Last updated

Freethought (sometimes spelled free thought) [1] [2] [3] is an epistemological viewpoint which holds that beliefs should not be formed on the basis of authority, tradition, revelation, or dogma, and should instead be reached by other methods such as logic, reason, and empirical observation.


According to the Collins English Dictionary , a freethinker is "One who is mentally free from the conventional bonds of tradition or dogma, and thinks independently." In some contemporary thought in particular, free thought is strongly tied with rejection of traditional social or religious belief systems. [4] [3] [5] The cognitive application of free thought is known as "freethinking", and practitioners of free thought are known as "freethinkers". [3] Modern freethinkers consider free thought to be a natural freedom from all negative and illusive thoughts acquired from society. [6]

The term first came into use in the 17th century in order to refer to people who inquired into the basis of traditional beliefs which were often accepted unquestioningly. Today, freethinking is most closely linked with deism, secularism, humanism, anti-clericalism, and religious critique. [7] The Oxford English Dictionary defines freethinking as, "The free exercise of reason in matters of religious belief, unrestrained by deference to authority; the adoption of the principles of a free-thinker." Freethinkers hold that knowledge should be grounded in facts, scientific inquiry, and logic. The skeptical application of science implies freedom from the intellectually limiting effects of confirmation bias, cognitive bias, conventional wisdom, popular culture, urban myth, prejudice, or sectarianism. [8]

Freemasonry served an important purpose in the spreading of the freethinking movement, Freemason lodges in 18th century Europe served as sites for enlightenment thinking and discussion of new ideas, helping spread freethought philosophies. The informal, secretive nature of the lodges allowed intellectuals and elites to gather and debate radical topics away from the scrutiny of church and state. [9]


Atheist author Adam Lee defines free thought as thinking which is independent of revelation, tradition, established belief, and authority, [10] and considers it as a "broader umbrella" than atheism "that embraces a rainbow of unorthodoxy, religious dissent, skepticism, and unconventional thinking." [11] [12]

The basic summarizing statement of the essay The Ethics of Belief by the 19th-century British mathematician and philosopher William Kingdon Clifford is: "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." [13] The essay became a rallying cry for freethinkers when published in the 1870s, and has been described as a point when freethinkers grabbed the moral high ground. [14] Clifford was himself an organizer of free thought gatherings, the driving force behind the Congress of Liberal Thinkers held in 1878.

Regarding religion, freethinkers typically hold that there is insufficient evidence to support the existence of supernatural phenomena. [15] According to the Freedom from Religion Foundation, "No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth." and "Freethinkers are convinced that religious claims have not withstood the tests of reason. Not only is there nothing to be gained by believing an untruth, but there is everything to lose when we sacrifice the indispensable tool of reason on the altar of superstition. Most freethinkers consider religion to be not only untrue, but harmful." [16]

However, philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote the following in his 1944 essay The Value of Free Thought: [17]

What makes a freethinker is not his beliefs but the way in which he holds them. If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful thought he finds a balance of evidence in their favour, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem.

A freethinker, according to Russell, is not necessarily an atheist or an agnostic, as long as he or she satisfies this definition:

The person who is free in any respect is free from something; what is the free thinker free from? To be worthy of the name, he must be free of two things: the force of tradition, and the tyranny of his own passions. No one is completely free from either, but in the measure of a man's emancipation he deserves to be called a free thinker.

Fred Edwords, former executive of the American Humanist Association, suggests that by Russell's definition, liberal religionists who have challenged established orthodoxies can be considered freethinkers. [18]

On the other hand, according to Bertrand Russell, atheists and/or agnostics are not necessarily freethinkers. As an example, he mentions Stalin, whom he compares to a "pope":

what I am concerned with is the doctrine of the modern Communistic Party, and of the Russian Government to which it owes allegiance. According to this doctrine, the world develops on the lines of a Plan called Dialectical Materialism, first discovered by Karl Marx, embodied in the practice of a great state by Lenin, and now expounded from day to day by a Church of which Stalin is the Pope. […] Free discussion is to be prevented wherever the power to do so exists; […] If this doctrine and this organization prevail, free inquiry will become as impossible as it was in the middle ages, and the world will relapse into bigotry and obscurantism.

In the 18th and 19th century, many thinkers regarded as freethinkers were deists, arguing that the nature of God can only be known from a study of nature rather than from religious revelation. In the 18th century, "deism" was as much of a 'dirty word' as "atheism", and deists were often stigmatized as either atheists or at least as freethinkers by their Christian opponents. [19] [20] Deists today regard themselves as freethinkers, but are now arguably less prominent in the free thought movement than atheists.


Among freethinkers, for a notion to be considered true it must be testable, verifiable, and logical. Many freethinkers tend to be humanists, who base morality on human needs and would find meaning in human compassion, social progress, art, personal happiness, love, and the furtherance of knowledge. Generally, freethinkers like to think for themselves, tend to be skeptical, respect critical thinking and reason, remain open to new concepts, and are sometimes proud of their own individuality. They would determine truth for themselves – based upon knowledge they gain, answers they receive, experiences they have and the balance they thus acquire. Freethinkers reject conformity for the sake of conformity, whereby they create their own beliefs by considering the way the world around them works and would possess the intellectual integrity and courage to think outside of accepted norms, which may or may not lead them to believe in some higher power. [21]


Tombstone detail of a freethinker, late 19th century (Cemetery of Cullera, Spain) Pansy - Tombstone detail of a freethinker, late 19th century. (Cemetery of Cullera, Spain)..jpg
Tombstone detail of a freethinker, late 19th century (Cemetery of Cullera, Spain)

