Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: Edward Elgar and Barbara Smoker
Edward Elgar

Edward Elgar

On this date in 1857, British composer ("Pomp and Circumstance") Edward Elgar was born in England. Raised as a believing Roman Catholic, he discarded his faith toward the end of his life. Most of his earlier works were religious in nature, such as "The Apostles" and "The Kingdom," intended to be part of a trilogy, which Elgar never finished. Writes biographer Byron Adams, "Paradoxically, the excursion into biblical exegesis that Elgar did during the creation of 'The Apostles' and 'The Kingdom' could have played a part in the unraveling of the composer's already frayed beliefs." Elgar requested cremation and that his ashes be scattered at the confluence of the Severn and Teme rivers, which conflicted with the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. When Elgar was unconscious due to heavy doses of morphine, his daughter summoned a priest. His biographer writes: "Betrayed by friends and family, manipulated by ruthless commercial interests and without consolation, Elgar died on 23 February 1934, and was buried next to his wife in the cemetery of St. Wulstan's Roman Catholic Church in Little Malvern." D. 1934.

"Arthur Thomson, the Birmingham doctor who delivered the fatal diagnosis of cancer to the composer, reported that Elgar "told me that he had no faith whatever in an afterlife: 'I believe there is nothing but complete oblivion.'"

—-Byron Adams, "Elgar's Later Oratorios" (in Grimley, Daniel and Rushton, Julian, editors, The Cambridge Companion to Elgar. Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Barbara Smoker

Barbara Smoker

On this date in 1923, Barbara Smoker was born in Great Britain. Such a devout Roman Catholic that she considered becoming a nun, Smoker renounced religious faith at the age of 26, and became a secular humanist activist instead. She served as President of the National Secular Society, the most militant of the British secular groups, from 1971-1996. Her script, "Why I Am an Atheist," was recorded for the BBC in 1985. She fought a statutory ban on embryo research with a pamphlet, "Eggs Are Not People," distributed to all members of Parliament in 1985. In the tradition of 19th-century NSS activists Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant, Smoker has officiated at more than 400 secular humanist funerals, as well as wedding ceremonies and analogous ceremonies on behalf of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, which she co-founded. Smoker served as chair of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society from 1981-1985, editing Voluntary Euthanasia: Experts Debate the Right to Die (1986). When Muslims held a London demonstration in May 1989 against Salman Rushdie, Smoker, holding a banner reading "Free Speech," was attacked by a surge of demonstrators, and was rescued from serious injury by a police officer. She has written many pamphlets for the NSS as well as regular columns for The Freethinker.

“People who believe in a divine creator, trying to live their lives in obedience to his supposed wishes and in expectation of a supposed eternal reward, are victims of the greatest confidence trick of all time.”

—-Barbara Smoker, "So You Believe in God!" 1974 pamphlet. See Women Without Superstition for more about Barbara Smoker

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; Photo used with permission from Barbara Smoker

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