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Charles Southwell

On this date in 1814, Charles Southwell was born in London, England. Southwell became an atheist as a teenager after reading Sermons by the Calvinist Timothy Dwight. After serving in the British Foreign Legion in Spain during the Carlist War, Southwell became a popular and prolific freethought lecturer in London. He founded a radical bookstore in London, and helped found the atheist magazine Oracle of Reason, which often published fiercely anti-Christian material. “The . . . BIBLE, has been for ages the idol of all sorts of blockheads, the glory of knaves, and the disgust of wise men. It is a history of lust, sodomies, wholesale slaughtering, and horrible depravity; that the vilest parts of all other histories, collected in one monstrous book, could scarcely parallel,” Southwell wrote in Oracle of Reason (via Politics 1790-1900, Edward Royle, 1976). Southwell boldly asserted in 1842 that “The world could not have been designed by one being, infinitely wise, infinitely good, and infinitely powerful.” The magazine, which was the first atheist periodical in England, was considered so blasphemous that Southwell was arrested in 1841 and imprisoned for a year.

Southwell lived in New Zealand from 1856 until his death in 1860, where he was influential to the freethought movement there and is considered to be New Zealand’s first freethinker. The New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists named their Charles Southwell Award after him. Southwell authored the books An Apology for Atheism (1846), Superstition Unveiled (1854), and The Confessions of a Freethinker, and founded the newspapers The Investigator, The Lancashire Beacon and The Auckland Examiner. D. 1860.

“Superstition is the tyranny of tyrannies, and its priests the tyrants of tyrants.” 

—Charles Southwell, Oracle of Reason, Vol. 1, 1842

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

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