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.

As a member, to receive Freethought of the Day in your email inbox, contact us here. To become an FFRF member, click here. To learn more about FFRF, request information here.

There are 5 entries for this date: Saul Bellow , Nat Hentoff , Maurice Sendak , Treaty of Tripoli and E. O. Wilson
Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow

On this date in 1915, writer Saul Bellow was born in Lachine, Quebec, Canada, to Russian immigrants Lescha (née Gordin) and Abraham Bellows. He was raised in a strict Jewish household until age 15, when his mother died. She wanted him to become a rabbi, but he quickly drifted away from religion and began reading a wide variety of literature. Bellow spent most of his early life in Chicago, where he attended the University of Chicago before transferring to Northwestern University for his B.A. in sociology and anthropology.

He later did graduate work in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He'd become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1941 and served in the merchant marine during World War II. He published his first novel, Dangling Man, in 1944. He taught at the University of Minnesota, University of Puerto Rico and University of Chicago as he worked on his writing career.

Bellow’s early novels include The Adventures of Augie March (1953), which won the National Book Award, Henderson the Rain King (1959) and Seize the Day (1965). He was the first American to receive the International Literacy Prize for his novel Herzog (1964), which spent 42 weeks on the best-seller list. The book is composed of (often unsent) letters of reflection from the protagonist Moses E. Herzog to figures ranging from Nietzsche to President Eisenhower and God. Herzog secured Bellow’s status as an acclaimed author. Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970) won a National Book Award and Humboldt's Gift (1975) received the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

After writing numerous works of fiction, Bellow wrote his first nonfiction book, To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account (1976), which details his experiences and impressions of visiting Israel for several months in 1975. He received the 1976 Nobel Prize in Literature "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work." His final novel, Ravelstein (2000), is a biographical portrait based on Allan Bloom, a political philosopher, author, education critic and personal friend.

During his career he also wrote plays, critically received story collections like Mosby's Memoirs and contributed fiction to many literary quarterlies. Bellow died at home in Brookline, Mass., in 2005 at age 89. He was married five times and divorced four times and was survived by three sons and a daughter, the last born in 2000 when he was 84.

Bellow at Boston University, c. 1992. CC 2.5.

"If you asked me if I believed in life after death, I would say I was an agnostic. There are more things between heaven and earth, Horatio, etc."

—Bellow, New York Times obituary (April 6, 2005)

Compiled by Tolulope Igun

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

On this date in 1925, First Amendment devotee Nat Hentoff was born in Boston to Jewish immigrants from Russia. As a freedom fighter who referred to himself as a “Jewish atheist,” he was characterized by a love for rabble-rousing. His New York Times obituary told the story of how Hentoff, as a 12-year-old, sat on his outside porch on a street leading to the synagogue and ate a salami sandwich on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement and fasting.

In his 1986 memoir Boston Boy, Hentoff said that he had done so to experience what it was like to be an outcast. He wrote that despite infuriating his father and getting sick, he enjoyed it. (“Nat Hentoff, a Writer, a Jazz Critic and Above All a Provocateur, Dies at 91.” The New York Times, Jan. 7, 2017.)

Hentoff attended Boston Latin, a public school, where he read rapaciously and developed an impassioned ear for jazz musicians. While attending Northeastern University, Hentoff became the editor of a student paper. As a journalist he developed an ardent commitment to uphold the First Amendment. After graduating in 1946 and working for several years at a Boston radio station, Hentoff moved to New York in 1953 and covered jazz music for Down Beat until 1957.

In 1958 he started his longtime job as a writer and columnist for The Village Voice, a counterculture weekly, where he remained as a columnist for 50 years. Hentoff also had a flourishing freelance career, contributing to Esquire, Harper’s, Commonweal, The Reporter and the New York Herald Tribune. He wrote for the New Yorker from 1960 to 1986 and for the Washington Post from 1984 to 2000. Hentoff also lectured at schools and colleges and was part of the faculty at New York University and The New School.

Hentoff wrote over 35 books, including The Collected Essays of A. J. Muste (1966), Black Anti-Semitism and Jewish Racism (1970), Blues for Charles Darwin (1982) and Speaking Freely (1997). His writing expressed his left-wing views on issues focal to civil liberties such as censorship, which he ardently opposed, and education reform. He also produced profiles on political and religious leaders, educators and judges. He held some extremely controversial viewpoints, one of which being his stance against abortion.

Hentoff received several awards, including the National Press Foundation’s award for lifetime achievement for contributions to journalism in 1995. In 2004 he became the first nonmusician to receive the honor of being named one of six Jazz Masters by the National Endowment for the Arts. D. 2017.