The pansy serves as the long-established and enduring symbol of free thought; literature of the American Secular Union inaugurated its usage in the late 1800s. The reasoning behind the pansy as the symbol of free thought lies both in the flower's name and in its appearance. The pansy derives its name from the French word pensée, which means "thought". It allegedly received this name because the flower is perceived by some to bear resemblance to a human face, and in mid-to-late summer it nods forward as if deep in thought. [22] In the 1880s, following examples set by freethinkers in France, Belgium, Spain and Sweden, it was proposed in the United States as "the symbol of religious liberty and freedom of conscience". [23]


Pre-modern movement

Critical thought has flourished in the Hellenistic Mediterranean, in the repositories of knowledge and wisdom in Ireland and in the Iranian civilizations (for example in the era of Khayyam (1048–1131) and his unorthodox Sufi Rubaiyat poems). Later societies made advances on freedom of thought such as the Chinese (note for example the seafaring renaissance of the Southern Song dynasty of 1127–1279), [24] on through heretical thinkers on esoteric alchemy or astrology, to the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation pioneered by Martin Luther. [25] [26]

French physician and writer Rabelais celebrated "rabelaisian" freedom as well as good feasting and drinking (an expression and a symbol of freedom of the mind) in defiance of the hypocrisies of conformist orthodoxy in his utopian Thelema Abbey (from θέλημα: free "will"), the device of which was Do What Thou Wilt:

So had Gargantua established it. In all their rule and strictest tie of their order there was but this one clause to be observed, Do What Thou Wilt; because free people ... act virtuously and avoid vice. They call this honor.

When Rabelais's hero Pantagruel journeys to the "Oracle of The Div(in)e Bottle", he learns the lesson of life in one simple word: "Trinch!", Drink! Enjoy the simple life, learn wisdom and knowledge, as a free human. Beyond puns, irony, and satire, Gargantua's prologue-metaphor instructs the reader to "break the bone and suck out the substance-full marrow" ("la substantifique moëlle"), the core of wisdom.

Modern movements

The year 1600 is considered a landmark in the era of modern free thought. It was the year of the execution in Italy of Giordano Bruno, a former Dominican friar, by the Inquisition. [27] [28] [29]


Prior to World War II, Australia had high rates of Protestantism and Catholicism. Post-war Australia has become a highly secularised country. Donald Horne, one of Australia's well-known public intellectuals, believed rising prosperity in post-war Australia influenced the decline in church-going and general lack of interest in religion. "Churches no longer matter very much to most Australians. If there is a happy eternal life it's for everyone ... For many Australians the pleasures of this life are sufficiently satisfying that religion offers nothing of great appeal", said Horne in his landmark work The Lucky Country (1964). [30]


The Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, along with the two Circles of Free Inquiry (Dutch and French speaking), defend the freedom of critical thought, lay philosophy and ethics, while rejecting the argument of authority.


In 1873 a handful of secularists founded the earliest known secular organization in English Canada, the Toronto Freethought Association. Reorganized in 1877 and again in 1881, when it was renamed the Toronto Secular Society, the group formed the nucleus of the Canadian Secular Union, established in 1884 to bring together freethinkers from across the country. [31]

A significant number of the early members appear to have come from the educated labour "aristocracy", including Alfred F. Jury, J. Ick Evans and J. I. Livingstone, all of whom were leading labour activists and secularists. The second president of the Toronto association, T. Phillips Thompson, became a central figure in the city's labour and social-reform movements during the 1880s and 1890s and arguably Canada's foremost late nineteenth-century labour intellectual. By the early 1880s scattered free thought organizations operated throughout southern Ontario and parts of Quebec, eliciting both urban and rural support.

The principal organ of the free thought movement in Canada was Secular Thought (Toronto, 1887–1911). Founded and edited during its first several years by English freethinker Charles Watts (1835–1906), it came under the editorship of Toronto printer and publisher James Spencer Ellis in 1891 when Watts returned to England. In 1968 the Humanist Association of Canada (HAC) formed to serve as an umbrella group for humanists, atheists, and freethinkers, and to champion social justice issues and oppose religious influence on public policy—most notably in the fight to make access to abortion free and legal in Canada.


In France, the concept first appeared in publication in 1765 when Denis Diderot, Jean le Rond d'Alembert, and Voltaire included an article on Liberté de penser in their Encyclopédie. [32] The concept of free thought spread so widely that even places as remote as the Jotunheimen, in Norway, had well-known freethinkers such as Jo Gjende by the 19th century. [33]

François-Jean Lefebvre de la Barre (1745–1766) was a young French nobleman, famous for having been tortured and beheaded before his body was burnt on a pyre along with Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary . La Barre is often said to have been executed for not saluting a Roman Catholic religious procession, but the elements of the case were far more complex. [34]

In France, Lefebvre de la Barre is widely regarded a symbol of the victims of Christian religious intolerance; La Barre along with Jean Calas and Pierre-Paul Sirven, was championed by Voltaire. A second replacement statue to de la Barre stands nearby the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Paris at the summit of the butte Montmartre (itself named from the Temple of Mars), the highest point in Paris and an 18th arrondissement street nearby the Sacré-Cœur is also named after Lefebvre de la Barre.

The 19th century saw the emergence of a specific notion of Libre-Pensée ("free thought"), with writer Victor Hugo as one of its major early proponents. French Freethinkers (Libre-Penseurs) associate freedom of thought, political anti-clericalism and socialist leanings. The main organisation referring to this tradition to this day is the Fédération nationale de la libre pensée, created in 1890.


