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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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Jaime Gil de Biedma

Jaime Gil de Biedma

On this date in 1929, poet Jaime Gil de Biedma y Alba was born in Nava de la Asunción, Spain. Gil de Biedma was a renowned poet who wrote during the post-Spanish Civil War era. He earned a law degree in Salamanca. He grew up and lived in a society that was hostile to the LGBT community but was openly gay. His works of poetry include “Companeros de viaje” (1959), “Moralidades” (1966) and “Longing: Selected Poems” (1993).

Miguel Dalmau wrote a biography of Gil de Biedma in 2005 that was made into a 2009 movie called “El consul de Sodom.” Gil de Biedma frequently criticized the Spanish dictatorship in his poetry and was part of the group of writers known as “el generacion del 50,” who were seen as children of the Spanish Civil War. D. 1990.

"But time has passed
and I see the unpleasant truth
Growing old, dying
is the play's only plot."

"Pero ha pasado el tiempo
y la verdad desagradable asoma:
envejecer, morir,
es el unico argumento de la obra."

—Excerpt from Gil de Biedma's poem "I Will Not Be Young Again" (No volveré a ser joven)

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

On this date in 1850, poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland to Margaret (Balfour) and Thomas Stevenson. His father was a civil engineer who designed lighthouses and his mother's father was a Church of Scotland minister. As a frail, often bed-ridden child suffering from lifelong lung problems, he let his imagination soar. His classic A Child's Garden of Verses (1885) perfectly evokes childhood.

Stevenson studied law, took the bar in 1875 but never practiced due to ill health. His early rejection of Christianity created a schism with his Presbyterian father, who raged the " 'orrible atheist" at his son. Moving to London, he started contributing to leading magazines. A walking trip in France produced Travels with a Donkey in Cervenne (1878). His first novel, An Island Voyage (1878), was followed by Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped. Stevenson specialized in adventure and often dipped into the macabre, explaining, "But we are so fond of life that we have no leisure to entertain the terror of death. It is a honeymoon with us all through, and none of the longest."

In 1880 he married Frances "Fanny" Van de Grift Osbourne, 10 years his junior and the divorced mother of three. Two biographers concluded that Stevenson, while not wishing to affiliate with rationalist groups, was an agnostic. Biographer Francis Watt (R.L.S., 1913) wrote that Stevenson "was destitute of fixed creed or belief, and that he is properly described as an Agnostic." In The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson (1994), a love letter included a touching line: "I believe in you as others believe in the Bible."

In 1890 the family settled on the island of Samoa and Stevenson took the native name Tusitala (Teller of Tales). He continued to write and was active in local politics. He died at age 44 in 1894, probably of a cerebral hemorrhage while straining to open a bottle of wine. Although his family erected a tomb with religious references for his grave by the Pacific, one side carries a bronze plaque with his chosen secular epitaph "Requiem" and its lines "Here he lies where he longed to be / Home is the sailor, home from sea."

Stevenson the year before he died; photo by Henry Walter Barnett.

“I am religious in my own way, but I am hardly brave enough to interpose a theory of my own between life and death. Here both our creeds and our philosophies seem to me to fail.”

—Stevenson, quoted by Arthur Johnstone in "Recollections of R.L. Stevenson in the Pacific" (1905)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

John de Lancie

John de Lancie

On this date in 1948, actor John de Lancie was born in Philadelphia to Andrea and John S. de Lancie. His father was principal oboist for the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1954-77. "My parents, for all intents and purposes, were secular. And I just didn’t believe all this religious stuff. I never got any further than the Jonah and the whale story when I was about 6." (Skeptical Inquirer, June 19, 2019.)

He attended Kent State University and then won a scholarship to Juilliard in New York City. His acting career started in television in the mid-1970s. He played Eugene Bradford from 1982-89 on the soap opera "Days of Our Lives" and had numerous other small-screen roles. Perhaps his signature role was as the powerful, extra-dimensional being "Q" on "Star Trek" starting in the 1980s.

He married Marnie Mosiman in 1984. As of this writing in 2019, they live in Pasadena, Calif., and have two sons, Keegan and Owen.

De Lancie's film career includes roles in "The Onion Field" (1979), "The Fisher King" (1991), "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle" (1992), "Multiplicity: (1996), "Saving Private Ryan" (voice, 1998), "Woman on Top" (2000) "Reign Over Me" (2007) and "Bronies" (2013).

He has performed as a narrator with some of the world's leading symphony orchestras and wrote, directed and hosted "First Nights," a series at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He made his opera directorial debut in 2006 with the Atlanta Opera performing Puccini's "Tosca." With actor Leonard Nimoy, de Lancie started a company called Alien Voices to recreate radio broadcasts of classic science fiction stories such as "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and "The Time Machine." 

His many theater credits include playing Clarence Darrow in the 2007 national tour of "The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial" in which Ed Asner portrayed William Jennings Bryan. In 2017 he helped unveil the Darrow statue commissioned by FFRF to stand at the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tenn.  De Lancie said the statue "is not about trying to convince somebody who believes in God, a god, multiple gods, that that doesn't exist. Where I'm interested is to say, as Darrow said, the Bible is not a science book, it's not a biology book, it's not the place you would go to make a locomotive or steamboat." (Chattanooga Times Free Press, July 15, 2017.)

