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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Edward Gibbon

Edward Gibbon

On this date in 1737, Edward Gibbon was born in England. The historian's most famous work is The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which appeared originally in six volumes from 1776 through 1788. Oxford-educated, Gibbon represented Lymington in Parliament for many years. Gibbon was a highly skeptical and unreligious Deist, who was particularly critical of the history of the Roman Catholic Church. The "melancholy duty" of the historian, he wrote in his treatise, is to discover "the inevitable mixture of error and corruption" of religion. Chapter XV of Decline and Fall contains Gibbon's famous explication of early Christianity. He observed, "it was not in this world that the primitive Christians were desirous of making themselves either agreeable or useful."

Gibbon believed that Christianity introduced a new and negative element into religion in damning those who would not accept Christian teachings. "These rigid sentiments, which had been unknown to the ancient world, appear to have infused a spirit of bitterness into a system of love and harmony. The ties of blood and friendship were frequently torn asunder by the difference of religious faith; and the Christians, who, in this world, found themselves oppressed by the power of the Pagans, were sometimes seduced by resentment and spiritual pride to delight in the prospect of their future triumph." Gibbon wrote several other major histories. D. 1794.

“A state of scepticism and suspense may amuse a few inquisitive minds. But the practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude that, if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision. Their love of the marvellous and supernatural, their curiosity with regard to future events, and their strong propensity to extend their hopes and fears beyond the limits of the visible world, were the principal causes which favoured the establishment of Polytheism. So urgent on the vulgar is the necessity of believing, that the fall of any system of mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of some other mode of superstition.”

—Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft

On this date in 1759, Mary Wollstonecraft was born in London, the second of seven children. The industrious young woman worked as a companion, governess and then opened her own school. Her first book, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, was published in 1786, followed by a novel, a children's book (re-issued with illustrations by William Blake), a translation, and The Female Reader. When Edmund Burke read her review of a sermon by dissenting minister Richard Price, he wrote a famous attack on the American and French Revolutions. Mary was the first to rebut his polemic. A Vindication of the Rights of Men was published five weeks later, rejecting all arguments from authority or precedent. Her seminal A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was published in 1792. The first influential book calling for the equality of the sexes, it urged that women be educated and treated as "rational creatures." Wollstonecraft championed dress reform, breast-feeding, early education and a national system of coeducational primary schools. She warned of those who practice "on the credulity of women."

She gave birth to a daughter in an unhappy liaison with Gilbert Imlay, then married atheist William Godwin in 1797. Following an uneventful pregnancy, 38-year-old Mary gave birth to a second daughter, Mary. The new mother died of a childbirth infection after ten intense days of suffering. Her daughter Mary ran off as a teenager with poet Percy Shelley, and wrote Frankenstein at age 19. Wollstonecraft was an ardent rationalist and Deist who adopted an agnostic point of view toward the end of her life. D. 1797.

“. . . the being cannot be termed rational or virtuous who obeys any authority but that of reason.”

—Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Herbert Spencer

Herbert Spencer

On this date in 1820, Herbert Spencer was born in England. The agnostic philosopher was educated in engineering, but worked as a journalist and writer. Spencer became good friends with leading thinkers and writers, such as Thomas Huxley and novelist George Eliot. His Principles of Psychology was published in 1855, followed by a series of major works on the principles of biology, sociology, education and ethics. Spencer, in Social Statics, (1850) wrote: "Whatever fosters militarism makes for barbarism; whatever fosters peace makes for civilization." D. 1903.

“Religion has been compelled by science to give up one after another of its dogmas, of those assumed cognitions which it could not substantiate..”

—Herbert Spencer, First Principles, 1862

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

On this date in 1822, Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president of the United States, was born in Ohio. The Union victory at the end of the Civil War was credited to Grant, who became General of the Army. Grant was U.S. president from 1869 to 1877. He was a favorite of irreverent author Mark Twain, who gave the keynote at a toast for Grant at the Palmer House in Chicago in 1879, as part of an illustrious line-up of speakers that included agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll. Twain was entrusted to publish Grant's Memoirs. Grant was not a member of any church, and was never baptized. After receiving eight demerits as a cadet at West Point for failure to attend chapel, he protested in a letter that it was "not republican" to be forced to go to church (Brown's Life of Grant, p. 329, cited by Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents). Grant was on record in favor of taxation of church property. In an annual address to Congress in 1875, he warned of "the importance of correcting an evil that if permitted to continue, will probably lead to great trouble in our land . . . It is the acquisition of vast amounts of untaxed Church property . . . I would suggest the taxation of all property equally." D. 1885.

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the Church, and the private schools, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.”

