Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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There are 4 entries for this date: Richard Strauss , Joseph Lewis , Robert Munsch and Hugh Laurie
Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss

On this date in 1864, composer Richard Strauss was born in Germany. Strauss began piano lessons at four, and composition by seven. He studied music and philosophy for two terms at Munich University, and launched into a life-long career as conductor. His teenage composition was influenced by the work of Robert Schumann. His piano quartet of 1884 was completed following a consultation with Johannes Brahms. But the adult Strauss was influenced by Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. He excelled in the tone poem (including "Also Sprach Zarathustra," setting to music Nietszche's and his own views), and opera. His opera, "Salome," 1905, based on the play by Oscar Wilde, was a sensation not just because of the "blasphemous" subject matter but because it was a musical stretch. Another Strauss opera was "Electra" (1909). His compositions include "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks," as well as Lieder. He wrote his first songs as a wedding present for his wife, Pauline von Ahna, whom he married in 1894. Strauss composed the Olympic Hymn for the 1936 games in Berlin. He was briefly appointed head of State Music (without his consultation) by the Third Reich. He was barred from working with his librettist, Stefan Zweig, who was Jewish, and it is believed he maintained silence about the Nazis in part because his grandchildren were part-Jewish. He received warnings about his private letters, which were screened by authorities. Strauss spent much of the war in Vienna, moving to Switzerland at the war's conclusion. He conducted for the final time when he turned 85. D. 1949.

“He did not believe in God, and he saw no spiritual dimension in his art.”

—-Alex Ross, The New York Times music critic and Strauss admirer (The New Yorker, Dec. 20, 1999). Cited by Warren Allen Smith, Who's Who in Hell

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Joseph Lewis

Joseph Lewis

On this date in 1889, Joseph Lewis was born in Montgomery, Ala., where he left school at age nine to find employment. Self-educated, he read Robert G. Ingersoll and Thomas Paine, his life-long "idol." Moving to New York City in 1920, Lewis became president of Freethinkers of America, a position he held his entire life. He started his own publishing house, the Freethought Press Association. His many books include The Tyranny of God (1921), Lincoln, the Freethinker (1925), Jefferson, the Freethinker (1925), The Bible Unmasked (1926), Franklin, the Freethinker (1926), Burbank, the Infidel (1929), Atheism, a collection of his public addresses (1930), Voltaire, the Incomparable Infidel (1929), The Bible and the Public Schools (1931), Should Children Receive Religious Instruction? (1933), The Ten Commandments (644 pages, 1946), Thomas Paine, Author of the Declaration of Independence (a 1947 book arguing that Paine deserved the credit for this document, followed by a play, The Tragic Patriot), and In the Name of Humanity (1949), which condemned circumcision. His book, An Atheist Manifesto, 1954, was his major treatise on freethought. Lewis expanded publishing in the 1930s with his subsidiary, Eugenics Publishing Company, specializing in books written by medical authorities for the general public on matters such as contraception. Lewis kept in print the sex manuals of pioneering birth control advocate William J. Robinson, M.D., and gave Marie Stopes' Married Love a wide American audience.

Lewis began publishing a bulletin, Freethinkers of America, in 1937, which was renamed Freethinker in the 1940s, and finally Age of Reason in the 1950s. Regular contributors included Franklin Steiner, Corliss Lamont and William J. Fielding. Lewis persuaded the government of France to erect a sculpture of Paine by Gutzon Borglum in Paris. Lewis also dedicated statues to Paine in Morristown, New Jersey, in 1950, and in front of Paine's place of birth in Thetford, England, in 1964. Lewis took numerous court cases to protect the separation of church and state, seeking punitive damages from New York's Trinity Church when it erected a plaque with a bogus prayer by George Washington (Lewis lost). He protested the addition of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and the issuance of Christmas stamps in the 1960s. Lewis broadcast freethought material over the radio when he lived in Miami, Florida. D. 1968.

"Atheism rises above creeds and puts Humanity upon one plane.
There can be no 'chosen people' in the Atheist philosophy.
There are no bended knees in Atheism;
No supplications, no prayers;
No sacrificial redemptions;
No 'divine' revelations;
No washing in the blood of the lamb;
No crusades, no massacres, no holy wars;
No heaven, no hell, no purgatory;
No silly rewards and no vindictive punishments;
No christs, and no saviors;
No devils, no ghosts and no gods."

