Someone said in a Face Book post the other day that they were a “free thinker” to explain their negativity and cynicism. I found that most interesting and somewhat disturbing. I’ve known many people through the years that claim this title of either being a “Free Thinker” or an “Independent Thinker” and yet frequently the analysis of their thought process and conclusions begs to counter that self-labeling. Frequently, they are simply negative, pessimistic, and cynical. Many times it appears that they are attempting to hide behind the mask of “Free Thinking” or “Independent Thinking” to cover their own “self-doubts” and “confusion”.
If we look at an accepted definition of both we find the following:
1. Free-Thinking: Being unwilling to accept authority or dogma (especially in religion).
2. Independent Thinking: This differs from critical thinking, which is the process used to collect and process information to arrive at a logical conclusion. In other words, independent thinking has more to do with the desire to think for oneself and critical thinking is the process used to deal with information.
Free-thought is a philosophical viewpoint which holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or other dogmas. The cognitive application of free-thought is known as “free-thinking” and practitioners of “free-thought” are known as “free-thinkers.”
Free-thought holds that individuals should not accept ideas proposed as truth without recourse to knowledge and reason. Thus, free-thinkers strive to build their opinions on the basis of facts, scientific inquiry, and logical principles, independent of any logical fallacies or intellectually limiting effects of authority, confirmation of bias, cognitive bias, conventional wisdom, popular culture, prejudice, sectarianism, tradition, urban legend, and all other dogmas. Regarding religion, free-thinkers hold that there is insufficient evidence to support the existence of supernatural phenomena. So, if you self-describe yourself as a “free-thinker”, especially in matters of faith you dismiss God’s existence and would therefore either be an agnostic or an atheist. In the Christian faith there are some things that we cannot prove scientifically, yet for those of us who believe, there is overwhelming indication that the Bible is true, God created the world, and Jesus is the Son of God who came in the form of man, lived a sinless life, and gave His life as a ransom for our eternal salvation. In that light I am most assuredly not a “free-thinker”. [I’m not sure whom to give credit for part of this paragraph]
What do we find when we examine the idea of “independent-thinking?” Typically the accepted idea is that “independent-thinkers” are analytical and witty persons. They are normally “self-confident” and do not let themselves get worked up by “conflicts” and “criticism”. They are very much aware of their own strengths and have no doubts as to their abilities. People of this personality type are often very successful in their career as they have both “competence” and “purposefulness”. Independent Thinkers are frequently specialists in their field or sphere. Development of their ideas and visions is important to them; they love being as flexible as possible, and ideally, of being able to work alone because they often find it a strain having to make their complex trains of thought understandable to other people. Independent Thinkers cannot stand routine. Once they consider an idea a good one it is difficult to make them give it up; they pursue implementation of that idea obstinately and persistently, also in the face of external opposition.
I would suggest that many confuse being a “free-thinker” with being a “free-spirit”, defined as “one who is not restrained, as by convention or obligation; a nonconformist.” I suppose that could be both good and bad but taken to its extreme would be anarchy and render the person incapable of melding into society in a productive manner and trying to make it better from within. In its extreme it is basically “lawlessness”.
We see many today who self-describe themselves as “free-thinkers”, “independent-thinkers”, or “free-spirits” when they are nothing more than cynical, skeptics who live in the squalor of their anger at “the establishment” living with their “victim mentality”, and believing that “society owes them something”. They see no reason to become productive members of society and labor for their reward. They are perfectly content to sit idly and spout ideological theories about anyone who is a productive part of society. They give little consideration to how their attitude and actions affect others and the drain that they place on those who do strive for success, productivity, and being cooperative members of society as a whole.
Therefore, before you label yourself a “free-thinker”, “independent-thinker” or “free-spirit” consider what that means in the big picture. How does that affect your ability to develop a “committed faith” in God and His Word? How does that affect your ability to live as a contributing member of society as a whole? Also, please examine the potential “selfishness” of your attitude and the lack of “otherness”, which is one of the key tenets of the Bible. I believe that the Bible teaches us that we should have as our first allegiance and focus “God”, then we should consider “others”, and finally turn the focus to “ourselves.” If we have an “upward look”, then an “outward look”, our “inward look” will be healthy and wholesome free of “selfishness” and “self-centeredness”. The philosophy that “I have to look out for number one, because no one else will” is foreign to the teachings of our Lord!
I see this in society. I see it in the church and I see it in the political world. The good of the whole finds itself on the back burner and becomes subservient to the desires of the individual. “What’s in it for me?” is too frequently the guide by which many live, and vote. I served in Vietnam and my question was not “what’s in it for me?” My question was, “what do I need to do?” I’ve served in the ministry and my question was not “what’s in it for me?” My question was “how can I serve?” I am a parent and grandparent and my question cannot be and has not been, “what’s in it for me?” It is and always has been, “what are the needs of my family?” If that means I must sacrifice then so be it. I quote from John 3:30 – “He must increase, but I must decrease.” If Jesus becomes NUMBER ONE in my life my “thinking” will align itself with His thoughts and will NEVER be “independent” of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. I will ALWAYS find myself seeking to work in harmony with Him rather than following my own individualistic desires, goals, ambitions, and plans. So, I guess I cannot call myself a “free-thinker” though I seek for all the truth. I cannot call myself an “independent-thinker” consumed with my own ideas. Nor can I call myself a “free-spirit” because I have no desire to live life separate from the guidance and leadership of the Holy Spirit. I do believe that I practice “Critical Thinking” because I do desire to know “truth” and all aspects of “truth”. That is why I reject sectarianism and am willing to listen to other ideas, thoughts, philosophies, and beliefs. I “know whom and what I believe” and am not “easily tossed about by every wind of doctrine” that comes my way. Yet, I also know that NONE OF US have a corner on truth and NONE OF US know everything there is to know about the Bible, God, or Life itself.
In politics I am of the conservative mind-set because I believe it espouses what the Bible teaches more than the liberal, progressive, socialist movements. I have compassion for my fellow-man, love my country, love my family, and more importantly love my God. It is my conviction that there is “HOPE” because God is our hope and His promises are sure! I believe we can become slothful and neglect our responsibility to God, Country, and Family. That is the primary driving force behind my becoming involved in political things as well as continually striving to communicate what I believe is the truth of God’s Word to whomever, will listen.
You may not agree with my analysis in this post and that is most assuredly your right and prerogative. I welcome your comments, criticisms, expansions upon my thoughts, and any differing points of view. I want to broaden my understanding in all areas of life and yet I do not want to become as Paul described in 2 Timothy 3:7 as someone who is “ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge or understanding of the truth.” We have a great country that is worth defending and I applaud your efforts to stand for what you believe whether that agrees with my beliefs or not. With that I say, God bless you and God bless America!