Are you gullible? Or skeptical? A freethinker or a conformist?
Each of these labels is often considered an insult. If you say to someone, “You sure are — (insert any of above),” you’ll most likely get a denial in return. That’s because those characterizations, and others like them, are boxes that none of us fit into all the time.
However, I think we all fit each of them at times. I know that’s true for me. There are some people that I will believe anything from, and others of whom I feel the need to verify their every word. Sometimes I think conventional wisdom has it right; other times I have to figure things out on my own. Still, I mostly consider myself a freethinker.
That surprises some people because the term “freethinker” has taken on a connotation beyond its definition; some people equate it strictly with die-hard atheist. That’s not accurate, though.
Merriam-Webster defines freethinker as “a person who thinks freely or independently : one who forms opinions on the basis of reason independently of authority : one who rejects or is skeptical of religious dogma.”
Or as Bertrand Russell said, “What makes a freethinker is not his beliefs but the way in which he holds them. If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful thought he finds a balance of evidence in their favour, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem.”
I mostly stay out of religion and politics on this blog, so many of you are probably not aware that I was raised in a cult. It took some serious free thinking to disentangle myself from it. That experience taught me to keep an open mind, to listen to everyone, uncensored, and weigh what they say against the evidence. And so I say today, “Happy Freethinkers Day!”
January 29 was chosen for this holiday as it is the birthday of one of the most influential freethinkers in history: Thomas Paine. Paine was a Deist with strong opinions on the role of government. His persuasive arguments in his booklet Common Sense heavily influenced the American Revolution, and his The Rights of Man did the same in France. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin drew on Paine’s philosophy when crafting the Declaration of Independence. Paine was also one of the first to advocate strongly for the abolition of slavery and equal human rights for all people.
How does one celebrate Freethinkers Day? By “challenging arbitrary authority, questioning the status quo, and constructing logical and reasonable arguments against engrained behavior.” In other words, think about something you do simply because that’s the way you were taught and you’ve always done it that way, and see if you can figure a better way. Or better yet, do the same thing with an opinion or belief that you hold.
I’m going to try to figure out a way to better way to live in harmony with my natural circadian rhythm yet still be able to function in society’s arbitrary parameters. My sleep-wake cycle is not meant to be in sync with an 10-11pm to 6-7am night and 8am to 5pm workday; but those are the hours we are all expected to keep.
I’m also going to try to find more common ground with those on the “other side” of the political aisle. We all have to live in this country; let’s find ways to work together to achieve our shared desires of peace and prosperity for all. (At least, I hope we all share those desires.)
To conclude, here are a few Thomas Paine quotes:
“Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.”
“The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”
“The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.”
“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”
And here three more quotes about using our own minds from other freethinkers:
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” ~Albert Einstein
“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” ~Gen. George S. Patton
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” ~Henry Ford