It seems a nice endeavor, the ‘best thing to do’. But is it even possible at an individual level?
Is anyone ‘free to believe’?
Let’s agree that you don’t believe in the existence of unicorns. Are you then ‘free to believe’ in them? Can you take a conscious decision to believe in such? I cannot and almost certainly you cannot. So, to be ‘free to believe’ is not immediately evident. It would be so if ‘believing’ would be the direct result of a conscious decision.
But it isn’t.
So it is with unicorns and so it is with any ‘thing’ to believe in, including a bearded God on a mountain etc.
There is science to take care of bearded unicorns or whatever…
or whatever, indeed, ‘thing’ that can be proven or disproven. Science – though itself always imperfect – is just the best we’ve got for the job. Where science is appropriate, it is a bazillion times more appropriate than non-science. ‘Appropriate’ here is: lying within the borders of conceptualization.
For example, saying that ‘God exists’ conceptualizes <God> and <to exist>.
Does it? In any case, inasmuch as it does, it’s a subject for science. At the other side, inasmuch as it doesn’t, one doesn’t ‘know’ what one is talking about.
The end of ‘knowing’ is the start of ‘believing’.
By definition, a belief (in any ‘thing’) is never a certainty. Science too is never about certainties, but to a very different degree / quality. Frequently however, the experiences of believer and scientist are exactly the reverse of this:
- The scientist knows he doesn’t know.
- The believer believes he does know…
… thereby losing the distinction between believing and knowing: one cannot know by believing. Eventually, one can only not be free – one way or another – to believe in any ‘thing’. Concretely, this can be realized by, for instance, an indoctrination – gentle or less gentle – starting from birth. Science shows that such an indoctrination can be very powerful in any direction. Of course, this includes the direction of science itself. A religious person may thus be skeptical to science, but no more than to his own religion. In his skeptical balance, he should go all the way through.
Which is real ‘freedom of religion’:
the freedom to be skeptical, at all times and by any means. Any religion that diminishes this freedom is itself against ‘freedom of religion’.
Thus, if this kind of freedom is an ideal to you, the following is part of the bargain:
Freedom of religion = freedom from any religion that contradicts the former.
THIS is Western enlightenment: the ‘freedom to be skeptical’. I repeat with emphasis: there is no ‘freedom of religion’ without it. For the sake of any concerned individual, this is what lies in the balance: individual freedom. This freedom is not ‘to believe anything’. Such freedom is impossible anyway.
‘Freedom of religion’ has of course also another (very different) meaning: the freedom to exert the actions that belong to one’s belief, which itself has not therefore been freely chosen. [see ‘Secular Society’].