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Is God a freethinker?


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Is God a freethinker?

Commentary by Walter Hesford | FāVS News

During a May 18 panel discussion sponsored by FāVS News, “The Tensions and Intersections Between Religious Faith and Free Thought,” Trish Hartzell, a member of the Palouse Freethinkers, asserted that a free thinker could not also believe in the God of the Bible since there is no scientific evidence for this God.

This made me, an aspiring Christian who aspires to understand science, wonder if she is right. Can someone who thinks there is a God be a freethinker? A couple other questions rose from this one. Does God, if God exists, approve of freethinking? Is this God freethinking?

I agree with Trish Hartzell that there is no scientific proof for God’s existence. Who would want to put one’s faith, one’s hope in a scientifically proven God? This God would surely be dead on arrival. Pseudo-scientific efforts to prove the existence of God, such as arguments that claim the intelligent design of the universe is the work of a divine intelligence, seem to me misguided and soulless.

Soul is the breath of life, the ever-restless wind that swirls us into existence. God may be experienced as this swirl who is always already present, and as the call for compassionate engagement in the thick of creaturely experiences.

We are certainly free not to accept this call, but we are also free to try to hear where the wind will take us, and follow.

Where it takes me is around the communion table, helping me send quilts and school supplies to refugee centers, and seeing sunlight filtering through trees. Free thinkers will be skeptical that God is active in these experiences. So be it.

Bible characters punished for freethinking

At first glance it would seem that the God of the Bible does not favor freethinking. Are not Adam and Eve toward the outset of the biblical narrative punished for challenging the prohibition set by the divine? But they represent all of us who have the freedom to choose. We may not always use this freedom wisely, but without it there would be no free thought.

Is not Job put down by a windy God for asking why there is so much injustice, so much suffering in the world? Actually, Job is rewarded by this God of the wind with a wilderness experience that gives insight into the lives of grand, wild creatures (Job 38-41). At the end Job is even told that in his freethinking questioning of God he has spoken right, unlike his convention-bound friends (Job 42:7).

Certainly there are times in scripture when God makes outrageous demands, such as that Abraham sacrifice his beloved son (Genesis 22). Abraham is ready to obey (fortunately, a ram is substituted for the son). When discussing this episode, Rabbi Burton L. Visotsky, in Bill Moyer’s book, “Genesis: A Living Conversation,” says he wishes Abraham had refused God’s demand. Freethinkers may not realize how often people of faith feel free to wrestle with biblical stories and express diverse views of them.

Yet, the Bible shows how God is freethinking

The parables of Jesus often challenge conventional thinking. How can one of my traditional enemies, one of those wicked Samaritans, be the one who reaches out to help me in my time of need? How can that prodigal son, that wastrel, be deserving of his father’s love? We need to exercise our ears, hearts and minds to enter into these parables and be open to their meanings.

Who am I to assess the mind of God, but judging by shifts in God’s biblical character, God is freethinking. True, there are covenants that God keeps, but even these evolve and grow. And at least some freethinkers think that God, aka a Higher Power, supports them in questioning oppressive laws of the state. I’m thinking especially of Henry David Thoreau who posited Higher Laws that give him the right, the duty, to resist a civil government that sanctioned slavery.

I thank Trish Hartzell for launching these thoughts and for her work in our community. She is clearly one of those people who can be “good without God.” She will probably disagree with what I say here, as will some whose religious faith I share. There are indeed both tensions and intersections between faith and free thought.

The views expressed in this opinion column are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of FāVS News. FāVS News values diverse perspectives and thoughtful analysis on matters of faith and spirituality.

Walter Hesford
Walter Hesford
Walter Hesford, born and educated in New England, gradually made his way West. For many years he was a professor of English at the University of Idaho, save for stints teaching in China and France. At Idaho, he taught American Literature, World Literature and the Bible as Literature. He currently coordinates an interfaith discussion group and is a member of the Latah County Human Rights Task Force and Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow. He and his wife Elinor enjoy visiting with family and friends and hunting for wild flowers.

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Robert Landbeck
Robert Landbeck
29 days ago

I have to doubt that G-d is a free thinker. The very expression is subject to conderable abuse of language. For example: an athiest who calls himself a freethinker in fact becomes a prisoner to the prejudices and bias of that intellecutal position. In the same what that any religious is a prisoner to the dogma and doctrine of the faith one holds. So in fact be a ‘free’ thinker is rather an illusion, as we all hold on to certain ideas. And rationality requires the humility to change ones mind when the facts change. I would suggest that the true free thinker, when confronted by long standing, unresolved controversial ideas, like the G-d question, where contrary to religous claims, there is no certain knowledge of that potential reality. maintain a reserve of safe space within the mind prepared to reconsider ones position. For the future remains uncertain and unknown as to what science or G-d might discover or reveal. And while science has a ‘somewhat’ successful correction mechanism, religion has none. And the scriptural record is full of references to self deception and false teaching. And theology may only exist because nothing has been revealed!

Chuck McGlocklin
Chuck McGlocklin
26 days ago

I am not sure I could classify God as a “free thinker” since He is omniscient. He knows the best choices that would bring the best results.
But I also believe that our gift from Him of free choice allows us to grow, to experiment and learn from our choices.
I classify myself as a skeptic. I have long been a skeptic of evolution that has no valid reason for our existence. I have experienced “spiritual” or “other than what we perceive as “natural” ” phenomena. And I am not alone. Science, so called, wants me to relegate such experiences to wild imagination. Yet, as I pray, search for and study God, He makes Himself abundantly present.

Where I disagree with both sides of the issue is the need to FORCE their views on the other. They are diametrically opposed to the gift that God has given us: free will.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x