Freethought of the Day

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There are 3 entries for this date: Steven Wilson , André Malraux and Ludovic Kennedy
Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson

On this day in 1967, musician Steven John Wilson was born in the Kingston upon Thames section of London to music-loving parents. His father, an electronic engineer, built him a multi-track tape recorder and a type of synthesizer called a vocoder. Wilson's first instrument was a guitar but he grew to learn to play others, including keyboards, autoharp, hammered dulcimer and flute. The rock group Porcupine Tree, for which he's most well-known, started as his solo project in 1987 before disbanding in 2010.

Associated mainly with progressive rock, Wilson's influences and work as a composer, performer and producer have encompassed genres such as psychedelia, pop, extreme metal, electronic and jazz. He's worked with groups like King Crimson, Pendulum, Jethro Tull, Yes, Tears for Fears, Roxy Music and Anathema. The Daily Telegraph in 2017 called him "the most successful British artist you've never heard of" in that he has avoided mainstream music, an industry he calls "dreadful."

Wilson has been nominated four times for Grammy Awards, twice with Porcupine Tree, with his collaborative band Storm Corrosion and as a soloist. He was crowned "king of prog rock" in 2015 at the Progressive Music Awards in London. AllMusic.com credits him on 976 different releases as either songwriter, instrumentalist or producer.

Wilson, an atheist, frequently criticizes religion in his songs. His 2017 album "To the Bone" includes the track “People Who Eat Darkness,” which is about living next door to a fundamentalist religious terrorist and being none the wiser. The song “Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth” (2001) commented on the disturbing details behind the Heaven’s Gate cult's mass suicide in 1999. “Prodigal” from Porcupine Tree’s 2003 album "In Absentia" says "I tried to find myself a better way/I got religion but I went astray/They took my money and I lost my faith.”

Wilson is a vegetarian who doesn't smoke or do recreational drugs and drinks only occasionally. In a 2012 interview he said "a lot of musicians produce fantastic work in their 20s that’s incredibly creative and prolific. By the time they get to 30, they get married and have kids. Suddenly, the music starts to get more predictable. I think that’s because they become focused on other things and the music becomes a job as opposed to being a vocation. That’s never happened to me. I don’t have a family. I’m not interested in having a family. Some people might think that’s very tragic and sad. I don’t. It’s not for me." 

Wilson in Bologna, Italy, in February 2019. Photo via Shutterstock by Carlo Vergani.

INNERVIEWS: Are you an atheist?
WILSON: I guess I am in some ways your archetypal atheist. I think the whole myth of religion is absolutely absurd. I say this with the caveat that I understand it brings happiness to people who would otherwise be unhappy. There is comfort in it for people who would otherwise be tortured by their own existence and all that stuff. I appreciate those reasons and arguments, but at the end of the day, I’m afraid it’s just a silly fairy tale that mankind has dreamed up because of our fear of death. It’s as simple as that.

—Innerviews online music magazine (2012)

Compiled by Colin McNamara and Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

André Malraux

André Malraux

On this date in 1901, writer and freedom fighter Georges André Malraux was born in Paris. His formal education was brief and he traveled to Asia as a young man, becoming a noted critic of French colonial rule in Indochina. He co-founded the Young Annam League and started a newspaper called Indochina in Chains. Malraux was an avowed religious agnostic, although he was once described as obsessed with the divine.

His first novel, The Temptation of the West (1926), was followed by The Conquerors (1928), The Royal Way (1930), Man's Fate (1934), Days of Hope (1937) and The Walnut Trees of Altenburg (1943). After joining archeological expeditions to Iran and Afghanistan in the 1930s, Malraux co-founded the International Association of Writers for the Defense of Culture. During the Spanish Civil War,he flew on missions for the Republicans and was wounded twice.

During World War II he joined the French Army was captured in 1940 during the Western offensive, then escaped and joined the French Resistance. In 1944 he was captured by the Gestapo and, following a mock execution, was rescued by the Resistance. He then joined the Free French and fought at Strasbourg and during the takeover of Stuttgart. He was awarded the Medal of the Resistance, the Croix de Guerre and the British Distinguished Service Order.

Gen. Charles De Gaulle appointed Malraux his minister of information in 1945-46. During the 1950s, Malraux wrote about aesthetics and art. After de Gaulle was returned to the presidency in 1958, Malraux served as France's first minister of cultural affairs until 1968. He survived a 1962 assassination attempt by a right-wing group opposed to Algerian independence. His autobiography, Anti-Memoirs, was published in 1967. 

Malraux married twice and had four children. He died of cancer in 1976 and was cremated.

Malraux in 1974. Public domain photo by Roger Pic.

"The attempt to force human beings to despise themselves is what I call hell."

—Malraux, "La Condition Humaine" (Man's Fate), 1933

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ludovic Kennedy

Ludovic Kennedy

On this day in 1919, Ludovic Henry Coverly Kennedy, atheist journalist and author, was born to upper-class parents in Edinburgh, Scotland. At age 80, Kennedy (an honorary associate of the National Secular Society) wrote All in the Mind: A Farewell to God, in which he dismissed beliefs on which Christianity was founded as "preposterous." He was knighted in 1994 by John Major's government for his services to journalism. Major's predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, had vetoed Kennedy's knighthood.

For Kennedy, the "playing fields" of Eton College included a stint in a jazz band. After serving in the Royal Navy in World War II, he attended Christ Church-Oxford before starting work as an investigative reporter. In 1950 he married ballet dancer Moira Shearer, who died in 2006. They had a son and three daughters.

He was known for reexamining cases such as the Lindbergh kidnapping and the murder convictions of Timothy Evans and Derek Bentley and for his role in the abolition of the death penalty in the United Kingdom. Starting in 1953 he edited and introduced the "First Reading" radio series on the BBC. Later he became a news anchor on the public network ITV. He did work for BBC's "Panorama," the longest-running current affairs documentary series in the world. It launched in 1953. 

He was president and co-founder of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and in 1990 published Euthanasia: The Case for the Good Death. He died at age 89 in 2009 of pneumonia in a Salisbury nursing home.

"In the spring and with the coming of Easter, an old man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of gods. I am now 83 pushing 84 and the closer I come to shuffling off this mortal coil, the more mystified I am by Christian belief in the deity they call by the not very original name of God (as if there had never been others).

"All gods from time immemorial are fantasies, created by humans for the welfare of humans and to attempt to explain the seemingly inexplicable. But do we, in the third year of the 21st century of the Common Era and on the springboard of colonising the universe, need such palliatives?

"Wherever one looks there is conflict: Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland; Jews, Christians and Muslims in Palestine; Muslims and Hindus in the Indian subcontinent; Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Is not the case for atheism made?"

—Kennedy in a column titled "Put away childish things," The Guardian (April 17, 2003)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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