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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Pierre Eugene Marcelin Berthelot

Pierre Eugene Marcelin Berthelot

On this date (some sources give Oct. 29) in 1827, the founder of organic chemistry, Pierre Eugene Marcelin Berthelot, was born in Paris, the son of a doctor. Educated at College Henry IV, Berthelot became professor of chemistry at the School of Pharmacy in 1859, where he completed his greatest work, the 2-volume Chimie organique fondee sur la synthese (1860), the basis of modern organic chemistry. Berthelot was one of the first to produce organic compounds synthetically. He argued and demonstrated that chemical phenomena are not governed by any peculiar law subject only to chemicals. The College de France created a chair of organic chemistry for him in 1865. He was admitted to the Academy of Sciences in 1873. Berthelot was elected a life senator in 1881, was given the Legion of Honor in 1886, and made Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Sciences in 1889, succeeding Louis Pasteur. An honorary associate of the Rationalist Press Association, "He would listen to no compromise whatever with religion," wrote freethought historian Joseph McCabe: "See his Science et Morale (1897) and Science et Libre Pensee (1905)." When he died abruptly after his wife's death, he was buried at the Pantheon. D. 1907.

“In a letter addressed to the Rome Congress of Freethinkers in 1904 he scorns 'the poison vapours of superstition' and longs for a 'reign of reason.'”

—Pierre Eugene Marcelin Berthelot, quoted in Dr. J.B. Wilson's Trip to Rome, (p. 158.) (Sources for all quotes: Joseph McCabe's A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists, 1920.)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Georges Bizet

Georges Bizet

On this date in 1838, composer Georges Bizet, ne Alexandre Cesar Leopold Bizet, was born in Paris. The musical prodigy entered the Paris Conservatoire at age nine. Over the next decade Bizet won virtually every prize available, including the Prix de Rome. Bizet refused a career as a concert pianist in order to compose operas. He wrote about 30, none particularly successful, until he composed "Carmen" in 1875, based on Prosper Merimee's book about a Spanish gypsy girl. "Carmen" was controversial not only because of its humble subject matter and passionate sweep, but for the fact that the libretto was written in French, and (scandalously) could be understood by the audience. Criticism and a lukewarm reception closed the play after a brief run, although the composers of Bizet's day praised it. The dejected composer, who suffered from ill health, died of a heart attack three months later at the age of 36, never knowing "Carmen" would become the best-known, best-loved and most produced opera in history. Bizet also wrote "Jeux d'Enfants," 12 charming piano duets. Bizet was a rationalist. As a young man, struggling with his religious and philosophical views, Bizet was asked by his Academy to write a Mass. Preferring to write a comedy, he replied: "I don't want to write a mass before being in a state to do it well, that is a Christian. I have therefore taken a singular course to reconcile my ideas with the exigencies of Academy rules. They ask me for something religious: very well, I shall do something religious, but of the pagan religion. . . . I have always read the ancient pagans with infinite pleasure, while in Christian writers I find only system, egoism, intolerance, and a complete lack of artistic taste." D. 1875.

“Religion is a means of exploitation employed by the strong against the weak; religion is a cloak of ambition, injustice and vice . . . . Truth breaks free, science is popularized, and religion totters; soon it will fall, in the course of centuries--that is, tomorrow. . . . In good time we shall only have to deal with reason.”

—Georges Bizet, from Bizet, by William Dean. Colier Books, 1962

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Alexander Buchner

Alexander Buchner

On this date in 1827, Alexander Karl Ludwig Buchner, German writer and younger brother of Ludwig and Georg Buchner,  was born in Darmstadt, Germany. He was educated at Zurich University and taught philosophy there for a time. In 1862 he became a professor of German literature and language at Caen University, in France. He wrote extensively on English poetry, and published History of English Literature, as well as works on Shakespeare, Byron, Jean Paul and Thomas Chatterton. In 1864, he produced a book on Richard Wagner. Political exile forced him to Holland, in 1849. He alludes to his own rationalist views in his exuberant support of his brother Ludwig's scientific work. D. 1904.