In Germany, during the period 1815–1848 and before the March Revolution, the resistance of citizens against the dogma of the church increased. In 1844, under the influence of Johannes Ronge and Robert Blum, belief in the rights of man, tolerance among men, and humanism grew, and by 1859 they had established the Bund Freireligiöser Gemeinden Deutschlands (literally Union of Free Religious Communities of Germany), an association of persons who consider themselves to be religious without adhering to any established and institutionalized church or sacerdotal cult. This union still exists today, and is included as a member in the umbrella organization of free humanists. In 1881 in Frankfurt am Main, Ludwig Büchner established the Deutscher Freidenkerbund (German Freethinkers League) as the first German organization for atheists and agnostics. In 1892 the Freidenker-Gesellschaft and in 1906 the Deutscher Monistenbund were formed. [35]

Free thought organizations developed the "Jugendweihe" (literally Youth consecration), a secular "confirmation" ceremony, and atheist funeral rites. [35] [36] The Union of Freethinkers for Cremation was founded in 1905, and the Central Union of German Proletariat Freethinker in 1908. The two groups merged in 1927, becoming the German Freethinking Association in 1930. [37]

More "bourgeois" organizations declined after World War I, and "proletarian" free thought groups proliferated, becoming an organization of socialist parties. [35] [38] European socialist free thought groups formed the International of Proletarian Freethinkers (IPF) in 1925. [39] Activists agitated for Germans to disaffiliate from their respective Church and for seculari-zation of elementary schools; between 1919–21 and 1930–32 more than 2.5 million Germans, for the most part supporters of the Social Democratic and Communist parties, gave up church membership. [40] Conflict developed between radical forces including the Soviet League of the Militant Godless and Social Democratic forces in Western Europe led by Theodor Hartwig and Max Sievers. [39] In 1930 the Soviet and allied delegations, following a walk-out, took over the IPF and excluded the former leaders. [39] Following Hitler's rise to power in 1933, most free thought organizations were banned, though some right-wing groups that worked with so-called Völkische Bünde (literally "ethnic" associations with nationalist, xenophobic and very often racist ideology) were tolerated by the Nazis until the mid-1930s. [35] [38]


In the 19th century, received opinion was scandalised by George Ensor (1769-1843). [41] [42] His Review of the Miracles, Prophecies, & Mysteries of the Old and New Testaments (1835) argued that, far from being a source of moral teaching, revealed religion and its divines regarded questions of morality as "incidental"--as a "mundane and merely philosophical" topic. [43]


In the Netherlands, free thought has existed in organized form since the establishment of De Dageraad (now known as De Vrije Gedachte) in 1856. Among its most notable subscribing 19th century individuals were Johannes van Vloten, Multatuli, Adriaan Gerhard and Domela Nieuwenhuis.

In 2009, Frans van Dongen established the Atheist-Secular Party, which takes a considerably restrictive view of religion and public religious expressions.

Since the 19th century, free thought in the Netherlands has become more well known as a political phenomenon through at least three currents: liberal freethinking, conservative freethinking, and classical freethinking. In other words, parties which identify as freethinking tend to favor non-doctrinal, rational approaches to their preferred ideologies, and arose as secular alternatives to both clerically aligned parties as well as labor-aligned parties. Common themes among freethinking political parties are "freedom", "liberty", and "individualism".


With the introduction of cantonal church taxes in the 1870s, anti-clericals began to organise themselves. Around 1870, a "freethinkers club" was founded in Zürich. During the debate on the Zürich church law in 1883, professor Friedrich Salomon Vögelin and city council member Kunz proposed to separate church and state. [44]


In the last years of the Ottoman Empire, free thought made its voice heard by the works of distinguished people such as Ahmet Rıza, Tevfik Fikret, Abdullah Cevdet, Kılıçzade Hakkı, and Celal Nuri İleri. These intellectuals affected the early period of the Turkish Republic. Mustafa Kemal Atatürkfield marshal, revolutionary statesman, author, and founder of the secular Turkish nation state, serving as its first President from 1923 until his death in 1938– was the practitioner of their ideas. He made many reforms that modernized the country. Sources point out that Atatürk was a religious skeptic and a freethinker. He was a non-doctrinaire deist [45] [46] or an atheist, [47] [48] [49] who was antireligious and anti-Islamic in general. [50] [51] According to Atatürk, the Turkish people do not know what Islam really is and do not read the Quran. People are influenced by Arabic sentences that they do not understand, and because of their customs they go to mosques. When the Turks read the Quran and think about it, they will leave Islam. [52] Atatürk described Islam as the religion of the Arabs in his own work titled Vatandaş için Medeni Bilgiler by his own critical and nationalist views. [53]

Association of Atheism (Ateizm Derneği), the first official atheist organisation in Middle East and Caucasus, was founded in 2014. [54] It serves to support irreligious people and freethinkers in Turkey who are discriminated against based on their views. In 2018 it was reported in some media outlets that the Ateizm Derneği would close down because of the pressure on its members and attacks by pro-government media, but the association itself issued a clarification that this was not the case and that it was still active. [55]

United Kingdom

The term freethinker emerged towards the end of the 17th century in England to describe those who stood in opposition to the institution of the Church, and the literal belief in the Bible. The beliefs of these individuals were centered on the concept that people could understand the world through consideration of nature. Such positions were formally documented for the first time in 1697 by William Molyneux in a widely publicized letter to John Locke, and more extensively in 1713, when Anthony Collins wrote his Discourse of Free-thinking, which gained substantial popularity. This essay attacks the clergy of all churches and it is a plea for deism.

The Freethinker magazine was first published in Britain in 1881; it continued in print until 2014, and still exists as a web-based publication.

