Freethinkers of the world unite

by George Hatjoullis

Twitter throws up some very interesting facts. It threw up the 1881 census of Cyprus recently. The list is categorised by religion. The population was 186,084. Of this 25% was muslim and 73.5% Greek Orthodox. I was initially fascinated by the fact that my ancestry lay in the 136,329 GOCs. It is also notable that the proportion of muslim to Christian has not changed very much. Then I noticed the one resident at the time that had listed himself as a Freethinker and I began to ponder who this person might have been and what he meant by Freethinker. It must have been quite dangerous to have been a Freethinker on Cyprus in 1881. Indeed it must have been quite dangerous in most places. It then occurred to me that it still is dangerous to be a Freethinker.

My first act was very modern. I typed Freethinker into a search engine and was astonished to discover that there is a Freethinker magazine which dates back to 1881. What were the odds? The magazine was established in Britain in 1881 (so this person was most likely part of the British Empire occupation). In 1882 the founder and first editor was sentenced to 12 months hard labour for publishing irreligious cartoons in the Christmas of 1882. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The thrust of the Freethinker movement seems to be atheist. The Origin of Species by Darwin had been published in 1859 but religion and divine origin and revelation still held sway in society. The Freethinker movement was challenging Christian doctrine. Today, the challenge is to Islāmic doctrine.

A Freethinker is just someone who does not automatically accept conventional wisdom. The dominance of religious thought makes religion a natural point of conflict for Freethinkers. The violence with which religious people assert their thought makes Freethinking dangerous. It was in 1881 and it is now. However, the danger goes beyond religion. More recent history throws up Nazism and Communism as two creeds that it was dangerous to challenge or support (depending on which country you happened to be in at the time). Today, some complain about ‘political correctness gone mad’. Political correctness is not new. It has always been with us and always prone to punish us if we failed to observe its edicts. It is the established doctrine of society.

In Orwell’s 1984 Freethinking is outlawed and forcibly eliminated. It is not enough to  accept social doctrine. One has to believe it to be true. Thinking incorrect thoughts is subtly revealed in body language, behaviour, and between the lines of text. If you think impure thoughts, the thought police will grab you and find your equivalent of the fear of rats and O’Brien will use this primal fear to re-order your neural pathways so you believe whatever you are told. Orwell’s 1984 is science fiction, of course? The Inquisition pre-dates the publication of the book by several hundred years so it is hard to classify it as science fiction. Moreover, there are several subjects I would not dare cover on my blog (I am not even going to mention what they are). I like to think I am Freethinker but I am not. I self-censor my thoughts so as not to think anything not accepted today. It is not enough to just think them and keep them to yourself. You must not think them. And you don’t.


If you have read this you should also read Gods, Superstition and Climate Change.

Postscript 03/11/15

If you think I am exaggerating read this Neuropolitics, Where Campaigns Try to Read Your Mind