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: Stephen Girard , Honore de Balzac , John Stuart Mill and Ron Reagan
Stephen Girard

Stephen Girard

On this date in 1750, Stephen Girard was born in Bordeaux, France. The freethinking philanthropist, who settled in Philadelphia in 1776, liked to say he began life with a sixpence. He went to sea as a cabin-boy before he was 14, and worked his way up to commander. Girard opened a store in his adopted city, then became a wealthy ship-owner. During the yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793, when half the residents fled, Girard became a local hero. He not only opened his pocketbook to help, but volunteered as nurse and hospital manager for two months, working directly with the sick and dying. Girard, an arch-critic of clergy and Christianity, named his sailing ships after thinkers such as Voltaire. When he died, Girard was considered the wealthiest person in the United States. He left nearly his entire estate, valued at $7.5 million, to charity. He gave $30,000 to the Pennsylvania hospital, $20,000 to the "deaf and dumb" asylum, $10,000 to the Lancaster public school, $10,000 for the society for "distressed sea captains," $500,000 to the city of Philadelphia, and $300,000 to the state of Pennsylvania for canal construction. He willed more than $5 million for the construction and endowment of a college for orphans, instructing that there should be no sectarian control or instruction (see quote below). Writing in 1894, Samuel Putnam (Four Hundred Years of Freethought) noted that the estate was valued then at $20 million, and had about 1,500 scholars. But Putnam reported that Girard's provisions had been "shamefully violated," with the college under Christian supervision. D. 1831.

“I enjoin and require that no ecclesiastic, missionary, or minister of any sect whatever shall ever hold or exercise any station or duty whatever in the said college; nor shall any such person ever be admitted for any purpose, or as a visitor, within the premises appropriated to the purpose of the said college. . . . My desire is that all the instructors and teachers in the college shall take pains to instill into the minds of the scholars the purest principles of morality, so that, on their entrance into active life, they may, from inclination and habit, evince benevolence toward their fellow creatures, and a love of truth, sobriety, and industry, adopting at the same time such religious tenets as their matured reason may enable them to prefer.”

—Stephen Girard's bequest terms in endowing a college for orphans

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Honore de Balzac

Honore de Balzac

On this date in 1799, Honore de Balzac was born in France. Educated by the Oratorian priests at Vendome College, Balzac became a lawyer's clerk at his parents' insistence. When Balzac turned to writing, his parents reduced his allowance. Balzac worked in legendary privation for the next decade, honing his skill with his first unsuccessful novels. His success as a novelist was clinched by 1830, when he produced the first of his 47-volume Comedie Humaine. The prolific novelist also wrote 24 unrelated novels. Skepticism pervades Balzac's many masterpieces, including Pere Goriot and Cousin Bette. D. 1850.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill

On this date in 1806, John Stuart Mill was born in England. Mill, who met Jeremy Bentham as a young man, became a champion of individual liberty. With Bentham, Mill advanced utilitarianism, a philosophy advocating the role of government is to create the greatest amount of good with the least evil. Mill, known for his clear writing style and compelling logic, advanced and popularized such ideals as social and sexual equality, the public ownership of national resources, and political liberty. Mill was tutored at a tender age by his father, James Mill, who was an agnostic. Mill could not remember a time when he could not read Greek, writing in his autobiography that he started Greek study by age three. Mill wrote in his Autobiography (1873) that his father "impressed upon me from the first, that the manner in which the world came into existence was a subject on which nothing was known: that the question, 'Who made me?' cannot be answered, because we have no experience or authentic information from which to answer it; and that any answer only throws the difficulty a step further back, since the question immediately presents itself, Who made God?" Even as a teenager, Mill wrote a defense of skeptic Richard Carlile, jailed for six years for "blasphemous libel." After a clerkship in India House, Mill became part of the "philosophic Radicals," and wrote for number of journals. A System of Logic, in two volumes, came out in 1843, followed by Principles of Political Economy (1848), On Liberty (1859), Utilitarianism (1863), and The Subjection of Women (1869). The latter book was influenced by his wife Harriet Hardy Taylor, a longtime friend whom Mill married in 1851. "Every established fact which is too bad to admit of any other defense is always presented to us as an injunction of religion," he noted in this work. 

