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 6 entries for this date: Emo Philips , Charles Dickens , Sinclair Lewis , Madison Arnold , Eddie Izzard and G.H. Hardy
Emo Philips

Emo Philips

On this date in 1956, comedian Emo Philips was born in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove. Philips is known for standup comedy and one-liners. His recorded comedy albums include "E=mo2 (1985) and "Live at the Hasty Pudding Theatre" (1987). Philips has also had many minor acting roles in movies and television shows. Philips has told many religious jokes; one of them (too long to reprint here) was voted the funniest religious joke of all time by Ship of Fools and voted one of the 75 funniest jokes of all time by GQ magazine.

“When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked him to forgive me.”

——Emo Philips joke, The Guardian. Sept. 28, 2005

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

On this date in 1812, novelist Charles Dickens was born in England. As a child, he chafed at the two-hour religious services he and his family attended. His brief experience working as a 12 year old in a factory when his father was sent to debtor's prison had a life-changing effect on him. Although he returned to school, he began work as a clerk at age 15 when his family was evicted. Moving to freelance reporting he soon turned to story writing. Dickens launched on celebritydom with the serialization of his first book, The Pickwick Papers (1836-37). He married Catherine Hogarth in 1836. The death of her younger sister Mary virtually in Dickens' arms was said to inspire Little Nell. The Dickenses had 10 children, nine of whom survived. Long incompatible, they separated, to Catherine's grief, in 1858, when Dickens fell in love with actress Ellen Ternan. Dickens' hugely successful novel-writing career included Oliver Twist (serialized 1837-39), A Christmas Carol (1844), David Copperfield (1849-50), A Tale of Two Cities (1859), and Great Expectations (1861). Dickens' books called public attention to the scandalous conditions of child labor under the Industrial Revolution. His social conscience brought him to North America in 1842 to speak against slavery (and for international copyright).

Dickens was orthodox in many respects, praying daily and writing a "Life of Our Lord" (which took out much of the superstition) for his children. But at one time he joined the Unitarians (a creedless church). Although he returned to the Church of England, he quit it once again, saying: "I cannot sit under a clergyman who addresses his congregation as though he had taken a return ticket to heaven and back." Biographer Edgar Johnson wrote of Dickens: "Inclining toward Unitarianism, he had little respect for mystical religious dogma. He hated the Roman Catholic Church, 'that curse upon the world,' as the tool and coadjutor of oppression throughout Europe. . . . He thought the influence of the Roman Church almost altogether evil. . . . He had rejected the Church of England and detested the influence of its bishops in English politics. . . ." (Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph, 1952). Dickens actively opposed a bill to ban public activity and recreational outlets on Sundays, writing a pamphlet, "Sunday under Three Heads," which gibed at "the saintly venom," the "intolerant zeal and ignorant enthusiasm" of the pious, who would have denied the poor and working class their only respite after a 6-day work week. Biographer Hesketh Pearson noted the contradictions in Dickens' beliefs: "He accepted the teachings of Christ, not the doctrines of the Christian churches. . ." (Dickens: His Character, Comedy, and Career, 1949). D. 1870.

“The preacher is a coarse, hard-faced man of forbidding aspect. . . . He stretches his body half out of the pulpit, thrusts forth his arms with frantic gestures, and blasphemously calls upon the Deity to visit with eternal torments those who turn aside from the word, as interpreted and preached by--himself. A low moaning is heard, the women rock their bodies to and fro, and wring their hands.”

—Charles Dickens, Sunday under Three Heads" (1836), pamphlet opposing Sabbath restrictions. All quotes on religion cited in 2,000 Years of Disbelief, by James R. Haught"

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis

On this date in 1885, Harry Sinclair Lewis was born in Sauk Centre, Minn. The novelist wrote such enduring classics as Main Street (1920), Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925) and the irreverent Elmer Gantry (1927). The title character, a preacher, is portrayed as a rogue and hypocrite who steals freethinker Robert G. Ingersoll's oratorical piece, "Love," as his signature sermon. Lewis' other books include It Can't Happen Here (1935) and The God-Seeker (1949). An unbeliever since his days at Yale, from which he graduated in 1908, Lewis was married twice and had one son. In 1930 he became the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. (He had refused an earlier Pulitzer Prize.) In his autobiographical sketch for the Nobel committee, Lewis noted that although he traveled widely, he had "lived a quite unromantic and unstirring life." He was dubbed "the conscience of his generation" by Sheldon Norman Grebstein. D. 1951.

“It is, I think, an error to believe that there is any need of religion to make life seem worth living.”

