An Important Part of Freethought: Asking Why

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For those who value freedom, I can't think of a better question than "why?" Why should I do that? Why should I take your word for it? Why should I believe what you believe, especially when you've offered no evidence to support what you believe? Skepticism and freethought converge at "why?"

I had a bit of a rebellious streak in my youth. I've never been one to go along to get along. I'm sure there were times when I adopted an unpopular position in opposition to authority. I doubt it was a coincidence that I became more outspoken about my atheism while attending a Christian college. If others were going to tell me about their religious beliefs, it seemed fair that I could comment on them.

For the most part, my rebellious streak has served me well. It hasn't made me popular, but popularity is overrated. It has contributed to me being more assertive and standing up for myself. It also enabled me to come to the defense of others who were being bullied. Given the choice between holding my tongue and speaking out against injustice, I rarely held my tongue. This was not always well-received, but I have few regrets about defending others.

If I had to pick one part of my rebellious nature that is most central to who I am, it would be my willingness to ask "why?" If this doesn't seem very rebellious, consider how those in power view questions. They rarely welcome them. They want us to do what they tell us because they're telling us. No thanks.

When I mention that I doubt I'll watch the Super Bowl, people act shocked. Some ask what is wrong with me. When I explain that I don't care who will win and can find better uses of my time, their response is telling. "But it's the Super Bowl!" How is this a compelling argument for anything? This isn't about me wanting to rebel against cultural norms. It is much simpler than that. I'm asking myself why I should do something I don't expect to enjoy. The presence of others who think I am supposed to do so on the basis of tradition is not compelling.

Most of the interactions I have around Christianity fall into a similar pattern. Others assume I share their Christian beliefs. I explain that I do not, and I face shock, disbelief, and condemnation. It isn't like I decided not to be a Christian. I can't make myself believe something I don't believe. This isn't because I want to be an outsider so or because I'm trying to rebel against something. I cannot figure out how to base my worldview on ancient myths without evidence. I don't believe because I can't believe. I ask why they believe what they believe. I ask why I should believe what they believe. I find the answers unsatisfying.

Others can persuade me that I am wrong and they are right. I can and do change my mind on a regular basis. Many religious believers have presented me with arguments and what they consider evidence. I have also actively sought good arguments and evidence but come up short. Tradition, authority, and appeals to popularity hold little appeal. I am still asking why.

I've lost count of the number of times I've been accused of failing to go along with cultural norms due to a desire to rebel or flout authority. On occasion, the accusations fit. But ultimately, the reason I don't go along is usually much simpler. I reject blind faith and keep asking why. I don't see that changing because it is one of the aspects of freethought and skepticism I most value.

This post from 2012 was revised and expanded in 2022.