Calling oneself a “Spiritual Freethinker” might seem a contradiction in terms, since “freethought” is generally equated with Atheism. In fact, I was once declined membership into a “Freethought” organization because on the application I answered “yes” to the question, “Do you believe in a supernatural being (i.e. ‘God’)?”
I was actually quite surprised by this. A freethinker by definition is a person who forms his or her own opinions on the basis of reason rather than merely accepting the opinions of others based on consensus, tradition, authority and the like. However, requiring someone to subscribe to any belief, including the belief that God does not exist, is an affront to free and independent thought. It is, in fact, imposing a dogma.
I may have good reason to believe in ‘God’, and my reasons may be independent of outside influences. To say that a freethinker cannot believe in the supernatural is to suggest otherwise. It also suggests that disbelief in God is a purely logical conclusion, and is in no way influenced by external or emotional influences. But if one is truly a freethinker, he must be willing to acknowledge that a person can come to the conclusion that ‘God’ exists through reason and logic, without being influenced by the pressures of conformity or by irrational sentiment. This doesn’t mean that this conclusion is true. It simply means that it may be a reasonable conclusion, depend upon one’s line of reasoning.
The problem I see with theists and atheists alike is that they often deal in absolutes. But not everything is black and white, and not everything is conclusive. A person may reject the belief in God for a very good reason. But this does not mean that ‘God’ absolutely does not exist. One must consider that their personal understanding may be limited or skewed in some way. In other words, there may be information and evidence which they are lacking or overlooking. Or it may simply be a matter of interpretation. I think it is very obvious that there are a variety of interpretations of the word ‘God’. According to one’s personal interpretation, belief in such a being may be highly logical or illogical, depending.
Until we have conclusive evidence on any matter, I think it is best to take an agnostic approach. The agnostic neither accepts nor denies any given idea or belief. He simply acknowledges that the answer is not known (to himself). The answer may become known at a later time, but until we have confirmation, we must be willing to remain open and flexible, considering all possibilities.
Now this does not rule out belief completely. No matter how much we accept our uncertainty, we still have a tendency to lean one way or another. We might not know for certain whether or not God exists, but due to our current understanding we may be inclined to believe or disbelieve. There is nothing wrong with this, so long as we understand the difference between believing and knowing.
For more information on this, please read my article entitled Belief, Doubt, Uncertainty & Skepticism.
To say that one is a freethinker does not indicate what it is one thinks, but rather how one goes about thinking. If one’s beliefs are primarily influenced by emotional and psychological factors such as comfort, conformity, fear, wishful thinking and the like, then those beliefs may be questionable. But to suggest that theists are the only one’s guilty of irrational thinking is itself irrational. Atheists can oftentimes be just as guilty of forming beliefs based on such factors. So let’s take a closer look at spirituality and how spiritual beliefs can be based upon rational, logical and even scientific understanding.
The problem that many people find with spirituality is that it deals with a realm of information and phenomena beyond the physical world, and therefore is often intangible to the senses. It is assumed therefore that to believe in such things requires one to suspend reason and logic in favor of blind acceptance. In many cases this may be true. And I certainly don’t advocate such thinking, or lack thereof. In fact, it often proves to be hazardous.
What I do advocate is critical thinking and healthy skepticism. And I want to be clear that skepticism is not about rejecting anything. It is about being inquisitive, and suspending one’s beliefs in order to gain a more inclusive understanding.
Coming back to spirituality, we are dealing with a realm which is very difficult to observe and quantify by ordinary material standards. It is therefore very easy for the strict rationalist to reject such ideas out of hand. But I think it is also very arrogant to do so because it suggests that one is omniscient, and the last I checked this characteristic was reserved for God alone.
So in trying to shed light on the matter, the example I often give is that of television and radio waves. We know, thanks to scientific evidence, that we are not only surrounded by such information waves, but that they are literally passing through us at any given moment. And yet, we are often completely unaware of it. The truth is that no one has ever seen a radio wave with the naked eye or felt one. But we know that these waves exist because we have equipment that is designed specifically to receive and interpret them. Even so, if a radio is not properly tuned, these waves are not exhibited.
I give this example to show that there are phenomena which are unseen, and which go unnoticed by our ordinary senses, unless channeled by the proper equipment. In fact there are all sorts of wave frequencies which occur naturally throughout the universe that cannot be measured without such equipment. And until we had the technology to measure them, we had no knowledge of their existence.
When people talk about supernatural phenomena such as extrasensory perception, disembodied spirits and the like, we might say that such things are not known because we don’t yet have the technological instruments to study them. But what if some of us do? What if we are those instruments and some of us are better tuned than others?
Let’s take the example of extrasensory perception. This may include telepathy, remote viewing, and other psychic abilities. According to Quantum Physics, everything in the universe is energy at the subatomic level. Quantum Physics also deals with consciousness, and goes so far as to suggest that this the underlying force behind all energy and matter.
If we understand thoughts as being waves and consider that waves are not confined to matter, than we can easily conclude that thoughts could be transmitted and received in much the same way as radio waves. Just because we’re not receiving them doesn’t mean they aren’t being transmitted. It may just be that we aren’t receptive because we’re not tuned in to those frequencies. Or it may be that our receiver is not currently active, the way a radio is not active unless it’s switched on.
However, it may be that some people are tuned in, for any number of reasons, and just because we don’t have a working receiver doesn’t mean that they don’t either.
I’m not giving this example as definitive proof of telepathy, but rather to offer the possibility of it. If we really take the time to explore this idea in depth, it becomes reasonable to believe that telepathy is possible. What I’m suggesting is that the belief in such phenomena is not always irrational.
On the other hand, there are those who would believe in such phenomena without any sort of logical reasoning, and as I said before, this could be potentially harmful. I think it is very important to explore such ideas from many different angles.
So to give another example, let’s look at psychics and mediums. Without affirming or denying the possibility of psychic abilities, I think it is important to understand that there are many people in the world who seek to take advantage of others for fame and fortune through deceptive means. For anyone who has taken the time to look into the topic, there seems to be overwhelming evidence that many psychics and mediums are charlatans. Again, we should not assume from this that all psychic ability is fabricated. This would be like assuming that all politicians are corrupt, simply because so many of them are. But just like politicians I would suggest that the majority psychics and mediums are frauds. And if one is making any sort of major life decisions based upon the advice or suggestion of a fraud, this could prove hazardous.
There has also been a great deal of scientific research in the area of psychic phenomena, the results of which suggest that we are dealing with something real. The problem with many people, however, is that they tend to take the evidence that supports their viewpoint and ignore the rest. So in this case we might take such scientific research to conclude that all psychic claims are true. Or we may take the opposite approach, siting all of the fraud, and conclude that all psychic claims are false.
Once more, what I am trying to encourage here is critical thinking. This means analyzing and evaluating any given situation, viewpoint or concept, by exploring all possible angles. It’s very easy to accept or reject something because it conforms or conflicts with our preconceived notions, cultural or religious beliefs, and the like. But it takes a certain level of honesty and humility, as well as courage, to admit uncertainty and to consider various possibilities.
Spirituality requires an open heart and an open mind, but to be open-minded doesn’t mean that we accept everything we read or hear without reason and understanding. To be open-minded means having a willingness to hear and consider new and opposing ideas, and to be willing to change our beliefs in light of new evidence.