Freedom of the Mind

I’ve been thinking about preferences, and what matters to us, and what we put first – how we rank what matters to us; and about freedom. I’ve been thinking about the fact that freedom of certain kinds seems to matter to me very profoundly indeed, and about why that is, and what flows from it.

I won’t bore you with the why that is part (and I have only guesses anyway), but I will talk about one thing that I think flows from it. It offers one reason I dislike religion so much. Why I’m not just indifferent or uninterested but actively hostile, especially when religion comes out of its churches and mosques and isolated farmhouses to engage in public discussion. It’s because religion is not a free way to think, and since that’s one of those kinds of freedom that matter to me (and, I think it’s fair to assume, to a lot of people) more than most things, religion makes me bristle mentally like a cat seeing a dog. I dislike religion because it’s not a free way to think.

Granted, for determined people it can be made to be that way, but typically and averagely, it isn’t. Religion has a body of doctrine, a dogma, which is given, and which is not empirical or rationally arrived at – it is a mental prison house. I mean that somewhat literally as well as figuratively – in the sense that it feels prison-like. It feels imprisoning and also desperately stale; and the two feelings are related. Ideas that seem fresh (alive, adaptable, open) don’t feel prison-like; ideas that feel confining and rigid don’t feel fresh or open.

And dogmatically religious people give that impression themselves – that they are inmates, and that their thoughts are unpleasantly stereotyped and unfree. ‘God says.’ ‘What Allah wants.’ ‘Peace be upon him.’ ‘It is a sin’ – it’s all so many walls, bars of a cage, locks; barriers to thought. Unthought, the opposite of thought, the prevention of thought – like that brilliant phrase at the end of ‘The Dunciad’: ‘light dies at thy uncreating word.’

This is also, obviously enough, why I hate all those conscriptive words like community and respect: because they are intended to balk and prevent free thinking. They are intended to compel us to want various groupthink virtues more than we want the ability to let our minds dart around unimpeded, and I think we ought not to want that and ought not to be manipulated into wanting that.

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