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 2 entries for this date: Stephen Pearl Andrews and Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Pearl Andrews

Stephen Pearl Andrews

On this date in 1812, abolitionist Stephen Pearl Andrews was born in Massachusetts. His father was a Baptist minister. Andrews was educated at Amherst, studied law in Louisiana, and moved with his bride to Houston, Texas, with the intent to work to make Texas a "free" (antislavery) state. In 1843, the outspoken abolitionist was mobbed and barely escaped the state with his life. Andrews lectured against slavery in England, seeking help from the British Antislavery Society. By 1847, he had moved to New York where he became an expert in phonography. Reputedly studying more than 30 languages, Andrews was considered the leading Chinese scholar in the United States, and published "Discoveries in Chinese" in 1854. According to freethought biographer Samuel Putnam, Andrews proposed a "unity of law in the universe," a principle he felt applied to science, philosophy and language. Accordingly, Andrews invented a universal language, "Alwato." The prolific tract writer, whose diverse subjects ranged from "Love, Marriage and Divorce" to "Ideological Etymology," was a regular contributor to the leading freethought newspaper, The Truth Seeker. D. 1886.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; Photo in Public Domain

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim

On this date in 1930, composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim was born in New York City to nonreligious Jewish parents. "The school chosen for him ... had been founded by Felix Adler, a nineteenth-century social reformer who had begun life as a rabbinical student but who had decided that religion was inadequate to deal with the problems of the modern world. Being born into an observant household seemed to have left no mark on Etta Janet [his mother], or rather, seemed to have convinced her that she wanted nothing more to do with it. ... [T]he Ethical Culture School was the ideal solution for parents uneasily poised between a strict adherence to old dogmas and atheism: although it was considered a radical school, it might have looked to both Sondheims as the only alternative. As for religious instruction, Stephen Joshua Sondheim received none at all. He never had a bar mitzvah ceremony, he knew nothing about the observances of the Jewish calendar, and he did not enter a synagogue until he was nineteen years old." (From Stephen Sondheim: A Life, by Meryle Secrest, 1998, pages 13-14.) He apparently hasn't spoken or written publicly about his personal religious views, but his song lyrics are perhaps a good indicator. New York Times theater critic Stephen Holden wrote in April 2010 that "Now You Know" (excerpted in quote below) encapsulates "Sondheim’s skeptical worldview as tartly as anything the composer has written."

After his parents divorced, he moved at about age 10 with his mother to Pennsylvania, where their neighbor happened to be Oscar Hammerstein II. Serving as a surrogate father, Hammerstein took Stephen under his wings, and inspired him to write music, critiquing his childish work and giving him invaluable pointers. Sondheim majored in music at Williams College, and studied with composer Milton Babbitt. At age 25, Sondheim wrote the lyrics for the musical play "West Side Story." In 1959, he wrote the words to the musical "Gypsy." His first score as composer/lyricist was for "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (1962), a successful musical farce. That was followed by many other musicals, including "Anyone Can Whistle" (1964), "Pacific Overtures" (1976), "Company" (1970), "Follies" (1971), "A Little Night Music" (1973), "Sweeney Todd" (1979), "Merrily We Roll Along" (1981), 1984's "Sunday in the Park with George" (honored with a rare-for-musicals Pulitzer Prize for Drama), "Into the Woods" (1987), "Assassins" (1999), and "The Frogs" (2004). His songs range from singable show tunes such as "Send in the Clowns" to densely lyrical, operatic pieces. "Complex polyphony" (independent melodies working harmoniously together) is a phrase applied to some of his work.

Public domain photo

"It’s called flowers wilt / It’s called apples rot / It’s called thieves get rich / And saints get shot / It’s called God don’t answer prayers a lot / Okay, now you know."

—“Now You Know,” from the 1981 musical “Merrily We Roll Along”

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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