Dear Readers: We sent the following questions to Mr. Richard Bozarth and these are his replies:
How do you define Freethought?
Freethought is the repudiation of all coercion of authority or tradition in philosophy, theology, and ideology. It is the commitment to the theory that the power of cultural institutions can be morally exercised only when that power is limited by guaranteed and protected civil liberties possessed equally by all citizens.
I know this definition does not have much resemblance to the definition found in dictionaries. However, like any other authority, a dictionary is right only when it is right. I also know that other Freethinkers apparently accept the definition as right (for example, The Secular Humanist Press, published by the Humanists of Washington, routinely defines a Freethinker as a person who rejects authority and dogma, forming opinions about religion on the basis of reason and rational inquiry independently of tradition, authority, or established belief ).
If the dictionary definition is right, then Freethought is no more than an unruly genre of theology and its existence is dependent on the existence of religionism because religionism is the subject addressed by Freethought. I repudiate that, because Freethought is not about religionism. It did not begin as a genre of theology and it does not continue today as a genre of theology. If some day every single human being on Earth is a Natural Atheist and religionism has become an historical artifact like the Roman Empire, I say that Freethought will not lose any of its cultural relevance and necessity.
Freethought is not about religionism. The two subjects of Freethought are intellectual liberation and civil liberties. The theory of Freethought addresses the means for pursuing intellectual excellence and the means for establishing and maintaining a moral culture. Freethought does not ignore religionism. When it deals with religionism, it is analyzing how religionism influences the pursuit of intellectual excellence and how religionism in the form of cultural institutions influences the morality of a culture.
A person also cannot say that Freethought is dominated by thinking about religionism, which could be an interpretation of the dictionary definition, assuming some person would want to try to save this definition. Freethought is dominated by thinking about civil liberties, among which separation of state and church shares equal importance, and this means that government is the cultural institution that receives the overwhelming majority of attention in Freethought thinking. Religionism in the form of cultural institutions receives most of the attention Freethought gives to it in the context of determining what relationship between state and church will most likely produce a moral culture.
The origin of the dictionary definition is understandable. When Freethought emerged as a cultural force after the revival of secular civilization during the Renaissance, religionism and the government were essentially identical. Western culture was theocratic. The church either ruled countries directly or formed theocratic partnerships with secular governments. Then the first problem for Freethought was separating state and church, and the solution was to discredit the moral authority and dogmatic truth religionism has always claimed for itself. Freethinkers in the beginning had no choice about having religionism dominate their thinking.
All Freethinkers know that there is still work to be done, because We The People do not study history and because the church has never ceased striving to be reunited with the state. Today, the primary problem facing Freethought is how to establish and maintain a moral government that is, one which guarantees and protects civil liberties for all the citizens it serves. To achieve a moral government would be to eliminate the threat of state and church becoming reunited, because civil liberties are impossible in a theocracy or a theocratic partnership between state and church.
How do you as a Freethinker determine your morals?To determine if some behavior is moral, I ask three questions about it: Is this behavior harmful to me? Is it harmful to my co-citizens? Is it harmful to my culture?
The possible answers are three: "Yes," "No," and "Maybe, Depending On The Circumstances." "Yes" and "No" are easy to deal with. "Maybe, Depending On The Circumstances" is what makes life interesting.
Does Freethought affect your sense of purpose?
To be an organized Freethinker is to be part of the Freethought Movement, which has the purpose of creating a moral culture that guarantees and protects the civil liberties of all the citizens within it. This does give me a sense of purpose, but it does not outweigh other elements of my life that provide me a sense of purpose, such as my writing and my marriage.
How does Freethought affect your close relationships?
My close relationships have become restricted to Freethinkers, and this applies to my family as well. I cannot feel close to non-Freethinkers even if genetically related to them. I can get along amiably with them if they are willing to be amiable with me, but closeness is out of the question.
Do you try to change others to your point of view?
Of course. What is important is that I allow others to change my point of view if they can produce convincing evidence that demonstrates I am wrong or at least less right than I had thought I was. This is the only effective means of pursuing intellectual excellence, which, after all, is one of activities that flourishes best under the influence of Freethought.
Do you consider common sense as a close ally?
Common sense, if used prudently, pragmatically, and in conjunction with doubt, is certainly useful. However, before anything is considered common sense, there should be convincing evidence that it is worthy of being common sense. So much of what is called common sense is actually unthinking and lazy submission to tradition.
Do you have favorite Freethought writers?
Friedrich Nietzsche, Joseph McCabe, Bertrand Russell, George Smith, and Barbara Dority.
How do you know you're right?
Actually, what I strive for are degrees of probable certainty. How high the degree of probable certainty I assign to any of my conclusions is based on the mass of convincing evidence supporting the conclusion. The greater the mass of supporting evidence, the higher the degree of probable certainty. Evidence is acquired by the pursuit of intellectual excellence which in turn should improve the ability to correctly interpret the evidence.
I know I have attained a high degree of probable certainty (confidence) when those who disagree with me cannot produce evidence that makes me skeptical about my degree of probable certainty. Examples of extremely high levels of confidence are Natural Atheism and evolution.
Is there a specific incident in your life where being a Freethinker was a major benefit?
If I had not been a Freethinker, I would not have met my wife. If I had not been a Freethinker, I would not now have Barbara Dority and Jim Rybock as friends. If I had not been a Freethinker, I would not have written The Means and End of Freethought, A Case Against Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Interrelated Essays on an Experience, and No Time to Wallow in the Mire.
How does a Freethinker handle death and dying?
That would depend on the foundation the Freethinker's philosophy is erected upon. My philosophical foundation is Natural Atheism, which means death doesn't mean anything to me. I want to live as long as I am capable of enjoying the living.
The only aspect about dying that falls under Freethought concerns whether or not voluntarily dying belongs within the realm of civil liberties. As a Freethinker, I cannot accept that it is moral to force a person to live. Suicide should be the very last option a person considers, and taken only when it is absolutely certain that there is no hope a person can ever enjoy living again. Suicide should also be dignified and the means humane, especially for the terminally ill. I am certain that, if our culture can learn to accept suicide as being in the realm of civil liberties, it could finally get beyond the hypocrisy of the sanctity of human life and begin to understand the importance of the quality of human life and to find ways to enhance the enjoyment of living.
Reprint from Vol. 119 #1 Truth Seeker magazine, oldest Freethought publication, founded in 1873.
I was born a
heretic. I always distrust people who know so much about what God wants
them to do to their fellows.
--Susan B. Anthony
no religion is based on facts and cannot therefore be true, I began to
reflect what must be the condition of mankind trained from infancy to
believe in error.
I believe in honesty and
truthfulness, not because I fear a god or a devil, but because I think it
is the best way for people to live together. I believe in helping others
because when we cooperate with our neighbors we make life easier for all.
I believe in treating others as I want to be treated but I certainly do
not believe in turning the other cheek and the truth is that I never knew
any Christians who did either.
--James Hervey Johnson
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