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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: Rebecca Newberger Goldstein and W.E.B. Du Bois
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

On this date in 1950, novelist and philosopher Rebecca Newberger was born in White Plains, N.Y. She was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household in White Plains and attended a Jewish high school for girls (or yeshiva) in Manhattan. Overcoming her upbringing, she “was born into consciousness” at Columbia University and received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Barnard College in 1972, graduating summa cum laude. She earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Princeton in 1977.

She was a philosophy professor at Barnard, taught in the MFA writing program at Columbia and the philosophy department at Rutgers. For five years she was a visiting professor of philosophy at Trinity University in Hartford, Conn. Goldstein has been a visiting scholar at Brandeis University, a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and a Guggenheim Fellow. She was the Miller Scholar at the Santa Fe Institute in 2011, a  Franke Visiting Fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University in 2012 and the Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College in 2013.  She was also appointed a Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the New College of the Humanities in London, UK, in 2011 and a Visiting Professor at New York University un 2016. 

In September of 2015  she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President  Barack Obama. Previously she was named a MacArthur Fellow, known as the “Genius Award." In 2005 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has two daughters, Yael and Danielle, with her first husband, physicist Sheldon Goldstein. In 2007 she married Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker

Her novels and nonfiction writing have received many awards. Her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, which addresses philosophical themes, was published in 1983. Other novels include The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind; The Dark Sister, Mazel, and Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal and Quantum Physics. Her book of short stories is called Strange Attractors. In 2005 she wrote Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel, and in 2006, Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, a biography of the 17th-century thinker.

In 2010 she returned to novel writing with Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, a playful work with the timely theme of a protagonist who is author of a best-selling book on atheism. It concludes with a debunking of 36 arguments for the existence of God. In Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Just Go Away (2014), she imagines Plato's take on the modern age with its technological wonders and argues that his philosophy is still relevant today. 

In 2008 she was designated a Humanist Laureate by the International Academy of Humanism. In 2011 she was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association and a Freethought Heroine by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Her FFRF acceptance speech, "Strong resistance to God's existence," is here. Goldstein also serves on FFRF's honorary board.

LUKE FORD: "Tell me about you and God."
REBECCA GOLDSTEIN: "I lived Orthodox for a long time. ... I was torn like a character in a Russian novel. It lasted through college. I remember leaving a class on mysticism in tears because I had forsaken God. That was probably my last burst of religious passion. Then it went away and I was a happy little atheist."

—Goldstein, interview with Luke Ford at (April 11, 2006)

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

W.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois

On this date in 1868, W.E.B. Du Bois (William Edward Burghardt) was born in Great Barrington, Mass. He attended all-black Fisk College in Nashville, then earned his B.A. in 1890 and his M.S. in 1891 from Harvard. Du Bois studied at the University of Berlin on a fellowship. Returning from Europe, he completed his graduate studies in history and in 1895 was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. He taught economics and history at Atlanta University from 1897-1910. The Souls of Black Folk (1903) made his name, in which he urged black Americans to stand up for their educational and economic rights.

Du Bois was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and edited the NAACP's official journal, The Crisis, from 1910-34. He turned The Crisis into the foremost black literary journal. He expanded his interests to global concerns and is called the "father of Pan-Africanism" for organizing international black congresses.

Although he used some religious metaphor and expressions in some of his writing, Du Bois called himself a freethinker (see quote below). In "On Christianity," a posthumously published essay, Du Bois critiqued the black church: "The theology of the average colored church is basing itself far too much upon 'Hell and Damnation' — upon an attempt to scare people into being decent and threatening them with the terrors of death and punishment. We are still trained to believe a good deal that is simply childish in theology. The outward and visible punishment of every wrong deed that men do, the repeated declaration that anything can be gotten by anyone at any time by prayer."

Du Bois married Nina Gomer, with whom he had two children. As a widower he married Shirley Graham. At age 93, he and his wife traveled to Ghana to take up residence and start work on an encyclopedia of the African diaspora. In early 1963 the U.S. refused to renew his passport because of his Communist Party ties, so he made the symbolic gesture of becoming a citizen of Ghana, where he died two years later in Accra.

“My 'morals' were sound, even a bit puritanic, but when a hidebound old deacon inveighed against dancing I rebelled. By the time of graduation I was still a 'believer' in orthodox religion, but had strong questions which were encouraged at Harvard. In Germany I became a freethinker and when I came to teach at an orthodox Methodist Negro school I was soon regarded with suspicion, especially when I refused to lead the students in public prayer. When I became head of a department at Atlanta, the engagement was held up because again I balked at leading in prayer. ... I flatly refused again to join any church or sign any church creed. From my 30th year on I have increasingly regarded the church as an institution which defended such evils as slavery, color caste, exploitation of labor and war. I think the greatest gift of the Soviet Union to modern civilization was the dethronement of the clergy and the refusal to let religion be taught in the public schools.”

—W.E.B. Du Bois, "African-American Humanism: An Anthology," edited by Norm R. Allen Jr. (1968)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.