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: Anthony B. Pinn , Catherine the Great and Yoram Kaniuk
Anthony B. Pinn

Anthony B. Pinn

On this date in 1964, humanist scholar Anthony Bernard Pinn was born to Raymond and Anne Pinn in Buffalo, N.Y. He grew up going to Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches and decided that he was going to be a minister. He preached his first sermon from the pulpit at age 12 and later transferred from public school to a Southern Baptist high school before enrolling at Columbia University, where he earned a B.A. He worked as an AME youth pastor in Brooklyn and Boston but started to believe that the church had no real answers to people's problems. "I was moving from this kind of evangelical fundamentalist position to something more along the lines of the social gospel, but it still wasn't getting it done." (October 2014 speech at the Freedom From Religion Foundation's national convention.)

Continuing his studies, he earned a master of divinity degree and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard in 1994. His dissertation title was “ Wonder as I Wonder: An Examination of the Problem of Evil in African-American Religious Thought.” He had been questioning whether God existed and was having issues with theism more than religion. He asked himself, "Do the people matter, or is it the tradition that matters?" He relinquished his minister's credentials, remaining interested in religion but seeing it as "a force that needed to be wrestled with and understood as a cultural development that shaped world events in some profound ways." In his first book, Suffering and Evil in Black Theology (1995), Pinn discussed theodicy (why God permits evil) from an African-American perspective. How, he asked, can black theists, particularly black theologians, make sense of a perfect, benevolent God in light of African-American suffering?

After teaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Suffolk University and Macalester College, he accepted an offer in 2003 from Rice University in Houston, becoming the first African-American to hold an endowed chair there as a professor of humanities and religion. Pinn is the founding director of the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning at Rice and director of the Institute for Humanist Studies in Washington. He's the author, co-author or editor of more than 35 books, including the Fortress Introduction to Black Church History (with his mother, Anne H. Pinn, an AME minister, in 2001), The End of God-Talk: An African American Humanist Theology (2011), Writing God's Obituary: How a Good Methodist Became a Better Atheist (2014), Humanism: Essays in Race, Religion, and Cultural Production (2015) and When Colorblindness Isn’t the Answer: Humanism and the Challenge of Race (2017).

His awards include the African-American Humanist Award from the Council for Secular Humanism (1999), Harvard University Humanist Association Humanist of the Year (2006) and Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association Humanist of the Year (2017). He was named a recipient in 2019 of FFRF's Emperor Has No Clothes Award for speaking truth to power. Pinn’s research interests include humanism and hip hop culture. He married journalist Cheryl Johnson in 2000. They separated in 2005 and divorced in 2015.

"For me the title is a way of capturing the decline and eventual death of a concept — God — that had been important to me for years. I wanted the title to reflect my transition from theism to nontheistic humanism through my push away from God — God being the central category of my religious youth."

—Anthony Pinn, interview, Religion News Service, April 1, 2014, on his book "Writing God’s Obituary: How a Good Methodist Became a Better Atheist"

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great

On this date in 1729, Catherine II, the rationalist Empress of Russia, was born as Sophia Augusta Friederika in Germany. The daughter of the Prince of Anhalt-Serbst, she was groomed at 14 to be the future wife of Peter, the disreputable heir to the Russian throne. Sophia moved to Moscow to be educated for her position. Her name changed to Catherine when she was received into the Russian Othodox Church, and married in 1745. She and colleagues, allegedly including her lover Orlov, deposed Peter III in a popular coup d'etat in 1762. He was later strangled in prison.

Catherine admired and corresponded with French rationalists such as Voltaire and Diderot, launched reforms, transformed St. Petersburg, wrote stories, and was a patron of the arts who helped to pave the way for the great 19th-century flowering of art, music and literature in Russia. Catherine responded to peasant revolts and the French Revolution with increasing conservatism, but remained a Deist. D. 1796.

“As Empress, Catherine endeavoured to enforce the enlightened humanitarian views of the great French Rationalists, with whom she was in complete sympathy. Her reforms, in regard to education, justice, sanitation, industry, etc., were of great value.”

—Joseph McCabe, "A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists"

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Yoram Kaniuk

Yoram Kaniuk

On this date in 1930, author, journalist and painter Yoram Kaniuk was born in Tel Aviv in the British Mandate of Palestine. He spent his childhood surrounded by numerous creative individuals. His father became the first curator of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, his godfather, Hayyim Nahman Bialak, was known as a pioneer of modern Hebrew poetry, and his grandfather taught Hebrew in schools and authored textbooks. While Kaniuk was still a teenager, he served in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. While serving, he was wounded when an Englishman disguised in a kaffiyeh, an Arab headdress for men, shot him in the legs. This, along with other of Kanuik’s profound life experiences, gave way for the inspiration to the near 30 novels he produced during his lifetime. Some of Kaniuk’s best-known works are Hemo, King of Jerusalem (1948), Confessions of a Good Arab (1984) and His Daughter (1988). His writings focused on the war, the Holocaust, Israel and the prospect of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Kaniuk believed that there was too much complication due to the intersections of religion, ethnicity and nationality in Israel and spoke out against religious extremism. In 2011, Kanuik won a legal battle against the district court of Tel Aviv in which he appealed to change the religion clause on his Israeli identity from Jewish to no religion. The case was a milestone achievement for the separation of state and religion in Israel because it removed some of the religious implications that existed for Israelites as a result of the country defining itself as Jewish. Kanuik identified as a Jew of no religion and advocated for the freedom of the next generation to identify as Jewish by nationality rather than by religion unless they choose to do so.

In his final years of life, he battled bone marrow cancer and became fascinated with death. His final novel, Between Life and Death, detailed the four months he spent in a coma near the end of his existence. Upon his death, Kaniuk donated his body to science in order to avoid the ultra-Orthodox practice of funerals Jews obey. D. 2013.

“[Israel] established a state out of religion rather than the nation we almost became. Along the way we did not stop in the hallway of civilization, and religion attached itself to us like a leech, because that is the only way it survives, and now it has come back and returned. We never became a nation, but rather the greatest enemy of that which Zionism tried to be.”

—Yoram Kaniuk, quoted by Mitch Ginsburg, "Yoram Kaniuk’s last published words: ‘We messed it up."

Compiled by Tolulope Igun

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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