What is critical thinking, and why do we partake in it? That is a question which has been on my mind a lot. As someone who is strongly committed to the social justice movement, critical thinking is one of the best gifts that I can bring to our combined efforts to challenge interlocking systems of oppression. I am very interested in the degree to which we stress critical thinking, and the various issues, such as belief in God, that we give exemptions to.
The Foundation for Critical Thinking defines critical thinking as: “that mode of thinking–about any subject, content or problem–in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.”
I am deeply concerned by the tendency of some critical thinkers to be selective about the issues to which they apply their critical thinking abilities. What stands out to me the most about the definition offered by the Foundation for Critical Thinking is the emphasis that critical thinking should apply to “any subject, content, or problem.” I find inherent in that definition is the belief that there is no topic that is off limits to critical thinking.
I am very wary of those who abandon critical thinking, when it comes to certain matters. I have noticed that some people apply critical thinking to race, but abandon it when it comes to gender. I have noticed that some people apply critical thinking to gender, but abandon it when it comes to sexual orientation. I have noticed that some people apply critical thinking, when it comes to sexual orientation, but abandon it when it comes to religion or belief in God. I strongly believe that doing this undermines critical thought as a whole.
Being a critical thinker, and demanding “freedom in the village of life,” goes hand-in-hand in my opinion. I think we undermine the freedom of the village, when we give safe haven to certain issues. Abandoning critical thinking when it comes to certain issues amounts to leaving the gate open, allowing certain forces or factors to creep in without challenge, question or critique.
As an atheist, I am deeply committed to thinking critically about the alleged existence of God. I believe based on reason, evidence, and proof (the hallmarks of critical thinking in my opinion), that the God myth is an assertion at best and willful ignorance at worst. I have been shocked by the regularity with which people who are deeply committed to critical thinking on other issues abandon it when it comes to belief in God. I have heard repeated claims that the God assertion is off limits, above the limit, a different situation, too sensitive to discuss, and countless of other justifications for abandoning critical thought when it comes to the topic of his existence.
As atheist blogger Greta Christina states, “The God hypothesis is not a subjective experience like art or love. It is a question about what is or is not true in the real world. Why shouldn’t we apply rational thinking to that question?” We have a responsibility as critical thinkers to actively impose intellectual standards of thinking on the subject of God; it should not be given a free pass.
I have studied many social justice movements, and I have seen how these have has been undermined by some in the movement being selectively critical. In our effort to challenge and transform systems of oppression, we must be vigilantly critical of all issues and subjects. We can’t stress the importance of thinking critically only on topics that come to us with ease, especially when it comes to something as influential on society as the existence of God.