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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Jean Meslier

Jean Meslier

On this date in 1664, Jean Meslier was born in Mazerny in the Ardennes, France. Meslier became the village priest in Etrépigny, also in the Ardennes, where he served for 40 years. Meslier is noted for leaving, on his deathbed, a several-hundred page manuscript, titled Memoir of the Thoughts and Feelings of Jean Meslier: Clear and Evident Demonstrations of the Vanity and Falsity of All the Religions of the World, denouncing Christianity, the Church and all religion, calling it the "opium of the people." He was an early exponent of communal values and an advocate of radical equality. Though the manuscript was suppressed by the Church, it was circulated illicitly.

Meslier is the originator of the quote, often attributed to Denis Diderot, that the world will be free when "the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest." French philosopher Michel Onfray says of Meslier in his Atheist Manifesto (2005), "For the first time (but how long will it take us to acknowledge this?) in the history of ideas, a philosopher had dedicated a whole book to the question of atheism. . . . The history of true atheism had begun." (Translated by Jeremy Leggat, 2007.)

Voltaire published an "Extract" of Meslier's magnum opus in 1761, selectively edited to make it seem as if Meslier were, like Voltaire, a deist, rather than the atheist he proclaimed himself to be. The Memoir was not published in its entirety until 1864. As of this writing, no full translation is known to have been completed. Despite its incompleteness, Meslier's work was influential in the French Enlightenment, widely read by 19th-century American freethinkers, and admired by Karl Marx. D. 1729.

"How I suffered when I had to preach to you those pious lies that I detest in my heart. What remorse your credulity caused me! A thousand times I was on the point of breaking out publicly and opening your eyes, but a fear stronger than myself held me back, and forced me to keep silence until my death."

—Jean Meslier, Memoire, via The New Humanist

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.

On this date in 1929, Martin Luther King Jr., was born. The civil rights leader, Baptist minister and founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference believed in a strict separation of church and state. Although his many speeches are peppered with references to Jesus and God and often depend for the force of their authority upon "the natural law of God," the Rev. King knew that the religious status quo tended to support segregation. In his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," dated April 16, 1963, King revealed his pique at continued criticism of the civil rights movement by clergy, pointing out that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the country. D. 1968.

“In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. . . . [H]ere we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice. . . . The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. . . . Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?”

—Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo by Atomazul, Shuttestock.com

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday

Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, observed on the third Monday in January.

I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision. They have been motivated, I think, by little more than the wish to embarrass the Supreme Court. When I saw Brother [George] Wallace going up to Washington to testify against the decision at the congressional hearings, it only strengthened my conviction that the decision was right.

—Martin Luther King, Jr., Playboy interview, 1965. [About the Supreme Court’s decisions striking down prayer in public schools.]

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Molière

Molière

On this date in 1622, playwright and poet Jean Baptiste Poquelin, who adopted the stage name Molière as an actor, was born in Paris. His father was an upholsterer/valet to the king. Jean Baptiste studied philosophy in college, started a Parisian acting troupe and toured the provinces with it for many years, acting, directing and writing. As a favorite of King Louis XIV, he produced a succession of 12 popular comedies still being performed, including "The School for Wives" (1662), "Don Juan" (1665), "Le Misanthrope" (1666) and "Tartuffe" (1667), all irreverent and increasingly irreligious. "Tartuffe," a satire on religiosity, originally featured a hypocritical priest. Although Molière rewrote Tartuffe's profession to avoid scandal, some religious officials nevertheless called for him to be burned alive as punishment for his impiety. Molière was excommunicated from the Catholic Church in 1667. He married actress Armande Bejart when she was 19 and they had a daughter, Esprit-Madeleine, in 1665. Becoming ill while playing the lead in his play "The Imaginary Invalid" (1673), Molière insisted on finishing the show, after which he died. Catholic officials refused to officiate or formally bury him. It took the intervention of the king to get him interred under cover of night at a cemetery reserved for suicides. D. 1673.

" . . . [T]here is nothing, I think, so odious as the whitewashed outside of a specious zeal; as those downright imposters, those bigots whose sacrilegious and deceitful grimaces impose on others with impunity, and who trifle as they like with all that mankind holds sacred; those men who, wholly given to mercenary ends, trade upon godliness, and would purchase honour and reputation at the cost of hypocritical looks and affected groans; who, seized with strange ardour, make use of the next world to secure their fortune in this; who, with great affectation and many prayers, daily preach solitude and retirement while they themselves live at Court; who know how to reconcile their zeal with their vices; who are passionate, revengeful, faithless, full of deceit, and who, to work the destruction of a fellow-man, insolently cover their fierce resentment with the cause of Heaven."

—Molière, monologue by Cléante, "Tartuffe" (1667)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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