These past several, post-election days have been surreal. I believe that in this moment, tense as it is and defined by sharp divisiveness, this is a fact Americans everywhere can agree on.
This surreality has given me pause to reflect on the meaning of freethinker, and of the responsibilities implied by that term. As an organized group united by the pursuit of rational inquiry, how do we, the Freethinkers of WWU, orient ourselves in times of uncertainty? I am reminded of the words of Kurt Vonnegut: "Persuasive guessing has been at the core of leadership for so long, for all of human experience so far, that it is wholly unsurprising that most of the leaders of this planet, in spite of all the information that is suddenly ours, want the guessing to go on. It is now their turn to guess and guess and be listened to. Some of the loudest, most proudly ignorant guessing in the world is going on in Washington today."
It is not my intent with this letter to tell you what to think. To do so would be antithetical to our club mission: "to facilitate open discussion and debate about topics related to faith and rational inquiry by providing a place where students of all philosophies can meet; by continually educating ourselves on the beliefs of others so we may speak from a position of knowledge."
I am writing simply to remind you of that mission, and to assure the community that Freethinkers is and will remain a space of rationality. We do not demand conformity in ideas. We demand only that ideas are consistently subjected to rigorous evaluation and criticism.
There is much speculation about what this election 'means' for Americans. Our leaders in the secular community are busy putting forth their best guesses. I urge you to seek these theories out, but to recognize them for the guesses they are. Our responsibility as Freethinkers is to keep our wits about us, because it is our wits that will pull us all through troubling times.
"We humanists," wrote Vonnegut, "serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community."
I urge you to reflect on the meaning of community. I urge you to treat every statement, every call to arms, every action, every piece of evidence that you may encounter which erodes the concept of community as a potential red herring. It is not my belief that community is necessarily synonymous with unity. The strength of communities need not be judged by the degree to which their members agree. In fact, I believe the strongest communities are the ones in which conflict is encouraged and homogeneity discouraged. These communities are strong, not because they unfairly demand mutual respect between dissenters, but because they can tolerate ambiguity. To withstand uncertainty, to thrive on nuance, and to depend on skepticism – these are the constituents of creative problem solving. No ideas are sacred or immune to criticism or inherently deserving of respect. We must remember that this is true of even our own, most dearly-held convictions.
My hope is that, in the weeks to come, we can unite under the tenets of freethought to arrive at a consensus on how we will respond to this election. There are many areas of concern. As secularists, we may be skeptical of Ben Carson's qualifications as a potential secretary of education. As humanists, we may have questions about president-elect Trump’s treatment of minority and disadvantaged groups. As pragmatists, we may wonder about the societal ramifications of changes to national health care policies. If, like me, you were caught off-guard by the outcomes of this election, take this opportunity to reaffirm your commitment to searching for truth. Consider it your most meaningful contribution, and consider it also your duty to your community.
Please join us Wednesdays from 4:00-5:00pm in Miller Hall 239 to lend your voice to our discussions.
Samantha Hansen President, Freethinkers of WWU