—Sinclair Lewis, quoted by Will Durant in On the Meaning of Life (1932)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Madison Arnold

Madison Arnold

On this date in 1936, stage, film and television actor Madison Arnold was born in Allentown, Pa. Arnold graduated from Erasmus Hall and Brooklyn College. He earned a master's in European History from Columbia University and received scholarships to study abroad in Vienna and Berlin, where he did two years of postgraduate work in history, philosophy and languages. Arnold, named after James Madison as a tribute to religious freedom in America, said in Freethought Today: "I had a Jewish family background and have been an atheist as long as I can remember" (March 1989). Though he is best known for his television work, some film titles include "Escape from Alcatraz" (1979), "Xanadu" (1980), "The Lonely Guy" (1984), "Presumed Innocent" (1990), "The Turning" (1992), "White Lies" (1996), "Donnie Brasco" (1997), "Gracie" (2007) and "Monogamy" (2010). Some of his many television credits include: "Serpico" (1976), "Kojak" (1976-1978), "Baretta" (1978), "The Bionic Woman" (1977-1978), "Starsky and Hutch" (1976-1978), "Barney Miller" (1980), "Whiz Kids" (1980), "Hill Street Blues" (1985-1986), "Law & Order" (1999-2009), "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (2000-2004) and "The Big C" (2010). Arnold, who has described himself as a "militant atheist" and even an "atheist of the hostile sect," says there was never a time when he was not an atheist. "As a kid I looked up and saw no god and I wondered where 'he' got such a large notebook to write down X's when I am bad as I was told he did" (Madison Arnold, quoted in Freethought Today, March 1989). 

"I never accepted religion so I had nothing to reject as such. The history of 'Christiansanity' (my own coinage of which I am proud!) is so brutal of mind, emotions, freedom, progress, science and all that I hold precious, that by any standards of justice its leaders in almost any given period would be incarcerated for life, or worse!"

—Madison Arnold, quoted in Freethought Today, "Madison Arnold: Actor, Activist, Atheist," by Dan Barker, March 1989

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Eddie Izzard

Eddie Izzard

On this date in 1962, Edward John Izzard was born in Aden (which is now Yemen) to British parents. The family moved to Britain before Izzard's first birthday, and Izzard spent his childhood in Northern Ireland. After his mother's death in 1968, he and his brother attended boarding school in England. Izzard attended Sheffield University, but quit school to concentrate on comedy in 1981. After a few false starts as a sketch comic and a street performer, Izzard's stand-up performances began to gain critical acclaim in the early 1990s. Throughout much of his stand-up career, Izzard, who identifies as a transvestite, performed in women's clothing and makeup. In his 2008 show, "Stripped," he performed with a “blokey” look. He told The New York Times (March 16, 2008) that he didn't want to be in the “transvestite comedian” box any more. Izzard also works as an actor in Hollywood, notably starring in the FX show "The Riches" (2007-2008). In 2000, Izzard received two Emmys, one for writing and one for performing, for his stand-up special "Dress to Kill" (1999).

Izzard frequently pokes fun at religion in his routines, ranging from the uninspired hymn-singing in the Church of England to the bible and creationists. His religion-inspired comedy routines often feature such topics as God and Jesus hanging out in heaven and scientific information that ought to have been included in the bible. In his show "Circle," Izzard said, “So in the Christian faith, God created Adam in his own image, yeah, so that was good, but 65 million years before that, he created the dinosaurs using the image of his cousin Ted.” Izzard says that he was agnostic for many years, but is now an atheist. He told the audience in "Circle": "But then Jesus had to go down to Planet Earth and teach the word of the Lord to the dinosaurs. . . . 'Rrrah, llllih, laaaal,' says Jesus, trying to blend in.”

“I was warming the material up in New York, where one night, literally on stage, I realized I didn’t believe in God at all. . . . I just didn’t think there was anyone upstairs.”

—Eddie Izzard, The Times of London, Feb. 8, 2009

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

G.H. Hardy

G.H. Hardy

On this date in 1877, Godfrey Harold Hardy was born in Surry, England. Hardy’s parents were teachers, and he showed mathematical ability very early on in life. He attended Winchester College, a traditional British boarding school, for secondary education, where he was awarded a scholarship for mathematics. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1896, where he studied mathematics. Continuing at Cambridge and independently studying Continental mathematics, he earned his M.A. (at the time, the highest degree available) in 1903. He worked as a lecturer at Cambridge from 1909 until 1919, when he left for Oxford, where he took the Savilian Chair of Geometry. In 1931, he became Sadlerian Professor at Cambridge, a position he held until 1941. Hardy never married and had no known romantic attachments; he himself described his mentorship of the young Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan as “the one romantic incident of my life.” His sister cared for him in his old age.

Hardy helped to bring a new tradition of pure mathematics to England, which had remained largely applied since the time of Isaac Newton. He worked to bring pure mathematical rigor and proofs to Cambridge, helping to reform the old curriculum which featured many practical problems in hydrodynamics. Although Hardy’s work at the time was purely theoretical, it has since been used to solve many practical problems. Many of his contributions were in the field of mathematical analysis and analytic number theory. Hardy was a life-long atheist, refusing to enter a chapel even for funerals or for elections of college officials. D. 1947.

1. To prove the Riemann hypothesis;
2. To make a brilliant play in a crucial cricket match;
3. To prove the nonexistence of God;
4. To be the first man atop Mount Everest;
5. To be proclaimed the first president of the U.S.S.R., Great Britain, and Germany; and
6. To murder Mussolini.

—A list of New Year’s resolutions sent by Hardy to a friend in the 1940’s, according to Paul Hoffman, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers (1998)

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© 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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