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: Joaquin Phoenix , Elsa Lanchester , Matt Smith , Norma Cunningham and Bill Gates (Quote)
Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix

On this date in 1974, Joaquin Phoenix was born Joaquin Rafael Bottom in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Children of God missionaries. His parents became disillusioned with the cult-like aspects of the Children of God and left the group when he was a small child. At age 4, his family, which included siblings River, Rain, Liberty and Summer, moved to Los Angeles, where the children sang and played music and eventually gained small roles on television.

Phoenix's film debut was in "SpaceCamp" (1986) but he landed his first successful role in 1989 in the Ron Howard film "Parenthood." While his brother River was becoming a hot new star in Hollywood, Joaquin decided to leave the business at age 15 to travel around Latin America. At 19 he was by 23-year-old River's side as he died of an overdose outside an L.A. night club.

He achieved success in the 1990s with the films "To Die For" (1995), "Inventing the Abbotts" (1997) and "Return to Paradise" (1998). His most critically acclaimed roles occurred in the next decade, with his Academy Award-nominated role as Commodus in "Gladiator" (2000), Mel Gibson's brother in "Signs" (2002), a reporter in "Hotel Rwanda" (2004) and the lead in "The Village" (2004). His most famous role, for which he earned an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe, was playing country music legend Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line" (2005).

He then had roles in "Reservation Road" (2007), "Two Lovers" (2009), "I'm Still Here" (2010), "The Master" (2012, for which he was Oscar-nominated), "The Immigrant" (2013), "Inherent Vice" (2014), "You Were Never Really Here" (2017, Cannes Film Festival Best Actor Award), "Mary Magdalene" (2017, playing Jesus) and "The Joker" (2019).

A longtime vegan, he has been a spokesperson for the Lunchbox Fund, which provides healthy meals to needy children, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He has dated actress Rooney Mara since 2016. Outspoken about his atheism, he told the Sunday Times (UK) in April 1999, "I'm not into organized religion."

“I don't believe in God. I don't believe in an afterlife. I don't believe in a soul. I don't believe in anything. I think it's totally right for people to have their own beliefs if it makes them happy, but to me it's a pretty preposterous idea.”

—Joaquin Phoenix, Nylon Guys magazine (Winter 2008)

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch; photo by Everett Collection,

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Elsa Lanchester

Elsa Lanchester

On this date in 1902, actress Elsa Sullivan Lanchester was born In London to atheist parents. She studied to be a dancer with Isadora Duncan, then turned to acting as a teenager, debuting in films in 1924. Routinely described as a "dedicated nonconformist," she married Charles Laughton in 1929, with whom she had an unorthodox marriage.

Her splashy American debut was as the "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935). She played Anne of Cleves in "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933). Her many other films include: "Lassie Come Home" (1946), "The Spiral Staircase" (1947), "The Big Clock" (1949), "Come to the Stable" (1949), "Les Miserables" (1955), "The Glass Slipper" (1958), "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957), "Bell, Book & Candle" and "Mary Poppins" (1964), "Pajama Party" (1965), "That Darn Cat" (1968), "Murder by Death" (1976) and "Die Laughing" (1980).

She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her roles in "Come to the Stable" and "Witness for the Prosecution." She wrote two autobiographies: Charles and I (1938) and Elsa Lanchester Herself (1983). Ultra-religious actress Maureen O'Hara, in her own autobiography, mentioned twice that Lanchester did not believe in God. D. 1986.

Photo: Lanchester in 1935 in "Naughty Marietta."

"I never understood the changing of her last name from Sullivan to Lanchester because it sounded more elegant. Nor did I understand her hatred of religion of any kind."

—" 'Tis Herself: An Autobiography" by Maureen O'Hara with John Nicoletti (2004)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Matt Smith

Matt Smith

On this date in 1982, actor Matthew Robert Smith was born in Northampton, England. Smith originally intended to be a soccer player, but after suffering from career-ending back injuries and advice from his theater teacher, he turned to acting instead. He joined England's National Youth Theatre and went on to study creative writing and drama at the University of East Anglia.

Smith is most famous for his portrayal of the 11th reincarnation of The Doctor on BBC's “Doctor Who,” the longest running science fiction show in history. He was the youngest actor (at 26) to play the role but fans and critics responded most positively to his performance.

He has received many honors and awards, including a BAFTA nomination in 2010 for “Doctor Who.” He has also appeared in the BBC's adaptations of Philip Pullman's “The Ruby in the Smoke” and “The Shadow in the North” and had a major role in BBC's “Party Animals,” a political drama. In film he starred in "Womb" (2010) and "Terminator Genisys" (2015). It was announced in 2019 that he had roles in Sony's "Spider-Man" spinoff "Morbius" and Edgar Wright's "Last Night in Soho."

Smith is active in BBC's two charities, Children in Need and Sports Relief, which help children and vulnerable people, respectively. In 2015 he was named one of GQ's 50 Best-Dressed British Men.

“I recently read 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins, which ignited my interest in a scientific, mathematical version of the world. No, I'm not religious. At all. I'm an atheist."

—Smith interview in The Guardian (Dec. 3, 2011)

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano; photo by Featureflash,

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Norma Cunningham

Norma Cunningham

On this date in 1917, Norma Ella Cunningham (née Steines), educator and freethought advocate, was born in St. Louis, where she attended Lutheran elementary school. She was valedictorian of the 1935 graduating class of Cleveland High School and was awarded a full-tuition scholarship to Washington University, where she earned a B.A. in 1939 and an M.A. in 1940. 

She taught in the St. Louis area for four years before moving in 1944 to Mascoutah, Ill., where she taught high school German, Latin and English and headed the fine arts department. She taught there for 31 years before retiring. In 1953 she married Joseph Cunningham, who taught business and other classes at Mascoutah High. They were married for 64 years until her death in 2018. Their daughters are Kathryn and Linda.

In a 1998 column in Freethought Today, Cunningham told about her "parochial brainwashing" as a Lutheran elementary school student and how after college she started "intensive Bible study and the application of reason to matters of religion. I was fast becoming an agnostic. Not much later the study of philosophy and the sciences put 'finis' even to my agnosticism and brought about a metamorphosis to atheism."

Cunningham joined FFRF in 1981 and served for many years on its executive board of directors after being named one of its first members. She and her husband were avid travelers, visiting all 50 states and Canada, the Caribbean, most of Europe, Russia, China and Japan.  She died at age 100 at an assisted living facility in April 2018 but was mentally sharp even as her health declined and correctly answered all five "Final Jeopardy" questions one week a few months before she died.

In her 1998 Freethought Today column, Cunningham wrote, "As children we were like the persons referred to by [Scottish poet] William Drummond: 'He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not, is a slave.' Thank Ingersoll I was liberated!"

Photo: Norma Cunningham on her wedding day on Dec. 23, 1953.

"Women to him were brood mares, who were created with large hips just to stay at home and sit on them. His opinions, frankly stated, were frequently shockingly outrageous, even for his time. For instance, he suggested that witches be burned and that objectors not believing in infant baptism should be put to death!"

—"What They Never Told Us About Martin Luther," Freethought Today (January/February 1998)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Bill Gates (Quote)

Bill Gates (Quote)

“Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”

—Time magazine interview with Gates, principal founder of Microsoft (Jan. 13, 1996), born on this date in 1955.

Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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