"[Before Force and Matter, 1855] what did the world at large know then of the first achievements of science? The vast majority were sunk in their blind faith in authority and the Bible . . . they did not wish to know, because such things clearly contradicted the pleasant legends of the Bible, whose naive story of creation led to little reflection. Into this frog-pond was suddenly flung the log of Force and Matter. No wonder there was a universal croak."

—Alexander Buchner, praising his brother Ludwig's scientific achievement Force and Matter, in the "Introduction" of Last Words on Materialism and Kindred Subjects by Ludwig Buchner, 1901

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Anne Tyler

On this date in 1941, American novelist and critic Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis. After graduating high school at age 16, Tyler enrolled at Duke University on a full scholarship. Tyler majored in Russian literature and was involved in Duke’s drama society and the visual arts. Tyler graduated from Duke in 1961 at the age of 19. She received a fellowship from Columbia University in Slavic Studies, but left graduate school after a year. Tyler has published 20 novels, including Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982), The Accidental Tourist (1985) and Breathing Lessons (1988). Tyler won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 1985 for The Accidental Tourist and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1989 for Breathing Lessons. Her novels have received praise from other esteemed writers and critics, including John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates.

Tyler has worked as literary critic and journalist, as well as written short stories which have been published in The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, Redbook, McCall’s and Harper’s. Her work escapes classification, although Tyler is often labelled a “Southern author,” or alternatively a “modern American author.” Tyler’s works are known for their depictions of family life and their intensely real characters and detailed descriptions. Tyler married Iranian psychiatrist and novelist Taghi Mohammad Modarressi in 1963. Residing in Baltimore, Tyler and Modarressi raised two daughters, Tezh and Mitra. Modarressi died of lymphoma in 1997, at the age of 65.

“I remember when I was 7, making crucial decisions about the kind of person I was going to be. That’s also the age when I figured out that, oh, someday I’m going to die, and the age when I decided I couldn’t believe in God… I’ve never been as intelligent as I was at 7. I have never been as thoughtful or as introspective.”

—Anne Tyler, The New York Times

Compiled by Paul Epland

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Max Stirner

Max Stirner

On this date in 1806, Johann Kaspar Schmidt (known by his pseudonym Max Stirner), was born in Bayreuth, Bavaria. He entered the University of Berlin in 1826, the University of Erlangen in 1828, and the University of Königsberg in Prussia, where he completed an undergraduate degree. He worked as a teacher of history and literature from 1839 to 1844. Stirner quit his job after writing his philosophical book, The Ego and Its Own (1844). He was an anarchist, nihilist and egoist, and his philosophical ideas were reflected in The Ego and Its Own. Stirner married Agnes Butz, who died in childbirth in 1838. He later married Marie Dähnhardt.

Born to a Lutheran family, Stirner became critical of religion. In The Ego and Its Own, he wrote: “We are perfect altogether, and on the whole earth there is not one man who is a sinner! There are crazy people who imagine that they are God the Father, God the Son, or the man in the moon, and so too the world swarms with fools who seem to themselves to be sinners; but, as the former are not the man in the moon, so the latter are not sinners. Their sin is imaginary.” Stirner continued to attack religion, writing, “Do not think that I am jesting or speaking figuratively when I regard those persons who cling to the Higher, and (because the vast majority belongs under this head) almost the whole world of men, as veritable fools, fools in a madhouse.” In June 1842, Stirner published an article titled “Art and Religion” in the Rheinische Zeitung, in which he strongly critiqued the religious: “The religious spirit is not inspired. Inspired piety is as great an inanity as inspired linen-weaving. Religion is always accessible to the impotent, and every uncreative dolt can and will always have religion, for uncreativeness does not impede his life of dependency.” D. 1856

“Religion itself is without genius. There is no religious genius, and no one would be permitted to distinguish between the talented and the untalented in religion.”

—Max Stirner, article “Art and Religion,” Rheinische Zeitung, June 1842.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

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