Sunday, March 27, 2011
That Liberating Spirit Of Doubt
Samuel P. Putnam in his old classic 400 Years of Freethought wrote the following in his introduction:
Freethought is a spirit, a method, and a result.
The eternal spirit of Freethought is the spirit of doubt. Freethought never ceases to inquire, to question, and to deny. It utterly abhors faith. It makes no terms with a submissive mind.
Doubt, says Aristotle, is the beginning of wisdom. It is, indeed. Doubt is the first step to knowledge. It is only through Doubt that we can analyze, judge, and select. Unless we deny, we cannot search. Belief is ignorance. Unbelief is attainment. Doubt is sanity—faith is insanity. The supreme virtue of orthodoxy is credulity. The supreme virtue of Freethought is skepticism.
This has been the eternal battle—Faith on one side, Doubt against it, and Doubt has won and gemmed the earth with civilization.
Freethought doubts; but Freethought builds. Truth is its object; but there is only one way to reach truth— through facts.
The scientific method is the one universal method. There is no a priori royal road to truth. There is only the common road, the toilsome common-sense path of observation and induction. In experience alone are the beginnings of knowledge. He who starts with ideas, and labors to accommodate facts to ideas, is no Freethinker, for he is bound to come to a certain conclusion, not by the force of truth, but the fiat of an assumption.
The truth for authority, and not authority for truth, is the axiom of Freethought; and by truth is meant not an image of the mind, but a fact of the universe.
The early part of my life was ruled by faith - enslaving, oppressive faith in God's alleged revealed will for humans. This I was taught from my earliest days.
Doubt was the biggest sin of all. It was the sin that would seal our doom for all eternity. Instilled in me was the Apostle Paul's fiery declaration: "Let God be true, but every man a liar."
That meant the Bible is true and the scientists are Satan-deluded liars. Secular historians also are pawns in Satan master deception, distorters of biblical truth. All the worldly philosophers were dead wrong (in the spiritual sense) because they started out wrong - that is, without faith. These things being so, to listen to any of their profane babblings would undermine the faith that means eternal life.
I wasn't one of those church-school children - we couldn't afford it. My education came via public schools. I was just a very poor student, especially in the sciences. Too many things I took with an eyeroll because they didn't square with my faith. The Big Bang, Dinosaurs and cavemen, for instance.
There was something else, too. I didn't believe I would live to adulthood, and didn't see the importance of a good education, because the world was coming to an end very soon. Armageddon theology cast a black pall over my formative years. I didn't want the world to end. I wanted to grow up, to live, to enjoy the pleasures I had had such a short time to enjoy. This led me even from my youth to the living of a double life. Of doing "naughty" things I wasn't supposed to do and then fearfully repenting later. I remember the prayer I formed as a child and spoke incessantly and every night before going to sleep: "God, forgive me of all my sins and keep me ready to go with you."
I worried about that, and every time my parents were late getting home from work I began to get that cold-water-in-the-veins feeling that maybe the Rapture had taken place and I had been left behind.
Even doing things that I just couldn't convince myself were really wrong, just against my "raising," was a source of mental anguish. God was always watching, and his Recording Angel was always there, taking down every misdeed in order to add to my book of works for review on Judgment Day.
Oddly enough, the first real crack in that cosmic egg occurred when I purchased from my local Bible bookshop a reprint of a very old book about "alleged discrepancies" of the Bible. Reading through it, I actually found myself more troubled by the weak defenses of "Bible truth" than by the embarrassing contradictions and illogic being defended against.
That crack grew wider the more I dug into the matter. Eventually I was forced to admit to myself that at best the Bible had quite a bit of good old-fashioned human error mixed in.
By my late teens my testicles finally reached a size that allowed me to check out from our city's public library that evil book I had heard about all my life. That old infidel manual The Age Of Reason, by filthy little atheist "Tom Paine."
It was like opening the windows on the first warm day of spring. The fresh air of reason blew into my mind and has not stilled since. Thomas Paine was not an atheist. He believed in God. He didn't, however, believe in any Bible other than nature. Hey, that resolved several of my problems right there.
I took my Bible off its pedestal for the last time when the truth of Paine's words sank in:
It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication — after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.
I was finally free. Free to examine the universe around me and search it alone for the truth. Free to ignore the rantings of the faithful who "know" and who don't walk by sight.
And my life is many times better now. If I have given up hope for eternal life, it is because I accept my fate as being the same as that of every other living thing in the universe. For this universe is my home, now and forever.