“This despicable twelve-year-old atheist is waiting to be stoned. Hoping to be stoned. But not hit. I am, you see, protesting a stoning, or so I will say later that day when my father has discovered how his only son has spent the morning of the holiest day of the year disgracing himself and his father.”

—Hentoff memoir on eating a salami sandwich on Yom Kippur; "Boston Boy: Growing Up With Jazz and Other Rebellious Passions" (1986)

Compiled by Molly Hanson

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak

On this date in 1928, children's book illustrator and author Maurice Sendak was born in New York City. Sendak graduated from The Art Students League of New York. His career spanned more than 50 years. He began to illustrate other authors' books when he was in his 20s. Throughout his career he illustrated more than 75 books and wrote more than 20.

Sendak is best remembered for writing and illustrating Where the Wild Things Are (1963). His other works include In the Night Kitchen (1970), Seven Little Monsters (1977) and Outside Over There (1981). His iconic books and illustrations have spawned movies, stuffed animals and other toys.

He received numerous honors for his work, including the Caldecott Medal (1964, 1974), the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal (1983), the Hans Christian Andersen Award (1970) and the Astrid Lindgren Award (2003). Sendak's lifelong partner of 50 years, psychoanalyst Dr. Eugene Glynn, died in 2007. D. 2012.

"I'm not unhappy about becoming old. I'm not unhappy about what must be. It makes me cry only when I see my friends go before me and life is emptied. ... It's harder for us nonbelievers."

—Sendak, interview with Terry Gross, NPR (Sept. 20, 2011)

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Treaty of Tripoli

Treaty of Tripoli

On this date in 1797, President John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which had been unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate on June 7. It secured commercial shipping rights and protected American ships in the Mediterranean Sea from Barbary pirates. The area encompassed what later became the nation of Libya. Joel Barlow negotiated and translated the document for the U.S.

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

—Article 11, Treaty of Tripoli

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

E. O. Wilson

E. O. Wilson

On this date in 1929, biologist and author Edward Osbourne Wilson was born in Birmingham, Ala. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in biology from the University of Alabama and a Ph.D. in 1955 from Harvard, the same year he married Irene Kelley. He joined the Harvard faculty in 1956.

Left mostly blind by a fishing accident as a child, his research focus was in the field of myrmecology, the study of ants. His books include The Insect Societies (1971) and The Ants (1990), co-written with Bert Holldobler, which won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. Wilson's On Human Nature won a Pulitzer in 1979.

Wilson is perhaps best known for his intellectual syntheses, often connecting evolution and biology to other disciplines. His 1967 book, The Theory of Island Biogeography, which develops the mathematics of how species evolve in geographically small habitats, is influential in the fields of ecology and practical conservation.

In 1975 he published Sociobiology: A New Synthesis, which connected the evolution of social insects with other animals, including humans. At the time, the idea that human behavior is genetically influenced was very controversial and Wilson was criticized as racist and sympathetic to eugenics. During a 1978 lecture he had a pitcher of water poured on his head while the attacker exclaimed, "Wilson, you're all wet."

Wilson expanded on the ideas propounded in Sociobiology in On Human Nature (1978), which spawned the discipline of evolutionary psychology. While initially widely accepted with some enthusiasm, some aspects of evolutionary psychology research became even more controversial than Sociobiology, with the line between the two fields becoming more blurred.

Writing in January 2009 in Esquire magazine, Wilson said, “If someone could actually prove scientifically that there is such a thing as a supernatural force, it would be one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science. So the notion that somehow scientists are resisting it is ludicrous.” In his 2014 book The Meaning of Human Existence, he wrote, "“The principal driving force of mass murders … is tribalism, and the central rationale for lethal tribalism is sectarian religions — in particular the conflict between those faithful to different myths.”

Wilson's parents were Southern Baptists though he was also raised by conservative Methodists. He abandoned Christianity before college, later describing himself as a "provisional deist" and agnostic. In On Human Nature, he argued that belief in God and rituals of religion are products of evolution. He has been honored by the American Humanist Association twice, in 1982 with the Distinguished Humanist prize and again in 1999 as the Humanist of the Year. In 1990, he was awarded the Royal Swedish Academy of Science's Crafoord Prize in ecology, considered the field's highest honor.

Photo by Jim Harrison under CC 2.5.

“The best way to live in this real world is to free ourselves of demons and tribal gods.”

—Wilson in "The Meaning of Human Existence" (2014)

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

FFRF privacy statement