December 24

    Matthew Arnold

    Matthew Arnold

    On this date in 1822, Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold was born in Laleham on the Thames. He graduated from Oxford in 1844. His father was Thomas Arnold, the inspiration for Tom Brown’s Schooldays and head of the famous school of Rugby. Arnold parted ways with Christianity sometime in his teens on intellectual and ethical grounds and became an agnostic. In “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse,” he later wrote, “Rigorous teachers seized my youth / And purged its faith, and trimm’d its fire / Show’d me the high, white star of Truth.”

    In 1851 he was appointed one of “Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools,” a post he held for 35 years. That same year he married Frances Lucy. They would have six children. In 1852 he published his second volume of poems, Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems, which religious critics sought to censor. Poems of Matthew Arnold was published in 1857, followed by other volumes. Arnold served for a decade as professor of poetry at Oxford. In his 40s he largely turned from poetry to critical writing. His Essays in Criticism came out in 1865.

    Arnold’s freethinking was clearly delineated in Culture and Anarchy (1869), Saint Paul and Protestantism (1870), Literature and Dogma (1873) and Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877). In his poem, “Dover Beach,” he described “The Sea of Faith … Retreating.” Although he gently defined religion as “morality touched with emotion” and some detect a tinge of regret in his rejection of faith, he was an ardent critic of Christian doctrine and the bible.

    “It is almost impossible to exaggerate the proneness of the human mind to take miracles as evidence, and to seek for miracles as evidence,” he wrote in Literature and Dogma. “Miracles do not happen,” he baldly wrote in the preface to the 1883 edition of Literature and Dogma. He died at age 65 of heart failure in 1888 while hurrying to meet his daughter, who was arriving on a train.

    “The personages of the Christian heaven and their conversations are no more matter of fact than the personages of the Greek Olympus and their conversations.”

    —Arnold, "God and the Bible" preface (1875)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    John Morley

    John Morley

    On this date in 1838, author and statesman John Morley was born in England. He was educated at Cheltenham College and Oxford. His father wanted him to become a clergyman and withdrew his financial support when Morley demurred. His plans to take the bar were interrupted by taking editorship of the rationalist Fortnightly Review in 1867, for which he also wrote. The trademark of agnostic Morley was to spell “God” with a small “g.”

    His books include Burke (1867), Voltaire (1871), Rousseau (1873), On Compromise (1874), Diderot (1878), Life of Gladstone (three volumes, 1903) and Recollections (1917). He became editor of the crusading newspaper Pall Mall Gazette in 1880 and supported Prime Minister William Gladstone. Morley represented Newcastle in Parliament from 1883-95 and Montrose Burghs from 1896 to 1908. He supported parliamentary reform and Irish Home Rule and opposed the Boer War.

    Known as “honest John Morley,” he was Secretary of State for India from 1905 to 1910 and Lord President of the Council from 1910 to 1914. He retired from politics to protest Britain’s entry into World War I. D. 1923.

    “Where it is a duty to worship the sun, it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat.”

    —Morley, from his 1871 book "Voltaire"

    Ed Miliband

    Ed Miliband

    On this date in 1969, Edward Samuel Miliband was born in London to Polish Jewish immigrants who fled to England during the Holocaust. His father, Ralph Miliband, was a prominent sociologist and Marxist scholar and educator. His mother was a feminist and human rights activist. He studied politics and economics at Corpus Christi College at Oxford University and earned a master’s in economics at the London School of Economics.

    Miliband’s political career began in 1997 as an adviser to Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, a post he held until 2002. He then spent several semesters at Harvard as a visiting scholar in the Center for European Studies, where he taught economics. In 2005 he was elected to Parliament as a Labour Party member and the next year became parliamentary secretary to the Cabinet Office under Prime Minister Tony Blair. In 2007, newly elected Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed him to a Cabinet position.

