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: Matt Taibbi , Gerald H.F. Gardner and John Irving
Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi

On this date in 1970, muckracking atheist journalist Matthew C. "Matt" Taibbi was born in New Brunswick, N.J. The son of an NBC reporter, he grew up in Boston and graduated from Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. He moved to Russia in 1992 and studied and worked there and in Uzbekistan and Mongolia for over six years. In 1997 he co-edited with Mark Ames an English language newspaper called the eXile, geared to expatriates in Moscow. It provided background for his first book, with Ames and Edward Limonov, The Exile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia (2000).

He then started The Beast, a satirical biweekly in Buffalo, N.Y., but left to concentrate on freelancing for The Nation, Playboy, Rolling Stone and New York Press (which he left in 2005 after his editor Jeff Koyen was fired over issues raised by Taibbi's column "The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope"). Taibbi defended the piece as "off-the-cuff burlesque of truly tasteless jokes" to relieve readers of his "fulminating political essays." He covered the 2008 presidential campaign for "Real Time with Bill Maher."

He received a 2008 National Magazine Award in the category "Columns and Commentary" for his Rolling Stone columns. His article "The Great American Bubble Machine," which detailed Goldman Sachs' involvement in the financial meltdown, received a 2009 Sidney Award from the Sidney Hillman Foundation. His 2008 book The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion told the story of how he infiltrated Texas evangelical pastor John Hagee's Cornerstone megachurch and school and Hagee's "near-absolute conquest of a very trendy niche in the market: Christian Zionism."

He has also written Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (2010), The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (2014), Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus (2017) and Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another (2019). He and his wife Jeanne, a family physician, were married in 2010 and live in New Jersey with their son.

MEHTA: What role should religion play in the political arena?
TAIBBI: Well, I’m an atheist/agnostic, so I would say none. People should stick to solving the problems they have the tools to solve. If you have a budget crisis, well, human beings can do the math, work out a new tax/spending strategy, and fix that. But we don’t have any tools for [divining] the will of God as it relates to, say, a new problem like high school shootings, the Iraq war, or the AIDS virus. All we have are the opinions of religious leaders whose motives may or may not be pure, and whose grasp of logic may or may not be of the highest quality. If you inject religion into the equation, the debate is necessarily going to be subjective, emotional, and inconclusive. It’s also very easy for unscrupulous people to use religion to further various ends for other reasons. Hagee’s humping of Israel is a great example. How do you get fundamentalist Christians to support the financial subsidy of/military aid to a Jewish state? Easy; you convince them the world is going to end soon, and that we’re going to be on the wrong side of Armageddon unless we support Israel."

—Interview with "Friendly Atheist" Hemant Mehta (April 29, 2008)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Gerald H.F. Gardner

Gerald H.F. Gardner

On this date in 1926, mathematician Gerald Henry Frazier Gardner was born in Tullamore, Ireland. He studied mathematics and theoretical physics at Dublin’s Trinity College. He earned a master’s in applied mathematics from Carnegie Institute of Technology (1949) and a doctorate in mathematical physics from Princeton (1953). Gardner worked in applied seismology for several decades and taught at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), Rice University and the University of Houston.

Gardner actively pursued equal rights for women. Along with his wife, the former Jo Ann Evans, he was an early member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Organization for Women. Evans, a Ph.D. experimental psychologist, adopted the surname Evansgardner when they married in 1950.

Gardner and the chapter in 1969 challenged sex-based employment ads in the Pittsburgh Press. Employment want ads used to list separate categories for "Male Wanted" and "Female Wanted," which barred women from much professional work. Gardner specifically provided statistical analysis of the likelihood of women finding employment in such a structure. This led to landmark women’s rights decision in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld a Pittsburgh ordinance that prohibited sex-based employment advertisements.

As a result, want ads were "desexregated" around the nation, a huge boon for women's employment rights. Gardner contributed statistical analysis in other cases involving gender and race discrimination and considered this work the most important of his life (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 27, 2009.) He and his wife were Life Members who joined FFRF in the late 1970s and left a generous bequest. Gardner died of leukemia at age 83 in 2009. Jo Ann died in 2010.

He “was an activist atheist, a proselytizing atheist. He thought that not saying you were an atheist hurt the cause of reality.”

—Jo Ann Evansgardner, remembering her husband in his New York Times obituary (July 28, 2009)

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

John Irving

John Irving

On this date in 1942, novelist John Irving was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, as John Wallace Blunt Jr. He became John Winslow Irving after his mother remarried when he was 6. His religious upbringing was in a liberal Episcopal congregation. He earned his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire in 1965 and his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1967.

His early books included Setting Free the Bears (1968), The 158-Pound Marriage (1972), the enormous best-seller The World According to Garp (1978), The Cider House Rules (1986), A Prayer for Owen Meany (his top-seller ever, 1989) and A Widow for One Year (1999). Irving won the 2000 Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. A Widow for One Year was excerpted for the 2004 movie "The Door in the Floor." Robin Williams starred in the 1982 movie "The World According to Garp."

The Cider House Rules portrayed a sympathetic abortionist during the era when it was illegal. Irving told Mother Jones magazine (May/June 1997): "I have no respect for the right-to-life position, though I have every respect for an individual who says, 'I could never have that procedure, I could never see a film or read a book about that procedure.' It doesn’t bother me if people feel that way. But when you legislate personal belief, you’re in violation of freedom of religion."

Irving has said he holds agnostic views and resents strident atheism as much as he does religious proselytizing. "Contrary to what many fundamentalist religions would tell us, I don't think the humanist position should be confined to atheists. I think humanism means a belief in the possibility of the goodness of the human being." (Brave Souls by Douglas Todd, 1996.) 

He has also published the novels Last Night in Twisted River (2009), In One Person (2012), Avenue of Mysteries (2015) and Darkness As a Bride (2020). Irving married Shyla Leary in 1964 and they had two sons before divorcing. He later married Janet Turnbull, his publisher at Bantam-Seal Books, and they had a son in 1992. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007 and had a radical prostatectomy.

Public domain photo: Irving in 1989 in the Netherlands.

"Doubt is an integral part of faith. I'm not comfortable calling myself a believer, a Christian. But if somebody says, 'Are you an atheist?' I'd back down from that question too."

—Irving, quoted in "Brave Souls: Writers and Artists Wrestle with God, Love, Death and the Things that Matter" by Douglas Todd (1996)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Bill Dunn

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