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: Pierre Bayle , Chalmers Roberts , Ben Winter and Margaret Atwood
Pierre Bayle

Pierre Bayle

On this date in 1647, 17th century skeptic and father of the Enlightenment, Pierre Bayle, was born in southern France. He was the son of a Protestant minister at a time when Huguenots endured severe persecution, and Protestant schools had been closed. He was therefore educated at a Jesuit college in Toulouse. Under pressure Bayle dallied with a conversion to Roman Catholicism, but ultimately rejected it, thereby becoming a "relaps" under French law--a person who becomes a heretic after abjuring heresy, and was subject to punishment. Bayle decided it was safer to study philosophy in Calvinist Geneva. He became professor of philosophy in 1675 at a Protestant academy in Sedan, until it was closed down by Catholic authorities in 1681. Bayle joined the community of French Protestant refugees in Rotterdam, where he taught at the Ecole Illustre. Bayle published a paper on a comet (working in the comment: "No nations are more warlike than those which profess Christianity," Thoughts on the Comet, 1682), then a critical account of a Jesuit history and a defense of Cartesianism. He edited one of the first academic journals, Nouvelles de la republique des lettres (1684-1687), and corresponded with intelligentsia such as Leibniz and Locke, making rejection of superstition and intolerance a centerpiece of his writings. His masterpiece was a philosophical analysis of the words of Jesus: "Constrain them to come in." Bayle protested conversion by force, and was the first to argue for complete religious toleration and freedom of conscience, including for Jews, Muslims and atheists. He quipped that he was a literal Protestant, protesting against everything. His writings, including biblical criticism and his denial that religiosity necessarily inspires moral behavior, were collected in The Historical and Critical Dictionary, published in Rotterdam in 1692 and translated into English in 1736. While successful, his dictionary was banned in France and even condemned by the Huguenots. Bayle continually updated it to answer attacks, writing that no religious beliefs were supported by reason. Voltaire later called it "the Arsenal of the Enlightenment." As freethought historian Joseph McCabe noted: "There are no articles on 'God,' 'Christ,' or 'Immortality,' and Bayle's opinions are not fully known, but may be inferred. The caustic and elaborately polite thrusts at both Catholic and Protestant doctrines, the vindication of Greek and Roman thought, and the firm advocacy of toleration and of the independence of ethics, gave the Dictionary, of which very numerous editions and translations appeared, a very large share in the spread of Rationalism" (A Biographical Dictionary of Rationalists, 1920). Bayle never left his Calvinist church, though many friends, future freethinkers and nearly all his critics regarded him as a "secret atheist." D. 1706.

“It is pure illusion to think that an opinion which passes down from century to century to century, from generation to generation, may not be entirely false.”

—Pierre Bayle, Thoughts on the Comet, 1682

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Chalmers Roberts

On this date in 1910, Chalmers Roberts was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. He earned a degree from Amherst College in 1933, and later became a journalist for seven newspapers including the Japan Times in Tokyo, beginning in 1938, and the Washington Post, beginning in 1949. Roberts was chief diplomatic correspondent of the Washington Post from 1953 to 1971, often authoring front-page political stories. Roberts wrote the influential Washington Post articles about the Pentagon Papers, secret government documents detailing deceptions that occurred during the Vietnam War. Roberts was named as a defendant in the U.S. Supreme Court Case against the Washington Post and The New York Times for publishing information about the Pentagon Papers.

Roberts continued to write columns for the Washington Post until 2004. He wrote five books, including Washington Past and Present (1950), The Nuclear Years: The Arms Race and Arms Control (1970), and his autobiography, First Rough Draft: A Journalist’s Journal of Our Times (1973). In 1941, Roberts married Lois Roberts, who died in 2001. He has three children: David, Patricia and Christopher.

After being diagnosed with congestive heart failure, Roberts chose to refuse potentially lifesaving open-heart surgery. He wrote about his decision for the Washington Post on August 28, 2004, explaining, among other things, his views on religion and the afterlife. Roberts wrote: “I agree with Francis Crick, the eminent Cambridge don, the winner of the Nobel Prize for his co-discovery of the double helix, the blueprint of life, who wrote: ‘In the fullness of time, educated people will believe there is no soul independent of the body, and hence no life after death.’” D. 2005

“I do want to add a final word about the hereafter. I do not believe in it. I think that the religions which promise various after-life scenarios basically invented them to meet the longing for an answer to life’s mysteries.”

