Free-thinking is one of the greatest phantasies of modern times. The fact is, there is no such thing as “free-thinking.” Every “free-thinker” is a slave to a certain set of ideologies, uniform or conglomerate. Such ones encounter the world around them based on those ideologies and they judge people and events accordingly. It is a self-flattering term, moreover, it is delusional.
Clearly, the title is intended to insinuate that anyone who does not think according to their views is not “free.” Moreover, it is frequently aimed at Traditional Christianity. It seeks to imply that those who govern their lives according to Traditional Christian principles are somehow backward and enslaved.
I freely admit I have a set of governing principles. I have freely chosen them. They are the principles of Orthodox Christianity. “Free-thinkers” also have governing factors. Based on these factors they reject Christianity and various other ways of thinking. But that does not make them free. As the opening quote makes clear, they are but slaves to their self-chosen prejudices. (I am not speaking of opinions, which may vary, but of those principles or factors that form our opinions.)
True Christianity has always claimed to be a revelation from God Himself. Its source is not in one person or even a few. St. Paul emphasizes the fact that he received the Gospel by Divine revelation, not of man (cf. Gal 1:12). True Christianity has its source and origin in eternity, in God Himself. Human reason, as splendid as it can be, is limited. To transcend the bonds of human limitation, Divine Revelation is necessary. Thus, specifically in Orthodox Christianity, no one person (or a few) can be named as the leader or founder, of course outside of the God-Man Jesus Christ. Even in what is known broadly as Christendom, Orthodoxy alone of all those claiming to be Christian does not have a man (or men) as its source. Moreover, its message has been consistent for over two thousand years. Christians have always been called to be transformed according to the Mind of Christ – that transcendent Reason (Logos). Human reason left on its own begins to enslave itself.
“Free-thing” as a phenomenon is not a strictly secular innovation. (Obviously ancient societies had various governing principles, but higher – than man – principles of some fashion they had. I am restricting this brief reflection to the Western world in which I live.) Broadly speaking Western Civilization was governed by unified Christian Principles from the time of its conversion, roughly 300 Anno Domini (The Year of Our Lord) until the separation of the Roman church from the Apostolic Church in roughly 1054 A.D. In Western Christian Civilization the Roman Pontiff may be called the pioneer of “free-thinking.” He rejected the synodal, conciliar, and apostolic nature of Christianity and set himself up as the prime and sole arbitrator of Christian thought (doctrine). More importantly, he began to undermine the Revelatory essence of True Christianity. In some sense, he “freed” himself from the constraint of the Church, which is the guardian of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. This is reflected in titles such as, “The Vicar of Christ.” Christ the Lord is distant, thus He needs a man as a vicar. A man becomes the focal point. During this time, “free-thinking” was restricted to one man – the Roman Pope. It was later codified by the Latin church as “Infallibility of the Pope” (only the Pope has the authority to innovate doctrine and dogma). Traditionally, Jesus Christ has always been the Head of His Church, and He stands in no need of a substitute on earth, a vicar. But a drastic shift takes place: a man becomes the focal point.
St. Theophane the Recluse observes, The Pope changed many doctrines, spoiled all the sacraments, nullified the canons concerning the regulation of the Church and the correction of morals. Everything has begun going contrary to the will of the Lord, and has become worse and worse.
For a fair amount of years in Western Europe, this “freedom” (from the Mind of Christ in His Church) was successfully guarded and kept for this one man, the Pope. Yet seeing this “liberty” restricted to one man, people began to resent him the privilege. That is, people began to resent the fact that only one man had such “freedom.” In Western Europe, some people attempted opposition to the Papal monopoly on “freedom,” but were crushed and silenced. Eventually, such “freedom” could not be suppressed. Martin Luther, around 1517, successfully appropriated Papal “free-thinking” to himself, and as the saying goes, “placed the Papal tiara on every man’s head.” He simply multiplied the spirit of the papacy.
St. Theophan reflects, Then came along Luther, a smart man, but stubborn. He said, “The Pope changed everything as he wanted, why shouldn’t I do the same?” He started to modify and re-modify everything in his own way, and in this way established the new Lutheran faith, which only slightly resembles what the Lord had commanded and the Holy Apostles delivered to us.