United States

The Free Thought movement first organized itself in the United States as the "Free Press Association" in 1827 in defense of George Houston, publisher of The Correspondent, an early journal of Biblical criticism in an era when blasphemy convictions were still possible. Houston had helped found an Owenite community at Haverstraw, New York in 1826–27. The short-lived Correspondent was superseded by the Free Enquirer, the official organ of Robert Owen's New Harmony community in Indiana, edited by Robert Dale Owen and by Fanny Wright between 1828 and 1832 in New York. During this time Robert Dale Owen sought to introduce the philosophic skepticism of the Free Thought movement into the Workingmen's Party in New York City. The Free Enquirer's annual civic celebrations of Paine's birthday after 1825 finally coalesced in 1836 in the first national Free Thinkers organization, the "United States Moral and Philosophical Society for the General Diffusion of Useful Knowledge". It was founded on August 1, 1836, at a national convention at the Lyceum in Saratoga Springs with Isaac S. Smith of Buffalo, New York, as president. Smith was also the 1836 Equal Rights Party's candidate for Governor of New York and had also been the Workingmen's Party candidate for Lt. Governor of New York in 1830. The Moral and Philosophical Society published The Beacon, edited by Gilbert Vale. [56]

Robert G. Ingersoll Robert G. Ingersoll - Brady-Handy.jpg
Robert G. Ingersoll

Driven by the revolutions of 1848 in the German states, the 19th century saw an immigration of German freethinkers and anti-clericalists to the United States (see Forty-Eighters). In the United States, they hoped to be able to live by their principles, without interference from government and church authorities. [58]

Many Freethinkers settled in German immigrant strongholds, including St. Louis, Indianapolis, Wisconsin, and Texas, where they founded the town of Comfort, Texas, as well as others. [58]

These groups of German Freethinkers referred to their organizations as Freie Gemeinden, or "free congregations". [58] The first Freie Gemeinde was established in St. Louis in 1850. [59] Others followed in Pennsylvania, California, Washington, D.C., New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, and other states. [58] [59]

Freethinkers tended to be liberal, espousing ideals such as racial, social, and sexual equality, and the abolition of slavery. [58]

The "Golden Age of Freethought" in the US came in the late 1800s. The dominant organization was the National Liberal League which formed in 1876 in Philadelphia. This group re-formed itself in 1885 as the American Secular Union under the leadership of the eminent agnostic orator Robert G. Ingersoll. Following Ingersoll's death in 1899 the organization declined, in part due to lack of effective leadership. [60]

Free thought in the United States declined in the early twentieth century. By the early twentieth century, most free thought congregations had disbanded or joined other mainstream churches. The longest continuously operating free thought congregation in America is the Free Congregation of Sauk County, Wisconsin, which was founded in 1852 and is still active as of 2020. It affiliated with the American Unitarian Association (now the Unitarian Universalist Association) in 1955. [61] D. M. Bennett was the founder and publisher of The Truth Seeker in 1873, a radical free thought and reform American periodical.

German Freethinker settlements were located in:


United States tradition

Free thought influenced the development of anarchism in the United States of America. [64] In the U.S.,[ when? ]

"free thought was a basically anti-Christian, anti-clerical movement, whose purpose was to make the individual politically and spiritually free to decide for himself on religious matters. A number of contributors to Liberty were prominent figures in both free thought and anarchism. The American individualist anarchist George MacDonald [(1857–1944)] was a co-editor of Freethought and, for a time, The Truth Seeker. E.C. Walker was co-editor of the freethought/free love journal Lucifer, the Light-Bearer ." [65]

"Many of the anarchists were ardent freethinkers; reprints from free thought papers such as Lucifer, the Light-Bearer , Freethought and The Truth Seeker appeared in Liberty...The church was viewed as a common ally of the state and as a repressive force in and of itself." [65]

European tradition

In Europe, a similar development occurred in French and Spanish individualist anarchist circles:

"Anticlericalism, just as in the rest of the libertarian movement, in another of the frequent elements which will gain relevance related to the measure in which the (French) Republic begins to have conflicts with the church...Anti-clerical discourse, frequently called for by the French individualist André Lorulot [(1885-1963)], will have its impacts in Estudios (a Spanish individualist anarchist publication). There will be an attack on institutionalized religion for the responsibility that it had in the past on negative developments, for its irrationality which makes it a counterpoint of philosophical and scientific progress. There will be a criticism of proselytism and ideological manipulation which happens on both believers and agnostics". [66]

These tendencies would continue in French individualist anarchism in the work and activism of Charles-Auguste Bontemps (1893-1981) and others. In the Spanish individualist anarchist magazines Ética and Iniciales

"there is a strong interest in publishing scientific news, usually linked to a certain atheist and anti-theist obsession, philosophy which will also work for pointing out the incompatibility between science and religion, faith, and reason. In this way there will be a lot of talk on Darwin's theories or on the negation of the existence of the soul". [67]

In 1901 the Catalan anarchist and freethinker Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia established "modern" or progressive schools in Barcelona in defiance of an educational system controlled by the Catholic Church. [68] The schools had the stated goal to "educate the working class in a rational, secular and non-coercive setting". Fiercely anti-clerical, Ferrer believed in "freedom in education", education free from the authority of church and state. [69] [ failed verification ] Ferrer's ideas, generally, formed the inspiration for a series of Modern Schools in the United States, [68] Cuba, South America and London. The first of these started in New York City in 1911. Ferrer also inspired the Italian newspaper Università popolare, founded in 1901. [68]

Freethinking in Freemasonry

Freemasonry attracted many freethinkers and became a hub of the movement, during the Enlightenment era due to its emphasis on inclusive membership, Logic, rationalism, and religious tolerance. [70] Freemasonry's origins from stonemason guilds meant its symbolism and rituals drew on concepts from the Trivium and Quadrivium, they include the Mastery of Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic then Mastery of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy as well as other arts such as the mechanical arts, reflecting Enlightenment ideals in the goal of making its members Masters of their thoughts and opinions thus making them Freethinkers. [71] This distinguished Freemasonry from other fraternal orders focused on chivalry or Christian morality. [70]

Rationalism and Science

Because Freemasonry utilized extensive symbols and allegories related to mathematics, geometry, and architecture, conveying the importance of reason and science, [71] and the central Masonic symbol of the compass and square represented logic and rigor [72] as well references to the "Great Architect of the Universe" these concepts were interpreted as a deist scientific creator by Enlightenment freethinkers.

