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 Makepeace Thackeray , Donald B. Ardell and Kristen Bell
William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray

On this date in 1811, William Makepeace Thackeray was born in India. He was educated at Cambridge, Trinity College, met Goethe in Germany, lost most of his inheritance through gambling or bad investments and then studied law. Thackeray decided to go into writing, lived in Paris for several years and then moved back to London for a journalism career. Employing highly unlikely noms de plume such as "C.J. Yellowplush" and "George Savage Fitz-Boodle," Thackeray eventually wrote for the periodical PunchThe Book of Snobs (1848) compiled sketches published weekly in Punch. Example: "Snobs are to be studied like other objects of Natural Science, and are a part of the Beautiful (with a large B)."

The satirist had success with The Paris Sketchbook (1840), Barry Lyndon (1844) and Vanity Fair, which was serialized in 1847-48 and introduced the amoral and memorable character of Becky Sharp. ("I think I could be a good woman if I have five thousand a year.") For a time his popularity rivaled Dickens' and, like Dickens, Thackeray lectured in the U.S. to great acclaim. After his wife had three daughters in three years, she suffered a permanent nervous breakdown. Thackeray and his mother took care of the girls. His daughter Harriet married Sir Leslie Stephen, a clergyman who became an agnostic.

Thackeray "seems to have formed no very definite creed." (Life of W.M. Thackeray, by Herman Merivale, 1891.) "About my future state I don't know. I leave it in the disposal of the awful Father." (Life of W.M. Thackeray by Louis Melville, Vol. 2, 1899.). D. 1863.

Photo: 1855 public domain daguerreotype of Thackeray by Jesse Harrison Whitehurst.

“Ah, what rubbish!”

—Thackeray, hearing a preacher "on the Evangelical dodge," in "Letters to Dr. J. Brown" (1912), cited in "A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists" by Joseph McCabe (1920)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Donald B. Ardell

Donald B. Ardell

On this date in 1938, humanist fitness authority Donald Bruce Ardell was born in Philadelphia. After 12 years of parochial school (which he now calls "miseducation in Catholic dogma and superstition"), he served for three years in the U.S. Air Force, then enrolled at George Washington University on a full basketball scholarship. He continued his education at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Stanford University to focus on urban planning and business before earning a doctorate in health and public policy at Union Institute & University in Cincinnati.

Working initially in 1965 as an urban planner and then as a health planner, he started developing and promoting the wellness concept in 1973. Ardell modified the concept in 1998 to REAL wellness (Reason, Exuberance, Athleticism, Liberty), a science-based lifestyle approach to well-being focused on exercise and nutrition. Since 1984 and as of this writing, he's published nearly 900 online editions of the Ardell Wellness Report.

Practicing what he has preached, Ardell has won seven age-group world triathlon championships and a dozen titles in U.S. triathlon and duathlon nationals. He has two patents for a hands-free, fast-transition running shoe that speeds the switch during triathlons from the bike to the run. 

The first of his 15 books was High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease (1977). Planning for Wellness: A Guidebook for Achieving Optimal Health (1982) and The Book of Wellness: A Secular Approach to Spirituality, Meaning and Purpose (1996) followed, among others. Not Dead Yet: World Triathlon Champions 75 and Over Offer Tips for Successful Aging (co-author Jack Welber) came out in 2019.

As an admirer of "The Great Agnostic" Robert Green Ingersoll, Ardell delivers verbatim Ingersoll lectures to audiences and says, "His speeches still dazzle, inform, inspire and motivate. His passions, themes and causes we, too, embrace and seek yet: secular democracy, emancipation of the oppressed, justice for all, reason as the best guide, joy the highest virtue, happiness the greatest good, science the truest source and natural wonders the only worship." (Freethought Today, 2013)

He and his wife Carol live in Gulfport, Fla., and Madison, Wis., where he volunteers for FFRF and contributes op-eds like the whimsical "Impositional religiosity added to DSM." He has a daughter, Jeanne, and a son, Jon, from a previous marriage.

"I choose to believe in common decencies, science, reason, love, kindness and hope as the consolation of the world."

—Ardell, quoted in Lifetime Running online (Jan. 17, 2019)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Kristen Bell

Kristen Bell

On this date in 1980, actress Kristen Anne Bell was born in Huntington Woods, Michigan, the daughter of Lorelei (Frygier), a nurse, and Tom Bell, a television news director. They divorced when she was 2. She took acting lessons as a child and her mother registered her with an agent when she was 12, after which she was cast in print and broadcast ads and attended Shrine Catholic High School. Her parents had become dissatisfied with her public school.

After graduation, Bell studied musical theater at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She made her first credited debut in "Pootie Tang" (2001) and appeared in the Broadway revival of "The Crucible" with Liam Neeson in 2002. She then moved to Los Angeles and found work in television. Her breakout role was as the title character in the series "Veronica Mars," which aired from 2004-07. (Bell also played the title role in the 2014 film based on the series.)

After the "Mars" series went off the air, Bell won the starring film role in the Judd Apatow comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." She then starred in the 2009 comedies "Serious Moonlight" with Meg Ryan and "Couples Retreat" with Jason Bateman. She co-starred with Christina Aguilera and Cher in the 2010 musical film "Burlesque" before playing the female lead on the Showtime comedy series "House of Lies" from 2012-16.

She had numerous other acting and voice roles in films and TV, including "The Lifeguard" (2013), "Frozen" (2013), "Zootopia" (2016), "The Boss" (2016), "Bad Moms" (2016) and "The Disaster Artist" (2017). Hulu announced in 2018 that Bell would reprise her role in an eight-episode fourth season of "Veronica Mars," which debuted in July 2019.

After ending a five-year relationship with Kevin Mann in 2007, Bell started dating actor Dax Shepard. They announced their engagement in January 2010 but out of principle chose to delay marriage until California legalized same-sex unions, which happened in 2013. They have two daughters, Lincoln, born in 2013, and Delta, born in 2014.

Neither she nor Shepard are religious. That has caused "a lot of turbulence" with her born-again Christian mother, Bell told interviewer Marc Maron in 2018. Despite not seeing eye to eye on religion, she doesn't judge her mother for her beliefs. “It’s an idea of practiced behavior that is good for her. I am not in need of that same thing. I feel like I have a good barometer of being more of a humanist, a good barometer of good and bad and how my conduct should be toward other people.”

Bell gave up eating meat when she was 11 and supports nonprofits dedicated to protecting animals. She works with the charity Invisible Children Inc. to create awareness of the plight of Ugandans caught in the midst of a civil war between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army. In 2019 she and Shepard founded the company Hello Bello to market plant-based baby care products that are environmentally friendly and affordable. 

Public domain photo by Tom Bell of his daughter Kristen during a visit to the "Veronica Mars" set in 2007.

"Let me tell you something. My child is not going to heaven or having an afterlife based on some man pouring water over her head."

—Bell to her mother, who was upset that Bell and her husband didn't baptize their daughters. "WTF With Marc Maron" podcast (September 2018)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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