The Freedom to Think

Poet Lord Byron said: “There is something Pagan in me that I cannot shake off. In short, I deny nothing, but doubt everything.”  Great thinkers, across the centuries, have always used inquiry to understand the world. It doesn’t mean that nothing can be believed, but it does mean that skepticism and doubt are human inclinations that lead us toward growth.

Nietzsche’s famous quote that “God is dead” was originally intended to mean that societal perspectives had “killed” God, rather than the actual death of a supernatural entity. Society (believers included) made God irrelevant.

In another work, he wrote: “Really unreflective people are now inwardly without Christianity, and the more moderate and reflective people of the intellectual middle class now possess only an adapted, that is to say, marvelously simplified Christianity.”
Is this reflective of many religious institutions and their collective members in the 21st century?

Christians are often lumped together into a collective body, yet have little to no “public” power, in politics, science, and culture. Why?

Broadly speaking, Christians seem to have “privatized” Christianity, leaving little room for the intellectual exercises within the world of thought that leads to true growth and increased effectiveness in understanding and communicating our spiritual journeys. American Christianity has become a family affair – a homogenous party where no one else is invited.

Thus, Nietzsche’s point is well taken – surface understandings of God eventually result in a religion without a head.

Conversely, autonomous thinking, exemplified in everyone from Da Vinci, to Franklin, to Einstein, means the ability to think for oneself, despite societal and religious norms to do otherwise. A constant theme throughout history’s greatest thinkers and doers is to trust oneself, rather than allowing others to think for you. Only when one thinks for oneself is he or she truly able to live authentically – mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who, in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” This could frame the world at large, or the Christian world — within whatever world we choose to reside, we are at risk of accepting homogenous thought that may be contrary to our personal truths, as they relate to God.

In layman’s terms, this means that when Christians rely on doctrine and dogma, rather than inquiry, critical thinking, and contemplation, the “practice” of Christianity can become merely a set of spoken beliefs, rather than a living, evolving authentic practice in faith.

The idea of becoming less “Christian” and more like “Christ” means liberation from  religious homogeneity, lest we become like Babel – single-minded in purpose and language with no room or tolerance for variance.