On this date in 1872, Bertrand Russell was born in England. "A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men," Russell wrote. "Bertie" to friends, Russell, during his 97 years, did all he could to add to human knowledge and to inspire kindness. His second wife, Dora Black, called him "enchantingly ugly." The New York attorney who won a suit to void Russell's appointment to the philosophy department at the College of the City of New York in 1940 because of his liberal views, described Russell as "lecherous, libidinous, lustful, venerous, erotomaniac, aphrodisiac, irreverent, narrow-minded, untruthful and bereft of moral fiber." "What I wish at bottom is to become a saint," Russell once admitted, but he couldn't help being pleased by the label "aphrodisiac." The mathematician (who called his first encounter with Euclid "as dazzling as first love," Autobiography), philosopher and social activist authored 75 books.
He launched headlong into a life of radicalism in his forties as a pacifist opposing World War I. He liked to recount his experience at prison, where he was sentenced for his pacifism: "I was much cheered on my arrival by the warden at the gate, who had to take particulars about me. He asked my religion, and I replied 'agnostic.' He asked how to spell it, and remarked with a sigh: 'Well, there are many religions, but I suppose they all worship the same God.' This remark kept me cheerful for about a week." (Autobiography) Russell spent his last years courageously working for nuclear disarmament. In "The Faith of a Rationalist," broadcast by the BBC in 1953, Russell observed: "Cruel men believe in a cruel God and use their belief to excuse their cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly God, and they would be kindly in any case." One of his maxims: "Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed." Russell won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950. D. 1969.
“I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young, and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.”
—Bertrand Russell, "What I Believe," 1925, reprinted in Why I Am Not a Christian (1957)
Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor
© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.
On this date in 1985, community activist and state legislator Juan Mendez was born in Arizona. A first-generation American, he graduated from high school in Tolleson, a Phoenix suburb, and from Arizona State University with a major in political science and minor in justice studies. He then worked as political coordinator for Iron Workers Local 75 and as a program instructor for the Boys and Girls Club of the East Valley. From 2009-13, he ran the nonprofit Arizona Community Voice Mail to help connect the homeless to jobs, housing, information and hope. Mendez burst into the national consciousness after being elected in 2012 to the Arizona House of Representatives from District 26. The 240 words of his godless invocation to open a House session caused quite a stir on May 21, 2013:
"Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state. This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my secular humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love. Carl Sagan once wrote, 'For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.' There is, in the political process, much to bear. In this room, let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our Constitution, for our democracy — and let us root our policymaking process in these values that are relevant to all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or nonbelief. In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better Arizona."
Such a "nonprayer" in a statehouse was unheard of at the time. Mendez also introduced Secular Coalition for Arizona members sitting in the gallery. One member said later she was "witnessing history." In recognition of Mendez's courage, FFRF bestowed on him its Emperor Has No Clothes Award, which he accepted at the 2013 national convention in Madison, Wis. After Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order in August 2014 to create the Governor’s Office of Faith and Community Partnerships, Mendez joined a group at the Capitol to criticize the office. He was reelected in November 2014 and became involved in another invocation controversy in 2016. After he had signed up in January to give an invocation, House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro blocked him, saying all invocations had to be made to a "higher power" and even barring moments of silence. Mendez then used his right in February to make personal comments from the floor to offer a secular invocation after the official prayer, saying the state's diversity includes people of different religions “and lack thereof. We need not tomorrow’s promise of reward to do good deeds today." On March 3 he offered another, after which Montenegro said that because Mendez didn't invoke God, a Baptist minister would, calling Mark Mucklow to the podium. “At least let one voice today say 'Thank you, God bless you,' ” Mucklow proclaimed at the end of his prayer.
Brent Nicastro photo
"I am an atheist because I’ve found no faith in any deity from Thor to Zeus. I am so grateful for the work the people in this room have done to advance the separation of state and church, to educate communities, to build a culture that made it possible for me, as a state legislator from Arizona, to talk honestly about what I do and don’t believe in."
—FFRF convention speech, Sept. 27, 2013
Compiled by Bill Dunn
© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.