Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: Voltaire and Bjork


On this date in 1694, Age of Enlightenment leader Francois-Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire, was born in Paris. Jesuit-educated, he began writing clever verses by the age of 12. He launched a successful playwriting career in 1718, interrupted by two imprisonments in the Bastille for critiques of the government. He adopted the pen name Voltaire after his second imprisonment and was released after agreeing to move to London. There he wrote Lettres philosophiques (1733), which galvanized French reform. The book also satirized the religious teachings of René Descartes and Blaise Pascal, including Pascal's famed "wager" on God. Voltaire wrote, "The interest I have in believing a thing is not a proof of the existence of that thing."

Voltaire's French publisher was sent to the Bastille and Voltaire had to escape from Paris again, as judges sentenced the book to be "torn and burned in the Palace." Voltaire spent a calm 16 years with his deistic mistress, Madame du Chatelet, in Lorraine. He dedicated Traite de metaphysique to her. Voltaire continued writing amusing but meaty philosophical plays and histories. After the earthquake that leveled Lisbon in 1755, in which 15,000 people perished and another 15,000 were wounded, Voltaire wrote "Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne" ("Poem on the Lisbon Disaster"): "But how conceive a God supremely good/ Who heaps his favours on the sons he loves,/ Yet scatters evil with as large a hand?"

Voltaire purchased a chateau in Geneva, where, among other works, he wrote Candide (1759). To avoid Calvinist persecution he moved across the border to Ferney, where he lived for 18 years until his death. Voltaire began to openly challenge Christianity, calling it "the infamous thing." He wrote Frederick the Great: "Christanity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd, and bloody religion that has ever infected the world." Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary was published in 1764 without his name. Although the first edition immediately sold out, Geneva officials, followed by Dutch and Parisian censors, had the book burned. It was published in 1769 as two large volumes.

Voltaire campaigned fiercely against civil atrocities in the name of religion, writing pamphlets and commentaries about the barbaric execution of a Huguenot trader, who was first broken at the wheel, then burned at the stake, in 1762. Voltaire's campaign for justice and restitution ended with a posthumous retrial in 1765, during which 40 Parisian judges declared the defendant innocent. Voltaire urgently tried to save the life of Chevalier de la Barre, a 19-year-old sentenced to death for blasphemy for failing to remove his hat during a religious procession. In 1766, Chevalier was beheaded after being tortured, then his body was burned, along with a copy of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary. Voltaire's statue at the Pantheon was melted down during the Nazi occupation. D. 1778.

“Atheism is the vice of a few intelligent people.
There are no sects in geometry.
The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning.
Sect and error are synonymous.
Common sense is not so common.”

—Voltaire, "Philosophical Dictionary" (1764)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.



On this date in 1965, recording artist Bjork (neé Bjork Gudmundsdottir) was born in Iceland. She studied classical piano as an elementary student in Reykjavik. When her teachers submitted a tape of her singing "I Love to Love" to Iceland's Radio One, it became a hit. Her first album was released when she was 11. She had formed two bands by age 14. She sang with an avante-garde pop band, The Sugarcubes, in 1986, which became successful internationally. Bjork ventured on a solo career in 1992, which has encompassed the dance and club culture, punk, jazz standards and ballads. She won a Best Actress award at Cannes for playing the protagonist in "Dancer in the Dark" (released in the United States in 2000), for which she also composed the score. "Dancer" also won Best Picture at Cannes. When asked if she believes in God, Bjork replied: "I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one, it would be Buddhism." (Les Inrockuptibles No. 14, June 16, 1995.)

“I've got my own religion. Iceland sets a world-record. The United Nations asked people from all over the world a series of questions. Iceland stuck out on one thing. When we were asked what do we believe, 90% said, 'ourselves.' I think I'm in that group. If I get into trouble, there's no God or Allah to sort me out. I have to do it myself.”

—Bjork, "Bjork on the Wild Side," Celebrity Atheist List (1994)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo by Featureflash /

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