Freethought of the Day

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There are 3 entries for this date: Henry David Thoreau , Phillip Adams and Pablo Neruda
Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

On this date in 1817, Henry David Thoreau was born in Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University in 1837, taught briefly, then turned to writing and lecturing. Becoming a Transcendentalist and good friend of Emerson, Thoreau lived the life of simplicity he advocated in his writings. His two-year experience in a hut in Walden, on land owned by Emerson, resulted in the classic, Walden: Life in the Woods (1854). During his sojourn there, Thoreau refused to pay a poll tax in protest of slavery and the Mexican war, for which he was jailed overnight. His activist convictions were expressed in the groundbreaking On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849). Thoreau liked to quote Ennius: "I say there are gods, but they care not what men do." In a diary he noted his disapproval of attempts to convert the Algonquins "from their own superstitions to new ones." In a journal he noted drily that it is appropriate for a church to be the ugliest building in a village, "because it is the one in which human nature stoops to the lowest and is the most disgraced." (Cited by James A. Haught in 2000 Years of Disbelief.) When Parker Pillsbury sought to talk about religion with Thoreau as he was dying from tuberculosis, Thoreau replied: "One world at a time." D. 1862.

“Your church is a baby-house made of blocks.”

—Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,1849

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Phillip Adams

Phillip Adams

On this date in 1939, Australian broadcaster and film producer Phillip Andrew Hedley Adams was born in Maryborough, Victoria, Australia. His father was a Congregational Church minister. Adams stayed with his mother after his parents separated when he was young. Adams produced (and wrote and directed) his first film, “Jack and Jill,” in 1970. He produced nine other films through the 1980s. He shifted into broadcasting in the 1980s when he became the host of “Late Night Live,” an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) radio program, where he has since remained. He has chaired the Australian Film Institute, the Film and Television Board of the Australian Council, the Australian Film Commission and Film Australia. He headed an Australian delegation for the Cannes Film Festival, helped establish the first Australian television captioning service for the hearing impaired and launched the Travelling Film Festival, which brought films to rural regions. Adams chaired the Commission for the Future, which won accolades from the United Nations in 1988 for raising awareness of climate change in Australia. He has served on the boards of Greenpeace, CARE Australia, and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, among many others. He is the author (or editor) of numerous books, including Adams Versus God (1985). He became a member of the Order of Australia in 1987, and an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1992. Adams has written for The Australian since the 1960s, often sparking heated debate for his leftist political views. In the early 1980s, he co-founded Australian Skeptics. The Australian government awarded him the Human Rights Medal in 2006. He received the United Nations Media Award in 2005. The Council of Australian Humanist Societies awarded him the Australian Humanist of the Year in 1987. He also holds honorary doctorates from four universities. Adams has four daughters. He and his wife, Patrice Newell, split their time between a cattle ranch in New South Wales and a home in Sydney.

“When I was five, I discovered I couldn't believe in god . . . She never answered my calls! My father was a professional god-botherer, my grandparents were Christians, I was surrounded by standard outer suburban Christianity . . . I wanted to believe, but I just couldn't — I found the whole idea redundant.”

—Phillip Adams in his bio on the ABC website, July 19, 2006

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda

On this date in 1904, Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto was born in Parral, Chile. He grew up in Temuco, Chile. His first poems were published under the pen name Pablo Neruda in 1918, in a Santiago magazine. His first widely-read book, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada) was published in 1924, when Neruda was twenty years old. In 1927, he was made honorary consul of Chile to Rangoon in honor of his accomplishments in poetry. His work as an official representative of Chile continued, and he was sent to Spain in 1934, where he became involved with the revolutionaries and the republican cause. He was recalled to Chile in 1937, where he became deeply involved in local politics. In 1945, he joined the Communist Party and was elected to the Senate, fleeing the country three years later when the party was banned by the government. Neruda continued to travel the world, first in exile and after he was allowed to return to Chile in 1952. During this period, much of his poetry was political in nature, including the famous Canto general (General Song), an epic of the New World, which connected the Americas’ origins and conquest to their current political state.

Neruda was a confirmed communist, and was even awarded the Stalin Peace Prize and Lenin Peace Prize in 1953. He stated some philosophical views in his poetry, for example describing himself in his poem “A Dog Has Died” (“Un perro ha muerto”) as “I, the materialist, who never believed / in any promised heaven in the sky / for any human being.” He ran for president of Chile in 1969 as the Communist candidate, but withdrew in favor of Salvador Allende, the candidate of the unified left. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1970, but went on to represent Chile as ambassador to France. In 1971, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. He survived his friend, President Allende, by only twelve days, dying on Sept. 23, 1973. Eight books of his poetry which he had planned on publishing on his seventieth birthday were published posthumously. D. 1973.

Religion in the East

There in Rangoon I realized that the gods
were enemies, just like God,
of the poor human being.
Gods
in alabaster extended
like white whales,
gods gilded like spikes,
serpent gods entwining
the crime of being born,
naked and elegant buddhas
smiling at the cocktail party
of empty eternity
like Christ on his horrible cross,
all of them capable of anything,
of imposing on us their heaven,
all with torture or pistol
to purchase piety or burn our blood,
fierce gods made by men
to conceal their cowardice,
and there it was all like that,
the whole earth reeking of heaven,
and heavenly merchandise.

—"Religion in the East" (Religion en el Este) from Memorial of Isla Negra [Memorial de Isla Negra] (1964), trans. by Anthony Kerrigan in Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda [Houghton Mifflin, 1990]

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.

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