In On Liberty, a work dedicated to his wife, who died in 1858, Mill rejected a standard of ethics predicated on obedience, or the crushing of individuality, whether by "enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men." Mill termed Christianity "essentially a doctrine of passive obedience; it inculcates submission to all authorities found established." Mill was a member of Parliament from 1865 to 1868, rising to the defense of Charles Bradlaugh, the atheist politician who had to fight for years to be seated in Parliament. Although Mill's views were unpopular, Gladstone once referred to Mill as "the saint of Rationalism." Mill's Reform Bill of 1867, the first attempt to grant the vote to British women, while unsuccessful, ignited the British suffrage movement. Three essays on religion were published posthumously. In them, Mill hints that he had adopted a Deistic belief in what he termed a "limited liability god," surprising his freethinking friends. But his strong repudiation of miracles and dogma, while outraging the public, was a seminal defense of rationalism. Mill wrote in Utility of Religion, published in 1874, that belief "in the supernatural . . . cannot be considered to be any longer required . . . " He wrote in his Autobiography (1873): "The world would be astonished if it knew how great a proportion of its brightest ornaments—of those most distinguished even in popular estimation for wisdom and virtue—are complete skeptics in religion.” D. 1873.

“A large proportion of the noblest and most valuable teaching has been the work, not only of men who did not know, but of men who knew and rejected the Christian faith.”

—John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ron Reagan

Ron Reagan

On this day in 1958, Ronald Prescott Reagan (Secret Service code name "Reliant") was born in Los Angeles to Ronald Wilson Reagan and Nancy Reagan, the future U.S. president and first lady. As liberal as his famous father was conservative, Reagan stopped going to church when he was 12 and has publicly stated he's an atheist numerous times. In 2004, he accepted the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Emperor Has No Clothes Award and spoke at the Foundation's 2009 convention in Seattle. Reagan grew up in Los Angeles and Sacramento, went to Yale University for a semester and then joined the Joffrey Ballet Company as a corps de ballet dancer. He married Dori Palmieri, a clinical psychologist, in 1980. He left Joffrey in 1983 and has since worked as a broadcast and print journalist and television and radio host. He co-hosted "Connected: Coast to Coast with Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley" on MSNBC, was a special correspondent for ABC's "20/20" and "Good Morning America" and FOX News' "Front Page," as well as hosting the syndicated "Ron Reagan Show" starting in 1991. He's also done work for E! Entertainment Television, Animal Planet and American Movie Classics and has contributed to Newsweek, The New Yorker, Playboy, Los Angeles Times, Esquire and Interview. "The Ron Reagan Show," syndicated by Air America Media, went on the air in 2008. Reagan serves on the Advisory Board of the Creative Coalition, a nonpartisan group founded in 1989 to mobilize entertainers and artists for causes such as First Amendment rights, arts advocacy and public education. Reagan, along with his mother, has been a strong supporter of embryonic stem cell research. "When you’re depriving people, potentially, of lifesaving or life-improving cures or treatments purely for political reasons, I find that to be really shameful."

In a 2008 interview with The Hill newspaper, he was asked when he started questioning his father's political beliefs: "Oh, puberty. Probably by age 12. That was when I told [my parents] I would no longer go to church with them because I was an atheist. One thing leads to another. It wasn't a great leap to then disagree on politics." Was he upset? "Yeah, but he wasn't angry. He was a Christian and took it fairly seriously. He was worried that my life would be diminished if I didn't accept Christ as my savior. We'd argue at the dinner table all the time, but I don't think he was losing sleep over it." During a speech about stem cell research at the Democratic National Convention on July 27, 2004, Reagan voiced his opinion on church/state separation: ". . . It does not follow that the theology of a few should be allowed to forestall the health and well-being of the many." The New York Times asked him in 2004, in an interview that ran three weeks after his father died, if he'd like to be president. "I would be unelectable," Reagan said. "I'm an atheist. As we all know, that is something people won't accept."

"I'm sure there are all sorts of higher powers like electromagnetism and gravity, and things like that. But I don't believe in a deity, no. I see no evidence for that in my life or anywhere else in the universe. Personally, people can believe what they will and they will believe what they want. I find that most deism, and certainly most theisms take a fairly narrow view of the universe, and most people’s views of God or gods seem to be rather impoverished. The universe itself, the physical world that we can perceive with our senses and grasp with our minds, seems to be far more wondrous than most people's conceptions of a deity."

—Ron Reagan, PR.com .com/article/1122

Compiled by Bill Dunn and 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.

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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