    After Brown left office in 2010 as prime minister, Miliband and his brother David Miliband both sought to lead the Labour Party, with Ed winning by a narrow margin in 2010. At 40 he was the youngest Leader of the Opposition ever elected. He served until May 2015 when the party lost its majority to the Conservatives. Remaining in the House of Commons, he took a backbench role. 

    Miliband married jurist Justine Thornton in 2011 and they have two sons together.  He also co-hosts a popular podcast, “Reasons to be Cheerful,” with radio presenter Geoff Lloyd.

    “I have a particular faith, I describe myself as a Jewish atheist. I’m Jewish by birth origin and it’s part of who I am. I don’t believe in God, but I think faith is a really important thing for a lot of people.”

    —Miliband, quoted in The Telegraph (April 12, 2014)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Christopher Buckley

    Christopher Buckley

    On this date in 1952, political satirist Christopher Buckley was born in New York City to conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. and Canadian socialite Patricia (Taylor) Buckley, both Catholics. Buckley attended Catholic grammar schools and then a secondary school run by Benedictine monks. After high school he worked briefly on a Norwegian freighter and then graduated with an English degree from Yale University in 1975.

    Buckley began his career at Esquire magazine in various editorial positions, which led to his appointment as managing editor at the age of 25. He left the magazine in 1979 to again work at sea. The experience inspired his first book, Steaming to Bamboola: The World of a Tramp Freighter (1982). Buckley served as chief speechwriter to Vice President George H.W. Bush from 1981-83.

    His first novel, White House Mess (1986), satirized politics and the writing of memoirs. Buckley continued to write successful satirical books such as Wet Work (1991), Thank You For Smoking (1994), which was also made into a popular film, God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7-1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth (1998), No Way to Treat a First Lady (2002), Florence of Arabia (2004), Supreme Courtship (2008), They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? (2012), The Relic Master (2015) and The Judge Hunter (2018).

    Buckley has also written on more serious subjects, such as his sometimes contentious relationship with his parents (Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir, 2009), and especially about his father, who founded the conservative National Review and was considered to be the father of the modern conservative movement. The younger Buckley ditched his own conservatism during the 2008 election by publicly supporting Barack Obama, which lost him his unpaid gig writing for his father’s magazine.

    He defended his reasoning in a March 2009 Forbes article: “Our choice, last fall, was between an angry 73-year-old with a legislative record far from consistently conservative, who nominated as his running mate a know-nothing religious extremist. On the other side was an appealing, thoughtful man who — for a brief shining moment — seemed to be more than the sum of his ideological parts.”

    In an April 1999 Time magazine interview with Joel Stein, Buckley said, “I was raising (my kids) agnostic, then the Hale-Bopp thing happened and I thought, ‘What if in their 20s, they decide they need some spiritual connection and they turn to some idiot like that cult leader?’ ” Buckley said he grew tired of fighting with his father over religion and that his “agnosticism, once defiant, had gone underground. I no longer had the desire to nail my theses to his church door. By now I knew we didn’t have much time left, and I didn’t want to spend it locking theological horns.”

    He married Lucy Gregg in 1984 and they had two children before divorcing in 2011. He has a son born in 2000 from his relationship with former Random House publicist Irina Woelfle. In 2012 he married Dr. Katherine Close, a physician.

    Buckley in 2012 at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas; Harry Cabluck public domain photo.

    New York Times: As an only child, did you find one of your parents easier to talk to than the other?
    Christopher Buckley: My mother. She got it. He often didn’t get it.
    NYT: What didn’t he get?
    CB: Religion.
    NYT: He was a practicing Catholic. What are you?
    CB: I am post-Catholic.
    NYT: As opposed to a lapsed Catholic?
    CB: I am probably more of a collapsed Catholic.
    NYT: Do you believe in the afterlife?
    CB: Alas, no.

