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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W.C. Fields

W.C. Fields

On this date in 1880, comedian W.C. Fields (née William Claude Dukenfield) was born in Philadelphia. His father was a Cockney immigrant and his mother a native Philadelphian. Fields dropped out after 4 years of schooling to work with his father, who ran a horse-drawn vegetable cart. A rough home life drove Fields away by the age of 11. He lived on the streets, was occasionally beat up and sometimes jailed. By 13, he had become skilled at juggling and playing pool. That year he moved to Atlantic City where he was hired to juggle (perfecting the appearance of losing his juggling pieces) and, when business was slow, to pretend to drown for crowd amusement. At 19, he was dubbed "The Distinguished Comedian." By 23 he played at Buckingham Palace in London, appearing the same evening as Sarah Bernhardt. Fields was on the program with Charles Chaplin and Maurice Chevalier at Folies-Bergeres. His first movie, at age 35, fittingly was "Pool Shark" (1915). Fields appeared in 37 movies, including "David Copperfield" (despite his adage, "Never work with animals or children") and "My Little Chickadee" (1940). Known for his poses as caustic curmudgeon and imbiber, Fields actually had two sons, did not appear in public inebriated, and was known to dote on his three grandchildren. D. 1946.

"Prayers never bring anything. . . . They may bring solace to the sap, the bigot, the ignorant, the aboriginal, and the lazy, but to the enlightened it is the same as asking Santa Claus to bring you something for Xmas."

—W.C. Fields, cited by Warren Allen Smith in Who's Who in Hell

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Frederick Delius

Frederick Delius

On this date in 1862, composer Fritz Theodor Albert Delius was born in England to parents who had migrated from Germany. In 1884, he moved to Florida to cultivate oranges and absorbed the sounds of the singing plantation workers, which were to be documented in his Florida Suite. Fritz studied at the Leipzig Conservatorium then moved to Paris. He soon moved on from songs and small-scale instrumental and orchestral pieces to produce the operas Irmelin, The Magic Fountain and Koanga, as well as larger orchestral works, Paa Viderne, Sakuntala, Maud, the symphonic poem "Life's Dance" and the nocturne "Paris." His inspiration derived from the literature of England, Norway, Denmark, Germany and France, medieval romance, North American Indians and African Americans, the Florida landscape and the Scandinavian mountainscape. His operatic masterpiece was A Village Romeo and Juliet, followed by Appalachia, Sea Drift and A Mass of Life. Then came Songs of Sunset, Brigg Fair, In a Summer Garden, two Dance Rhapsodies, Fennimore and Gerda, An Arabesque, The Song of the High Hills and from 1911/12 came the popular "On hearing the first cuckoo in spring" and "Summer night on the river." He produced many more concertos and orchestral/choral works.

Delius was a lifelong freethinker. He was "always ready to poke fun at the religious beliefs of his friends” (Grieg and Delius: A Chronicle of their Friendship in Letters, by Lionel Carley). In a letter to Edvard Grieg, Delius wrote: “I think the only improvement that Christ and Christianity have brought with them is Christmas. As people really then think a little about others. Otherwise I feel that he had better not have lived at all. The world has not got any better, but worse & more hypocritical, & I really believe that Christianity has produced an overall submediocrity & really only taught people the meaning of fear” (Carley). Close friend Eric Fenby wrote an intimate biography of Delius’s final years. “He had no faith in God,” Fenby wrote, “Nevertheless . . . my admiration for Delius’s music will in no wise have suffered thereby” (Delius As I Knew Him, by Eric Fenby, 1981). Fenby, a strong believer, often found himself a helpless punching bag for Delius’s criticisms of religion. "God? I don't know him. Given a young composer of genius,” Delius said, “the surest way to ruin him is to make a Christian of him.” He also commented: "In 1755 there was an earthquake in Lisbon. Thirty thousand people were destroyed in a few minutes! How do you reconcile your loving God who is supposed to mark the fall of every sparrow?" D. 1934.