—Ulysses S, Grant, address delivered in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1875

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Russell T Davies

Russell T Davies

On this date in 1963, Stephen Russell Davies was born in Swansea, Wales. As a child he was called by his middle name, and he later adopted the professional name “Russell T Davies” in order to avoid confusion with a BBC Radio 4 presenter also named “Russell Davies.” As a child, Davies studied and acted with the West Glamorgan Youth Theatre in Swansea, where he also learned playwriting. In 1984, he graduated from Oxford with a degree in English, then studied television direction at the BBC. He began to write and direct for television soon after, with his first big break in 1999, “Queer as Folk,” a drama about gay men living in Manchester he created for the UK's Channel 4. Davies was the showrunner and executive producer for the first four seasons of the revived “Doctor Who” on the BBC (2005-2009), a family science fiction action-adventure show which he enlivened with deep characterization and occasional irreligious themes. He continues to produce two "Doctor Who" spinoffs, “The Sarah Jane Adventures” (started in 2007), a children's adventure show, and the more adult “Torchwood,” now an international co-production between BBC Worldwide, BBC Cymru Wales and Starz. Other TV shows and miniseries Davies has written or produced include “Casanova” (2005), “The Second Coming” (2003), “Bob & Rose,” (2001), “Dark Season” (1991) and “On the Waterfront” (1988-1989).

Davies, an out gay man and atheist, often inserts atheist and homosexual themes into his work. “The only way I can write — whether that's good or bad — is to put my worldview into everything. I have to challenge that worldview from time to time, but in terms of the atheism of the show, I find that very powerful.” (The Boston Phoenix, July 24, 2009). He frequently depicts religion as nonexistent or very different in the future, and religious mores are challenged by portraying homosexual encounters as non-controversial in the past and present as well as the future. In a nod to contemporary atheism, Richard Dawkins appears as himself as a talking head in the "Doctor Who" episode, “The Stolen Earth.” “Torchwood,” according to Davies, has even more of an atheist outlook, portraying humans on Earth having to deal with alien threats on their own.

"[R]eligion is banned on Platform One. Yes, I'm deeply atheist. If they haven't reached that point by the Year Five Billion, then I give up! When did the Doctor do that speech about believing in things that are invisible? It's Episode 5, isn't it? That's another bit of atheism chucked in. That's what I believe, so that's what you're going to get. Tough, really. To get rid of those so-called agendas, you've got to get rid of me."

—Russell T Davies, Doctor Who Magazine (Issue 360, Sept. 14, 2005)

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Hubert Harrison

Hubert Harrison

On this date in 1883, Hubert Henry Harrison was born in St. Croix, in the Danish West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands). After his mother's death, Harrison left the West Indies for New York in 1900, where he earned a high school degree. From 1911 to 1914, he was active in the Socialist Party and, as perhaps its most prominent black member, he founded the Colored Socialist Club. Harrison was active in radical causes, as well as the fight for racial equality. He eventually left the Socialists due to the movement's support of segregated local chapters in the South. He formed several black radical groups, the Liberty League in 1917 and the International Colored Unity League in 1924. Harrison's intellectual influence was widely felt in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, where he was known as the Black Socrates, as well as the father of Harlem radicalism.

Harrison stated that his own doubts about religion were prompted by a reading of Thomas Paine. After he stopped believing in the bible, he was briefly a deist, before finally becoming an agnostic. Though he found the ceremonies of Catholicism attractive, and believed strongly in the spiritual part of the human experience, he said in his 1911 essay “Paine's Place,” “Entre nous, I doubt whether I will ever be anything but an honest Agnostic, because I prefer, as I once told you, to go to the grave with my eyes open” (quoted in Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht, 2003). “The Negro Conservative: Christianity Still Enslaves the Minds of Those Whose Bodies It Has Long Held Bound,” a 1914 article on atheism, discussed the paradox that African-Americans were largely religious despite the American church's support for slavery and, later, institutionalized racism. According to Harrison, at the start of the Harlem Renaissance, in the early twenties, atheism, agnosticism and other forms of radicalism were becoming more common in black Harlem. D. 1927.

“It should seem that Negroes, of all Americans, would be found in the Free-thought fold, since they have suffered more than any other class of Americans from the dubious blessings of Christianity.”

—Hubert Harrison, “The Negro Conservative,” 1914, quoted in Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht, 2003

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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.

If you would like to be placed on the "Daily Freethought" e-mail list to automatically receive the calendar notice, log in and edit your email settings (My Membership). Or, email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and include your first and last name with your request for verification purposes. This email service is limited to members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation or subscribers to Freethought Today. To become an FFRF member, click here.


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