November 14

There are 3 entries for this date: Aaron Copland Jawaharlal Nehru J.M. Robertson

    Aaron Copland

    Aaron Copland

    On this date in 1900, composer Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., into a Conservative Jewish family of Lithuanian origins. He composed a number of ballets, including “Appalachian Spring,” “Billy the Kid” and “Rodeo,” along with “Fanfare for the Common Man,” “Third Symphony,” chamber music, vocal works, opera and film scores, about 100 works in all.

    “To all appearances, and by all accounts, he was what many might call a secular humanist,” wrote Leon Botstein. “He emerged as an adult without an ongoing connection to religion.” (“Copland Reconfigured,” Aaron Copland and His World, 2005, eds. Carol Oja and Judith Tick.) His friend Leonard Bernstein would tease him by saying that he was not a a “real Jew.”

    Copland, who was gay, lived and died as a nonbeliever and specified that his funeral service, if any, be “nonreligious.” He died at age 90 in North Tarrytown, N.Y. (D. 1990)

    PHOTO: CBS-TV public domain photo of Copland in 1962.

    “However, in adult life, although retaining strong memories of the music he heard in the synagogue and at Jewish weddings, Copland evidenced little direct connection with Judaism or Jewish culture. He was neither religious nor observant.”

    —from "Copland and the Prophetic Voice" by Howard Pollack in "Aaron Copland and His World" (2005)

    Jawaharlal Nehru

    Jawaharlal Nehru

    On this date in 1889, India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was born in Allahabad to a humanist father and Hindu mother. Nehru was educated in England and at Cambridge University and practiced law. He became an early protégé of Gandhi in the 1920s and spent much of 1930 to 1936 in jail for civil disobedience campaigns. He was imprisoned for 32 months during the Quit India campaign, during which he and Gandhi pledged support for Great Britain during World War II only if India were freed. Upon the liberation and creation of India (Aug. 15, 1947), Nehru became the nation’s first prime minister and led the nation through its turbulent beginnings for 18 years.

    Nehru, a rationalist and agnostic, believed in industrialization, education and mildly socialistic policies. Under his tutelage, India adopted a constitution which decreed separation of church and state. During the Cold War he appealed to the U.S. and the USSR to start nuclear disarmament. Nehru authored several books, including his autobiography.

    Nehru married Kamala Kaul in 1916. Their only daughter Indira was born in 1917. Kamala gave birth in 1924 to a boy who only lived a week. She died in 1936. Indira Gandhi became prime minister in 1966. Nehru died of a heart attack at age 74 in New Delhi. (D. 1964)

    “Essentially, I am interested in this world, in this life, not in some other world or a future life. Whether there is such a thing as a soul, or whether there is a survival after death or not, I do not know; and, important as these questions are, they do not trouble me in the least.”

    —Nehru, "The Discovery of India," 1946 (written while imprisoned by the British)

    J.M. Robertson

    J.M. Robertson

    On this date in 1856, John Mackinnon Robertson was born on the Isle of Arran, Scotland. He left school at 13, joined the staff of the Edinburgh Evening News in 1878 and several years later moved to London so he could work on the National Reformer, Charles Bradlaugh‘s publication, which he edited until 1893. That year Robertson founded the Free Review, which he published for two years. He lectured in the United States in 1897-98. In 1900 he traveled to South Africa to report on martial law for the Morning Leader. From 1906-18 he served in Parliament.

    Robertson specialized in comparative mythology and believed Jesus never existed. He wrote Christianity and Mythology (1900) and Pagan Christs (1903), still influential works. Other books include Short History of Christianity (1902) and the two-volume Short History of Freethought (1915). His expertise extended to economics, linguistics and politics. Physiologist and science writer Homer W. Smith described Robertson as an “outstanding exponent of rationalism and one of the foremost scholars produced in England in the last six decades.” (Man and His Gods, 1952.) D. 1933.

    “Petronius was surely right in saying ‘fear made the gods.’ In primitive times fear of the unknown was normal; gratitude to an unknown was impossible.”

    —Robertson, "Pagan Christs" (1903)

Freedom From Religion Foundation