“The sooner you get rid of all this Christian humbug the better. The whole traditional concept of life is false. Throw those great Christian blinkers away, and look around you and stand on your own feet . . . Don't believe all the tommyrot priests tell you; learn and prove everything by your own experience . . . One thing is certain — that English music will never be any good till they get rid of Jesus. Humanity is incredible. It will believe anything, anything to escape reality.”

—Delius As I Knew Him, by Eric Fenby (1936)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Victor Stenger

Victor Stenger

On this date in 1935, particle physicist, author and skeptic Victor John Stenger was born in Bayonne, New Jersey. Stenger, the son of a first-generation Lithuanian immigrant and a second-generation Hungarian immigrant, grew up in a Catholic neighborhood. He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Newark College of Engineering, and a master’s in physics from UCLA, followed by a Ph.D. After taking a position on the University of Hawaii faculty, Dr. Stenger began a long and influential career during one of the most exciting times for physics in history. His experiments helped to establish standard models in physics, examining and uncovering the properties of quarks, gluons, neutrinos, and strange particles. Stenger also made contributions to the emerging fields of high-energy gamma ray and neutrino astronomy. In his last major research endeavor before retiring in Colorado in 2000, Stenger collaborated on a project in Japan that demonstrated for the first time that the neutrino has mass. The project’s head researcher won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002. In addition to his numerous and influential peer-reviewed articles, Stenger is an author of 12 books, including the 2007 bestseller God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist. Some of his other titles include: Not By Design: The Origin of the Universe (1988), The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology (1995), The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (2009), The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us (2011), and God and the Folly of Faith: The Fundamental Incompatibility of Religion and Science and Why It Matters (2012).

Stenger’s work hinges on the interplay between philosophy, particle physics, quantum mechanics, and religion. He is a self-professed skeptic and atheist, maintaining that all things in existence — including free will and consciousness, if they do indeed exist — may be explained by rational scientific inquiry, without the assistance of the supernatural.

In order to champion these causes, Stenger has also pursued public speaking, openly debating prominent Christian apologists and participating in the 2008 “Origins Conference” hosted by the Skeptics Society. Stenger has served as a member of a number of skeptics and humanist organizations, including a stint as the president of Hawaiian Humanists from 1990 to 1994, and as the president of Colorado Citizens for Science from 2002 to 2006. He is an honorary director of FFRF, a member of the Society of Humanist Philosophers and the Free Inquiry editorial board, and a fellow of the Center for Inquiry and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Among a number of visiting positions, Stenger is an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado and an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii. Stenger lives with his wife Phylliss, whom he married in 1962, and they have two children. D. 2014

“Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”

—— Victor Stenger, who suggested this slogan post-9/11 after ideas for bus signs were solicited by the Richard Dawkins Foundation website

Compiled by Noah Bunnell

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

On this date in 1737, Thomas Paine was born in England. Paine wrote "Common Sense" in 1776, fanning the flames of the American Revolution. On the cutting edge of revolution, Paine is best known for his political writings. No better index to Paine's character can be found than his reply to Franklin's remark, "Where liberty is, there is my country." "Where liberty is not," said Paine, "there is mine." Without the pen of Paine, said one contemporary, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain. A radical freethinker in the 18th century mode of deism, Paine wrote the classic criticism of the bible, The Age of Reason (1792), completing the second volume under arduous conditions of imprisonment in France. "I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy. I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church." Organized religion was "set up to terrify and enslave" and to "monopolize power and profit." Paine repudiated the divine origin of Christianity on grounds that it was too "absurd for belief, too impossible to convince and too inconsistent to practice." He was vilified for his unabashed analysis of the bible when he returned to America in 1802. Even a century after his death, Theodore Roosevelt referred to Paine, the man who named the United States of America, as "a filthy little atheist." D. 1809.

“Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize.”

—Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1792)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robin Morgan

Robin Morgan

On this date in 1941, feminist author, journalist, editor, lecturer, organizer, atheist and activist Robin Morgan was born in New York City. As she notes in her memoir, Saturday's Child, "Saturday's child has to work for a living." Robin began at age two, as a tot model. She had her own radio show by age four, then acted in the role of Dagmar on the popular series, "Mama," in the 1940s and 1950s. She left show biz to write, and became a founder and leader of the contemporary feminist movement. Robin's columns and articles for Ms. magazine appeared from 1974-1988. She was editor in chief of Ms. for four years and is now its International consulting editor. Her groundbreaking anthology, Sisterhood is Powerful, came out in 1972, followed by Sisterhood is Global (1984) and Sisterhood is Forever (2003). Robin is a distinguished poet, and her fiction includes her 2006 novel about the witchhunts, The Burning Times.

Robin has traveled the globe as a feminist activist, scholar, journalist and lecturer. She is a Patron of Feminist Dalit (the "Untouchables"), in Nepal. She is an honorary member of Pan Arab Feminist Solidarity Association and likewise an honorary member of Israeli Feminists Against Occupation. She is a cofounder of the Feminist Women's Health Network, the Feminist Writers' Guild, of Media Women and the National Network of Rape Crisis Centers. Her timely The Demon Lover: On the Sexuality of Terrorism tells the personal story of her travel to refugee camps in the Middle East, with a post 9/11 introduction and afterward. This author of some 20 books will be releasing Fighting Words, defending a secular America. A recipient of many feminist and other awards, she was named Freethought Heroine 2005 by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“When Attorney General John Ashcroft repeatedly invokes religion, the Founders must be picketing in their graves. They were a mix of freethinkers, atheists, Christians, agnostics, Freemasons and Deists. . . .

. . . the Founders were, after all, revolutionaries. Their passion—especially regarding secularism—glows in the documents they forged and in their personal words.”

—Robin Morgan, author and editor of Ms. Magazine, born on this date in 1941. "Fighting Words for a Secular America," Ms. Fall 2004

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Albert Gallatin

Albert Gallatin

On this date in 1761, Albert Gallatin (née Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin) was born in Geneva. He studied mathematics, natural history and Latin at Geneva University, where he graduated with honors in 1779. Voltaire had been a friend of his grandmother, and was an influence on Gallatin, also a deist. In 1780, to evade family pressure to join up with the the Hessians, Gallatin gave up family fortune to move to the United States, to demonstrate "a love for independence in the freest country of the universe." He set up shop in Boston, taught French at Harvard, then moved to Virginia in 1785, where he was soon elected a member of the state legislature. After being elected to the U.S. Senate, Gallatin was rejected by the body as a non-citizen, but returned to Congress in the House in 1795. He wrote "Views of the Public Debt, Receipts & Expenditures of the U.S." in 1800, which is described by the U.S. Department of the Treasury website as "still a classic" analysis of the fiscal operations of government under the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson believed the Sedition Act was framed to drive Gallatin--who worked to keep down expenses, especially for war and the military--from office. As president, Jefferson offered Gallatin the position of Secretary of State. He served under both Jefferson and Madison from 1801-1813. It was considered an enormous compliment when Pres. Tyler reoffered Gallatin the post in 1843, which the octogenarian declined. Gallatin was minister to France from 1815-1823, then served as an envoy in Great Britain. A lifelong scholar, he was a cofounder of New York University. Determined to keep it secular, he later resigned from a position there when "a certain portion of the clergy had obtained control" (Joseph McCabe, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists). Gallatin opposed slavery, promoted fiscal responsibility and peace, and helped to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812. He served with the American Ethnological Society, helping to preserve native languages, and was president of the New York Historical Society. D. 1849.

“ . . . a foundation free from the influence of clergy . . . ”

—Albert Gallatin's stated aim for New York University, cited by Joseph McCabe, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists

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.

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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