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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Theophile de Viau (Died)

Theophile de Viau (Died)

On this date in 1626, French poet Theophile de Viau (alternatively, Viaud) took his life, after being exiled from France for blasphemy. Born into a Huguenot family in 1591 in Clairac, and educated at a Protestant college, Viau went to Paris at 20. Under the protection of Henry, duke of Montmorency, he wrote the tragedy "Pyrame et Thisbe," in 1615. It was performed theatrically, then printed in 1623. Encyclopedias identify Viau as a freethinker known for his "unsparing use of sharp wit in epigrams on the church." He also had a reputation as a "libertine." He was accused of blasphemy and indecent writings in 1619 and banished from Paris. Friends in the South of France aided him, and he was permitted to return to Paris the next year. Continuing "blasphemies" got him exiled again. He returned to France from England and began taking instruction in Roman Catholicism. It is up to debate what his motives were. Regardless, a Jesuit priest published "The Curious Doctrine," a tract against Viau, in 1623. He was condemned to death in August 1623. Fleeing for his life, Viau was intercepted at the border, and imprisoned in the Conciergerie in Paris. He defended himself and was freed after his sentence was commuted to lifetime banishment. He took his own life.

“Follow Nature's law.”
 

—--Theophile de Viau's "creed." Who's Who in Hell edited by Warren Allen Smith

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Dmitriy Shostakovich

Dmitriy Shostakovich

On this date in 1906, Dmitriy Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, with a heritage of proud Siberian roots. Dimitriy's family initially welcomed Lenin and the revolution as a chance for real freedom and equality. Although he became privately disillusioned with the excesses of Stalin, Shostakovich had little choice but to "go through the motions," eventually joining the Communist Party and fulfilling many official functions as a representative of the government, due to his celebrity status as a great composer. He didn't care about politics, except when he could use his connections to truly help people. "For me there is no joy in life other than music," Shostakovich wrote to a friend. "All life for me is music." The prolific and tireless Shostakovich wrote nine operas and ballets, 37 film scores, 15 symphonies, hundreds of works for choral, solo, piano, concerti, incidental music, chamber and instrumental music. He is one of the most admired composers of the 20th century.

When asked if he believed in God, Shostakovich replied: "No, and I am very sorry about it." His Eighth Symphony (which he was forced to declare a "war symphony") was a celebration of life: "I can sum up the philosophical conception of my new work in three words: life is beautiful," he said during a 1943 interview. "Everything that is dark and gloomy will rot away, vanish, and the beautiful will triumph." (Source: Fay, Laurel E., Shostakovich: A Life, Oxford University Press, 2000.) D. 1975.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve

On this date in 1952, Christopher Reeve was born in New York, N.Y. His acting career had an early start, at the McCarter Theatre in New Jersey when he was nine years old. Reeve graduated from Cornell University with a degree in music theory and English, and later attended the Juilliard School of Performing Arts. Reeve became a prolific theater actor, most notably performing in the Broadway play, "A Matter of Gravity" (1976), along with Katharine Hepburn. Although Reeve acted in about 150 plays, he is most famous for his films — especially the immensely popular "Superman" (1978) and its three sequels, in which Reeve played the title role. His other films include “Somewhere in Time” (1980), “The Aviator” (1985) and “Village of the Damned” (1995). Reeve has appeared in numerous television shows such as “Smallville” and “Sesame Street,” and he directed the film “In the Gloaming” (1997). He married Dana Morosini in 1992 and they had one son, William, born in 1992. Reeve also had two children with Gae Exton: Matthew, born in 1979, and Alexandra, born in 1983.

In 1995, Reeve was paralyzed from the neck down after a horseback riding accident that injured his spinal cord. Following his paralysis, he became a disability activist who narrated the documentary "Without Pity: A Film About Abilities" (1996). Reeve was appointed Chairman of the American Paralysis Association in 1996, the same year that he and his wife founded the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which funds spinal cord research.

“It’s frightening to me, the organized religion,” Reeve told Charlie Rose in a 2002 interview, when he spoke about his childhood fear of church and its images of a violent god. Reeve added: “My father was not religious at all, so I really did not bother with questions of faith and spirituality.” He became a Unitarian Universalist after his accident.

“ . . . family, friends and well-wishers from around the world assured me that prayers and my faith in God would comfort me. I tried to pray but I didn't feel any better, nor did I make any kind of connection with God.”

—Actor Christopher Reeve, who died on Oct. 10, 2004, at age 52, writing about his paralysis and lack of religious faith in his memoir Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections On a New Life (2002).

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor and Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Paul MacCready

Paul MacCready

On this date in 1925, Paul MacCready was born in New Haven, Conn. He was interested in flight from a young age, often building prize-winning model airplanes. MacCready earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Yale in 1947, his master’s degree in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1948 and his Ph.D. in aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology in 1952. During college, MacCready constructed gliders and won the U.S. National Soaring Championships in 1948, 1949 and 1953, as well as becoming the first American to be named World Soaring Champion in 1956. MacCready, known as the “father of human-powered flight,” developed the Gossamer Condor in 1977, an aircraft powered solely by the muscles of its pilot. His later human-powered Gossamer Albatross accomplished the feat of flying across the English Channel in 1979. His many other aircraft include the solar-powered Gossamer Penguin, built in 1980, and the human-powered Pathfinder Plus, which in 1998 flew to over 80,000 feet. He founded AeroVironment, Inc., in 1971, a company which develops energy-efficient vehicles and services. His numerous awards include the Guggenheim Medal in 1987, NASA’s Public Service Grand Achievement Award and the Reed Aeronautical Award in 1979.

MacCready was an active humanist who identified himself as having nontheistic beliefs (according to “CSICOP and the Skeptics” by George Hansen, published in The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, January 1992). “[Humans are] a magnificent random experiment with no goal,” MacCready said. He believed that religion formerly served the purpose of providing “authority, ritual, belonging, tradition [and] mystery,” but that it had become obsolete in modern times. MacCready opposed creationism, and built a replica of a pterodactyl that was able to fly for the National Air and Space Museum in 1984 partially as an attempt to change the views of creationists. He was a Humanist Laureate of the Academy of Humanism, was a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, was a member of the International Academy of Humanists, and has spoken at the Santa Barbara Humanist Society. (All quotations cited in More With Less: Paul MacCready and the Dream of Efficient Flight by Paul Ciotti, 2003). D. 2007.

“Over billions of years, on a unique sphere, chance has painted a thin covering of life—complex, improbable, wonderful and fragile. Suddenly we humans (a recently arrived species no longer subject to the checks and balances inherent in nature), have grown in population, technology, and intelligence to a position of terrible power: we now wield the paintbrush.” 

—Paul MacCready, Jr., “The Case for Battery Electric Vehicles” (published in The Hydrogen Energy Transition edited by Daniel Sperling and James Cannon, 2004).

Compiled by Sabrina 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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