    —"Questions for Christopher Buckley: The Right Stuff," New York Times Magazine (Oct. 23, 2008)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Anthony Fauci

    Anthony Fauci

    On this date in 1940, physician and immunologist Anthony Stephen Fauci was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Eugenia (Abys) and Stephen Fauci, owners of a family pharmacy. His pharmacist father was known as “Doc” in the neighborhood. Fauci attended a Catholic high school run by the Jesuits and graduated with a B.A. in classics in 1962 from the College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit school in Worcester, Mass.

    He graduated first in his class at Cornell University Medical College in 1966 and completed a residency in internal medicine. He then joined the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a clinical associate at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). He became NIAID director in 1984, a position he still held in 2020. 

    He turned down several offers to lead the NIH and has been at the forefront of U.S. efforts to contend with viral diseases such as HIV, SARS, the 2009 swine flu pandemic, MERS, Ebola and COVID-19. As a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force in 2020, he became a public health spokesperson for the office of the president during the pandemic.

    Due to occasional mild but public disagreements with President Trump, Fauci was criticized by right-wing pundits and received death threats resulting in the need for a security detail. He was demonized by “coronavirus truthers” and “anti-vaxxers” calling the pandemic a hoax and favoring so-called herd immunity over vaccination. He has received 30 honorary doctorates for his scientific accomplishments and between 1981-94 was the fifth most-cited scientist out of over 1 million worldwide who published articles in scientific journals.

    He married Christine Grady, 11 years his junior, a nurse and bioethicist with the NIH, in 1985. As of this writing, she was chief of the Department of Bioethics at the NIH Clinical Center. They have three daughters, Jennifer, Megan and Alison.

    Asked in 2003 by TheScientist magazine if he was a man of faith, given that he was raised Catholic and attended Jesuit schools, Fauci replied: “Broadly and generically, I’m not a regular church attender. I have evolved into less a Roman Catholic religion person [to] someone who tries to keep a degree of spirituality about them.”

    Brian Lamb read the above statement to Fauci in a later interview (C-SPAN, Jan. 8, 2015) and asked him if that was still true. “Totally accurate today,” Fauci said. He also told Lamb that “there are a lot of things about organized religion that are unfortunate, and I tend to like to stay away from that. … [T]he idea about the organization of religion is not something that I adhere to very much.” 

    PHOTO: Fauci in 2007; NIAID photo under CC 2.0.

    “I look upon myself as a humanist. I have faith in the goodness of mankind.”

    —Interview, TheScientist magazine (May 2003)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Ava Gardner

    Ava Gardner

    On this date in 1922, actress Ava Lavinia Gardner was born in Grabtown, N.C., the last of seven children born to her Irish Catholic father (a tenant farmer who died when she was 16) and a Scottish Baptist mother. Biographer Charles Higham wrote this of the family, “Books were no part of the texture of their life: only the Bible stood on the shelves, and it was not until Ava was 16 that she was permitted to read any novel not assigned in school.”

    She grew up attending Baptist services and enrolled for a year at Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College), affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. Visiting her sister in New York City in 1939, she caught the eye of a photographer with ties to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. Two years later she signed a seven-year contract with MGM for $50 a week and married Mickey Rooney. She soon divorced him and then married bandleader Artie Shaw (1945-46) before marrying Frank Sinatra in 1951. They divorced in 1957.

    While she had relationships with other men throughout her life, including Howard Hughes, John Huston and Ernest Hemingway, she never again married. She never had children and ended at least two pregnancies with abortions.

    Gardner’s acting career expanded from small, walk-on roles to starring with Clark Gable in “The Hucksters” and “Mogambo.” In between she had a leading role in the musical “Show Boat.” Gardner exuded “sultry” as a femme fatale in her four-decade film career. She was nominated once (in 1953) for a Best Actress Oscar as Eloise “Honey Bear” Kelly in “Mogambo,” losing to Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday.” Gardner’s only Golden Globe nomination, in her last major leading role in a critically acclaimed film, was for 1964’s “Night of the Iguana,” won by Anne Bancroft for “The Pumpkin Eater.”

