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 5 entries for this date: Matthew Arnold , John Morley , Christopher Buckley , Ava Gardner and Ed Miliband
Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold

On this date in 1822, Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold was born in Laleham on the Thames. He graduated from Oxford in 1844. His father was Thomas Arnold, the inspiration for Tom Brown's Schooldays and head of the famous school of Rugby. Arnold parted ways with Christianity sometime in his teens on intellectual and ethical grounds and became an agnostic. In "Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse," he later wrote, "Rigorous teachers seized my youth / And purged its faith, and trimm'd its fire / Show'd me the high, white star of Truth."

In 1851 he was appointed one of "Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools," a post he held for 35 years. That same year he married Frances Lucy. They would have six children. In 1852 he published his second volume of poems, Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems, which religious critics sought to censor. Poems of Matthew Arnold was published in 1857, followed by other volumes. Arnold served for a decade as professor of poetry at Oxford. In his 40s he largely turned from poetry to critical writing. His Essays in Criticism came out in 1865.

Arnold's freethinking was clearly delineated in Culture and Anarchy (1869), Saint Paul and Protestantism (1870), Literature and Dogma (1873) and Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877). In his poem, "Dover Beach," he described "The Sea of Faith ... Retreating." Although he gently defined religion as "morality touched with emotion" and some detect a tinge of regret in his rejection of faith, he was an ardent critic of Christian doctrine and the bible.

"It is almost impossible to exaggerate the proneness of the human mind to take miracles as evidence, and to seek for miracles as evidence," he wrote in Literature and Dogma. "Miracles do not happen," he baldly wrote in the preface to the 1883 edition of Literature and Dogma. He died at age 65 of heart failure in 1888 while hurrying to meet his daughter, who was arriving on a train.

"The personages of the Christian heaven and their conversations are no more matter of fact than the personages of the Greek Olympus and their conversations."

—Arnold, "God and the Bible" preface (1875)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

John Morley

John Morley

On this date in 1838, author and statesman John Morley was born in England. He was educated at Cheltenham College and Oxford. His father wanted him to become a clergyman and withdrew his financial support when Morley demurred. His plans to take the bar were interrupted by taking editorship of the rationalist Fortnightly Review in 1867, for which he also wrote. The trademark of agnostic Morley was to spell "God" with a small "g."

His books include Burke (1867), Voltaire (1871), Rousseau (1873), On Compromise (1874), Diderot (1878), Life of Gladstone (three volumes, 1903) and Recollections (1917). He became editor of the crusading newspaper Pall Mall Gazette in 1880 and supported Prime Minister William Gladstone. Morley represented Newcastle in Parliament from 1883-95 and Montrose Burghs from 1896 to 1908. He supported parliamentary reform and Irish Home Rule and opposed the Boer War.

Known as "honest John Morley," he was Secretary of State for India from 1905 to 1910 and Lord President of the Council from 1910 to 1914. He retired from politics to protest Britain's entry into World War I. D. 1923.

“Where it is a duty to worship the sun, it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat.”

—Morley, from his 1871 book "Voltaire"

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Christopher Buckley

Christopher Buckley

On this date in 1952, political satirist Christopher Buckley was born in New York City to conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. and Canadian socialite Patricia (Taylor) Buckley, both Catholics. Buckley attended Catholic grammar schools and then a secondary school run by Benedictine monks. After high school he worked briefly on a Norwegian freighter and then graduated with an English degree from Yale University in 1975.

Buckley began his career at Esquire magazine in various editorial positions, which led to his appointment as managing editor at the age of 25. He left the magazine in 1979 to again work at sea. The experience inspired his first book, Steaming to Bamboola: The World of a Tramp Freighter (1982). Buckley served as chief speechwriter to Vice President George H.W. Bush from 1981-83.

His first novel, White House Mess (1986), satirized politics and the writing of memoirs. Buckley continued to write successful satirical books such as Wet Work (1991), Thank You For Smoking (1994), which was also made into a popular film, God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7-1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth (1998), No Way to Treat a First Lady (2002), Florence of Arabia (2004), Supreme Courtship (2008), They Eat Puppies, Don't They? (2012), The Relic Master (2015) and The Judge Hunter (2018).

Buckley has also written on more serious subjects, such as his sometimes contentious relationship with his parents (Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir, 2009), and especially about his father, who founded the conservative National Review and was considered to be the father of the modern conservative movement. The younger Buckley ditched his own conservatism during the 2008 election by publicly supporting Barack Obama, which lost him his unpaid gig writing for his father's magazine.

He defended his reasoning in a March 2009 Forbes article: "Our choice, last fall, was between an angry 73-year-old with a legislative record far from consistently conservative, who nominated as his running mate a know-nothing religious extremist. On the other side was an appealing, thoughtful man who — for a brief shining moment — seemed to be more than the sum of his ideological parts.”

In an April 1999 Time magazine interview with Joel Stein, Buckley said, "I was raising (my kids) agnostic, then the Hale-Bopp thing happened and I thought, 'What if in their 20s, they decide they need some spiritual connection and they turn to some idiot like that cult leader?' " Buckley said he grew tired of fighting with his father over religion and that his "agnosticism, once defiant, had gone underground. I no longer had the desire to nail my theses to his church door. By now I knew we didn’t have much time left, and I didn’t want to spend it locking theological horns."

