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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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Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche

On this date in 1844, Friedrich Nietzsche was born in a town near Leipzig, Germany. "Fritz" was the son of a Lutheran minister who died when Friedrich was four, and the grandson of two Lutheran pastors. At age 20, he wrote his sister that one could choose consolation in faith, or pursue the truth no matter where it led. During a stint of mandatory military service, he suffered a serious chest injury. He then enrolled at the University of Leipzig, where he met and became friends with Wagner and Wagner's wife. The brilliant student was given his Ph.D. without an examination, and joined the faculty of the University of Basel at age 24. Working as a hospital attendant during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, Nietzsche's health was permanently weakened when he came down with diphtheria and dysentery. His first book, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), was written when he was 28. It was followed by Human, All-Too-Human (1878-80), which ended his friendship with Wagner. Nietzsche resigned from his University position due to health problems. His outpouring of books includes: Daybreak (1881), The Gay Science (1882), in which he wrote "God is dead," Thus Spake Zarathrustra (1883-91), which he considered his most significant work, Beyond Good and Evil (1886), On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), which critiqued the priesthood, Twilight of the Idols (1888), The Case against Wagner (1888), in which he wrote that he "declares war" on the decadent composer who had turned back to religion, and The Antichrist (1888).

In 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown from which he never recovered, and was nursed by his mother and sister for the remaining seven years of his life. It is widely speculated that the ascetic philosopher, whose two marriage proposals had been rejected, might have contracted syphilis as a young man. Nietzsche was also on many medications for migraines and illness, and might have suffered a drug reaction. He did not live long enough to see his vast influence as one of the most respected thinkers of modern times. Nietzsche is often falsely credited with fueling Nazism by his concept of the ubermensch. He was not an anti-Semite, although he did not spare Judaism his trenchant criticisms any more than he spared Christianity. Nor was he a nationalist or militarist. (His sister, Frau Foerster-Nietzsche, who was an anti-Semite, forged 30 letters and put words into the mouth of her brother in compiling The Will to Power from manuscripts after his death.) In Thus Spake Zarathrustra, Nietzsche described his "higher man" as one who overcomes superstition: "I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes!" D. 1900.

“After coming into contact with a religious man, I always feel I must wash my hands.”
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Why I Am a Destiny, 1888
“Great intellects are skeptical.”
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, 1888
“There is not sufficient love and goodness in the world to permit us to give some of it away to imaginary beings.”
-- Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All-Too-Human, 1878
“Christianity as antiquity. -- When we hear the ancient bells growling on a Sunday morning we ask ourselves: Is it really possible! This, for a Jew, crucified two thousand years ago, who said he was God's son? The proof of such a claim is lacking. Certainly the Christian religion is an antiquity projected into our times from remote prehistory; and the fact that the claim is believed -- whereas one is otherwise so strict in examining pretensions -- is perhaps the most ancient piece of this heritage. A god who begets children with a mortal woman; a sage who bids men work no more, have no more courts, but look for the signs of the impending end of the world; a justice that accepts the innocent as a vicarious sacrifice; someone who orders his disciples to drink his blood; prayers for miraculous interventions; sins perpetrated against a god, atoned for by a god; fear of a beyond to which death is the portal; the form of the cross as a symbol in a time that no longer knows the function and ignominy of the cross -- how ghoulishly all this touches us, as if from the tomb of a primeval past! Can one believe that such things are still believed?”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All-Too-Human, 1878

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

John Kenneth Galbraith

John Kenneth Galbraith

On this date in 1908, John Kenneth Galbraith was born in Iona Station, Ontario, Canada. He earned his B.S. at the University of Toronto in 1931 and his M.S. there in 1933. He received his doctorate at the University of California in 1934. Galbraith taught there and at Princeton before joining Harvard's faculty. He was Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus at Harvard, where he retired in 1975. His first bestseller was The Affluent Society, 1958, a warning about U.S. inattention to social welfare, which was followed by The New Industrial State (1967) and Economics and the Public Purpose (1973). His other books include many on economics, as well as Annals of an Abiding Liberal (1979), and A Life in Our Times (1981). During World War II, Galbraith was in charge of wartime price control, and was given the Medal of Freedom in 1946. A Democrat, he campaigned for Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956, was ambassador to India for two years under John Kennedy, and was an adviser and speechwriter to JFK, Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. Galbraith was an early critic of the Vietnam War. He was married to Catherine Atwater and they had three sons. The American Humanist Association named Galbraith Humanist of the Year in 1985. D. 2006.

