Free thinker

Free thinker
A generic depiction of a "free thinker", as one who is willing to broach his or her own path, in search of truth, at all costs, including disbandment from the group, society, or one's country; the solo person is exemplified by John Toland, who was forced to flee Ireland, for publishing his controversial Christianity Not Mysterious, which was burned in Ireland by the local hangman, for whom the term "freethinker" (Molyneux, 1697) was first used.
In terminology, free thinker, or "freethinker", depending, is someone who thinks freely about things, without regard to consequences; particularly those concerning deeply held ideas, such as those professed by religions; one "willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs" (Tolstoy, c.1890). Term was first used in English by William Molyneux (1697) in reference to John Toland, and his controversial Christianity Not Mysterious, in letter discussion with John Locke.

In 1696, John Toland published Christianity Not Mysterious, wherein the Bible was read in a new critical mode, which included the most doubting aspects of John Locke's philosophy; the publication was said to have started the "deist controversy" (see: deism); the book was burned in Ireland in 1697 and Toland had to flee the country. [1]

On 24 Dec 1697, Irish natural philosopher William Molyneux (1656-1698) (Ѻ), in a letter to John Locke, referred to Toland as a “candid freethinker”, as follows: [2]

“In my last to you, there was a passage relating to the author of Christianity Not Mysterious. I did not then think he was so near me as within the bounds of this city; but I find since that he has come over hither, and have had the favor of a visit from him. I now understand that he was born in this country, but that he has been a great while abroad, and his education was for some time under the great Le Clerc. But that for which I can never honor him too much, is his acquaintance and friendship to you, and the respect which upon all occasions he expresses for you. I take a great deal of satisfaction in his conversation. I take him to be a candid freethinker, and a good scholar. But there is a violent sort of spirit which reigns here, which begins already to show itself against him, and I believe will increase daily, for I find the clergy alarmed to a mighty degree against him. And last Sunday he had his welcome to this city, by hearing himself harangued against out of the pulpit, by a prelate of this country.”

This, as is generally cited, was the first English usage of the term “free thinker”. [3] There is, of note, a prevalent amount of literature mis-citation (e.g. Hecht, 2003), dating to the late 20th century, stating that Locke was the one that “coined” the term freethinker, in reference to Toland, which, as the above letter (in full) evidences, is not the case. [5] The letter exchange, between Molyneux and Locke, on Toland, continues as follows:

“For the man I wish very well, and could give you, if needed, proofs that I do so. And, therefore, I desire you to be kind to him; but I must leave it to your prudence in what way and how far. For it will be his fault alone, if he proves not a very valuable man, and have not you for his friend.”
John Locke (c.1698) “Letter to William Molyneux”, c. Jan (Ѻ)

“I look upon Mr. Toland as a very ingenuous man, and I should be very glad of any opportunity of doing him service, to which I think myself indispensably bound by your recommendation.”
— William Molyneux (c.1698) “Letter to John Locke”, c. Jan (Ѻ)

“He has had his opposers here, as you will find by a book which I have sent to you. The author (Peter Brown) is my acquaintance, but two things I shall never forgive in his book: the one is the foul language and opprobrious names he gives Mr. Toland ; the other is upon several occasions, calling in the aid of the civil magistrate, and delivering up Mr. Toland to secular punishment. This, indeed, is a killing argument, but some will be apt to say, that where the strength of his reason failed him, then he flies to the strength of his sword. And this reminds me of a business that was very surprising to many, the presentment of some pernicious books and their authors by the grand jury of Middlesex. This is looked upon as a matter of dangerous consequence, to make our civil courts judges of religious doctrines; and no one knows upon a change of affairs whose turn it may be next to be condemned. But the example has been followed in this country, and Mr. Toland and his book have been presented here by a grand jury, not one of whom I am persuaded ever read one leaf in Christianity Not Mysterious. Let the Sorbonne forever now be silent ! A learned grand jury, directed by as learned a judge, does the business much better. The Dissenters here were the chief promoters of this matter, but, when I asked one of them 'What if a violent Church of England jury should present Mr. Baxter's books as pernicious, and condemn them to the flames, by the common executioner,' he was sensible of the error, and said he wished it had never been done.”
— William Molyneux (c.1698) “Letter to John Locke”, c. Jan (Ѻ)

