March 31

    John Fowles

    John Fowles

    On this date in 1926, novelist John Robert Fowles was born in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, outside London. After serving two years as a lieutenant in the Royal Marines, Fowles went to Oxford, where he graduated in 1950 with a degree in French. As a college student, he admired the French existentialists, particularly Camus and Sartre. Fowles lectured in Poitiers, France, then spent two years on the Greek island Spetses, teaching college English. There he met his future wife Elizabeth Christy, then married to a fellow teacher. From 1954-63, he taught English at St. Godric’s College, London.

    The phenomenal success of his first published novel, The Collector (1963), permitted him the luxury of becoming a fulltime writer. The Magus, set on a Greek island with an English protagonist who teaches at a school, was published in 1965 and revised in 1977. (A 1968 film based on it was panned by critics, with Woody Allen quoted as saying, “If I had to live my life again, I’d do everything the same, except that I wouldn’t see ‘The Magus.’ “) These novels were followed by The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), Daniel Martin (1977), Mantissa (1982) and A Maggot (1985).

    Fowles also wrote poetry and nonfiction. His book of essays, Wormholes, came out in 1998. The vivid The Collector, a disturbing tale of a young butterfly collector who decides to kidnap a woman he has a crush on, was made into a memorable film in 1965 starring Terrance Stamp. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Fowles’ most commercial success, inspired a 1981 movie of the same name, starring Meryl Streep.

    Fowles’ semi-autobiographical protagonist in Daniel Martin is described as an atheist. According to the Spring 1996 volume of Twentieth Century Literature, which was devoted to Fowles, he “repeatedly defined himself as an atheist.” In a New York Times interview with James R. Baker (“Art of Fiction”), Fowles said: “I stay an atheist, a totally unreligious man, with a deep, deep conviction that there is no afterlife.” (D. 2005)

    “Being an atheist is a matter not of moral choice, but of human obligation.”

    —Fowles, quoted in The New York Times Book Review (May 31, 1998)

    Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner

    Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner

    On this date in 1858, Hypatia Bradlaugh (later Bonner) was born in London. The namesake of the murdered pagan lecturer of Alexandria, she was the daughter of Charles Bradlaugh, who triumphed after a long battle to be seated in Parliament as an atheist. Matriculating at London University, Bonner became a teacher at the Hall of Science run by her father’s National Secular Society. When she married Arthur Bonner in 1882, they merged their surnames and had two sons, one of whom survived.

    After her father died in 1891, she wrote his biography and was forced by constant slanders of deathbed conversions to correct the public record, even taking successful court action.

    An ardent opponent of the death penalty, proponent of penal reform, peace advocate and feminist, Bonner lectured widely. She founded the Rationalist Peace Society in 1910. She edited a journal, The Reformer (1897-1904). She was part of the Rationalist Press Association, worked against blasphemy laws and was appointed justice of the peace for London, serving from 1922-34, as a reward for 40 years of public service.

    Her books include Penalties Upon Opinion (1912), The Christian Hell (1913) and Christianity and Conduct (1919). In her final “Testament,” she wrote, “Away with all these gods and godlings; they are worse than useless.” D. 1934.

    PHOTO: Bonner in 1929, five years before she died after surgery for abdominal cancer.

    “Heresy makes for progress.”

    —Motto of The Reformer, the journal edited by Bonner
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Olive Schreiner

    Olive Schreiner

    On this date in 1855, Olive Schreiner was born in Basutoland (now Lesotho), Africa, the daughter of a German father and an English mother, both working for the London Missionary Society. She was ninth of 12 children. Olive began working at age 13 as a governess, often in primitive conditions. She educated herself, reading scientists and freethinkers, and had saved enough money for passage for England within 10 years.

    Her novel, The Story of an African Farm, about two children growing up in the African veldt, was written before she was 20 and published in 1883 under the pen name Ralph Iron. It has been called a “South African Wuthering Heights.” The sections detailing the internal struggle of the character Waldo (whose name was a nod at Ralph Waldo Emerson) poignantly describe the struggles she went through over her loss of faith after being raised in strict Calvinism. The novel, where nonbelief runs as a constant thread, caught the eye of reader George Meredith and was highly acclaimed upon publication and remains in circulation. Schreiner also wrote Dreams (1891), Trooper Peter Halket (1897) and Woman and Labour (1911).

    In 1894 she married S.C. Cronwright. In England, she became friends with radicals such as Eleanor Marx and had a long-term correspondence with Havelock Ellis. After returning to Africa, she was at one time subject to martial law and her home was burned down by whites incensed over her position on race. A feminist and suffragist, she was a pacifist during World War I. (D. 1920)

    “But we, wretched unbelievers, we bear our own burdens; we must say, ‘I myself did it, I. Not God, not Satan; I myself!’ “
    “This thing is certain — he is a fool who says, ‘No man hath said in his heart, There is no God.’ ”

    —Schreiner, quotes from characters in "The Story of an African Farm" (1883)

    Matt Dillahunty

    Matt Dillahunty

    On this date in 1969, public speaker and internet personality Matthew Wade Dillahunty was born in Kansas City, Mo. He was raised in a Southern Baptist home. He was a fundamentalist Christian for over 20 years, but after serving from 1987-95 in the U.S. Navy and working in high tech, he found a need to reaffirm his faith in order to continue a life with the ministry. This attempt to fortify his faith turned into a long-term investigation to understand reason in terms of his religion.

    From 2006-13, Dillahunty was president of the Atheist Community of Austin, Texas. The ACA is a nonprofit organization with a variety of goals including developing and supporting the atheist community, providing opportunities for socialization and friendship and working with like-minded organizations to oppose discrimination against atheists. Not only does the ACA serve its local community, it provides an online portal of free resources accessible to the community at large.

    One of its most-effective outreach projects is “The Atheist Experience” TV show, a weekly program geared towards a nonatheist audience. Dillahunty has been hosting the show since 2005 and was a co-host of “The Non Prophets” internet radio show prior to that.

    He also founded The Iron Chariots, an online encyclopedia intended to provide information on philosophical apologetics and non-apologetics. Additionally, he contributed to the novel Deconverted: a Journey from Religion to Reason (2012), an autobiographical account of a Protestant Christian who eventually creates a popular online atheist community called The Thinking Atheist. Dillahunty travels nationwide as a member of the Secular Student Alliance’s speaker’s Bureau. In 2012, he won the Catherine Fahringer Freethinker of the Year Award from the Freethinkers Association of Central Texas.

    In Episode 771 of “The Atheist Experience” (July 22, 2012), Dillahunty called the Catholic Church “a nonsensical organization; a bunch of fat lazy do-nothings who have been living off the public dole for centuries. The fact that they can do good is a testament to the fact that there are good people who will do good. But the organization is corrupt, it is poison to its core and it serves no essential good purpose – no true purpose. It’s lie after lie, promoting harm to real people …”

    In 2011 he married Beth Presswood, an “Atheist Experience” colleague and co-host of “The Godless Bitches” podcast. They divorced in 2018.

    PHOTO: Dillahunty in 2014 at SashaCon; Mark Schierbecker photo under CC 3.0.

    “Faith is the excuse people give for believing something when they don’t have evidence.”

    —Dillahunty, "The Atheist Experience" Episode 696 (Feb. 13, 2011)
    Compiled by Tolulope Igun

Freedom From Religion Foundation