—Joseph Lewis, "Atheist Rises Above Creeds," part of an address on atheism delivered at a symposium at Community Church, New York City, April 20, 1930. Atheism and Other Addresses by Joseph Lewis (1941)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robert Munsch

Robert Munsch

On this date in 1945, bestselling Canadian children’s author Robert Norman Munsch was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the fourth of nine children. Munsch earned a Bachelor’s in history from Fordham University (1969) and a Master’s in anthropology from Boston University (1971). For seven years, he studied in Boston to become a Catholic priest but gave this up, unable to “believe all the things he was expected to espouse” (Unitarian Church of Edmonton website, “The Theology of Robert Munsch,” by Brian Kiely, May 9). Instead, Munsch found himself drawn to work in orphanages and daycare centers. In the 1970s, he and his wife Ann Beeler, whom he met working in an orphanage, relocated to Canada and found work at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. One of his first children’s stories, Mud Puddle, was published in 1979. Munsch became a bestselling author in Canada, and his popularity grew in the United States with his book Love You Forever (1986). More than 55 of his books have been published. Some of his stories were adapted for a cartoon series, “Bunch of Munsch” (1991-1992). He regularly makes surprise appearances at daycares, libraries and schools to tell stories to children. Munsch became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1999, in recognition of “a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.” One of Munsch’s books, Giant; or Waiting for the Thursday Boat (1989), was banned in some places due to a story line deemed offensive to religion in which a character threatens to “pound god into applesauce.” According to the Unitarian Church of Edmonton website, Munsch is a Unitarian who attended the Unitarian Fellowship in Guelph “until the routine petered out when the kids got restless” (“The Theology of Robert Munsch,” by Brian Kiely, May 9, 2004). Munsch and his wife have three adopted children.

“My brief answer is that I am an atheist. . . . I’m not saying there isn’t a god, but there isn’t a god who cares about people. And who wants a god who doesn’t give a shit?”

—Robert Munsch, quoted in an article on the Unitarian Church of Edmonton website, “The Theology of Robert Munsch,” by Brian Kiely, May 9, 2004

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Hugh Laurie

Hugh Laurie

On this date in 1959, James Hugh Calum Laurie was born in Oxford, England. Laurie attended Eton College, where he competed in rowing, and later attended Cambridge University, where he studied anthropology. At Cambridge, Laurie joined the Footlights, Cambridge's student comedy society, where he met future collaborators Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry. He graduated in 1981 from Selwyn College, with a degree in anthropology and archaeology. After graduation, he worked on a variety of comic television projects in Britain. He had a recurring role in the third and fourth seasons of the popular UK sitcom "Blackadder" (1983-1989), and with Stephen Fry wrote and starred in the sketch comedy series "A Bit of Fry and Laurie" (1987-1995). During that time, Laurie also starred opposite Fry in the series "Jeeves and Wooster" (1990-1993), adapted from P.G. Wodehouse's novels. (Laurie played the bumbling Bertie Wooster and Fry played the butler, Jeeves.) Notable screen roles have included "Sense and Sensibility," screenplay by Emma Thompson (who also starred in it), paired opposite Imogen Stubbs, a frequent co-star (1995). Laurie, whose father was a medical doctor, is perhaps best known for his starring role on the U.S. drama series "House, M.D." (2004-present), the 7th season of which has aired in fall 2010 and spring 2011. On "House," Laurie plays an infectious disease specialist and brilliant diagnostician. In a significant departure from the upper-class British characters Laurie has played throughout most of his career, Dr. House has an American accent. Laurie and his wife, theater administrator Jo Green, have been married since 1989. They have three children. Laurie lives in Los Angeles for much of the year filming "House," but his family has remained in London. In 2011, Laurie released an album of Blues music recorded in New Orleans, entitled “Let Them Talk.” Laurie does vocals and piano for the album, collaborating with many famous Blues musicians. Laurie was raised Scottish Presbyterian, and continues to express an affinity for this background, despite now identifying as an atheist. He once told The Times [U.K.], “I admire the music, buildings and ethics of religion, but I come unstuck on the God thing” (March 29, 2008).

James Lipton: Do you share House's skepticism?

Hugh Laurie: [laughing] I do. Big chunks of it, yes. I'm not a religious man. Again, I think this is connected to my father. My father was religious oddly enough, but I nonetheless I suppose was impressed by [and] enamored of his devotion to medical science. I find I am a fan of science. I believe in science. A humility before the facts. I find that a moving and beautiful thing. And belief in the unknown I find less interesting. I find the known and the knowable interesting enough.

—Hugh Laurie in an interview on “Inside the Actors Studio,” July 31, 2006

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

If you would like to be placed on the "Daily Freethought" e-mail list to automatically receive the calendar notice, log in and edit your email settings (My Membership). Or, email  and include your first and last name with your request for verification purposes. This email service is limited to members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation or subscribers to Freethought Today. To become an FFRF member, click here.


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