    Religion never played a positive role in her life, according to biographers and Gardner herself, in her autobiography Ava: My Story. Her friend Zoe Sallis, who met her on the set of “The Bible” when Gardner was living with Huston in Puerto Vallarta, said Gardner always seemed unconcerned about religion. When Sallis asked her about religion once, Gardner replied, “It doesn’t exist.” Gardner ended her acting career on the small screen with several TV roles in the mid-1980s. She suffered a stroke in 1986 and was plagued by lung problems before dying at home of pneumonia at age 67. (D. 1990)

    PHOTO: Gardner as Julie LaVerne in “Show Boat” (1951); public domain photo

    “I could see the fear in his eyes when he was smiling. I went to see the preacher, the guy who’d baptized me. I begged him to come and visit Daddy, just to talk to him, you know? Give him a blessing or something. But he never did. He never came. God, I hated him. Cold-ass bastards like that ought to — I don’t know — they should be in some other racket, I know that. I had no time for religion after that. I never prayed. I never said another prayer. Not like I meant it anyway.”

    —Gardner on her father's death when she was 16, "Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations," by Peter Evans and Ava Gardner (published posthumously in 2013)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Chris Kluwe

    Chris Kluwe

    On this date in 1981, Christopher James Kluwe, athlete, author and activist, was born in Philadelphia to Ronald and Sandra Kluwe. He grew up in California and graduated from Los Alamitos High School before enrolling at UCLA, where he graduated in 2005 with majors in political science and history.

    Kluwe excelled in high school and college as a football punter and placekicker, skills that led him to join the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League in 2005. He spent seven seasons with the Vikings as one of the top punters in the league and set 14 individual punting records for the franchise before retiring in 2014. While playing he was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage and was named grand marshal of the Twin Cities Pride parade in 2013. Ellen DeGeneres, a Packers fan, named him the first inductee in her TV show’s Hall of Fame.

    In 2012, after Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo spoke out in favor of a Maryland ballot initiative to legalize gay marriage, state delegate Emmett Burns Jr. urged Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to “inhibit such expressions from your employee.” Kluwe responded to Burns in an open letter: “It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person’s right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word.”

    He also clashed with Vikings management and threatened to sue the team in 2014 over alleged homophobic remarks by special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. Kluwe also alleged he was released by the Vikings due to his activism. After an independent investigation, the team suspended Priefer for three games, announced a $100,000 contribution to LGBTQ charities and pledged to enhance sensitivity training. Kluwe, who did not receive any money, and the team have since mended their relationship. In 2018 the Vikings were the first NFL franchise to host a large-scale summit focused on the inclusion of gay athletes.

    He published Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities in 2013, a collection of short essays, vignettes, letters, digressions, lists, rants and complaints. “Who Is John Galt?” is one of the essays. In it he takes apart the hero of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, calling Galt “a remorseless shark feeding on those unable to get out of his way.”

    With Andrew Reiner, he published the science fiction novel Prime: A Genesis Series in 2015. Kluwe’s futuristic novel Otaku, geared to young adults, was released in 2020 and features a black female protagonist who is one of the world’s top gamers. Its themes include bullying and online hate speech directed at women gamers. (The Gamergate controversy in 2014 stemmed from a vicious harassment campaign against female video game developers and progressive politics and culture.)

    Kluwe married Maria Isabel Alvarado in 2004 near the end of his UCLA years. Thеу hаvе twо daughters, Remy аnd Olivia, born in 2008 аnd 2010. Kluwe describes himself as “cheerfully agnostic” and spoke at the 2014 American Atheists annual convention. 

    “My religion is doubt. I believe with all my heart that I will never know everything, that the decisions I make will necessarily be flawed by the imperfect assumptions I base them on but that the only way to keep learning is to change those assumptions when faced with new evidence.”

    —"Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies" (2013)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation