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

John Irving

On this date in 1942, novelist John Irving was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, as John Wallace Blunt Jr. John became John Winslow Irving after his mother remarried when he was six. 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 books include the enormous bestseller The World According to Garp (1978), The Cider House Rules (1986) and A Widow for One Year (1999), all of which were turned into movies. (A Widow for One Year was excerpted for the movie "The Door in the Floor.")

The Cider House Rules portrayed a sympathetic abortionist during the era when it was illegal and freethinking subject matter. Irving told Mother Jones magazine (May/June 1997): "But we are a country that likes to be punitive. We want to restrict. It is a kind of religious fervor run amok." When he was asked by Mother Jones if he is religious, Irving replied: "You know, if you asked me one day, I might say, 'Well, sometimes I feel a little bit religious.' If you asked me another day, I'd just say flat out, 'No.' " In Brave Souls: Writers and Artists Wrestle with God, Love, Death and the Things that Matter by Douglas Todd, Irving is quoted saying about his views on religion: "Now, if you push me to the wall, I'd say I'm not a believer. But it depends on the day you ask. ... 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."

“[W]hen you legislate personal belief, you're in violation of freedom of religion. The Catholic Church may espouse its opinion on abortion to the members of its congregation. But they are in violation of separation of church and state when they try to proselytize their abortion politics on people who are not Catholics.”

—John Irving interview, Mother Jones, May/June 1997

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; Photo by Tupungato,

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi

On this date in 1970, muckracking atheist journalist Matthew C. "Matt" Taibbi was born. The son of an NBC reporter, he grew up in Boston and graduated from Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. 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 (in 2000) The Exile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia. He then started The Beast, a satirical biweekly in Buffalo, N.Y., but folded it soon thereafter 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." His topics also included media, finance, sports and cultural issues. 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 the July 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."

Photo (cropped) by Tony Fischer, posted under CC 2.0

Hemant 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, The Friendly Atheist, April 29, 2008

— Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Gerald H.F. Gardner

On this date in 1926, 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, Jo Ann Evansgardner, whom he married in 1950, Gardner was an early member of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Gardner and the chapter in 1969 challenged sex-based employment ads in the Pittsburgh Press. Employment want ads used to list separate pages of "Male Wanted," "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. The result? Want ads were "desexregated" around the nation, a huge boom 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, “Obituary: Gerald H.F. Gardner / Scientist, teacher, social activist and feminist,” July 27, 2009). He and his wife were Life Members who joined FFRF in the late 1970s and left a bequest to FFRF. Gardner, who was known for his kindness, died of leukemia at the age of 83. D. 2009.

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

—Gardner’s wife, Jo Ann Evansgardner, remembering her husband in his New York Times obituary, “Gerald Gardner, 83, Dies; Bolstered Sex Bias Suit," July 28, 2009

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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