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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George Washington

George Washington

On this date in 1732, George Washington was born. Washington was elected to the House of Burgesses in Virginia in 1758. He was a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress of 1774, and became commander of the Continental army in 1775. He presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, which adopted a godless constitution, and was elected the first president of the United States in 1789. He was re-elected in 1793 and retired to Mount Vernon at the end of his second term.

Thomas Jefferson recorded that Washington was not a Christian (Memoir, Vol. IV, p. 512). As the largest property holder in the parish, Washington was for a time a vestryman, a political office in Virginia. He occasionally attended the Protestant Episcopal church with his wife Martha, but did not take part in communion. The foremost mythmaker about Washington was Parson Mason L. Weems, whose Life of Washington (1800) promoted the cherry tree story and other disinformation, such as the claim that Washington prayed in the woods at Valley Forge in the hard Revolutionary War winter of 1777-78. (The make-believe scene has been painted, and even appeared on stamps.) Christian propagandists allege Washington wrote a Christian prayer, which is engraved on a bronze tablet at St. Paul's Chapel, New York City. The source is not a prayer, but a business letter to governors, which makes two orthodox, Deistic references (Ford's Writings of Washington, Vol. X, p. 265). Washington's diaries reveal that he seldom attended church, and often traveled on the sabbath. Washington has been claimed by many religions, but kept his private beliefs to himself. “Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony & irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other source.” — George Washington, letter to Sir Edward Newenham, June 22, 1792. D. 1799.

“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiment in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy which has marked the present age would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination, so far that we should never again see their religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society."

—George Washington, letter to Edw. Newenham, June 22, 1792. The writings of George Washington from the original manuscript sources, 1745-1799; prepared under the direction of the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission and published by authority of Congress. John C. Fitzpatrick, editor. (Washington, D.C. : United States Government Print. Off., 1931-1944. Volume 32, page 73) Source for most of the biographical discussion of Washington's religion is The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, From Washington To F.D.R., by Franklin Steiner. To order, go to the FFRF

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Luis Buñuel

Luis Buñuel

On this date in 1900, surreal film director Luis Buñuel (née Luis Buñuel Portoles) was born in Calanda, Spain. After a strict Jesuit education gave him something to rebel against, he attended the university in Madrid, where one of his friends was Salvador Dali. Bunuel moved to Paris, where his first film was the 17-minute "Un chien andalou" ("An Andalousian Dog," 1929), whose shocking opening made a deep impression. His first feature was "L'Age d'Or," which attacked the church and the middle class, lifelong themes for Bunuel. After the Spanish Civil War, Buñuel moved to the United States. He worked as an editor at the Museum of Modern Art (1939-43) and as a film dubber for Warner Brothers, before moving to Mexico. He became a Mexican citizen in 1948. His riveting study of Mexican street urchins, "Los Olvidados" (1950) won him a "best director" award at the Cannes film festival. In 1961, General Franco invited Buñuel back to his birth land. The first film Buñuel directed again in his homeland was "Viridiana" (1961), about a novice nun with a lecherous uncle and a charitable streak. It was banned for blasphemy in Spain, but won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Buñuel subsequently directed his best-known films, including "Journal d'une femme de chambre" (1964), with Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve, "Belle de jour" (1967), and the autobiographical "That Obscure Object of Desire" (1977). D. 1983.

“Thank God, I'm still an atheist.”

—Luis Bunuel, Paris Notes, Dec. 98/Jan. 99

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer

On this date in 1788, Arthur Schopenhauer was born in Germany. He studied philosophy at Gottingen, Berlin and Jena Universities. His opus, The World as Will and Idea, was published in 1818, and was revised in 1844. Parerga and Paralipomena (1851), his final work, contained his popular writings, aphorisms and essays. Schopenhauer was influenced by Kant, and rejected the ideas of Hegel, and proofs for the existence of God and immortality. He was also influenced by Buddhism. Although a loner and pessimist, he advocated the alleviation of suffering through an appreciation of aesthetics, altruism and asceticism. D. 1860.

