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: Bill Hicks , George Santayana , Ludwig van Beethoven and Arthur C. Clarke
Bill Hicks

Bill Hicks

On this date in 1962, standup comedian and social critic William Melvin Hicks was born in Valdosta, Ga., to parents Jim and Mary Hicks (née Reese). Hicks’ family, which included his older siblings Lynn and Steve, lived in Florida, Alabama and New Jersey before settling in Houston when Hicks was seven. The neighborhood was strictly Southern Baptist. At age 12, Hicks began performing as a comedy duo with his friend Dwight Slade. By 13, Hicks had already begun standup gigs, the first of which was at a church camp talent show. In high school, when he wasn’t performing a routine for his high school classes, Hicks became a staple of the Comedy Workshop in Houston, and later with the Texas Outlaw Comics. After graduating high school, Hicks moved to Los Angeles, playing gigs and making a number of television appearances. In 1982, Hicks founded the Absolute Creative Entertainment Production Company, which later became Sacred Cow. Hicks appeared on Rodney Dangerfield’s “Young Comedians Special” in 1987. He moved to New York City, performing 300 times a year over the next five years. Hicks inspired a devoted following in the UK and Ireland, winning the Critics’ Award at the Edinburgh Festival. In 1992, Hicks moved to L.A., continuing to gig prolifically. He was voted “Hot Standup Comic” by Rolling Stone magazine in 1993, though his material was controversial. His 12th and final “Letterman Show” appearance was cut due to his attacks on antiabortionists, becoming the first comedy act to be banned at CBS’s Ed Sullivan Theatre. Still in his prime, Hicks died tragically of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the age of 32. Following his death, he acquired a substantial cult following, voted by comedians and fans alike to be one of the greatest standup comedians of all time.

To many, Hicks’ legacy is more than that of a comedian, but of a much-needed iconoclast. His routine critiqued orthodoxy—mainstream society, religion, politics, consumerism, superficiality and bureaucracy. His style of comedy was angry, dark and confrontational, a means to expose truths the system made to “keep people stupid and apathetic.” But his philosophy was idealistic, that life is just a ride, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, and that people ought to live their lives with the purpose of enhancing the human condition. “Listen, the next revolution is gonna be a revolution of ideas. A bloodless revolution. And if I can take part in it by transforming my own consciousness, then someone else’s, I’m happy to do it.” Though Hicks grew up Southern Baptist, he was always a freethinker. When his father would say that he believed the bible was the literal word of God, Hicks replied, “You know, some people believe that they're Napoleon. That's fine. Beliefs are neat. Cherish them, but don't share them like they're the truth” (American Scream: The Bill Hicks Story, 2002). D. 1994.

“The whole image is that eternal suffering awaits anyone who questions God's infinite love. That's the message we're brought up with, isn't it? Believe or die! Thank you, forgiving Lord, for all those options.”

—— Bill Hicks’ posthumously released album “Rant in E-Minor” (1997)

Compiled by Noah Bunnell

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

George Santayana

George Santayana

On this date in 1863, philosopher George Santayana was born in Madrid, Spain, where he was schooled in Roman Catholicism before immigrating with his parents to the United States at age nine in 1872. Santayana earned a Ph.D in philosophy at Harvard University in 1886 and joined the faculty from 1889 until 1912. His first book was Sonnets and Other Verses (1894), followed by his eloquent philosophical works: The Sense of Beauty (1896), The Life of Reason (1905-6), Skepticism and Animal Faith (1923), and the 4-volume The Realms of Being (1927-1940). Santayana wrote one novel, The Last Puritan (1935), which proved popular. His final work was Domination and Power (1951). He resigned from Harvard to travel abroad and never returned to the United States. He lived a secluded life and died in Rome at age 88. "My atheism, like that of Spinoza, is true piety toward the universe and denies only gods fashioned by men in their own image, to be servants of their human interests." "On My Friendly Critics," Soliloquies in England (1922). "We should have to abandon our vested illusions, our irrational religions and patriotisms," he wrote in The Life of Reason: Reason in Art (1906). "The fact of having been born is a bad augury for immortality," Santayana quipped in The Life of Reason. "Wisdom comes from disillusionment," he wrote in Reason in Common Sense. He sagely observed in Reason in Religion: "What religion a man shall have is a historical accident, quite as much as what language he shall speak." "That fear first created the gods is perhaps as true as anything so brief could be on so great a subject," he wrote in Reason and Common Sense. D. 1952.

