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 4 entries for this date: Truman Capote , Phil Plait , International Blasphemy Day and Ta-Nehisi Coates
Truman Capote

Truman Capote

On this date in 1924, Truman Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons in New Orleans, La. His mother, Lillie Mae Faulks, was only 17 when he was born and married to a “ne’er do well” and salesman, Arch Persons, his father. As a result, his childhood was turbulent. He was sent to live with his unmarried adult cousins in Monroeville, Ala., where he lived permanently for a time and visited regularly throughout his life. In Monroeville, he met his lifelong friend, Nelle Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” When Capote was 11, he moved to New York City with his mother and her second husband, Joe Capote, who adopted Truman. The family lived in style on Park Avenue until it was discovered that Joe was embezzling from his company. Ashamed of her husband’s crime and distraught over losing her lavish lifestyle, his mother killed herself when Capote was 30.

Capote had been interested in writing from an early age, and was encouraged by the cousins who raised him and by a high school English teacher. While he was in high school, he worked as a copyboy at The New Yorker, where he began to establish himself as a personality among a glittering social circle of writers, artists, and influential, upper-crust types. He began writing seriously and published several pieces in Harper’s Bazaar and Mademoiselle Magazine. In 1948, he published his first book, the autobiographical work, “Other Voices, Other Rooms.” He became a literary star, penning 17 books and collections of short stories in his lifetime, including the famous novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1958) and the true crime non-fiction book “In Cold Blood” (1966), both of which were later turned into movies. He was very devoted to his social life, which included some of the most influential individuals of his era. Capote had a long-term love affair with writer and playwright Jack Dunphy, which lasted until Capote’s death from complications of alcoholism. Although Capote spent much of his childhood in the highly religious South, he was not religious himself. Mused Capote: “But, my dear, so few things are fulfilled: what are most lives but a series of incompleted episodes? 'We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. . .' It is wanting to know the end that makes us believe in God, or witchcraft, believe, at least, in something” (“Other Voices, Other Rooms,” 1948). D. 1984.

"I belong to no churches and am not a ’Believer‘ in any formal sense. . . . As for me, I just go my way by myself.”

—— Truman Capote, letter to death row inmate Perry Smith, whose crime Capote documented “In Cold Blood” ( January 25, 1965)

Compiled by Dayna Long; Photo by Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Phil Plait

Phil Plait

On this date in 1964, astronomer, blogger, and skeptic Phil Plait was born in Washington D.C. Plait received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and then his PhD in astronomy from the University of Virginia in 1994. He worked with the Hubble Space Telescope for ten years, then got involved with astronomy education. Plait frequently gives talks that focus on astronomy, debunking myths and skepticism. The last slide of his presentation at TAM6, a skeptic conference in Las Vegas, said, "The Universe is cool enough without making up crap about it." His blog, called Bad Astronomy, focuses on similar issues and is currently hosted on Slate Magazine. Bad Astronomy has won many awards, and was named one of the 25 best blogs of 2009 by Time Magazine. Plait became the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation in 2008, but left after a short stint to pursue television projects. He has been a part of many science documentaries, and the Discovery Channel featured Plait in his own documentary, "Bad Universe."

He has written two books, "Death from the Skies!: The Science Behind the End of the World" (2009), and "Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax" (2002). Along with his blog, he writes magazine articles, many of which are featured on Slate. Phil Plait is married to Marcella Setter, with whom he runs Science Getaways, a vacation service for people who want to learn about science. Setter and Plait have one daughter.

Photo by ensceptico under CC 2.0


“How do you convince someone they're not thinking clearly, when they're not thinking clearly? What we're actually saying is no magic, no afterlife, no higher moral authoritative father-figure, no security, and no happy ever after. This is a tough sell.”

—--Phil Plait in a talk called, “Don't be a dick” at The Amazing Meeting 8, also known as TAM8, a conference put on by the James Randi Educational Foundation, held in Las Vegas in July, 2012.

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

International Blasphemy Day

Today is International Blasphemy Day.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates

On this date in 1975, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates was born in Baltimore, Md. His father, William, was a former Black Panther who stayed at home to care for their large family while his mother, Cheryl, was the family’s breadwinner. Coates wrote about his childhood in West Baltimore in his memoir, “The Beautiful Struggle,” and the impact that ongoing violence and crime in his neighborhood had on him and his siblings.

Coates graduated from Woodlawn High School in Baltimore and enrolled in Howard University but dropped out to become a journalist. Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes feature articles and is also one of its most widely-read bloggers. He writes about race, history and politics, among other topics, and has received immense praise for his thoughtful and thought-provoking work. He won the 2012 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism and the 2014 George Polk Award for his feature article, “The Case for Reparations,” in which he wrote, “More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.” Coates was a Martin Luther King Visiting Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2013-14. He gives talks across the country about writing, race, politics, and white supremacy in America. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife and son.

In 2015, Coates was given a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award. His signature book, a #1 New York Times 2015 bestseller, is Between the World and Me, which takes the form of a poignant letter to his teenage son. It was named one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review. In it, he writes: "You must struggle to truly remember this past in all its nuance, error, and humanity. You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. . . . Our triumphs can never compensate for this. Perhaps our triumphs are not even the point. Perhaps struggle is all we have because the god of history is an atheist, and nothing about this world is meant to be. So you must wake up every morning knowing that no promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all. This is not despair. These are the preferences of the universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope."

His 2008 memoir about his father and himself is The Beautiful Struggle. We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy (2017) collects new and previously published essays on the Obama era. In 2016, Coates cowrote a companion series to the Black Panther hit 2018 movie, Black Panther and the Crew, the first black superhero in mainstream American comics.

Photo by Eduardo Montes-Bradley under CC 4.0. This photo has been cropped from its original version. 

“I am an atheist. (I have recently realized this.) I don't believe the arc of the universe bends towards justice. I don't even believe in an arc. I believe in chaos. I believe powerful people who think they can make Utopia out of chaos should be watched closely. I don't know that it all ends badly. But I think it probably does.”

—— “The Myth of Western Civilization,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, Dec. 12, 2013.

Compiled by Dayna Long

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