Influential early Speculative Masonic writings by James Anderson and Jean-Theophile Desaguliers frequently cited Isaac Newton and promoted Newtonian scientific ideas. [72] Desaguliers was a close friend and student of Newton, further spreading Newton's theories to lodges. [72] Geometry textbooks and lectures were common in early lodges, aligning with Enlightenment interest in mathematics and science. [71]

Freemasonry's multi-tiered system of initiation rituals allegorically used the tools, stages, and concepts of architecture and mechanics to represent enlightenment and self-improvement through education and reason. [71] This resonated with freethinkers' belief in perfecting society through spreading knowledge.

Religious tolerance

Unlike most contemporary fraternal orders, Freemasonry did not require its members to follow a specific religious creed. [70] This openness allowed men of diverse faiths, including freethinkers and deists, to join local lodges throughout Europe and America in the Enlightenment era. While utilizing religious imagery and themes, Freemasonry intentionally avoided dogmatic disputes and focused its moral lessons on shared values of virtue, charity, and righteousness. [70]

This religious tolerance attracted Enlightenment thinkers, like Voltaire, who viewed organized religion as upholding oppressive traditional monarchs and hindering free thought. [73] Benjamin Franklin praised Masonic principles of "liberality, tolerance and unity in essentials, leaving each Brother to his own opinions on non-essentials" in his writings. [74]

Political Liberalism

Many Enlightenment freethinkers perceived established religion as upholding traditional monarchies and oppressing free thought. [73] Consequently, the secrecy and hierarchical Initiatory structure of Freemasonry alarmed some authoritarian states, concerned it could encourage liberal revolutionary ideas. [72]

However, most Masonic lodges mainly aimed to promote morality, sociability, and philanthropic causes rather than radical politics. [70] But values of free-thinking, liberty, equality and opposition to tyranny were also celebrated in Masonic rituals and writings. [71] This intellectual spirit likely contributed to many Freemasons supporting independence movements and participating as Founding Fathers of the United States. [75]

In the 19th and 20th centuries, some authoritarian states also suspected Freemasonry of encouraging liberal freethinking philosophies and suppressed Masonic lodges.

Pursuit of Mastery

A core goal of Freemasonry's initiatory system is to guide men's intellectual and moral development towards mastery and enlightenment. [71] Masonic rituals and degrees symbolically depict the passage from an Apprentice to Fellowcraft to Master Mason as a metaphor for independent learning and self-improvement to the goal of becoming a Master of himself, thus a full freethinker. [72]

Attaining mastery is presented as freeing a man's mind from reliance on authorities and dogmas so he can autonomously reason and have educated opinions. [75] The perfectibility of human nature through education and liberty is a key theme. This aligns with freethinkers' views on thinking for oneself using logic and empiricism.

