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 4 entries for this date: Robert Louis Stevenson , Jaime Gil de Biedma , Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Roy Torcaso
Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson

On this date in 1850, poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Probably suffering from lifelong tuberculosis, Robert, as a frail, often bed-ridden child, let his imagination soar. Stevenson's classic A Child's Garden of Verses 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 father, a fanatical Scots Presbyterian, who raged at his son, the "orrible atheist," as Stevenson wrote his friend Charles Baxter (cited in Who's Who in Hell by Warren Allen Smith). Escaping to London, Stevenson began contributing to leading magazines. He also traveled despite frail health. 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. Small blame to us if we give our whole hearts to this glowing bride of ours, to the appetites, to honour, to the hungry curiosity of the mind, to the pleasure of the eyes in nature, and the pride of our own nimble bodies" ("Aes Triplex").

In search of a healthful climate, Stevenson, who married in 1880, sailed to Samoa in 1888 with his widowed mother as part of the entourage. Daily prayers were conducted at his house there, apparently at the request of his mother. Two biographers concluded that Stevenson, while not wishing to affiliate with rationalist groups, was an agnostic. Biographer F. 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, published in 1994, a love letter included a touching line: "I believe in you as others believe in the Bible" (cited in Who's Who in Hell). Stevenson died of a brain hemorrhage in Samoa. Although his family erected a tomb with some religious references, one side carries a bronze plaque with Stevenson's lovely and secular poem, "Requiem": "Under the wide and starry sky/ Dig the grave and let me lie./ Glad did I live and gladly die,/ And I laid me down with a will./ This be the verse you 'grave for me:/ Here he lies where he long'd to be;/ Home is the sailor, home from the sea,/ And the hunter home from the hill." D. 1894.

“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.”

—Robert Louis Stevenson, quoted by biographer A. Johnston, R.L. Stevenson in the Pacific, cited in A Biographical Dictionary of Rationalists by Joseph McCabe.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Jaime Gil de Biedma

On this date in 1929, poet Jaime Gil de Biedma was born in Barcelona, Spain. Gil de Biedma was a renowned Spanish poet who wrote during the post-Spanish Civil War era. He earned a law degree in Salamanca, Spain. He grew up and lived in a society that was hostile to the LGBT community, but was openly gay, and expressed his homosexuality in his poetry. 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, published in 2005, which 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 Spanish 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."

——An excerpt from Gil de Biedma's poem I Will Not Be Young Again/No Volvere A Ser Joven

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

On this date in 1969, passionate critic of religion, 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, a Somali scholar and politician, was a revolutionary opposition leader. Raised as a devout Muslim, young Ayaan endured a traumatic genital mutilation when she was about 5 years old. Her grandmother had secretly arranged the religious rite to take place while her parents were out of town. In her early 20s, Ayaan was informed by her father that a marriage to a cousin in Canada had been arranged, and that she had no choice in the matter. Dramatically fleeing the marriage and seeking political asylum in Europe, 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, as a representative of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. A prominent critic of Islam, Ali spoke out publicly against the abuses of women under Islam. She was also active in seeking to reform Netherlands' handling of asylum seekers. Ali became a well-known in the Netherlands, making many TV and debate appearances, and writing numerous articles and two controversial books: The Son Factory: About Women, Islam and Integration (2002), and The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam (2003-2004). In 2005, Ali was awarded the Democracy Prize of the Swedish Liberal People's Party "for her courageous work for democracy, human rights and women's rights." She was named by Time magazine in 2005 as "one of the 100 most influential people in the world."

Exposed to western culture and values through her readings of literature, history and philosophy, including The Atheist Manifesto by Herman Philipse, Ali moved from Islam to atheism. 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, Swiss magazine "Das Magazin," September 2006). Ali penned the script for the film "Submission," which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic society, bringing her to international notice. Two months after the film's release in 2004, the film's producer, Theo van Gogh (great-grandnephew of Vincent van Gogh), was viciously murdered as he bicycled in Amsterdam by a Moroccan member of a Dutch Islamist terrorist organization. The assailant, who was later convicted, had pinned a death threat to Ali on van Gogh's body. Ali, who was already receiving security from the Dutch government, was forced to go into hiding. After some political concerns arose, she resigned from the Dutch parliament and moved to the United States, working for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative political think tank. Ali's moving and critically-acclaimed autobiography, Infidel, was published in English in 2007. Ayaan received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2010, giving a moving acceptance speech. In 2010, her book, Nomad, was published, and in 2015, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. She has 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. Their son Thomas was born in 2011.

“I had left God behind years ago. I was an atheist. . . . From now on I could step firmly on the ground that was under my feet and navigate based on my own reason and self-respect. My moral compass was within myself, not in the pages of a sacred book. . . .

All life is problem solving . . . There are no absolutes; progress comes through critical thought. . . . 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.”

—Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel (2007)

Compiled by Jane Esbensen; Photo from FFRF's National Convention, By Brent Nicastro

© 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.

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