Luther (unwittingly?) opened Pandora’s box. Having breached the strong defenses of Rome that guarded “free-thinking” for the Pope alone, doctrinal chaos ensued. Luther spent the end of his days bickering with the fast-growing “free-thinking” chrisitians who began to spring up like weeds, as is evident in the plethora of “free-thinking” sects of our times. “We have no need of anyone, it is just me and the Bible!” (More correctly “me and my interpretation of the Bible,” the Revelatory Essence of the Church having been rejected. Keep in mind: the Scripture is not a book of the individual but rather the Book of the Church.)
But then men began to ask, why do we need the Bible (it only causes division anyway, just look at those who claim to follow it), if Luther and those after him are free to change Christianity, then why are we not free to change it further? And if it needs changing, maybe it is faulty, maybe it should be updated or disregarded altogether? The Reformers made Christianity something worldly; a philosophy of man.
After Luther came the philosophers. And they, in turn, said, “Luther has established himself a new faith, supposedly based on the Gospel, though in reality based on his own way of thinking. Why, then, don’t we also compose doctrines based on our own way of thinking, completely ignoring the Gospel?” They then started rationalizing, and speculating about God, the world, and man, each in his own way. And they mixed up so many doctrines, that one gets dizzy just counting them, further remarks St. Theophan.
Thus the progression: the Roman church, focused in the person of the Pope, abandoned the revelatory nature of the Christian Church and set itself, concentrated in one man, as the dictator of “truth.” The Pope freely thought, reasoned, and innovated outside the bounds of Traditional Christianity. He nudged the door open. Luther and those after him (Protestant Reformers) appropriated this “right” of “free-thinking” to themselves and any person who purported some sort of faith in Christ Jesus. Luther and friends pushed the door open a bit more. Western thinkers reasoned: if all are “free” then why abide by the confines of Christianity (as they knew it to be in the West at that time)? Cannot humanity be “free” completely? They threw the door wide open. And the doctrine of “free-thinking” was cultivated and born.
Man and his own reasoning were established as the authority of “truth.” Divine Revelation was seemingly dethroned from the place of governance. Man is his own arbitrator: “if I think it, it must be true. My mind is the only standard of ‘truth.’ Man is infallible!” Thus, “truth” becomes as diverse as the individual. This is the essence of “free-thinking.” It is like boasting about setting sail on a rudderless boat. “We are ‘free-boaters,’ who needs those limiting rudders!”
Hobbs, Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Darwin, Freud, Beauvoir, and on the list could go, can turn back and thank the Pope and subsequently Luther, for the ability to be “free-thinkers.” Yes, the “confines” of Traditional Christianity have been thrown off by Western society. The Pope was the first to protest against the Church and the Revelation of Christ therein (thus making him the first protestant), then Luther and company protested the Pope, and the above-listed thinkers protested the Pope, Luther and other nominally Christian thinkers. And on the protesting goes into our days (remember the root word of Protestantism is “protest”). Secularism is but the child of its Protestant mother; the result of the gradual loss of true Christian savor. Because, yes, if “Man” is the standard then secularism is correct in its application.
We are now slaves to our own whims and fancies. There is no surety of thought, there is no absolute Truth. Dogma is proclaimed as evil and bad. We have no guiding principles, no morals, save maybe that we must reject Traditional Orthodox Christianity, either outright or subtly.
It is interesting how absolutist “free-thinkers” become in forcing their ideas, they are “free” so everyone must be forced to think like them. In our secular times just try questioning the morality of homosexuality or transgenderism to experience the gracious “freedoms” of modern secular “free-thinkers.” One will be called the most endearing names and all rational dialogue will go up in smoke. In fact, they might be willing to burn you at the stake. They are so full of freedom that they want to shut everyone else up. In reality, a person is only “free” to think as they dictate. Not so free after all.
So my “free-thinking” friends you are not as free as you flatter yourselves to be. You are but the servants of a very specific development of thought. You have encased yourselves in the limitations of constricted human reasoning. You have nothing greater than yourselves, thus you are your own cage. I guess you are free to be, but you really are not thinking freely. You have only freely chosen the ideology that you serve, and in the long run, you become its faithful slave.
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