See also

Notes and references

  1. "What is Freethought?". Freethought Lebanon. 2017-09-23. Archived from the original on 2021-04-25. Retrieved 2021-04-25.
  2. "Free thought – Definition of free thought by Merriam-Webster". Archived from the original on 22 April 2020. Retrieved 5 August 2020.
  3. 1 2 3 "Freethinker – Definition of freethinker by Merriam-Webster". Archived from the original on 24 April 2009. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  4. "FREETHINKER definition in American English | Collins English Dictionary".
  5. "Glossary | International Humanist and Ethical Union". Archived from the original on 2013-01-17. Retrieved 2012-02-03.
  6. "Nontracts". Archived from the original on 4 August 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  7. "The Saga of Freethought and Its Pioneers: Religious Critique and Social Reform". American Humanist Association. 22 December 2023. Retrieved 22 December 2023.
  8. "who are the Freethinkers?". 2018-02-13. Archived from the original on 2020-08-01. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  9. Fitzpatrick, M.; Jones, P.; Knellwolf, C.; McCalman, I. (2004). The Enlightenment World. Routledge.
  10. "What Is Freethought?". Daylight Atheism. 2010-02-26. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  11. Adam Lee (October 2012). "9 Great Freethinkers and Religious Dissenters in History". Big Think. Archived from the original on 8 September 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  12. Bogdan, H.; Snoek, J., eds. (2014). "Freemasonry and the Eighteenth-Century European Enlightenment". Handbook of Freemasonry. Brill. pp. 321–335.
  13. Clifford, William K. "5. The Ethics of Belief". In Levin, Noah (ed.). Philosophy of Western Religions. N.G.E. Far Press. pp. 18–21. Archived from the original on 2022-01-31. Retrieved 2022-01-31.
  14. Becker, Lawrence and Charlotte (2013). Encyclopedia of Ethics (article on "agnosticism"). Routledge. p. 44. ISBN   9781135350963.
  15. Hastings, James (2003-01-01). Encyclopedia of Religion. Kessinger. ISBN   9780766136830.
  16. "What is a Freethinker? - Freedom From Religion Foundation". Archived from the original on 15 July 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  17. Russell, Bertrand (1944). The Value of Free Thought: How to Become a Truth-seeker and Break the Chains of Mental Slavery. Haldeman-Julius Publications. Archived from the original on 2023-04-29. Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  18. "Saga Of Freethought And Its Pioneers". American Humanist Association. Archived from the original on 15 July 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  19. James E. Force, Introduction (1990) to An Account of the Growth of Deism in England (1696) by William Stephens
  20. Aveling, Francis, ed. (1908). "Deism". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 2012-10-12. Retrieved 2012-10-10. The deists were what nowadays would be called freethinkers, a name, indeed, by which they were not infrequently known; and they can only be classed together wholly in the main attitude that they adopted, viz. in agreeing to cast off the trammels of authoritative religious teaching in favour of a free and purely rationalistic speculation.... Deism, in its every manifestation was opposed to the current and traditional teaching of revealed religion.
  21. "A COMMON PLACE by Ruth Kelly and Liam Byrne" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2019-01-02. Retrieved 2019-01-01.
  22. "". Archived from the original on 2012-05-23. Retrieved 2023-01-02.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  23. Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Pansy of Freethought - Rediscovering A Forgotten Symbol Of Freethought". Archived from the original on 2020-08-01. Retrieved 2023-01-02.
  24. Theobald, Ulrich. "Song Dynasty 宋, 960-1279". Archived from the original on 2019-05-19. Retrieved 2023-01-02.
  25. Gottlieb, M. (2021). The Jewish Reformation: Bible Translation and Middle-Class German Judaism As Spiritual Enterprise. Oxford University Press, Incorporated. p. 4. ISBN   978-0-19-933638-8. Archived from the original on 2023-01-19. Retrieved 2023-01-19.
  26. Nahme, P.E. (2019). Hermann Cohen and the Crisis of Liberalism: The Enchantment of the Public Sphere. New Jewish Philosophy and Thought. Indiana University Press. p. 62. ISBN   978-0-253-03977-4. Archived from the original on 2023-01-19. Retrieved 2023-01-19.
  27. Gatti, Hilary (2002). Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science: Broken Lives and Organizational Power. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. pp. 18–19. ISBN   978-0801487859 . Retrieved 21 March 2014. For Bruno was claiming for the philosopher a principle of free thought and inquiry which implied an entirely new concept of authority: that of the individual intellect in its serious and continuing pursuit of an autonomous inquiry… It is impossible to understand the issue involved and to evaluate justly the stand made by Bruno with his life without appreciating the question of free thought and liberty of expression. His insistence on placing this issue at the center of both his work and of his defense is why Bruno remains so much a figure of the modern world. If there is, as many have argued, an intrinsic link between science and liberty of inquiry, then Bruno was among those who guaranteed the future of the newly emerging sciences, as well as claiming in wider terms a general principle of free thought and expression.
  28. Montano, Aniello (24 November 2007). Antonio Gargano (ed.). Le deposizioni davanti al tribunale dell'Inquisizione. Napoli: La Città del Sole. p. 71. In Rome, Bruno was imprisoned for seven years and subjected to a difficult trial that analyzed, minutely, all his philosophical ideas. Bruno, who in Venice had been willing to recant some theses, become increasingly resolute and declared on 21 December 1599 that he 'did not wish to repent of having too little to repent, and in fact did not know what to repent.' Declared an unrepentant heretic and excommunicated, he was burned alive in the Campo dei Fiori in Rome on 17 February 1600. On the stake, along with Bruno, burned the hopes of many, including philosophers and scientists of good faith like Galileo, who thought they could reconcile religious faith and scientific research, while belonging to an ecclesiastical organization declaring itself to be the custodian of absolute truth and maintaining a cultural militancy requiring continual commitment and suspicion.
  29. Birx, James (11 November 1997). "Giordano Bruno". Mobile Alabama Harbinger. Archived from the original on 16 May 2019. Retrieved 28 April 2014. To me, Bruno is the supreme martyr for both free thought and critical inquiry… Bruno's critical writings, which pointed out the hypocrisy and bigotry within the Church, along with his tempestuous personality and undisciplined behavior, easily made him a victim of the religious and philosophical intolerance of the 16th century. Bruno was excommunicated by the Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist Churches for his heretical beliefs. The Catholic hierarchy found him guilty of infidelity and many errors, as well as serious crimes of heresy… Bruno was burned to death at the stake for his pantheistic stance and cosmic perspective.
  30. Buttrose, Larry. Sport, grog and godliness [ permanent dead link ], The Australian . Retrieved on 11 September 2009.
  31. Ramsay Cook, The Regenerators: Social Criticism in Late Victorian English Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), pp. 46–64.
  32. "ARTFL Encyclopédie Search Results". 1751–1772. p. 472. Archived from the original on 22 March 2019. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  33. "Gjendesheim". MEMIM. 2016. Archived from the original on 8 August 2016. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
  34. Gregory, Mary Efrosini (2008). Evolutionism in Eighteenth-century French Thought. Peter Lang. p. 192. ISBN   9781433103735.
  35. 1 2 3 4 Bock, Heike (2006). "Secularization of the modern conduct of life? Reflections on the religiousness of early modern Europe". In Hanne May (ed.). Religiosität in der säkularisierten Welt. VS Verlag fnr Sozialw. p. 157. ISBN   978-3-8100-4039-8.
