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 5 entries for this date: Thelonious Monk , Julia Sweeney , Harold Pinter , Henry Cavendish and Fridtjof Nansen
Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk

On this date in 1917, the American jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Monk was born in North Carolina. When he was 5, his family moved to Manhattan where he started playing the piano, largely self-taught. His compositions “Round Midnight,” “Well, You Needn’t,” Straight, No Chaser,” and “Blue Monk” (among others) have become standards in the jazz repertoire. "Round Midnight" is the most recorded jazz standard written by a jazz musician, appearing on more than 1,000 albums. Monk’s idiosyncratic style utilized unexpected melodic twists, dissonant harmonies (which are pleasing to jazz players), erratic percussive phrases punctuated by unexpected hesitations and silences. Despite these unorthodox qualities, Duke Ellington is the only jazz composer who has been recorded more often than Monk, who is one of only five jazz musicians to have been on the cover of Time (along with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck and Wynton Marsalis).

Like his music, Monk’s views on religion were also unorthodox. As a teenager, he played the organ for a traveling evangelist, but it appears he was an agnostic who held no religious beliefs of his own. Biographer Robin D. G. Kelly writes that “Monk clearly was not a true believer,” and that “most people who knew Monk remember that he rarely attended church and did not speak about religion in the most flattering terms.” His niece Charlotte said “he was never into religion. Religion was not his thing. . . . He never went to church or any of that. And his kids, he never took them to church. He said they had to have their own mind about things.” When the journalist Valerie Wilmer asked him, “Do you believe in God?”, Monk replied, “I don’t know nothing. Do you?” But Monk was tolerant of religion, and although ambivalent himself, he sometimes accompanied his mother on the piano as she sang her beloved hymns while dying of cancer.

Thelonious Monk was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. D. 1982.

[“Do you believe in God?”] “I don’t know nothing. Do you?”

—Thelonius Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, by Robin D. G. Kelley (2009)

Compiled by Dan Barker

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Julia Sweeney

Julia Sweeney

On this date in 1961, comedian and author Julia Sweeney was born in Spokane, Wash., into a devout Roman Catholic family. For much of her childhood, she wanted to be a nun. After majoring in economic studies at the University of Washington, Julia instead became an accountant for Columbia Pictures and United Artists. Having a knack for comedy and mimicry, Julia signed up for a class with the improvisational comedy troupe, "The Groundlings," where she was discovered by "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels. She was on that show for four hit seasons, from 1990-1994, and introduced the popular character, "Androgynous Pat." In 1994, Julia made the movie, "It's Pat." After her brother, Michael, then Julia, were both diagnosed with cancer, she wrote and starred in the play, "God Said, Ha!" The film version won the Golden Space Needle Award for best director and the recording was nominated for a Grammy. She has made frequent TV guest appearances, served as a creative consultant on "Sex and the City," and has appeared in many movies, including "Clockstoppers" (2002), "Beethoven's 4th" (2001), "Beethoven's 3rd" (2000), "Stuart Little" (1999), "Pulp Fiction" (1994), "Coneheads" (1993), and "Honey, I Blew Up the Kids" (1992). Her very funny monolog about adopting her daughter from China, "In the Family Way," debuted in 2003. In October 2004 she debuted her newest monolog, "Letting Go of God," about her journey from Roman Catholic schoolgirl to atheist, and is working on a book of the same title for Henry Holt & Co. Her goal for the book is that it make it into the "inspirational" section in airport bookstores: "Why isn't there a book about someone losing their faith and it being this beautiful experience?" she asked The Los Angeles Times (May 1, 2003). For information on booking tickets for this fabulous and scathingly brilliant play, go to her website.

“It took me years, but letting go of religion has been the most profound wake up of my life. I feel I now look at the world not as a child, but as an adult. I see what's bad and it's really bad. But I also see what is beautiful, what is wonderful. And I feel so deeply appreciative that I am alive. How dare the religious use the term 'born again.' That truly describes freethinkers who've thrown off the shackles of religion so much better!”

