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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Thomas Beddoes

Thomas Beddoes

On this date in 1760, physician and scientific writer Thomas Beddoes was born in Shifnal, England. He attended Bridgnorth Grammar School for his secondary education before moving to Oxford, where he attended Pembroke College, a constituent of the University of Oxford.

Upon completing his undergraduate studies, Beddoes enrolled in the University of Edinburgh Medical School, where he was taught chemistry and medicine. He met his wife Anna while working at the Bristol Pneumatic Institution, a medical research facility searching for a cure to tuberculosis. They had one son, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, who became a well-known British poet and playwright.

In 1788, the University of Oxford appointed Beddoes professor of chemistry. He taught at the school for six years during the French Revolution before resigning. During this time, his lectures made radical medical claims that drew attention from large audiences. Beddos hoped to extend Joseph Priestley's ideas on treating disease by the therapeutic inhalation of different gases and vapors. He contributed significantly to the British Enlightenment, but left Oxford after recognizing that his ideas were not welcomed by all.

Beddoes stressed the importance of imagination as it arises from one’s senses and criticized the use of religious maxims as teaching material. He believed that the source of children’s knowledge should come from learning natural history and studying natural objects themselves. He also speculated that our religious beliefs are a product of our environment and governance. D. 1808.

“Man created a God, a Heaven and a Hell.”

—"Thomas Beddoes M.D. 1760–1808: Chemist, Physician, Democrat" by D.A. Stansfield (2012)

Compiled by Tolulope Igun

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Mattie Parry Krekel

Mattie Parry Krekel

On this date in 1840, freethought lecturer Mattie Parry Krekel was born in Goshen, Indiana, to John M. Hulett and Lucinda Jay (a direct descendant of revolutionary John Jay). Mattie liked to thank her parents for being liberal in their religious views, noting that her life had not been twisted or distorted by ecclesiastical influences which enslave the mind. She began lecturing at age 15 in Rockford, Illinois, and retired only in 1900. Mattie married T.W. Parry in 1862 and had six children, four sons and two daughters. Following his death she later married Judge Arnold Krekel of Missouri.

She was well-known on the freethought lecture circuit, or "Liberal platform." Freethought biographer S.P. Putnam called her "one of the bravest and staunchest lecturers in the field ... eloquent, scholarly, logical, ready for any hardship; has plenty of grit. ... She is well informed on subjects pertaining to science and reform, and is in thorough sympathy with those who suffer and toil because of ignorance and superstition." (Four Hundred Years of Freethought, 1894).

"Up to the beginning of the present century there were few names more familiar to readers of The Truth Seeker than Mattie Parry Krekel," noted George E. Macdonald, one of the newspaper's longest-lived editors (Fifty Years of Freethought, 1929). D. 1921.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

George Jacob Holyoake

George Jacob Holyoake

On this date in 1817, George Jacob Holyoake was born to a poor family in England. The young foundry worker attended classes in his free time, becoming a mathematics teacher. By 1840, Holyoake was a lecturer at the Worcester Hall of Science. Best-known for coining the term "secularist," Holyoake dedicated his life to freethought. He was sentenced to six months in jail for saying England was "too poor" to support a God and should consider retiring him. He founded and edited a number of freethought journals, including Reasoner (1846-50), Leader (1850) and Secular Review (1876).

Holyoake wrote more than 160 pamphlets and works, including the books Origin and Nature of Secularism (1896), his autobiography, Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life (1892), and the two-volume Bygones Worth Remembering (1905). He was president of the British Secular Union for many years, and became the first chair of the Rationalist Press Association.

As an Owenite, Holyoake was an ardent reformer who put causes over personal gain, helped work for women's rights, political and educational reform, and personally aided refugees fleeing persecution. Contemporary American agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll wrote on Aug. 8, 1888: "There is no man for whom I have greater respect, greater reverence, greater love, than George Jacob Holyoake." D. 1906.

“Free thought means fearless thought. It is not deterred by legal penalties, nor by spiritual consequences. Dissent from the Bible does not alarm the true investigator, who takes truth for authority not authority for truth."