  36. Reese, Dagmar (2006). Growing up female in Nazi Germany. Ann Arbor, Mich: University of Michigan Press. p. 160. ISBN   978-0-472-06938-5.
  37. Reinhalter, Helmut (1999). "Freethinkers". In Bromiley, Geoffrey William; Fahlbusch, Erwin (eds.). The encyclopedia of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans. ISBN   978-90-04-11695-5.
  38. 1 2 Kaiser, Jochen-Christoph (2003). Christel Gärtner (ed.). Atheismus und religiöse Indifferenz. Vol. Organisierter Atheismus. VS Verlag. ISBN   978-3-8100-3639-1.
  39. 1 2 3 Peris, Daniel (1998). Storming the heavens: the Soviet League of the Militant Godless . Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press. pp.  110–11. ISBN   978-0-8014-3485-3.
  40. Lamberti, Marjorie (2004). Politics Of Education: Teachers and School Reform in Weimar Germany (Monographs in German History). Providence: Berghahn Books. p. 185. ISBN   978-1-57181-299-5.
  41. Strachan, John; Jones, Steven E. (2020-04-01). British Satire, 1785-1840, Volume 1. Routledge. p. 144. ISBN   978-1-000-71299-5. Archived from the original on 2023-04-15. Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  42. Duddy, Thomas (2012). A History of Irish Thought. Routledge. pp. 118–119. ISBN   978-1-134-62352-5. Archived from the original on 2023-04-27. Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  43. Ensor, George (1835). A Review of the Miracles, prophecies, and mysteries of the Old and New Testaments, and of the morality and consolation of the Christian Religion. London: John Brooks. pp. 88, 91, 103. Archived from the original on 2023-04-11. Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  44. "Geschichte der Freidenker". FAS website (in German). Archived from the original on 2 November 2017. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  45. Reşat Kasaba, "Atatürk", The Cambridge history of Turkey: Volume 4: Turkey in the Modern World, Cambridge University Press, 2008; ISBN   978-0-521-62096-3 p. 163; accessed 27 March 2015.
  46. Political Islam in Turkey by Gareth Jenkins, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p. 84; ISBN   0230612458
  47. Atheism, Brief Insights Series by Julian Baggini, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2009; ISBN   1402768826, p. 106.
  48. Islamism: A Documentary and Reference Guide, John Calvert John, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008; ISBN   0313338566, p. 19.
  49. ...Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the secular Turkish Republic. He said: "I have no religion, and at times I wish all religions at the bottom of the sea..." The Antipodean Philosopher: Interviews on Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand, Graham Oppy, Lexington Books, 2011, ISBN   0739167936, p. 146.
  50. Phil Zuckerman, John R. Shook, The Oxford Handbook of Secularism, Oxford University Press, 2017, ISBN   0199988455, p. 167.
  51. Tariq Ramadan, Islam and the Arab Awakening, Oxford University Press, 2012, ISBN   0199933731, p. 76.
  52. "Atatürk İslam için ne düşünüyordu? - Türkiye Haberleri - Radikal". 2017-07-22. Archived from the original on 2017-07-22. Retrieved 2023-01-02.
  53. Even before accepting the religion of the Arabs, the Turks were a great nation. After accepting the religion of the Arabs, this religion, didn't effect to combine the Arabs, the Persians and Egyptians with the Turks to constitute a nation. (This religion) rather, loosened the national nexus of Turkish nation, got national excitement numb. This was very natural. Because the purpose of the religion founded by Muhammad, over all nations, was to drag to an including Arab national politics. (Afet İnan, Medenî Bilgiler ve M. Kemal Atatürk'ün El Yazıları, Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1998, p. 364.)
  54. "The first Atheist Association in Turkey is founded". 3 May 2014. Archived from the original on 3 March 2018. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  55. "Turkey's Atheism Association threatened by hostility and lack of interest | Ahval". Ahval. Archived from the original on 2020-08-01. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
  56. Hugins, Walter (1960). Jacksonian Democracy and the Working Class: A Study of the New York Workingmen's Movement 1829–1837. Stanford: Stanford University Press. pp. 36–48.
  57. Brandt, Eric T., and Timothy Larsen (2011). "The Old Atheism Revisited: Robert G. Ingersoll and the Bible". Journal of the Historical Society. 11 (2): 211–38. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5923.2011.00330.x.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  58. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 "Freethinkers in Wisconsin". Dictionary of Wisconsin History. 2008. Archived from the original on 2009-07-04. Retrieved 2008-07-27.
  59. 1 2 Demerath, N. J. III and Victor Thiessen, "On Spitting Against the Wind: Organizational Precariousness and American Irreligion," The American Journal of Sociology, 71: 6 (May, 1966), 674–87.
  60. "National Liberal League". The Freethought Trail. Archived from the original on 9 March 2014. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
  61. 1 2 "History of the Free Congregation of Sauk County: The "Freethinkers" Story". Free Congregation of Sauk County. April 2009. Archived from the original on 2012-03-26. Retrieved 2012-02-05.
  62. William Roba; Fredrick I. Anderson (ed.) (1982). Joined by a River: Quad Cities. Davenport: Lee Enterprises. p. 73.{{cite book}}: |author2= has generic name (help)
  63. "The Turners, Forty-eighters and Freethinkers". Freedom from Religion Foundation. July 2002. Archived from the original on 2012-07-12. Retrieved 2008-07-27.
  64. Koenig, Brigitte Anne (2000). American Anarchism: The Politics of Gender, Culture, and Community from Haymarket to the First World War. Vol. 2. University of California, Berkeley. p. 315. Retrieved 11 April 2021. [...] parts of the anarchist movement in the United States actually stemmed from free thought circles [...].
  65. 1 2 "The Journal of Libertarian Studies" (PDF). Mises Institute. 2014-07-30. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-09-11. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  66. Xavier Diez (2007). "El anarquismo individualista en España (1923–1939)" (PDF). p. 143. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-24. Retrieved 2023-01-02.
  67. Xavier Diez (2007). "El anarquismo individualista en España (1923–1939)" (PDF). p. 152. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-24. Retrieved 2023-01-02.
  68. 1 2 3 Geoffrey C. Fidler (Spring–Summer 1985). "The Escuela Moderna Movement of Francisco Ferrer: "Por la Verdad y la Justicia"". History of Education Quarterly. 25 (1/2): 103–32. doi:10.2307/368893. JSTOR   368893. S2CID   147119437.
  69. "Francisco Ferrer's Modern School". Archived from the original on 2010-08-07. Retrieved 2010-09-20.
  70. 1 2 3 4 5 Jacob, Margaret C. (1991). Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe. Oxford University Press.
  71. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Stevenson, David (1988). The Origins of Freemasonry. Cambridge University Press. pp. 179–203.
  72. 1 2 3 4 5 Berman, Ric (2012). Foundations of Modern Freemasonry. pp. 57–63.
  73. 1 2 Israel, Jonathan (2006). Enlightenment Contested. Oxford University Press. pp. 3–28.
  74. Franklin, Benjamin (2004). The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Dover Publications. p. 106.
  75. 1 2 Bullock, Steven C. (2011). Revolutionary Brotherhood.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Deism is the philosophical position and rationalistic theology that generally rejects revelation as a source of divine knowledge and asserts that empirical reason and observation of the natural world are exclusively logical, reliable, and sufficient to determine the existence of a Supreme Being as the creator of the universe. More simply stated, Deism is the belief in the existence of God, solely based on rational thought without any reliance on revealed religions or religious authority. Deism emphasizes the concept of natural theology—that is, God's existence is revealed through nature.

