April 15, 2011

Catholic Freethinkers?

An acquaintance - not someone I know particularly well - recently described himself as a freethinker. Fantastic! We certainly need more freethought here in Mississippi. But this particular acquaintance also describes himself as a Catholic. He attends church regularly, had his son baptized, and occasionally makes reference to engaging in prayer. Does "freethinker" not mean what I think it means?

Can someone be a religious believer and a freethinker simultaneously, or does one exclude the other? While I would not be surprised in the least to hear a Unitarian or a Deist identify as a freethinker, I'm having a hard time knowing what to make of a Catholic doing so.

I understand freethought as being more about the method through which one forms one's beliefs rather than the beliefs themselves. To be a Catholic freethinker, one would have to claim that one came to accept the "truth" of Catholic doctrine solely through the application of reason and without any appeal to authority or religious revelation. That seems unlikely, but I suppose it is possible that someone could make such a claim.

An obvious lesson here is that it is a mistake to use "freethinker" as an umbrella term for describing atheists, agnostics, and humanists.

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