Rather than saying that 'a freethinker holds no ideology
', it maybe fairer to say that 'a freethinker holds no ideology unexamined, with unacknowledged and undefended premises
'. Like in Huxley's definition 'agnosticism', freethought too can be viewed as 'not a creed but a method
', where the method features techniques to examine any ideology that is presented for our consideration, either as an innovation or due to its inescapable prevalence in society. A casual waving aside of all ideology, and also all method, is Postmodernism rather than Freethought, which due to its emphasis on a method couldn't be farther from Postmodernism in this point.
It is true that even among some leading advocates of the global freethought movement, there is an opinion that the interest of the movement is best served not by uniting under an ideological banner (1
) but instead by inculcating the practice of our method to the extent possible amid people currently under any banner ( 1
A freethinker might however seemingly adopt an 'ideological position' due to the following considerations:
(i) If a particular stance passes muster in the rigorous process of rational examination and no demonstrable harm is found in adhering to it, then there is no reason to oppose a stance simply because it is an ideology.
'Humanism' may be considered an ideology with tenets like 'universal human rights'. It may even be criticized for limiting its considerations to the human species and hence guilty of 'speciesism'. However, since it is devoid of the supernatural and intent upon improving the human condition, a freethinker can indeed adhere to this stance (which may be formalized in a way that resembles other less acceptable ideologies).
(ii) Certain ideological positions which have deliberately been conflated with faith claims and misappropriated by certain institutions need to be reclaimed by freethinkers and they must participate in ideological debates to do so.
Consider feminism, which also occurs in such manifestations as 'Christian feminism' or 'Islamic feminism' which even if well-meaning, tend to limit (or at times distort) the terms of reference of the larger feminist movement to a more narrow focus on issues like the 'right to wear the hijab' or the 'right to undergo a life-threatening pregnancy on religious grounds'. For freethinkers to call for a reset of priorities and clarify that what maybe as urgent or more, is the 'right of women to NOT wear a hijab especially if they don't feel like it' and the 'right of women to freely exercise their autonomy in reproductive decisions without any associated social stigma', need to articulate an alternative feminist agenda, an agenda which in media discourse will inevitably be abstracted into an ideology. That our agenda maybe construed as a dogmatic ideological faith-like position, should not deter us from advancing our agenda itself!
(iii) Words pertaining to an ideology may be used, in the interest of garnering attention and 'consciousness-raising' in their 'popular' or 'political' sense rather than in their 'academic' sense and freethinkers must be willing to make pedantic concessions
. For instance, the label 'New Atheist' is a useful 'hashtag' of sorts for the recent upsurge in freethought discourse, and is as such embraced by supporters even as they acknowledge that they are still 'technically agnostic, Level 6 agnostics on the Dawkins scale'. An instance of this sometimes uncomfortable tradeoff between pedantic and political considerations can be found in the lengthy comment-trail of this article