In the "Peter pan, you're not a kid anymore" entry below, there is some good discussion in the comments section about free-thinking. It reminds me of the question why one would follow something [such as a religious decree] that just does not make logical sense? What happens if I want to do one act, but religion tells me to do it a different way or to abstain from it completely? This is not a life-friendly situation.
I sometimes come across free thinkers who give me a piece of their mind because my religious view has threatened their view. They tell me 1) they don't need religion, 2) they can think for themselves and that 3) they will do what they want based on their own judgments of what is right and what is wrong. Further, they'll reject any doctrine that does not agree with the way they have constructed their world. Through their own mind they have figured out the workings of the universe, its origin and its creation, and they have deduced how it applies to them in their decision whether to indulge or act according to the way they feel is the right way to act.
With the utmost respect to those good people with warm hearts and good intentions who try their best to understand a very complex world and to make the very best choices they can, my response is that I feel that one cannot make sound judgments without some measure of self-dealing. Try putting a three-year old in charge of the cookie jar or the chocolate fudge. How much do you want to bet that he will deal to himself a nice and satisfying portion and rationalize that he has done good by doing so? Advance him twenty years into the future when an attractive girl shows him some affection and wants to engage in intercourse with him. He can be as responsible as he wants, but as long as he is going by his own morals, how much do you want to bet that as long as there is no contravening thought of a higher order, he would indulge as quickly as he would have grabbed for the cookie twenty years earlier? And now he is in control of his life, so he has the freedom to pursue those pleasures and make them his prime goal in life. He would even work to make money to have the free time and financial independence so that he can pursue the things that give him pleasure.
But what if he has some morality? "Perhaps indulging is not the right answer", he thinks. He imagines how it would be the next morning when he would have to face her without the makeup when she asks him what the status is of their relationship. After all, she just gave herself to him. Or, what if he wants to err on the side of caution, not knowing what sort of sexually-transmitted disease might be lurking along with the pleasurable experience as a consequence; or, perhaps he just doesn't want to get her pregnant because society has a stigma about having children out of wedlock. These are deterrents for him and are things that would go through his head before he decides whether or not to take her hand in his and to bring her closer to him for the first kiss.
But we cannot deny that we live in a world without deterrents. Societies and cultures have their commandments, imposing on us how to act and how not to act, even in the privacy of our own homes. Everyone and everything tells us what we should or should not do. Even actors and directors shape how we act through the movies we watch. And there is not one belief system out there -- there are hundreds if not thousands of them. Most of us pick and choose according to what we feel is "right" (don't you mean what will give you the most pleasure and freedom and the fewest consequences?). "I'll follow this, but not that. I'll engage in this, but only so little." As far as I see it, our moral system is a risk-assessment with the intent to maximize our pleasure and minimize our pain. Like the child and the cookie jar, we choose with the intent to skew the odds of pleasure in our favor.
But what about those truly good-hearted people who do for others? Surely Mother Theresa wasn't helping people because it made her feel good. This is a bad example, she was serving her creator. How about you, the reader? Surely you are not selfish all the time, you think. You are a good person; you spend your life devoting it to help the sick, or to feed the hungry, or to teach the children. Why do you do the good acts you do? Are you self-motivated, are you holy and righteous, or are you allocating the pleasures of this world as a child would allocate the cookies and the fudge? If so, are you self-dealing? Would you like to self-deal?
I guess the important thought here is that we are all serving someone or something. Some serve themselves, others serve their Creator, and some serve the moral constructs they have pieced together from the endless mouths who scream their philosophies at the world. Nevertheless, we are all serving someone. Even you free thinkers are serving someone or something; perhaps you are slaves to your thoughts.
I am a free thinker too. Still, I will be the last to deny that I have been brainwashed by a religious dogmatic philosophy that uses the limits of my mental faculties to justify the existence of a greater good and higher being to whom I must follow because He said so and I will incur divine punishment if I disobey. Who would want to subscribe to such a sadistic philosophy? I would say that yes, I'm brainwashed, but as a free-thinker, I chose the detergent. I believe that Torah (the edicts and the lessons in the Old Testament and the document itself) tells the truth of the world and of existence, just as you believe that following your desires and your moral constructs is the truth of your world. I don't think we are both right; I think I have chosen correctly and you have chosen foolishly. If you ask me how I feel, I would probably say that I like your way better and I would love to live life your way. But I have been brainwashed into thinking that this divine contract is the truth of all truths, and by following this path and its morals, somehow I will live a better life than if I figured it all out for myself. Plus, here there's an instruction booklet with mountains of commentaries and explanations and opinions, all which describe within a range what is permissible and what is not.
I find it soothing that so many Torah giants have spent their lives trying to understand what the best way to live is, deriving their ideas from the letters within the Torah. Further, they have written down their discoveries and they have debated them with other truly G-d fearing people for thousands of years, and their arguments are documented.
As I learned when I was younger, to see the farthest, it is best for one to stand on the shoulders of giants. I too am self-dealing; but the cookie jar I chose is larger than I can ever imagine. In the law world, they say there is a seven-year track to becoming a partner of the law firm. In the Jewish world, there is a lifetime track to becoming a partner in creation.