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 4 entries for this date: Sergei Prokofiev , Joseph Turner , William Shakespeare and Peter Watson
Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev

On this date in 1891, one of the 20th century's most popular composers, Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev, was born in Sontsovka in what is now Ukraine. Prokofiev composed works in many genres, including the opera "War and Peace," the ballet "Romeo and Juliet," the children's piece "Peter and the Wolf," for which he is best known in the West, and the score for the film "Alexander Nevsky" (1938). Prokofiev was not raised in a religious household and never wrote an explicitly religious setting. His opera, "The Fiery Angel," addresses religious themes, but is not complimentary to organized religion; and some of his early works, such as the "Scythian Suite," were explicitly inspired by Russian folklore and paganism. Prokofiev showed a talent for piano and composition at a very young age, and was encouraged in this by his mother, who also took him to musical performances. In 1904, Prokofiev and his mother moved to St. Petersburg, where he studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory for 10 years.

Following the Russian Revolution, Prokofiev spent most of his time outside of the Soviet Union, only returning occasionally and never formally accepting Soviet citizenship. He married the Spanish singer Lina Llubera in 1923, and they moved to Paris. They had two sons together. In the spring of 1936, when commissions were hard to come by from Western patrons, Prokofiev moved to Moscow along with his family. After this time, he only left the USSR once, on a tour of America. He married Mira Mendelson in 1948 after leaving Lina in 1941. Prokofiev survived the purges, but the tensions and times took a toll on his health. He had gradually fallen out of favor with Stalin and had few friends at the time of his death on March 5, 1953, having outlived Stalin by perhaps a few minutes. Because of the period of mourning for Stalin, Prokofiev's funeral was small and news of his death was not widely reported. D. 1953.

“At home we didn't talk about religion. So, gradually the question faded away by itself and disappeared from the agenda. When I was nineteen, my father died; my response to his death was atheistic.”

—Sergei Prokofiev, Avtobiografia, trans. Harlow Robinson, "Sergei Prokofiev: A Biography"

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Joseph Turner

Joseph Turner

On this date in 1775, Joseph Turner was born in London. Joseph's education was limited to being taught to read by his father, a barber. A precocious artist, he was 15 when one of his paintings was exhibited at the Royal Academy, a great honor. He became a highly successful painter who traveled widely and innovated his own light-filled technique. His brilliant paintings, notably of seascapes or ambitious, romantic visions of nature, anticipated impressionism. When Turner died, he left all of his paintings to Great Britain and his fortune to found a place for what he called "decaying artists."

According to Joseph McCabe's A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists, the art critic Ruskin often referred to Turner as "an infidel." P.G. Hamerton, in Life of Turner, wrote that the painter "did not profess to be a member of any visible Church." (1879, p. 367) D. 1851.

“The truth seems to be that Turner had not a particle of religious belief, and rarely gave a thought to religion.”

—Joseph McCabe on Joseph Turner, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists (1920)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

On this date in 1564, William Shakespeare was born in England. He died in 1616. The master playwright was eulogized by 19th-century agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll. In one of his famous lectures, Ingersoll said that when he read Shakespeare, "I beheld a new heaven and a new earth." (The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Interviews, Vol. IV, p. 39.) "All well-educated ministers know that the Bible suffers by a comparison with Shakespeare." (Vol. VIII, p. 297) "If Shakespeare could be as widely circulated as the Bible ... nothing would so raise the intellectual standard of mankind. Think of the different influence on men between reading Deuteronomy and 'Hamlet' and 'King Lear.' ... The church teaches obedience. The man who reads Shakespeare has his intellectual horizon enlarged." (ibid, p. 313)

No one knows Shakespeare's personal religious views, although he certainly was not orthodox, and put many different types of sentiments into the mouths of his characters. The bard's philosophy seems most succinctly described in the famous "Seven Ages of Man" speech from "As You Like It," which begins: "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players: / They have their exits and their entrances ..." ending with "mere oblivion. / Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." In "King Lear," the Duke of Gloucester laments in Act 4, Sc. 1, "As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport." Victorian poet, playwright and novelist Algernon Swinburne put it this way: “Shakespeare was in the genuine sense – that is, in the best and highest and widest meaning of the word, a Freethinker.” D. 1616.

“In religion, what damned error but some sober brow will bless it, and approve it with a text, . . .?”

—"The Merchant of Venice," Act III, Sc. II

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Peter Watson

On this date in 1943, author Peter Watson was born in Birmingham, England. An intellectual historian and investigative journalist, he was educated at the universities of Durham, London and Rome, later living in the United States. He has written for The Observer, The New York Times, Punch and The Spectator, and is the author of fiction, as well as many books on art history, biography, psychology, and true crime. His books include The Age of Nothing: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God (2014, published in the United States as The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God), The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums (2006, with Cecilia Todeschini), Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud (2005), Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century (2001) (also published as A Terrible Beauty), Sotheby's: The Inside Story (1998), Landscape of Lies (1989) and The Caravaggio Conspiracy (1984).

In Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, Watson seeks a new way to tell the history of the world from prehistory to modern day, asserting that human knowledge is divided into two realms: inward (philosophy and religion) and outward (observation and science). His stance supports the latter. Twins: An Uncanny Relationship? (1982), explores behavior patterns shared by identical twins, "to offer a rational alternative to mumbo jumbo for explaining many of the coincidences reported in twin studies, " according to a Los Angeles Times review. "A few saints and a little charity don't make up for all the harm religion has done over the ages," he has said (CBC News, May 5, 2007).

When asked about the good that religion has done in the world in an interview by The New York Times Magazine (December 11, 2005), Watson replied: "I lead a perfectly healthy, satisfactory life without being religious. And I think more people should try it." He went on to say, "I do not believe in the inner world. I think that the inner world comes from the exploration of the outer world--reading, traveling, talking. I do not believe that meditation or cogitation leads to wisdom or peace or the truth." Since 1998, Watson has been a research associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, at the University of Cambridge. He lives in London.

“Religion has kept civilization back for hundreds of years, and the biggest mistake in the history of civilization, is ethical monotheism, the concept of the one God. Let's get rid of it and be rational.”

—Peter Watson interview, CBC News (May 5, 2007)

(Compiled by Jane Esbensen)

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