Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: José Saramago and George Seldes
José Saramago

José Saramago

On this date in 1922, José Saramago was born in Azinhaga, Santarém, Portugal. He dropped out of school when he was 12 to become a mechanic, and later worked as a journalist and production manager of the publishing company Estúdios Cor (1958–1971). After being fired from his position as editor of the newspaper Diário de Lisboa (1971–1975), Saramago devoted his time to writing fiction.

Saramago became an innovative and prolific Portuguese novelist, essayist and poet whose works often contained political and philosophical themes. His novels include The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (1984), The Stone Raft (1986), All the Names (1997) and Blindness (1995), which was adapted into a film in 2008. Saramago became the first Portuguese-language writer to win a Nobel Prize when he was awarded the Prize for literature in 1998. He married Ilda Reis in 1944. They divorced in 1970 and had one daughter, Violante. Saramago was later married to Pilar del Río, a journalist.

According to a New York Times Topics post (June 18, 2010), Saramago was “an outspoken atheist, one who maintained that religion is to blame for much of the world’s violence.” In an interview with Inter Press Service on Oct. 21, 2009, Saramago said: “God only exists in our minds.” He continued, “About the holy book, I tend to say: read the Bible and you’ll lose your faith.” He wrote the irreverent Cain (2009) and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (1991), which describes Christ as an average young man with vices, in contrast to his pious depiction in the bible. In 1992, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ was deemed heretical by the Portuguese government, and Saramago chose to go into exile in the Canary Islands, Spain. D. 2010

“All religions, without exception, have done humanity more bad than good.”

—José Saramago, Inter Press Service, Oct. 21, 2009.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

George Seldes

George Seldes

On this date in 1890, crusading journalist George Seldes was born in Alliance, New Jersey, to a freethinking, deistic Russian immigrant father and a Russian immigrant mother who died when George was 6. Emma Goldman and other radicals often stayed in the Seldes spare bedroom in Pittsburgh. George became a cub reporter for the Pittsburgh Leader in 1909 (earning $3.50 a week in "lunch money"). He met and interviewed many celebrities of his era. He became night editor of the Pittsburgh Post five years later, and eventually was hired by United Press to report in London in 1916. Seldes became an accredited war correspondent for Marshall Syndicate in 1917 in Paris, and managing editor of the army edition of the Chicago Tribune in 1918. Seldes and several colleagues were court-martialed for "breaking the armistice" after interviewing Hindenburg, the chief commander of the German forces. Seldes always believed that had he been permitted to publish the interview, in which Hindenburg openly credited American entry with German defeat, it might have forestalled the rise of Nazism. The "Dolchstoss" (stab in the back) myth grew in Germany that Germany had not really lost, but had been betrayed from within by the socialists, communists and Jews.

Seldes spent a decade reporting in Europe, and interviewed Trotsky and Lenin before being expelled from Russia. He was also expelled from Italy for writing truthfully about Mussolini. In the 1930s he went to Spain to report on the fascist Gen. Francisco Franco. Seldes and his wife Helen Larkin purchased a home in Woodstock, Vermont, thanks to a $5,000 loan by neighbor Sinclair Lewis (another neighbor was Dorothy Thompson). George and Helen began publishing In fact, devoted to press criticism, from 1940-1950. During its peak, the circulation was 176,000. Seldes was the first to report the link between cancer and cigarette smoking. He wrote 21 books, including: You Can't Print That! (1929), Can These Things Be! (1931), The Vatican: Yesterday - Today - Tomorrow (1934), Iron, Blood, and Profits: An Exposure of the World-wide Munitions Racket (1934), Sawdust Caesar (about Mussolini, 1935), Freedom of the Press (1935), Lord of the Press (1938), The Catholic Crisis (examining church ties to fascism, 1940) and Witch Hunt (1940), about red-baiting. Seldes continued writing books and edited the invaluable references, The Great Quotations (1960) and The Great Thoughts (1985). His final book, Witness to a Century (1987), was written about his 80 years as a newspaperman when Seldes was 96. Until his death at age 104, George Seldes was the oldest member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The 1996 film, "Tell the Truth and Run," by Rick Goldsmith, features interviews with Seldes and was nominated for an Academy Award. D. 1995.

“And so [my brother] Gilbert and I, brought up without a formal religion, remained throughout our lifetimes just what Father was, freethinkers. And, likewise, doubters and dissenters and perhaps Utopians. Father's rule had been 'Question everything, take nothing for granted,' and I never outlived it, and I would suggest it be made the motto of a world journalists' association.”

—George Seldes, "Witness to a Century: Encounters with the Noted, the Notorious, and the Three SOBs" (1987)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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