—Holyoake, "The Origin and Nature of Secularism" (1896)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

On this date in 1743, Thomas Jefferson, who became the third U.S. president, was born in Virginia. As a young attorney and member of the Continental Congress, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson became Governor of Virginia in 1779, when the Anglican Church was disestablished as the state religion.

He wrote the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, whose preamble indicted state religion, noting that "false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time" have been maintained through the church-state. The heart of the statute guarantees that no citizen "shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever." It was adopted in 1786 and is replicated in most other state constitutions.

Jefferson spent five years in France as an ambassador, and therefore was out of the country at the time of adoption of the U.S. Constitution. He strenuously urged the addition of a Bill of Rights. He became the first secretary of state in 1789, vice president in 1796, president in 1800 and reelected in 1804.

In his Notes on Virginia (1781), Jefferson, a Deist, wrote: "Millions of innocent men, women and children since the introduction of Christianity have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned. Yet have we not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth." He contemptuously rejected the trinity concept, regarded Jesus as a human teacher only and in 1804 composed a 46-page New Testament extraction titled The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth. No known copies exist.

In an October 1813 letter to a friend, Jefferson explained that he had arranged "the matter which is evidently, his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds from a dunghill." He produced what became known as the Jefferson Bible, 84 pages, in 1820. It was titled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.

As president he issued his famous letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, on Jan. 1, 1802, explaining that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment builds "a wall of separation between church and state." He refused to issue any days of prayer or thanksgiving, believing civil powers alone were conferred on public officials.

Jefferson instructed that the epitaph on his tombstone read: "'Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom & Father of the University of Virginia,' because by these, as testimonials that I have lived I wish most to be remembered." He and John Adams died on the same significant anniversary of July 4, 1826.

"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear. ... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find inducements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you."

—Jefferson's letter to nephew Peter Carr, written from Paris (Aug. 10, 1787)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

On this date in 1949, writer and columnist Christopher Eric Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, England. His parents, Eric and Yvonne Hitchens (née Hickman), met in Scotland when both were serving in the Royal Navy during World War II. He attended Cambridge and graduated from Oxford in 1970, reading in philosophy, politics and economics. From 1971-81 he worked as a book reviewer for The Times of London.

When Hitchens was 23, his mother committed suicide in Athens in a pact with her lover, defrocked clergyman Timothy Bryan. They overdosed on sleeping pills in adjoining hotel rooms and Bryan slashed his wrists in the bathtub.

In 1981 he emigrated to the U.S., becoming a citizen in 2007. He wrote "Minority Report," a column for The Nation, from 1982-2002. He then wrote for Slate, The Daily Mirror, The Atlantic Monthly, Vanity Fair, Harper's and several other publications. As a foreign correspondent, he covered events in 60 countries on all five continents. In "Papal Power: John Paul II's other legacy" (Slate, April 1, 2005), Hitchens pointed out that the pope "was a part of the cover up and obstruction of justice that allowed the child-rape scandal to continue for so long." Mortality, a collection of seven of his Vanity Fair essays about his fatal illness, was published posthumously in 2012.

Hitchens wrote over 30 books, including The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (1995), God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007) and Hitch-22: A Memoir (2010). His pro-Iraq War views and his criticisms of President Bill Clinton made Hitchens increasingly controversial among progressives, but he remained a stalwart iconoclast. He told a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. interviewer (May 14, 2007) that he was an “anti-theist” more than an atheist: “You could be an atheist and wish that the belief was true. ... An anti-theist, a term I’m trying to get into circulation, is someone who’s very relieved that there’s no evidence for this proposition.” But he also identified as an atheist and a secular Jew (on his mother's side).

He married Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, in 1981. They had a son, Alexander, and a daughter, Sophia, before divorcing in 1989. In 1991 he married screenwriter Carol Blue in a ceremony in the apartment of Victor Navasky, editor of The Nation. They had a daughter together, Antonia.

Hitchens died of hospital-acquired pneumonia in 2011 at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston after being diagnosed in 2010 with esophageal cancer. He was the recipient of FFRF's Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2007 and served as an honorary director until his death. D. 2011.

"Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life — except religion."

—Hitchens, "The Lord and the Intellectuals," Harper's (July 1982)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Bill Dunn

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