Secularism is the principle of being indifferent to or skeptical and/or critical of religious belief.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Secular humanism</span> Life stance that embraces human reason, secular ethics, and philosophical naturalism

Secular humanism is a philosophy, belief system or life stance that embraces human reason, logic, secular ethics, and philosophical naturalism, while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, and superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.

Irreligion is the neglect or active rejection of religion and, depending on the definition, a simple absence of religion.

Anarchists have traditionally been skeptical of or vehemently opposed to organized religion. Nevertheless, some anarchists have provided religious interpretations and approaches to anarchism, including the idea that the glorification of the state is a form of sinful idolatry.

Atheism is the rejection of an assertion that a deity exists. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities and any statements to the contrary are false ones. The English term 'atheist' was used at least as early as the sixteenth century and atheistic ideas and their influence have a longer history.

Chapman Cohen was an English freethinker, atheist, and secularist writer and lecturer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dan Barker</span> American atheist activist and musician

Daniel Edwin Barker is an American atheist activist and musician who served as an evangelical Christian preacher and composer for 19 years but left Christianity in 1984. He and his wife Annie Laurie Gaylor are the current co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and he is cofounder of The Clergy Project. He has written numerous articles for Freethought Today, an American freethought newspaper. He is the author of several books including Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist.

Discrimination against atheists, sometimes called atheophobia, atheistophobia, or anti-atheism, both at present and historically, includes persecution of and discrimination against people who are identified as atheists. Discrimination against atheists may be manifested by negative attitudes, prejudice, hostility, hatred, fear, or intolerance towards atheists and atheism or even the complete denial of atheists existence. It is often expressed in distrust regardless of its manifestation. Perceived atheist prevalence seems to be correlated with reduction in prejudice. There is global prevalence of mistrust in moral perceptions of atheists found in even secular countries and among atheists.

Atheism, in the broadest sense, is an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Atheism during the Age of Enlightenment</span>

Atheism, as defined by the entry in Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie, is "the opinion of those who deny the existence of a God in the world. The simple ignorance of God doesn't constitute atheism. To be charged with the odious title of atheism one must have the notion of God and reject it." In the period of the Enlightenment, avowed and open atheism was made possible by the advance of religious toleration, but was also far from encouraged.

Deism, the religious attitude typical of the Enlightenment, especially in France and England, holds that the only way the existence of God can be proven is to combine the application of reason with observation of the world. A Deist is defined as "One who believes in the existence of a God or Supreme Being but denies revealed religion, basing his belief on the light of nature and reason." Deism was often synonymous with so-called natural religion because its principles are drawn from nature and human reasoning. In contrast to Deism there are many cultural religions or revealed religions, such as Judaism, Trinitarian Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and others, which believe in supernatural intervention of God in the world; while Deism denies any supernatural intervention and emphasizes that the world is operated by natural laws of the Supreme Being.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Irreligion in Germany</span> Overview of irreligion in Germany

Irreligion is prevalent in Germany. In a time of near-universal adoption of Christianity, Germany was an intellectual centre for European freethought and humanist thinking, whose ideas spread across Europe and the world in the Age of Enlightenment. Later, religious traditions in Germany were weakened by the twin onslaughts of Nazi rule during World War II and that of the Socialist Unity Party in East Germany during the Cold War. In common with most other European societies, a period of secularisation also continued in the decades that followed. While today Christianity remains prevalent in the west of Germany, in the east relatively few Germans identify with any religion whatsoever.

Irreligion is common in Sweden, and Sweden is one of the most secular nations in the world. The majority of Swedish citizens are members of the Church of Sweden, but very few are practicing members. Sweden has legally been a secular state since 2000 when the Church of Sweden was separated from the state.

Vrijdenkersvereniging De Vrije Gedachte (DVG) (English: Freethinkers association The Free Thought), is a Dutch atheist–humanist association of freethinkers. It was founded in 1856 and known by the name De Dageraad ("The Dawn") before assuming its present name in 1957. De Vrije Gedachte strives to use reason, natural science and logic to liberate humanity from prejudices, clerical paternalism, dogmas and false truths.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Etta Semple</span> American politician

Etta Semple was an American atheist and feminist activist, editor, publisher and community leader in Ottawa, Kansas. She was the president of the Kansas Freethought Association and, in later life, founded a "Natural Cure" sanitorium for 31 patients. Semple was part of a group of people in Kansas who actively fought the intrusion of religion into United States government, when prominent religious leaders of the time were "pushing to amend the US Constitution and declare America a Christian nation."

Irreligion in Latvia pertains to atheism, agnosticism, and lack of religious affiliation in Latvia. Irreligious thought in Latvian history is associated with national identity and a period of Communist rule. The irreligious make up a significant minority group in Latvia today, with 29% of Latvians identifying as irreligious.

Irreligion in Lithuania pertains to atheism, agnosticism, and lack of religious affiliation in Lithuania. Irreligious Lithuanians make up a small minority of the population, encompassing only 6.11% of the population in the Lithuanian census of 2021. Irreligion in Lithuania is associated with the period of Soviet rule in the late 20th century.