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 3 entries for this date: Charles Southwell , The Amazing James Randi and Charlize Theron
Charles Southwell

Charles Southwell

On this date in 1814, Charles Southwell was born in London. Southwell became an atheist as a teenager after reading Sermons by the Calvinist Timothy Dwight. After serving in the British Foreign Legion in Spain during the Carlist War, Southwell became a popular and prolific freethought lecturer in London. He opened a radical bookstore and helped found the atheist periodical The Oracle of Reason (1841-43), which often published fiercely anti-Christian material. It was among the first avowedly atheist publications in England. Southwell and several later editors were imprisoned for blasphemy.

“The ... BIBLE has been for ages the idol of all sorts of blockheads, the glory of knaves, and the disgust of wise men. It is a history of lust, sodomies, wholesale slaughtering, and horrible depravity; that the vilest parts of all other histories, collected in one monstrous book, could scarcely parallel,” Southwell wrote in The Oracle of Reason. (Politics 1790-1900, Edward Royle, 1976.) Southwell boldly asserted in 1842 that “The world could not have been designed by one being, infinitely wise, infinitely good, and infinitely powerful.” 

Southwell lived in New Zealand from 1856 until his death in 1860, where he was influential to the freethought movement there. The New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists named its Charles Southwell Award after him. Southwell wrote An Apology for Atheism (1846), Superstition Unveiled (1854) and The Confessions of a Freethinker and founded the newspapers The Investigator, The Lancashire Beacon and The Auckland Examiner. D. 1860.

“Superstition is the tyranny of tyrannies, and its priests the tyrants of tyrants.” 

—Charles Southwell, The Oracle of Reason (1842)

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

The Amazing James Randi

The Amazing James Randi

On this date in 1928, Randall James Hamilton Zwinge, known as the Amazing James Randi, was born in Toronto, Canada. Randi has used his international reputation as a magician and escape artist to investigate and expose claims of the paranormal. He exposed both psychic "spoonbender" Uri Geller and "faith-healer" Peter Popoff on "The Tonight Show" hosted by Johnny Carson.

His numerous awards and recognitions include a "Genius" Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1986. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1987. In 1993, PBS-TV's "NOVA" dedicated a one-hour special to coverage of Randi's work, particularly his investigations of Geller and various occult and healing claims being made by scientists in Russia.

His books include: The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam! and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. Randi is a founding fellow of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. He established the James Randi Educational Foundation in 1996. The foundation offered a $1 million standing prize to any eligible applicant who could demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event under test conditions agreed to by both parties.

A version of the challenge, similar to one that freethinker Harry Houdini was part of in the early 20th century, was first issued in 1964. More than a thousand persons took up the challenge and all failed. The foundation ended the challenge in 2015.

"[T]here are two sorts of atheists," Randi wrote in a newsletter at randi.org (Aug. 5, 2005). "One sort claims that there is no deity; the other claims that there is no evidence that proves the existence of a deity. I belong to the latter group, because if I were to claim that no god exists, I would have to produce evidence to establish that claim, and I cannot."

Randi came out as gay in 2010, a move he said was inspired by the 2008 biographical drama film "Milk." He married his much younger assistant and longtime companion Deyvi Peña in 2013 at their home in Plantation, Fla., after Peña faced deportation to his native Venezuela after being charged with identity theft. Randi retired at age 87 and died at age 92 of age-related causes. D. 2020.

James Randi Educational Foundation photo under CC 2.0.

“I have always been an atheist. I think that religion is a very damaging philosophy — because it’s such a retreat from reality.”

—Interview, The New York Times Magazine (Nov. 7, 2014)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron

On this date in 1975, actress Charlize Theron was born in Benoni in the Transvaal region of South Africa, the only child of Gerda (Maritz) and Charles Theron, who operated the nation's third-largest road construction business and owned a large farm. Her native tongue was Afrikaans but she also became fluent in English. Her childhood goal was to become a ballet dancer.

When Theron was 15, her alcoholic father came home drunk and started shooting at her and her mother, and her mother shot him to death. It was ruled self-defense. The next year she won a contest for a one-year contract to model in Europe and lived with her mother in Italy before moving to the U.S. Giving up her professional ballet aspirations, due partially to knee problems, she moved to Los Angeles and lived paycheck to paycheck while studying acting.

Her first speaking film role was in "2 Days in the Valley" (1996) and larger roles soon followed, including in "The Devil's Advocate" (1997), "Mighty Joe Young" (1998) and "The Cider House Rules" (1999). Her portrayal in "Monster" (2003) of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, executed in Florida for killing six men, was "one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema," critic Roger Ebert wrote. It won her the Best Actress Oscar, the first ever for a South African.

In "North Country" (2005), based on Lois Jenson's true story, Theron played the Minnesota iron mine worker subjected to years of workplace sexual harassment. Amber Heard portrayed the character, raped as a teen by her high school teacher, in flashbacks. Theron again received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress and appeared on the cover of Ms. Magazine under the headline "Charlize Theron & Niki Caro Fight for Working Women."

Since then, as of this writing in 2021, she has had roles in 29 films and has received numerous acting accolades, including a Best Actress nomination for "Bombshell" (2019), in which she plays former Fox News host Megyn Kelly. It's based on accusations by Fox employees who alleged CEO Roger Ailes was a serial sexual harasser.

The 5-foot, 10-inch actress is known for working hard to get "in character." She gained 50 pounds to play a pregnant suburban mother in 2018's "Tully." It took her 18 months to lose the weight. Answering Vanity Fair's "Proust Questionnaire" in 2021 about what she most dislikes about her appearance, she said "big shoulders." The living person she most admires? Her mother. The greatest love of her life? "My kids."

Theron has never married ("not my thing," she once told an interviewer) but has had long-term relationships with actor Craig Bierko, singer Stephan Jenkins (Third Eye Blind) and actors Stuart Townsend and Sean Penn. In 2020 she told an interviewer that she hasn't dated seriously in five years and that she's fulfilled by being a mom to her adopted Black daughters Jackson, then 8, and August, 5. Jackson is transgender.

Asked in a 2008 interview if she believed in God (see quote below), Theron called herself "pagan at heart." When it became known two years later that she was attending Kabbalah classes and was seen wearing the red bracelet of the celebrity "religion du jour," insiders said she had turned to Kabbalah to deal with her recent split from Townsend and "as a means to more of a social life and mixing with the Hollywood elite." (The Daily Mail, Feb. 20, 2010)

She became a dual citizen of South Africa and the U.S. in 2007. She created the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project that same year, and in 2008 she was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace for her efforts to support African youth in the fight against HIV/AIDS. 

PHOTO: Theron in 2015 at the "Mad Max: Fury Road" premiere in Los Angeles; photo by Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

"I think I am pagan at heart. My Mum always told me, even as a kid, to come to my own conclusion. So I started going to church, but then stopped. Someone from the church came to see my mother and said, 'We need to talk about Charlize’s non-attendance.' I remember my mother pointing at me and saying, 'You can talk to her yourself — she’s here.' "

—Interview, The Daily Mail (June 15, 2008)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

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