“The Dissenters had best consider; but they are a sort of men which will always be the same.”
— John Locke (c.1698) “Letter to William Molyneux”, c. Jan (Ѻ)

“Mr. Toland is at length driven out of our kingdom; the poor gentleman at last wanted a meal's meat, and the universal outcry of the clergy ran so strong against
him, that none durst admit him to their tables. The little stock of money which he had was soon exhausted, he fell to borrowing, and to complete his hardships, the
Parliament fell on his book, voted it to be burnt by the common hangman, and ordered the author to be taken into custody by the Sergeant-at-Arms, and to be prosecuted by the Attorney General. Hereupon he is fled out of this kingdom, and none here knows where he has directed his course.”
— William Molyneux (c.1698) “Letter to John Locke”, c. Jan (Ѻ)

In 1713, Anthony Collins published his Discourse of Freethinking, Occasioned by the Rise and Growth of a Sect called Freethinkers, after which the term “free thinker” went into common usage; Collins usage, to note, was that of an anti-atheism position; to exemplify: [5]

Ignorance is the foundation of atheism, and freethinking the cure of it.”

Free thought, and being a "free thinker", contrary to Collins usage, however, has generally, in the following centuries, been a liberal atheism synonym.

Leo Tolstoy (freethinker) 4s

The following are related quotes:

“I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free, so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject), as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it.”
Charles Darwin (1877), on his own intelligence and ability (Ѻ)(Ѻ)

Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking. A man may be a Catholic, a Frenchman, or a capitalist, and yet be a freethinker; but if he put his Catholicism, his patriotism, or his interest, above his reason, and will not give the latter free play where those subjects are touched, he is not a freethinker. His mind is in bondage.”
Leo Tolstoy (c.1890) (Ѻ)(Ѻ) [6]

Buchner's Force and Matter also became the Bible of a new movement, ‘free thinking’, otherwise known as atheism.”
Howard Bloom (2012), The God Problem (pg. #)

1. (a) Toland, John. (1696). Christianity Not Mysterious. Sam Buckley.
(b) Hecht, Jennifer M. (2003). Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas (pg. 335). HarperOne.
(c) Christianity not Mysterious – Wikipedia.
2. Molyneux, William. (1697). “Letter to John Locke” (Ѻ), Dec 24.
3. (a) Berman, David. (1992). “Disclaimers as Offence Mechanisms in Charles Berman and John Toland”, in: Atheism: from the Reformation to the Enlightenment (editors: Michael Hunter and David Wootton) (pg. 255). The Clarendon Press.
(b) Author. (2007). “Freethought”, in: The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (pg. 343; note: date cited his 24 Dec 1695 [likely a typo]). Prometheus Books.
(c) Author. (2003). “Article”, in: New Catholic Encyclopedia, Ead-Fre (pg. 966; date given is 1697; note: other sources give 1697). Thomson/Gale.
4. (a) Toland, John, McGuiness, Philip, Harrison, Alan, and Kearney, Richard. (1997). John Toland's Christianity not Mysterious: Text, Associated Works and Critical Essays (pg. 285). Lilliput Press.
(b) Hecht, Jennifer M. (2003). Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas (pg. 335). HarperOne.
5. Collins, Anthony. (1713). Discourse of Freethinking, Occasioned by the Rise and Growth of a Sect called Freethinkers (quote, pg. 105). Publisher.
6. Tolstoy, Leo. (1943). On Life and Essays on Religion (translator: add). Publisher, 1950.

External links
Freethought – Wikipedia.

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