What It Means to Be a Free Thinker
What intrigues me is what we’re becoming. Oasis is a community of freethought, made up of free thinking individuals, but free from what, and free to become what?
Free from Religion. The obvious go-to answer is free from religious dogma. But if you come from a religious background, you know it goes deeper than doctrine. Religion claims a lot for itself: to be the vehicle of transcendence and meaning, vocation, beauty, morality and compassion to name a few of its boasts. However, as anyone who has spent time outside of religion knows, transcendent experiences and compassion are expressions of being fully alive, for the religious and non-religious alike. Sure, religion may help some people find these things. But for others, it only gets in their way.
For me, as for most here at Oasis, religion was a barrier to an honest life. In my past as a Christian writer, religious publishers told me they couldn't sell anything that got too realistic. Plots that portrayed poverty or depression, say, or even stories set outside of America were off limits. And at church, fellow Christians would start squirming if the conversation veered in unexpected directions. At Oasis, on the other hand, I took a breath of fresh air. Here, we have the freedom to follow wherever creativity and the facts lead us.
I’ve taken in the vibrant colors and modern lines at Dennis’s art exhibits, I’ve enjoyed TC’s full voice as she sang “Coyote Wind” and read CB’s quirky fiction. I’ve discussed everything from black holes to transgender identity with the Oasis crowd, and a surprise to the artist in me – there is poetry and life in all of it, even subjects I’d written off as dry. I’ve seen the wide array of volunteer events and I've driven with Oasis friends to comfort friends in failing health. The full and meaningful lives being lived out in such a variety of ways just lights me up.
I've found my tribe at Oasis, but I've found so much more because free thought isn’t confined to freedom from religion. It means freedom to explore the human experience in all of its diversity. The full scope of what it means to be alive is not only expressed, lived out and discussed. It's encouraged.
Free from Societal Expectations. But free thought goes beyond the religion/atheism divide. It’s about thinking your way to a free life as well.
My teenage daughter, several months into the school year – coming home after seven hours of classwork to do several more hours of homework, and repeat – asked me with her head in her hands, “What’s the point of all of this?” Given that I spend my days in a fluorescent-lit office doing work that isn’t exactly exciting, I’m sympathetic.
I was reminded of the Mae West quote: “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” To be a free thinker means using all of our creativity to envision a life that goes beyond our culture’s routines and norms, at least if there is a more fulfilling way out there. In the end, we want to say, yes, yes, despite some rough patches, that was the life I wanted to live. How do we help our children live large enough so they learn and develop to their full potential without following a factory model of education, career and relationships? How do we live that way ourselves?
I haven’t cracked the code to these questions, but at Oasis I’ve met people who are finding ways to live their unique lives outside of the box, whether that means through homeschooling their children, working toward financial freedom or living in non-traditional relationships.
Free from Self-Imposed Barriers. We’re not confined, except to the extent we confine ourselves. And have we been open enough in what we’ve imagined for ourselves? The ultimate free thought question is this: as individuals and as a community, what are we capable of becoming if we allow ourselves freedom in both thought and action?