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 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. "Pomp and Circumstance" is one of his famous compositions.

Biographer Byron Adams wrote, "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."

When Elgar was unconscious due to heavy doses of morphine for cancer pain, his daughter summoned a priest. His biographer writes, "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." He had requested cremation and that his ashes be scattered, which conflicted with Catholic doctrine. D. 1934.

"Elgar told me that he had no faith whatever in an afterlife: 'I believe there is nothing but complete oblivion.' " 

—Arthur Thomson, the doctor who delivered Elgar's fatal cancer diagnosis. "Elgar's Later Oratorios" by Byron Adams (included in "The Cambridge Companion to Elgar," 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 age 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 1971-96. 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 secular activists Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant, Smoker has officiated at more than 400 humanist funerals, as well as at weddings 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 1981-85, 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 by a police officer. 

She was diagnosed as having advanced breast cancer in May 2018 at age 94 near the time that her last book, My Godforsaken Life: Memoir of a Maverick, was published. D. 2020.

“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.”

—Smoker, "So You Believe in God!" (1974 pamphlet)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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