“I have managed most of my life to exclude religious speculation from my mode of thought. I've found that, on the whole, it adds very little to economics.”

—John Kenneth Galbraith, "What I've Learned," Esquire, January 2002

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

P.G. Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse

On this date in 1881, humorist Pelman Grenville ("Plum") P.G. Wodehouse was born. He lived with his parents in Hong Kong as a toddler, then was sent to be cared for by aunts in England. Wodehouse (pronounced "Woodhouse") was educated at Dulwich College. His first novel was published when he was 21 in 1902. The humorist, who wrote for Punch and other magazines, introduced the characters of the foppish, foolish Bertie Wooster and his invaluable valet, Jeeves, in The Man with Two Left Feet (1917). The series Wodehouse wrote about the pair became favorites with Bertrand Russell, among other famous fans. In addition to his 120 books, Wodehouse occasionally moonlighted as a lyricist, writing the words for the song "Bill" in "Showboat," for instance. Living in Le Touquet, France, at the outbreak of World War II, Wodehouse was captured by Germans and interned for more than a year in France and Berlin. At the urging of fellow prisoners, he agreed to give light-hearted and innocuous interviews broadcast by the Germans, poking fun at his plight. The interviews were met with cries of treason in England, although his many defenders there included George Orwell. He moved to the United States, became a citizen in 1955, and was knighted in England in 1975. Like many humorists, Wodehouse, known as "English literature's performing flea," was not religious. Biographer Robert McCrum (Wodehouse: A Life, 2004) writes that Wodehouse was "agnostic towards matters of faith." D. 1975.

“'It is a strange religion,' he murmured. 'A strange religion, indeed.'”

—P.G. Wodehouse's story, "The Coming of Gowf," 1960

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

On this date in 1917, Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr., was born in Columbus, Ohio. He graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude in 1938, when he was 20. He was a historian who was interested in liberal politics and the American presidency and who wrote more than 20 books including The Age of Jackson (1945), The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom (1949) and The Cycles of American History (1986). He became an associate professor at Harvard in 1946, but resigned to serve as a special assistant to John F. Kennedy until Kennedy's death in 1963. In 1965, he published a book about his time at the White House: A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, which received the 1966 Pulitzer Prize and the 1965 National Book Award. Schlesinger also won the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Jackson (1946). He married Marian Cannon in 1940 and the two had four children: Stephen, Katharine, Christina and Andrew. After their divorce in 1970, Schlesinger married Alexandra Emmet in 1971 and they had one son, Robert.

Schlesinger described himself as "agnostic" in Robert Kennedy and His Times (1978). In a blurb for the book Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (2004) by Susan Jacoby, Schlesinger gave his support for freethought and the separation of state and church. He wrote: "In view of the tide of religiosity engulfing a once secular republic, it is refreshing to be reminded by Freethinkers that free thought and skepticism are robustly in the American tradition. After all, the Founding Fathers began by omitting God from the American Constitution." D. 2007

"As a historian, I confess to a certain amusement when I hear the Judeo-Christian tradition praised as the source of our concern for human rights. In fact, the great religious ages were notable for their indifference to human rights in the contemporary sense. They were notorious not only for acquiescence in poverty, inequality, exploitation and oppression but for enthusiastic justifications of slavery, persecution, abandonment of small children, torture, genocide."

—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "The Opening of the American Mind," The New York Times, 1989.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© 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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