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 3 entries for this date: William Pitt , Gora and Ed Asner
William Pitt

William Pitt

On this date in 1708, William Pitt, statesman and the first Earl of Chatham, was born in England. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he entered Parliament at age 27 in 1735. After one of his speeches in 1736 offended the king, Pitt was dismissed from the army. He continued eloquent calls for reform in the House of Commons, served in several prestigious posts and in 1756 was named leader of the House. Pitt, known as "the Great Commoner," was England's most powerful politician by 1760 and was known for his honesty. (He's also referred to as Pitt the Elder to distinguish him from his son, William Pitt the Younger, who also was a prime minister.)

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was named for Pitt, who served as prime minister during the Seven Years' War against the French in the colonies. He argued in Parliament against the Stamp Act and introduced many measures to placate the Americans, which were all voted down, such as recalling British troops from Boston. Pitt advised, "You cannot conquer the Americans." The king consequently called him "a trumpet of sedition."

Pitt was believed by some to be author of an unsigned "Letter on Superstition" published in the London Journal in 1733 and reprinted with his name in 1873. It called for a "religion of reason." Biographer Basil Williams in his Life of William Pitt (1913) disputed that claim. Yet Williams' research found that Pitt was a deist with "a simple faith in God," who wrote a "fierce denunciation" of those with a "superstitious fear of God."

There is agreement Pitt had no ministration from the church on his deathbed in 1778. "Lord C[hatham] died, I fear, without the smallest thought of God," recalled William Wilberforce, a friend of Pitt's son (Correspondence of William Wilberforce, 1840). Pitt, who suffered from gout most of his life, collapsed at age 70 during debate on granting independence to the colonies, which he opposed, and died shortly thereafter.

"[A]theism furnishes no man with arguments to be vicious; but superstition, or what the world means by religion, is the greatest possible encouragement to vice, by setting up something as religion which shall atone and commute for the want of virtue."

—Pitt, "Address to the People of England," the London Journal (1733)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Gora

Gora

On this date in 1902, Goparaju Ramachandra Rao, the Indian atheist leader known as Gora, was born into a high-caste Hindu family. He wrote in his autobiography, We Become Atheists, that he grew up "conventionally orthodox and superstitious." He pursued a botany degree, eventually earning his master's in botany at Presidency College in Madras. He and his wife Saraswathi were married in 1922 when she was only 10. Both their families were Orthodox Hindu, which dictated that girls must marry before puberty, until the Child Marriage Restraint Act was passed in 1935.

Gora was excommunicated by his family for his atheism and devoted his life to propagating it. In 1940 he and his wife co-founded the Atheist Centre in a small village in the Krishna district. On the eve of Independence in 1947, they moved it to Vijayawada. Gora wrote many books, including Atheism Questions and Answers, An Atheist Around the World, An Atheist with Gandhi, The Need of Atheism and Positive Atheism. From 1949 on he wrote a column on atheism and began publishing The Atheist, a monthly, in 1969.

The Goras organized the first "beef and pork friendship" gathering in 1972 to foster social cohesion. Among the hundreds who gathered, 138 people ate beef and pork together, including atheists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. 

His atheism dictated his campaign to abolish the caste system with its "untouchables" and the idea of "karma" or divine fate. The Atheist Centre provides counseling, promotes intercaste and casteless marriages (more than 500 have taken place there), works to abolish child marriages, provides aid to vulnerable women, educates against belief in witchcraft and sorcery and promotes sexual education and family planning. After Gora died in 1975, Saraswathi directed the center until her death in 2006. They had nine children.

“The greatest contribution of atheism is the provision of a firm basis for ethical conduct. Atheism explains that morality is a social obligation but not a passport to heaven and salvation. The theistic belief in divine retribution sidetracked moral behavior. Believers were more prone to please the god of their imagination by prayer and ritual than to conform to rules of moral conduct."

—Gora essay, "A Note on Atheism" (1962)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ed Asner

Ed Asner

On this date in 1929, actor Edward (né Etye) Asner was born in Kansas City, Mo., to Lizzie (née Seliger), a housewife, and Morris Asner, who ran a junkyard and secondhand shop. His Orthodox Jewish parents were born in Russia.

Asner didn't like Judaism as a child, feeling it alienated him from his peers in public school when he wanted to be "the regular Joe that everybody else was. I resented it and wanted to put it behind me as fast as I could." (Fox News interview, Nov. 15, 2012.)

After attending the University of Chicago from 1947-49, he worked on the assembly line for General Motors and served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Europe. He helped found the Playwrights Theatre Co. in Chicago before moving to New York City. His first Broadway role in "Face of a Hero" alongside Jack Lemmon was in 1960 and he started to make inroads as a television actor. His film debut in 1962 was in the Elvis Presley vehicle "Kid Galahad."

Asner is best known for his character Lou Grant, a crusty news editor on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in 1970 and later spun off on the "Lou Grant," "Rhoda" and "Rosanne" series. He has nearly 400 acting credits and is the most honored male performer in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards, having won eight, including five for portraying Grant and two for TV mini-series: "Rich Man, Poor Man" (1976) and "Roots" (1977). He served two terms as Screen Actors Guild president from 1981-85.

In the 2007 touring stage production "The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial," Asner played William Jennings Bryan opposite John de Lancie as Clarence Darrow. De Lancie, best known as "Q" on the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation," was the first recipient of FFRF's Clarence Darrow Award. 

At age 82 in 2012, Asner returned to Broadway after a 23-year absence, joining the cast of "Grace," a play starring Paul Rudd as a religious idealist trying to open a chain of Gospel motels in Florida. Asner played a gruff exterminator. In 2013 during his one-man show "FDR" in Indiana, he was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with exhaustion.

In 2018 he started playing the title character in a touring stage production of the political comedy "God Help Us!" in which he uses his "divine" judgment to moderate a heated exchange of ideas between characters Randi and Larry. It can be presented either with a veteran cast or with local actors playing Larry and Randi. Asner plays God either way. When the show played in December 2019 in Madison, Wis., Asner visited FFRF's headquarters to be a guest on its TV show "Freethought Matters."

Asner was married to Nancy Sykes from 1959-88 and they had three children: Kate and twins Matthew and Liza. In 1987 he had a son, Charles, with Carol Jean Vogelman. He married producer Cindy Gilmore in 1998 after a seven-year engagement. They divorced in 2015.

Asner is a parent and grandparent of children with autism and is actively involved with the nonprofit group Autism Speaks. He published The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs in 2017. In 2018 he announced the creation of the Ed Asner Family Center to support differently abled people.

Asner at age 82 at the 2012 Phoenix Comicon; Gage Skidmore photo under CC 3.0

"I don’t know if there is a God, I’m agnostic — the cheap and easy way."

—Asner, Fox News interview (Nov. 15, 2012)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

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