A longtime rationalist, he says he's "openly secular" and started his 2016 Reason Rally speech in Washington, D.C., with this: "My name is John de Lancie, and I am a god. At least, I've played one on TV. And I'm here to tell you as a god that I was created by humans. And the words I spoke were written by men and women."

In 2018 in San Francisco, he accepted FFRF's inaugural Clarence Darrow Award with a speech that included: "Three years ago, if the Christian fundamentalists of America had been told they would be voting en masse for a pathological liar, a serial philanderer, a man whose very name when placed in the same sentence with the phrase Christian values elicits laughter, they would have been insulted. As arbiters of all things moral and ethical, they would have been shocked. But that was then and this is now." 

De Lancie's new projects include an animated series titled "God's Goofs" on the absurdity of so-called intelligent design to deflate the notion that humankind is the product of a creator and a stage play based on the 2005 intelligent design trial in Dover, Pa. 

"My biggest concern is that with certain religious training you seem to lose any sort of critical thinking in the process. You seem to lose your ability to ask questions.”

—De Lancie interview, Skeptical Inquirer (June 19, 2019)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Roy Torcaso

Roy Torcaso

On this date in 1910, Roy Torcaso, a leader in the church-state separation movement, was born in Enumclaw, Wash. Torcaso, an atheist, filed his Supreme Court-bound lawsuit in 1959 when his application to be a Maryland notary public was denied on grounds that he refused to say he believed in God. This was a requirement to hold public office in many states, including the state of Maryland. “The point at issue is not whether I believe in a supreme being, but whether the state has a right to inquire into my beliefs.” (Washington Post, June 21, 2007.)

His case, Torcaso v. Watkins, eventually came before the Supreme Court, which in 1961 ruled unanimously in Torcaso’s favor and said Maryland’s requirements for public office violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments and Article 6. The Constitution’s Article 6 states, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public trust under the United States.”

Torcaso continued to be an advocate in the humanist movement. He was a board member of the American Humanist Association and a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Executive Council. He was featured in FFRF’s documentary “Champions of the First Amendment.” He also officiated secular weddings.

A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Torcaso was a bookkeeper up until the time of his well-publicized trial. He lost his bookkeeping job during the trial because his employer, a Bethesda construction company, did not want to be associated with him and his beliefs. This led to financial difficulty for the Torcaso family, but he continued to fight for his rights even when his children were ostracized by some of their neighbors.

Torcaso fought for racial integration of his neighborhood, attended pro-choice rallies, and supported the right-to-die movement. Torcaso had three children and was married for 60 years. His case inspired his daughter, Linda Bernstein, to become a lawyer. “He was an activist to the end of his life. He just did not believe that religion should enforce its views on the whole of society,” Bernstein said in a June 2011 interview with Americans United for Separation of Church and State. D. 2006.

“I do not believe in any form of the supernatural or divinity.”

—Torcaso in “Champions of the First Amendment,” a 1988 film by FFRF

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

On this date in 1969, author and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her family moved often during her childhood, seeking political asylum because her father Hirsi Magan Isse was a revolutionary opposition leader. Raised as a devout Muslim, she endured a traumatic genital mutilation when she was about 5. Her grandmother had secretly arranged the religious rite to take place while her parents were out of town.

In her early 20s she was told by her father that a marriage to a cousin in Canada had been arranged and that she had no choice in the matter. Fleeing the marriage and seeking political asylum, Ali went to the Netherlands in 1992. There she earned a master's degree in political science and became a fellow at the Wiardi Beckman Foundation. She was first elected to the Dutch parliament in 2003. A prominent critic of Islam, Ali spoke out publicly against the abuses of women. She was also active in seeking to reform the handling of asylum seekers.

Two books she wrote were controversial, The Son Factory: About Women, Islam and Integration (2002) and The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam (2003).  She was named by Time magazine in 2005 as "one of the 100 most influential people in the world."

Ali considered herself a Muslim until May 28, 2002, when she said she became an atheist while sitting in an Italian restaurant drinking a glass of wine: "I asked myself: Why should I burn in hell just because I'm drinking this? But what prompted me even more was the fact that the killers of 9/11 all believed in the same God I believed in." (Interview, "Das Magazin," September 2006.) Ali wrote the script for the 2004 film "Submission," which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic society, bringing her to international notice.

Two months after its release, the film's producer, Theo van Gogh (great-grandnephew of Vincent van Gogh), was murdered as he bicycled in Amsterdam by a Moroccan member of a Dutch Islamist terrorist organization. The assailant had pinned a death threat to Ali on van Gogh's body and she was forced to go into hiding. She resigned from the parliament and moved to the U.S., working for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

Ali's autobiography Infidel was published in English in 2007. She received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2010, the same year her book Nomad was published. In 2015, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now was released. She founded the AHA Foundation, a nonprofit working to end "honor" violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. She is married to the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson. They have two sons.

Reason, not obedience, should guide our lives. Though it took centuries to crumble, the entire ossified cage of European social hierarchy — from kings to serfs, and between men and women, all of it shored up by the Catholic Church — was destroyed by this thought.”

—Hirsi Ali, "Infidel" (2007)

Compiled by Jane Esbensen; photo by Brent Nicastro.

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.