Hyperbolically described by some as the “Bible Belt of South Africa”, the university town of Stellenbosch has more than 30 churches. At least two of these (one of which is arguably the most “popular” church) are pentecostal, often proudly embracing the label “fundamentalist”, with significant anti-science teachings. In a country where Christianity is assumed, where church and state were hand-in-pocket for a long time, where religion is still taught in public schools, and challenging people’s beliefs is often frowned upon, another player is preparing to run out on the field. With a small meeting last Friday, the ball was set in motion for the establishment of a freethinking society, that will hopefully play the noble and much needed role of defending science and critical thinking. May pseudo-science, superstitions and young earth creationism no longer go unchallenged in this town…
The group looks likely to become an affiliate of the Campus Freethought Alliance. Take a look at the CFA Affiliate Group Organizing Guide. What I really like about the CFA’s position, are little details like these: “The CFA respects the personal freedom and affirms the right and responsibility of persons to give meaning and shape to their own lives.”
Below are some highlights from the guide. All of it is “© 2001 Campus Freethought Alliance”, I assume duplicating it here constitutes “fair use”?
The CFA Minimum Statement:
The Campus Freethought Alliance (CFA) includes campus groups and individuals that promote rational thinking, defend and cultivate an individual’s right to unbelief, and enhance the presence of freethought, skepticism, science, and secular humanism on campuses worldwide. The CFA respects the personal freedom and affirms the right and responsibility of persons to give meaning and shape to their own lives. The CFA is an inclusive union that does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.
The CFA List of Purposes:
- To encourage freedom from superstition, irrationalism, and dogma.
- To further the acceptance and application of science, reason, and critical thinking in all areas of human endeavor.
- To challenge misrepresentations of non-religious convictions and lifestyles.
- To create a campus community for freethinkers and skeptics.
- To cultivate in ourselves — and others — a sense of responsibility to, and compassion for, humanity.
- To counter all forms of religious political extremism.
- To defend religious freedom and the separation of church and state.
- To defend individual freedoms and civil liberties for all persons, regardless of race, sex, gender, class, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability.
- To unite freethinkers, skeptics, and humanists and consolidate campus resources to these ends.
What is freethought?
The concept of “freethought” must be distinguished from the concept of “free thought.” Free thought is critical reflection that does not depend on appeals to tradition, authority, or dogmatically held positions. Many reflective people are free thinkers in this sense, including many religious believers. Freethought, however, is a historical tradition of thought and discourse that traces primarily back to the Enlightenment and combines free thought with doubt or disbelief regarding supernatural views, particularly traditional religions.
In fulfillment of its purposes, the CFA pursues various goals:
- Advancing the public understanding and appreciation of science
- Exposing pseudoscience
- Upholding the separation of church and state in public education
- Investigating claims of the paranormal
- Safeguarding the freedom of expression and opposing censorship
- Defending academic freedom
- Challenging academic fads and orthodoxy
- Debating the philosophy of science, skepticism, and theism
- Stimulating meaningful dialogue among religious and nonreligious students
- Exploring secular and humanist ethics
- Fighting racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, and heterosexism
- Constructing positive social networks for those who dissent and question
The Campus Freethought Alliance believes that these goals can often be best pursued by asking some fundamental questions: What are the effects of superstition and dogma on educational environments and on society in general? How can the ideals of freedom of thought and expression be realized in schools and colleges? How can students promote science, critical thinking, and humanistic values in our societies? How can we work to effect positive change in our societies and deal with pressing problems without recourse to a transcendent realm? Can we lead good and fulfilled lives without the belief in the supernatural?