A Freethought Glossary
Freethought isn't one thing. It's more of a banquet, a parade, a sea full of colorful fish. Because we freethinkers are rebels by nature; heresy burns, burns, burns in our blood. We like to disagree, don't take it personally. But something helps: a common language. So let’s define terms. (And btw, if you disagree with any of this, good for you!)
In general, a Freethinker rejects brute authority, dogma and all those local/cultural norms when making the big religious and spiritual decisions. He tends to prefer inquiry, investigation and logic. Freethinkers often disagree, some even have spiritual or supernatural belief. That's OK. But think: most believers are that way simply because they were born to it. Most Christians come from a Christian culture, Jews from a Jewish culture, Moslems from an Islamic, and for that matter, doctrinaire atheists from an atheist. Is this a coincidence? Is truth parochial, an accident of birth, a quirk of geography, an artifact of conformal thinking? No way, says the freethinker. When belief consistently, conveniently coincides with the traditions of your local tribe, or with the politics and fashion of the day, your common sense should be tingling. The freethought solution is to cast it away, find your own path.
Sometimes the journey takes you home again. More often, not. That's OK too. Freethought is the journey, not the destination.
A Heretic simply chooses to diverge from some orthodox (commonly accepted) opinion or belief. Heresy depends on your point of view, of course. Click here for a list from the Catholic p.o.v. Wow.
"Heresy" emerges from the Greek haireisthai, "to choose," or Late Latin haeresis, "action of choice." So it's all about free will. And what can be wrong with that?
The contrary of heresy is orthodoxy. Heresy and Orthodoxy can occur in science also, of course, as in Alfred Wegener’s theory of Continental Drift, called heretical in its day. But in science, divergent views tend to get a fair hearing, and may be the orthodoxy of the next generation. Have scientists ever gone to war, or killed or tortured, to oppose a heresy?
Apostasy seems to be a bit more formal than heresy. When you officially renounce your prior faith, you are an apostate. Truth tell, we’re not clear on the difference.
Atheists come in at least two flavors, depending on how you parse the word.
· An (athe)ist, or explicit atheist, asserts positively that God does not exist. He knows there is no God.
· An a(theist), or implicit atheist, simply has no belief about God. The idea does not generate enough voltage to take up time – like the idea of an invisible, intangible, undetectable ghost in your living room.
To paraphrase the 17th-Century churchman Thomas Fuller, an explicit atheist thinks there is no God, while an implcit atheist "thinks not that there is a God." Hm. Better read that again.
The opposite of an atheist is a theist. Duh.
Agnostics, like atheists, also have two flavors at least.
· A positive agnostic asserts that God’s existence is unknowable by nature. We know we can’t know.
· A negative agnostic simply says we do not know yet. With a bit more study, we might. Or the agnostic personally has not decided yet. Answer unclear, ask again later.
The great Thomas Huxley coined the word “agnostic,” his play on Gnosticism, the diverse, syncretistic religious movement of Hellenic antiquity that claimed special and secret knowledge of God. Gnostics are the opposite of agnostics. They claim to know; agnostics don’t.
To Noncoherentists, rational, meaningful statements about gods, including whether gods exist or not, are impossible, because no one has defined "god” in a coherent way. They point out, pointedly, that the common definition of a god is that its nature is beyond our ability to know or define. So, duh.
A Deist believes in a God, or something like a God, a mystical or creative force perhaps, the existential ground of being, or a vasty intellect detached and cool, whose thoughts encompass the constellations, whose will is the very tide of galaxies, to whom all eternity is but two taps of the snooze bar – but of this being the Deist know nothing. He/she/it does not dabble in our daily life, surely not in the outcome of football games! Deists can be surprisingly wordy on what we don’t know, God-wise. Joke: Don't dis the deists, or they may burn a question mark on your lawn.
Many of America’s founding fathers were deists. If deism is your cupcake, click here.
A Pantheist believes in God, but God is the universe, all-that's-real, the unfolding of the cosmic process. You are part of God as a single neuron is part of your brain, an atom dancing to life’s great music. In pantheism, the distinction between theism and atheism vanishes. Baruch Spinoza was a pantheist. Good man, that Spinoza.
An Apatheist doesn’t care. To an apatheist, it is all much ado about nothing. Let’s just stop fighting, OK?
A Humanist is not necessarily an atheist or agnostic, but sees human well-being in this world as the moral voltage to power his or her decisions. Humanism is a moral, not a metaphysical, stand. It measures the root and fruit of good life by laughter with friends, love among families, and compassion that encourages us to create joy, for us and fellow travelers, here and now, rather than to trust in pie in the sky. If we get pie later, it’s a bonus. Mmmm, pie.
A Materialist or Naturalist limits what we know to testable, predictable patterns, or natural (material) laws. Again you get two flavors. Methodological Naturalism says the quest for truth is a kind of game, which excludes supernatural ideas because that is the only way we can play it. It says nothing of the actual existence or nonexistence of the supernatural, which is beyond natural testing. Metaphysical Naturalism makes the somewhat bolder claim that only mechanical forces and things, the stuff studied in science class, actually exist. If you can model it, test it, it might be real. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Their natural enemy is the Spiritualists. Naturalists may want to take a peek here.
A Rationalist takes reason (including science) as the standard for certainty or knowledge. He eschews dogma, or tries to. Nothing is off limits to question or doubt, and nothing is taken as given. Even that statement is uncertain. Are we sure about this? Well, to the lab, let's see! But some things are more likely and reasonable than others. Rational observation, testing, and a few chops with good old Occam's Razor, will let us know.
A Bright is like a Naturalist or Rationalist, but brighter, with a bit more wattage. A Bright actively promotes public understanding and acknowledgment of (not necessarily agreement with) the naturalistic worldview. The opposite of a Bright is not a Dim, not a Dull, but a Super. A Super may entertain supernatural (“magical”) answers to those tough questions. Brights and Supers can be friends, trust us on that.
A Secularist wants church and state to be separate. No denomination or sect should have privileged political power; government must never write a purely religious belief into state law. The state should treat religions equally, or rather, be “blind” to issues of pure faith. Religious groups may not receive state funds nor subsidies, nor exclusive benefits from public policy. This rules out prayer, ceremonies or religious indoctrination in public schools, in courts, at legislative assemblies, or in any case where a “captive audience” legally exists.
Contrary to the myth, most Secularists have no problem with religious expression in the public square. Religion in government is what gets their goat. Believers may pray as loudly or quietly as they wish, but should do it on their own dime.
Some say Jesus was the original secularist; see Mark 12:17.
A Skeptic sees much hokum all about, not just in church, and wishes to debunk it. Skeptics are concerned about the occult, paranormal, supernatural, pseudoscience and health fads as much as religion. They investigate and expose fake psychics and faith-healers. Greg Keogh of Australian Skeptics said, "I think the vast majority of Skeptics are total atheists, but there certainly are some startling exceptions. I've met a few subscribers over the years who follow conventional religions, but are repelled by fundamentalism and biblical literalism, hence they find the Skeptics a helpful group. One of our supporters is Archbishop Hollingsworth in Brisbane! He wrote the introduction to Ian Plimer's Telling Lies for God book."
A Pastafarian believes in the noodly omnipotence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and woe, woe to unbelievers, for they shall be marinara.
A Frisbeetarian believes that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof, and gets stuck.