Freethought of the Day

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There are 4 entries for this date: Tariq Ali , Samuel Taylor Coleridge , Martin Gardner and Ursula K. LeGuin
Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali

On this date in 1943, historian, novelist, filmmaker, political campaigner and commentator Tariq Ali was born in Lahore, a city then part of British India, and now in Pakistan. A self-described lifelong atheist, Ali was raised in an intellectually activist family, where independent thought was encouraged. His parents were Mazhar Ali Khan, a journalist, and Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, activist and daughter of Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, who, in 1937, became Chief Minister of the Punjab, a region bordering India and Pakistan. Ali's uncle was chief of Military Intelligence in Pakistan. Growing up in a family dynamically involved in the politics of the country, Ali became politically involved at a young age, organizing demonstrations against Pakistan's military dictatorship, while studying at the Punjab University. "We grew up in Lahore, which had been one of the most cosmopolitan towns in India. Then you had the partition of India, and you had massive killlings. This is not much talked about these days, but nearly two million people died, as Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs slaughtered each other to create this state . . . when you realized what had happened, how much killing had gone on, you did ask yourself, 'Was it worth it?' " (Islam, Empire, and the Left: Conversation with Tariq Ali, The Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley, May 8, 2003). Finishing his university education at Exeter College in Oxford, England, Ali studied philosophy, politics and economics. Elected president of the Oxford Union debating club during the Vietnam War, Ali debated, among others, Henry Kissinger. More and more critical of American/Israeli foreign policies, Ali eventually became the voice of criticism against American foreign policy around the world, not the least of which has been his criticism of American policy in Pakistan.

An active voice for the New Left Review for the past 40 years, Ali is a vocal and prolific personage, writing political satires as well as political historical works, historical fiction, nonfiction and political essays. He owned his own independent television production company and has been a regular broadcaster for BBC radio. His lengthy bibliography, spanning from 1970 to the present, includes his most recent works, Conversations with Edward Said (2005), which he edited, Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, London, Terror (2005), Speaking of Empire and Resistance (2005), and a previously censored screenplay about the last days of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, titled "The Leopard and The Fox," originally written in 1985, which, in October 2007, was adapted and staged as a play. Ali lives in London with his partner, Susan Watkins, editor of The New Left Review. He has three children. 

“How often in our house had I heard talk of superstitious idiots, often relatives, who hated a Satan they never knew and worshipped a God they didn't have the brains to doubt?”

--Tariq Ali, Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002)

“I grew up an atheist. I make no secret of it. It was acceptable. In fact, when I think back, none of my friends were believers. None of them were religious; maybe a few were believers. But very few were religious in temperament.”

—Islam, Empire, and the Left: Conversation with Tariq Ali, The Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley (May 8, 2003)

(Compiled by Jane Esbensen)

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

On this date in 1772, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Devonshire, England, the youngest son of a vicar. As a youngster he was sent to a Christian boarding school in London after his father's death. He attended Jesus College at the University of Cambridge, which he left without a degree but after having become sympathetic to Unitarianism. He dallied briefly with establishing a utopian society with poet Robert Southy, to be called a "pantisocracy." His book, Poems on Various Subjects, was published in 1796. Coleridge collaborated on a volume of poetry with poet William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads, (1798), in which his most well-known poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" ("water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink"), first appeared. In the late 1790s, Coleridge, afflicted with many medical problems, apparently became addicted to opium, to which no social stigma was then attached. His poem "Kubla Khan" and narrative poem "Christabel," were composed during this period. Coleridge became interested in Kant's transcendentalism, studied German and translated humanist Friedrich Schiller. He traveled to warmer climes in hopes of improving his health, taking a civil service job on Malta for a time. Coleridge lectured periodically in England for more than a decade, reviving the public's interest in Shakespeare. He continued to write, including Biographia Literaria (1817), Aids to Reflection (1825) and Church and State (1830). Despite his kind words for atheists (see quote below), Coleridge was probably a mild form of Deistic Unitarian. "Whenever philosophy has taken into its plan religion, it has ended in skepticism; and whenever religion excludes philosophy, or the spirit of free inquiry, it leads to willful blindness and superstition." (Cited in Allsop's Letters, Conversations with Recollections of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1836). D. 1834.

“Not one man in ten thousand has goodness of heart or strength of mind to be an atheist.”

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, letter to Thomas Allsop, c. 1820

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner

On this date in 1914, Martin Gardner was born in Tulsa, Okla. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago in 1936. After Navy service during WWII, he worked as a reporter for the Tulsa Tribune. His mathematical column for Scientific American, originally called "Soma Cube," ran from 1956-1986. Among the more than 100 books and booklets Gardner has authored are: Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, On the Wild Side, his collected Skeptical Inquirer columns, The New Age, Notes of a Fringe Watcher (1991) and The Healing Revelation of Mary Baker Eddy (1993), which exposes her plagiarism. Gardner called himself a "philosophical theist," rejecting all supernaturalism and admitting he only believed in a god to "console" himself. An article republished in Scientific American, as part of a tribute to Gardner after his death, quoted Gardner at age 81: "I grew up believing that the Bible was a revelation straight from God. . . . It lasted about halfway through my years at the University of Chicago." Gardner, whose "Mathematical Games" column for Scientific American popularized recreational mathematics in the U.S., died at age 95. D. 2010.

“ . . . bad science contributes to the steady dumbing down of our nation. Crude beliefs get transmitted to political leaders and the result is considerable damage to society. We see this happening now in the rapid rise of the religious right and how it has taken over large segments of the Republican Party. I think fundamentalist and Pentecostalist Pat Robertson is a far greater menace to America than, say, Jesse Helms who will soon be gone and forgotten.”

—Martin Gardner, interview, Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 1998

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ursula K. LeGuin

Ursula K. LeGuin

On this date in 1929, popular writer and iconoclast Ursula K. LeGuin was born in Berkeley, Calif. She graduated from Radcliffe College Phi Beta Kappa in 1951, earned her Master's at Columbia University in 1952, and became a Fulbright scholar in 1953. Married to historian Charles A. LeGuin, they have three children and three grandchildren and live in Oregon. She has been a lecturer or writer in residence at a variety of universities and colleges. LeGuin, who has written 20 novels, is best known for her pioneering science fiction and fantasy. She has also written 6 volumes of poetry, 13 books for children, 4 collections of essays, and many short stories. Her many literary honors and awards include the Hugo for her 1969 gender-bending book, The Left Hand of Darkness, and another Hugo in 1975 for The Dispossessed, utopian fiction.

“I am an atheist.”

—Ursula K. LeGuin, introduction, The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969 (cited in Who's Who in Hell by Warren Allen Smith)

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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