—Chalmers Roberts, Washington Post, August 28, 2004.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ben Winter

Ben Winter

On this date in 1927, author and cowboy Ben Winter was born in Fox, Okla., second child of Charles and Hazel Winter. Growing up on a farm, he enjoyed roping cows and horseback riding as a youth. A quote above his rural Oklahoma elementary school entryway stuck with him, a catalyst for a lifetime love of learning and friendly debate: “Knowledge Once Gained Casts a Light Beyond its Own Immediate Boundaries.” Winter joined the Air Force in his late teens and worked in a print shop in Okinawa, Japan, during the Korean War. In 1949, Ben “stole” an Air Force buddy’s photo of a beautiful woman, Joyce Lynn Sadler, from Homer, Okla., whom he married that year. They have five children: Schahara Suzanne, Scheryl Sharisse, Scharmagne Suzette, Christopher Thomas and Schaunon Simone, along with grand- and great-grandchildren.

An entrepreneur at heart, even while employed in the oilfield, Ben was a successful horse breeder, trainer, and racehorse owner, with many visits to the Winner’s Circle. A self-taught artist and musician, he has written many poems and stories, including the non-fiction The Great Deception: Symbols & Numbers Clarified. Over 13 years, he researched Josephus, the Christian bible, Strong’s Concordance and hundreds of other works. Ben had been exposed to conventional biblical teachings, raised mostly in the Church of Christ. “What I was reading in the bible and what I was hearing from the pulpit did not coincide. When contemplating meaning, modern clergy and bible students subscribe to emotion rather than scholarly endeavor of which these ancient symbols resisted first century as well as modern interpretation.”

He often quotes a favorite author, Spinoza: “All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare."

“Belief is an anomaly of the mind.”

—Ben Winter

Compiled by Schaunon Winter Gilman and Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo used with permission of Ben Winter

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood

On this date in 1939, Canadian novelist and poet Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Canada. As a youngster, she spent many months of each year in the wilderness with her parents, due to her father's job as a forest entomologist, and began writing at age 6. Atwood, fittingly, was descended from a Salem woman, Mary Webster, accused of witchcraft and sentenced to be hanged in 1685, but allowed to live after the rope broke. Atwood made her notorious ancestor the subject of her poem "Half-Hanged Mary." Atwood earned a B.A. from the University of Toronto in 1961, her M.A. from Radcliffe College and attended Harvard for two years of postgraduate study. She has held a variety of positions at various colleges and universities in North America, including lecturer, instructor and writer in residence. Atwood has been published in 14 volumes of poetry, including Margaret Atwood Poems (1965-1975), published in 1991. Her novels include Edible Woman (1969), Surfacing (1972), Lady Oracle (1976), Life Before Man (1979), Bodily Harm (1981), The Handmaid's Tale (1985), Cat's Eye (1988), The Robber Bride (1993), Alias Grace (1996), The Blind Assassin (2000), Oryx and Crake (2003), the first novel in a series that also includes The Year of The Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013), which would collectively come to be known as the MaddAddam Trilogy. Atwood published the novel Hag-Seed, a modern-day retelling of Shakespeare's "The Tempest," in 2016. She was named Canadian Humanist of the Year in 1987, as well as the American Humanist Association's 1987 Humanist of the Year. Handmaid's Tale, about a theocratic take-over of the United States, inspired the 1990 movie adapted by Harold Pinter. Atwood has called herself an agnostic: "A doctrinaire agnostic is different from someone who doesn't know what they believe. A doctrinaire agnostic believes quite passionately that there are certain things that you cannot know, and therefore ought not to make pronouncements about. In other words, the only things you can call knowledge are things that can be scientifically tested." (Quoted in Humanism as the Next Step by Lloyd and Mary Morain, cited by Who's Who in Hell edited by Warren Allen Smith.) Margaret Atwood lives with writer Graeme Gibson. They have three children, and, at last count, one cat.

Photo by Larry D. Moore under CC BY 4.0

“I was reading the Bible — some of us still do that, you know — and I saw the tale of Jacob and his wives and handmaids, a kind of early Baby M. This is not an attack on Christianity, but the fact is Christians have long persecuted other sects and each other, as they are in Northern Ireland today. People were saying things like, 'A woman's place is in the home.' And I got to thinking, well, how would someone enforce thoughts like that?”

—Margaret Atwood, on writing "The Handmaid's Tale," interview in The New York Times, April 14, 1990

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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