"No religion has ever given a picture of deity which men could have imitated without the grossest immorality."

—George Santayana, Little Essays, No. 24, "Pathetic Notions of God"

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

On this date in 1770, composer Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, into a Roman Catholic family. After working as an assistant organist, he studied in Vienna under Haydn. Beethoven was an admirer of Goethe who rejected Christianity in favor of a pantheistic viewpoint. When his friend Moscheles returned a manuscript to Beethoven with the words "With God's help" on it, Beethoven reportedly wrote instead: "Man, help thyself." (Cited in A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists by Joseph McCabe.) Biographer and friend A. Schindler wrote that Beethoven was "inclined to Deism." Although he received Catholic ministrations at the insistence of religious friends, Beethoven reportedly said in Latin, after the priest left: "Applaud, friends; the comedy is over." (Nohl, Beethoven's Brevier, 1870). In his Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography, Sir G. MacFarren described Beethoven as "a free thinker." According to McCabe, the Catholic Encyclopedia chose to omit Beethoven. "Ode to Joy," in his 9th Symphony, sets to music the humanistic words of Schiller. D. 1827.

“There is no record of his ever attending church service or observing the orthodoxy of his religion. He never went to confession. . . . Generally he viewed priests with mistrust.”

—George Marek, Beethoven: Biography of a Genius (1969), cited by James Haught in 2,000 Years of Disbelief

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Arthur C. Clarke

On this date in 1917, science fiction writer and inventor Arthur C. Clarke was born in Minehead, Somerset, England. A stargazer as a boy, he could not afford to attend university. He became a radar specialist for the Royal Air Force during World War II. Clarke earned a first-class degree in math and physics in 1948 at King's College, London. He was the first to propose, in a technical paper in 1945, that geostationary satellites could make telecommunication relays, which later won him the 1982 Marconi International Fellowship and many other honors. After selling science fiction throughout the 1940s, Clarke was writing fulltime by 1951. In 1954, Clarke suggested satellite applications for weather forecasting to the U.S. Weather Bureau. He turned from the stars to underwater exploration, concentrating on the coast of Sri Lanka, where he has lived since 1956.

His most famous work was the screenplay for the 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clarke has served as chair of the British Interplanetary Society. His TV programs included "Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World" (1981) and "Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers" (1984). He co-broadcast Apollo 11, 12 and 15 missions with Walter Cronkite and CBS News. He had been wheelchair-bound since 1988 with post-polio syndrome. A lifelong nonbeliever, he refused to accept the "Church of England" affiliation put on his dogtag by the RAF, and insisted they change it to "pantheist." He told London Times reporter Mark Nuttal (Aug. 4, 1992): "I remain an aggressive agnostic." He had mused that Lucretius "hit it on the nail when he said that religion was the by-product of fear--a reaction to a mysterious and often hostile universe. For much of human prehistory, it may have been a necessary evil--but why was it so much more evil than necessary--and why did it survive when it was no longer necessary?" (Cited in Who's Who in Hell by Warren Allen Smith). In 2000, Clarke was knighted. Before his death at age 90, Clarke made written instructions that his funeral be entirely secular: "Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral." D. 2008.

“Religion is the most malevolent of all mind viruses. We should get rid of it as quick as we can.”

—Author Arthur C. Clarke, Popular Science, Aug. 2004

Compiled by Annie Laurie 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.

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