and “good or evil”.
- The ability to see from a variety of perspectives.
- Curiosity. A desire to learn and explore, not just “find” and “know.
- Flexibility – not “needing” to be right. The acceptance of being wrong or mistaken.
- No desire to “convince” or “convert” people to your perspective.
- A you and I mentality. People are treated equally.
Two-Dimensional Thinker Characteristics:
- Fear and resistance to a lack of certainty and stability.
- Needing to know. Psychological inability to accept not knowing.
- Desire to be part of a group that shares the same thoughts, perspectives and beliefs.
- Rejection of ideas or perspectives that don’t fit into your belief system, culture, tradition or social group.
- A “black and white” mindset – most things are “right or wrong” and people are either “good or evil”, “smart or dumb” etc.
- Narrow-minded perspective. Inability to “think outside of the box”, or look through other people’s eyes.
- A desire for security and the need to have everything “figured out”.
- Needing to be right. Difficulty accepting the possibility of being wrong or mistaken.
- A thirst and desire to convince people that your beliefs or perceptions are correct.
- An us or them mentality. Outsiders or unbelievers are perceived or treated negatively.
I’m not sure why you’re here. But if you’re here to convince yourself that you’re more freethinking than two-dimensional, I really hope you reconsider your motives for the sake of your own personal-growth. Make no mistake, I’m aware that labeling yourself as a freethinker is holding another belief. However, some belief systems allow you to process other belief systems with a less biased filter in life. You need this balance in life, otherwise there’s only chaos. As Sol would often say to me “I believe in everything, and nothing at the same time”.
In the end, we all want to feel smart, intelligent and wise, but the truth is that many of us need a reality check. So what now? Try to fairly question how much of each thinking type you fall into.
The only way to grow is to face the hard truths about ourselves – and usually we’re the only ones that can do that for ourselves. In my case, I’ve been lucky to have a freethinking person help me, and I thank him for his help in liberating me from many of the dead beliefs I once clung to.
So now, look again at the lists. How much of a freethinker and two-dimensional thinker are you really … ?