Sunday, 26 March 2017

THE FREETHINKER.

 (BY " BALAAM.")
 I know of no other word in the English language so generally misunderstood and so frequently misapplied, as the word freethinker. By a certain section of orthodox churchgoers (moral or immoral as the case may be) it is regarded as synonymous with atheist. Another section of the same community, in a mysterious and altogether inexplicable manner, associate the word with free love, while the ignorantly pious contingent, although they have no conception of its meaning, yet, with one accord, proclaim it to be something very bad, just as—being told to do so—they proclaim many things which they do not understand to be very good. Now, this widespread misapprehension arises from the prevalence amongst us of that social plague spot, the spurious freethinker. This noxious and objectionable animal may be found in any part of the civilised world, but his favorite haunt, or burrow, is in large towns. Not only a foe to Christianity, but absolutely without any religion, he writhes under the idea of individual responsibility to a higher power; all moral restraint, as far an the law will allow, he throws to the winds; his passions and lusts (again, as far as the law will allow) remain unbridled ; religion of any sort is hateful to him, involving as it does a necessity upon the part of its votaries to rise superior to the animal ; and boldly proclaiming that there is no God, no hereafter, no such thing as sin, he pursues his brute boast existence. And then, my friends, is the animal that calls himself a freethinker and so casts discredit upon a most estimable class of men—a class that as far as morality, honesty, and charity are concerned, will compare favorably with any sect or denomination upon the face of the earth. The bona fide believer in free thought—or as it is now generally termed, modern thought—is an individual whose mind is liberated from dogmatism and superstition. He asserts his individuality, and values at its true worth the reasoning power with which he finds himself endowed. The power he cultivates, and makes use of, regarding it as the most precious of all the "talents" entrusted to his care. Believing in his ability to distinguish between the probable and the improbable he will not accept of anything without evidence of, at least, probability. He understands the meaning of the word faith ; he also understands that "credulity is the disease of feeble intellects, and ill-regulated winds; believing everything, and investigating nothing, the mind accumulates errors, till its overgrown faith overmasters its untutored reason." Fully aware of his many imperfections, he yet refrains from grovelling in the dust, and calling himself a miserable offender, knowing full well that he is a decided improvement upon his prehistoric ancestor. He meets with a difficulty as follows
 —Supposing that scientists are right, and that the human race, instead of having fallen from a perfect state, have been gradually developing from a very low original; and as century succeeded century, most certainly rising instead of falling. Supposing such to have been the case, the tradition of man's fall must be rejected, and rejecting it, what then becomes of the Atonement? Meeting with such a problem, he does not cry " Get thee behind me Satan" and shut his eyes, but boldly, and to the best of of his ability, faces it, considering that he is not only justified in facing it, but that it is his bounden duty to do so. Earnest of purpose, honest of thought, open to conviction he grapples with the difficulty, and at length arrives at a conclusion of his own (not of his ancestors), and thus asserts his individuality as a reasoning, responsible being. He pays but little heed to the conflicting doctrines and dogmas of diverse churches, and the various and antagonistic creeds of religious sects trouble him not, what is opposed to reason he refuses to accept. He accept however, the certainties revealed by scientists, and if those should clash, as they sometimes do, with the traditions of a bygone age, why then, the latter must go to the wall. There are two words in the English language that the freethinker utterly disbelieves in, and those are the words atheist and devil. He cannot realize the possibility of any one—not wholly insane— doubting the existence of a God ; nor can he understand a rational human being believing in the existence of a devil. Looking things squarely in the face, he sees that the religious belief of the majority is entirely the result of their education and training, and in fact, it is not THEIR belief, but the belief of their teachers.
 " By education, most have been misled.
 They so believe, because they so were bred;
 The priest continues what the nurse began,
 And thus the child imposes on the man."

And pondering over this, he sees plainly that the man who accepts and believes without enquiry, completely ignores his individual responsibility, and forfeits all claim to be considered a rational being. To religious traditionalism the freethinker gives exactly the same weight that he does to any other traditionalism. His object is to arrive as nearly as possible at "the truth"; and he believes that the only method of doing so is by fearless and conscientious investigation, adopting what seems to him just and true ; and this he considers to be the only means by which one can ever reach a faith worthy of a rational human being. Appeal to the freethinker if you are in distress; ask him to co-operate in any scheme calculated to lessen the sorrow and suffering by which we are surrounded, and then you will find out what he is. But do not talk to him of such things as Adam and Eve, or the setting back of the sun—that is unless you wish him to bid you a hasty good day. This is no imaginary character that I have drawn, my friends ; he belongs to a class that is increasing daily, and that will go on increasing ; for the old order of things is passing away, as it has passed away before, and as it must assuredly pass away again, and yet again. It is an age of doubt— of scepticism, if you will—and better that than blind unreasoning follow-my-leaderism. Men are daring to think for themselves, to decide for themselves—sure sign to the thinking mind that the childhood of our world is passed.

Alexandra and Yea Standard, Gobur, Thornton and Acheron Express (Vic. : 1877 - 1908), Friday 4 September 1885, page 3

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