—Quote submitted by Julia Sweeney. For more about Julia Sweeney, go to ethought-comedienne-of-the-year-award/

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter

On this date in 1930, playwright Harold Pinter was born in East London to a Jewish family. He briefly studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and acted under the name "David Baron." The playwright, director, actor, poet and political activist wrote 29 plays, 21 screenplays and directed 27 theater productions. His plays include "The Birthday Party," "The Caretaker," "The Homecoming," and "The Betrayal." Screenplays include "The Servant," The Go-Between," "The French Lieutenant's Woman," and "The Handmaid's Tale." Pinter's many awards include the Wilfred Owen Prize for poetry opposing the Iraq Conflict, the Shakespeare Prize (Hamburg), the European Prize for Literature (Vienna) and the Laurence Olivier Award. He was married to Lady Antonia Fraser. Pinter continued to dabble in acting, including portraying Sir Thomas Bertrand in the film, "Mansfield Park." His recent fight against cancer, he said, had fortified his commitment to political activism. That activism included signing a letter to the BBC asking that their daily "Thought for the Day" should also include those with secular views. D. 2008.

“You know, I had my bar mitzvah when I was thirteen and I never entered a synagogue again. I've been to one or two marriages, I think, but I've never had anything to do with it.”
"

—Harold Pinter,

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Henry Cavendish

Henry Cavendish

On this date in 1731, chemist/physicist Henry Cavendish was born in Nice, France, to an English family. Educated at Cambridge, he devoted the study of his life to chemistry. Among his contributions: discerning the composition of water and of the atmosphere, taking the first accurate measurement of the mass of the earth, and isolating hydrogen ("inflammable air"). Considered morbidly shy, especially of women, he left his female servant his meal orders in writing. He was one of England's wealthiest men by the age of 40 due to inheritances. His one social outlet was the Royal Society Club. Although he made numerous experiments, Cavendish published only 20 articles. A century after his experiments in electricity, James Maxwell discovered Cavendish's work and published it for the first time. Cavendish did not attend church, and was an agnostic. D. 1810.

“As to Cavendish's religion, he was nothing at all.”
"

—Biographer Dr. G. Wilson, Life of the Hon. H. Cavendish, 1851, (p. 180), cited by Joseph McCabe, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Fridtjof Nansen

Fridtjof Nansen

On this date in 1861, explorer Fridtjof Nansen was born in Kristiania (now Oslo), Norway, and was educated at Kristiania University. Nansen took his first voyage in 1882 to the Greenland Sea, then was appointed Curator of the Bergen Natural History Museum, where he met leading scientists and became a Darwinist. He made headlines in Norway when he skied across the mountains from Bergen to Kristiania to take part in sports competitions. While working on his doctorate in zoology, Nansen became the first person to cross Greenland on skis. From 1893 to 1896, Nansen led a famous expedition to the Arctic. Although not quite reaching the north pole, he became an international celebrity. Nansen helped negotiate the peaceful split between Norway and Sweden in 1905, then became Norway's first ambassador to Great Britain. A professor of zoology at Kristiania University for several years after his voyage, he returned to the university as Rector Magnificus. Nansen wrote up his exploits in The Norwegian North Polar Expedition (1893-1896) and Northern Mists (1911). In the early 1920s when famine struck the Soviet Union, Nansen overcame diplomatic difficulties to engineer a successful prisoner swap between Russia and Germany-Austria-Hungary, involving more than 400,000 prisoners. For this humanitarian feat he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922. He worked not only with the League of Nations but the International Red Cross, which used Nansen's name on a special passport for refugees deprived by Lenin of their nationality during the Russian civil war. Refugees such as Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff and Chagall came to the west bearing the Nansen passport. After the award, Nansen brokered an "ethnic separation" between fighting Turks and Greeks, arranging a population exchange. Nansen was considered an outspoken agnostic. He was given a state funeral. D. 1930.

“. . . the religion of one age is, as a rule, the literary entertainment of the next. . .”
"

—Fridtjof Nansen, "Science and the Purpose of Life." Speech published by the Rationalist Press Association, 1909, cited by 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  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  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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