“Faith and knowledge are related as the two scales of balance; when the one goes up, the other goes down. . . . The power of religious dogma, when inculcated early, is such as to stifle conscience, compassion, and finally every feeling of humanity. . . . For, as you know, religions are like glow worms; they shine only when it's dark. A certain amount of ignorance is the condition of all religions, the element in which alone they can exist. ”

—Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena (1851), cited in Who's Who in Hell compiled by Warren Allen Smith

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Josephine K. Henry

Josephine K. Henry

On this date in 1846, Josephine K. Henry was born in Kentucky. Settling in Versailles, Ky, with her husband, the accomplished musician was the first woman in the South to run for State office. As a candidate of the Prohibition party of Kentucky for clerk of the Court of Appeals in 1890, Henry received nearly 5,000 votes in the notoriously anti-suffrage state. Kentucky was the last state in the union to grant women such basic rights as property ownership, guardianship of their children, and the right to make a will. Henry was credited as the main force behind the adoption of the 1894 Woman's Property Act, garnering ten thousand signatures on behalf of women's property rights. Serving on the Revising Committee of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's The Woman's Bible, Henry submitted two letters, which were published in the appendix. For this heresy, she was declared an "undesirable member" of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Henry wrote a 30-page booklet, "Woman and the Bible" (1905), followed by a critique of the treatment of women in the marriage institution, "Marriage and Divorce" (c. 1907). D. 1928.

“Is not the Church to-day a masculine hierarchy, with a female constituency, which holds woman in Bible lands in silence and in subjection? No institution in modern civilization is so tyrannical and so unjust to woman as is the Christian Church. It demands everything from her and gives her nothing in return.”

—Josephine K. Henry, letter responding to Frances Willard's praise of the bible. Published in the Appendix of The Woman's Bible, 1897. For more information on Josephine K. Henry, see a href=http://ffrf.org/shop/books/details.php?cat=fbooks&ID=FB8

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

James Russell Lowell

James Russell Lowell

On this date in 1819, James Russell Lowell was born in Massachusetts, the son of a Unitarian minister. Poet Lowell ("And what is so rare as a day in June?") comprised one of the "Fireside Poets" with Longfellow, Whittier and Holmes. Lowell earned his B.A. in 1838 and his L.L.B. in 1840 from Harvard. An ardent abolitionist, he left law for literature, editing several journals. He was the first editor of the Atlantic Monthly (1857-61) and edited the progressive The North American Review (1864-72). A professor at Harvard for nearly 20 years, he also served as a minister to Spain and Great Britain. The poet wrote A Fable for Critics (1848), The Bigelow Papers (1848, 1867), and The Vision of Sir Launfal (1848). Although Lowell's poetry contains religious views that were conventionally 19th century Unitarian, rationalist biographer Joseph McCabe suggests that, based on his later remarks, Lowell became agnostic. In Democracy and Addresses, Lowell advised: "There is no good in arguing with the inevitable. The only argument available with an east wind is to put on your overcoat." D. 1891.

“Toward no crimes have men shown themselves so cold-bloodedly cruel as in punishing differences of belief.”

—James Russell Lowell, Literary Essays, Witchcraft, Vol. II, p. 374 (1891)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

August Bebel

August Bebel

On this date in 1840, August Bebel, the co-founder of the German Social Democratic Party, was born in Cologne. As a young man Bebel settled in Leipzig, the hub of German political activity, and became politically active with the radical Gewerblicher Bildungsverein (Industrial Educational Association). He studied Marx and Engels and other prominent figures in economic and social history, which contributed to his growing socialist worldview. Bebel developed a reputation as a powerful speaker, and was elected to the North German Constituent Reichstag in 1867, representing the Saxon People's Party. He believed less in revolution to effect social change and more in reforming existing political and social structures. Bebel believed women were enslaved through social institutions, such as marriage, and his popular tract "Women and Socialism" (1897) advanced this idea. He co-founded the German Social Democratic Party in 1869, and by the time he died, his tract had been widely read (including at the Second International in Paris in 1889) and he was considered a "father" of the social democratic movement. D. 1913.

"Christianity is the enemy of liberty and civilization. It has kept mankind in slavery and oppression. The Church and the State have always fraternally united to exploit the people."

—August Bebel, quoted in The Common Cause, Vol. 1, edited by John R. Meader, 1912, p. 43

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© 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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