Freethought

By | October 5, 2008

FreethoughtIsn’t all thought free? Who charges for it and where do they put the meter?

I’ve been asked to perform at Freethought Day in Old Sacramento, CA on Oct 12, so I’m doing some research:

Freethought, a philosophical view,  holds that beliefs should be formed only on the basis of science and logic. Freethinkers should not be influenced by emotion, authority, tradition, or any dogma. This view was promoted by the founder of Buddhism, Siddhārtha Gautama. Gautama, a spiritual teacher from ancient India who lived from 563 BC to 483 BC, instructed that teachings should only be accepted if they are shown to be true by our experience.

In the Kalama Sutta, also called Buddha’s charter of free inquiry, he says:

“It is proper for you … to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. … Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; … things lead to harm and ill, abandon them.”

This was about 500 years before christ. About 2000 years after he said these things, freethought was in trouble. The year 1600 AD is seen as beginning of the era of modern freethought, marked by the execution in Italy of Giordano Bruno by the Holy Inquisition. Bruno was imprisoned for 7 years then burned at the stake by the church in part for believing the sun was the center of our solar system, something we all now know to be true.

Freethinkers tended to be liberal, espousing ideals such as racial, social, and sexual equality, and the abolition of slavery. As the fastest growing religious affiliation in the world is currently, “not religious”, the time seems ripe for new congregations of freethinkers.

. Evidence for this recent development is the survey published by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York American Religious Identification Survey, 2001, by Barry A. Kosmin, Egon Mayer, and Ariela Keysar. This study finds a significant increase in the number of adult Americans who profess no religion. Today there are 29.4 million American adults who have no religious identification—an increase since 1990 from 8.16 percent to 14.17 percent. Moreover, the number of people who reside in a household whose members do not belong to a religious organization has likewise increased, from 46 percent in 1990 to 54 percent today.

It must be granted that a preponderance of the public (if often only nominally) still self-identifies as Christian-77 percent in 2001, in comparison with 86.7 percent in 1990. Yet here, too, this is a 9 percent decline. Today those with no religion are the third-largest minority, after Roman Catholics (50.9 million) and Baptists (33.8 million). – sechum

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