Free Thinkers

Those who refuse to submit reason to the control of authority in questions of religious belief. The term which seems to have appeared first in 1692, was used by Deists and other opponents of orthodox Christianity in the early eighteenth century in their emphasis on reason above all else. In A Discourse on Freethinking published in 1713, Anthony Collins assailed ministers of all denominations and asserted that free inquiry was the only means of attaining truth-and that this procedure was, indeed, commanded by Scripture. It can be seen from this that in its earlier manifestations the term was not chiefly involved with a direct attack on religion as such, but rather on the exclusive claims of, and the stress on revelation by, the Christian religion. Coupled with this was an attempt to throw doubt on the authority of the Bible. Freethinking has now come, however, to be a general description of any agnostic or atheist whose rejection of theism is conscious and real rather than stemming from apathy or indifference. Its weakness as a description comes from its fallacious assumption that freedom of thought must inevitably involve rejection of the supernatural.

It has been associated with a great number of movements. Modern secularism in its militantly atheistic form claims the term brings together many different strands of thought. Among these would be listed modern Unitarianism (1825); Mexican secularism (1833); the German free-religious movement (1848); organized positivism (1854); New Zealand rationalism (1856); Australian secularism (1862); the Belgian Ligue de l'Enseignement (1864); the English religion (later the ethical) society (1864); Italian anticlericalism (1869); Vosey's theistic church (1871); American free thought (based on the Truth Seeker, 1873); American ethical culture (1876); the Dutch Dageraad (dawn) as a national movement (1881); Argentinian secularism (1883), and Austrian secularism (1887). One could legitimately add to these the more radical groups within the major denominations and extend the list even to include political revolutionaries.