He married Lucy Gregg in 1984 and they had two children before divorcing in 2011. He has a son born in 2000 from his relationship with former Random House publicist Irina Woelfle. In 2012 he married Dr. Katherine Close, a physician.

Buckley in 2012 at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas; Harry Cabluck public domain photo.

New York Times: As an only child, did you find one of your parents easier to talk to than the other?
Christopher Buckley: My mother. She got it. He often didn’t get it.
NYT: What didn’t he get?
CB: Religion.
NYT: He was a practicing Catholic. What are you?
CB: I am post-Catholic.
NYT: As opposed to a lapsed Catholic?
CB: I am probably more of a collapsed Catholic.
NYT: Do you believe in the afterlife?
CB: Alas, no.

—"Questions for Christopher Buckley: The Right Stuff," New York Times Magazine (Oct. 23, 2008)

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner

On this date in 1922, actress Ava Lavinia Gardner was born in Grabtown, N.C., the last of seven children born to her Irish Catholic father (a tenant farmer who died when she was 16) and a Scottish Baptist mother. Biographer Charles Higham wrote this of the family, "Books were no part of the texture of their life: only the Bible stood on the shelves, and it was not until Ava was 16 that she was permitted to read any novel not assigned in school."

She grew up attending Baptist services and enrolled for a year at Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College), affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. Visiting her sister in New York City in 1939, she caught the eye of a photographer with ties to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. Two years later she signed a seven-year contract with MGM for $50 a week and married Mickey Rooney. She soon divorced him and then married  bandleader Artie Shaw (1945-46) before marrying Frank Sinatra in 1951. They divorced in 1957.

While she had relationships with other men throughout her life, including Howard Hughes, John Huston and Ernest Hemingway, she never again married. She never had children and ended at least two pregnancies with abortions.

Gardner's acting career expanded from small, walk-on roles to starring with Clark Gable in "The Hucksters" and "Mogambo." In between she had a leading role in the musical "Show Boat." Gardner exuded "sultry" as a femme fatale in her four-decade film career. She was nominated once (in 1953) for a Best Actress Oscar as Eloise "Honey Bear" Kelly in "Mogambo," losing to Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday." Gardner's only Golden Globe nomination, in her last major leading role in a critically acclaimed film, was for 1964's "Night of the Iguana," won by Anne Bancroft for "The Pumpkin Eater."

Religion never played a positive role in her life, according to biographers and Gardner herself, in her autobiography Ava: My Story. Her friend Zoe Sallis, who met her on the set of "The Bible" when Gardner was living with Huston in Puerto Vallarta, said Gardner always seemed unconcerned about religion. When Sallis asked her about religion once, Gardner replied, "It doesn't exist." Gardner ended her acting career on the small screen with several TV roles in the mid-1980s. She suffered a stroke in 1986 and was plagued by lung problems before dying at home in 1990 of pneumonia at age 67.

Public domain photo by Eiga no Tomo via Wikimedia

“I could see the fear in his eyes when he was smiling. I went to see the preacher, the guy who’d baptized me. I begged him to come and visit Daddy, just to talk to him, you know? Give him a blessing or something. But he never did. He never came. God, I hated him. Cold-ass bastards like that ought to — I don’t know — they should be in some other racket, I know that. I had no time for religion after that. I never prayed. I never said another prayer. Not like I meant it anyway.”

—Gardner on her father's death when she was 16, "Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations," by Peter Evans and Ava Gardner (published posthumously in 2013)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband

On this date in 1969, Edward Samuel Miliband was born in London to Polish Jewish immigrants who fled to England during the Holocaust. His father, Ralph Miliband, was a prominent sociologist and Marxist scholar and educator. His mother was a feminist and human rights activist. He studied politics and economics at Corpus Christi College at Oxford University and earned a master’s in economics at the London School of Economics.

Miliband’s political career began in 1997 as an adviser to Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, a post he held until 2002. He then spent several semesters at Harvard as a visiting scholar in the Center for European Studies, where he taught economics. In 2005 he was elected to Parliament as a Labour Party member and the next year became parliamentary secretary to the Cabinet Office under Prime Minister Tony Blair. In 2007, newly elected Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed him to a Cabinet position.

After Brown left office in 2010 as prime minister, Miliband and his brother David Miliband both sought to lead the Labour Party, with Ed winning by a narrow margin in 2010. At 40 he was the youngest Leader of the Opposition ever elected. He served until May 2015 when the party lost its majority to the Conservatives. Remaining in the House of Commons, he took a backbench role. 

Miliband married jurist Justine Thornton in 2011 and they have two sons together.  He also co-hosts a popular podcast, "Reasons to be Cheerful," with radio presenter Geoff Lloyd.

“I have a particular faith, I describe myself as a Jewish atheist. I’m Jewish by birth origin and it’s part of who I am. I don’t believe in God, but I think faith is a really important thing for a lot of people."

—Miliband, quoted in The Telegraph (April 12, 2014)

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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