Many atheists like to present themselves as “free thinkers”, unencumbered by ideology, confession or creed, in contrast to their religionist neighbors. Consider, for example, the venerable organization American Atheists which was founded way back in 1963 to defend the civil liberties of atheists. Under the section of their website titled “Aims and Purposes” the organization defines “atheism” as
“the mental attitude which unreservedly accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a life-style and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds.” (emphasis added)
The irony of the declaration is rather glaring, for this entire page is devoted to laying out a long list of beliefs that are expectations for finding one in agreement with American Atheists. For starters, American Atheists is
“dedicated to the complete and absolute separation of state and church, accepting the explanation of Thomas Jefferson that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was meant to create a “wall of separation” between state and church.”
And that’s merely the preamble! Next, the document outlines eight bulleted points of shared belief including
“to develop and propagate a social philosophy in which humankind is central and must itself be the source of strength, progress, and ideals for the well-being and happiness of humanity”
“to promote the study of the arts and sciences and of all problems affecting the maintenance, perpetuation, and enrichment of human (and other) life;”
Next, the document defines “atheism” (see above) and then adds to it an additional long paragraph defining the organization’s beliefs about “Materialism”. That long paragraph begins like this:
“Materialism declares that the cosmos is devoid of immanent conscious purpose; that it is governed by its own inherent, immutable, and impersonal laws; that there is no supernatural interference in human life; that humankind — finding their resources within themselves — can and must create their own destiny.”
The message is clear. If you want to join with American Atheists you need to share similar views of materialism and atheism, a humanist social philosophy, a view of the separation of church and state, and so on.
The only difference between this document and the creeds and confessions of the Christians is that the Christians haven’t deluded themselves into thinking they are non-confessional, unencumbered free thinkers. The fact is that everybody has a confessional framework in which they work. And the first step toward true free thought is coming to terms with that fact.