October 9

    John Lennon

    John Lennon

    On this date in 1940, John Lennon was born in Liverpool, England. A guitar player, Lennon first teamed up with Paul McCartney at age 15. In 1960 they founded the Beatles, a pop foursome that took the world by storm in 1962. On March 4, 1966, the London Evening Standard published an interview with John Lennon in which he claimed that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I will be proved right. We are more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first — rock and roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

    Lennon’s comments were greeted in the U.S. with record burnings and boycotts and he eventually apologized.

    Despite hit after hit, the Beatles broke up when McCartney left in 1970. Lennon married Yoko Ono in 1969 and released his hit album “Imagine” in 1971. When his son Sean was born, he became a famous “house husband.” In 1980 he came out of retirement to do some recordings. He was shot to death by Mark David Chapman outside his Dakota apartment building in New York City on Dec. 8, 1980. Sentenced to serve 20 years to life, Chapman in 2022 was denied parole for the 12th time.

    In an interview Lennon and Ono gave to Playboy that was published posthumously in January 1981, he said, “[T]his whole religion business suffers from the ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ bit. There’s too much talk about soldiers and marching and converting. I’m not pushing Buddhism, because I’m no more a Buddhist than I am a Christian; but there’s one thing I admire about the religion: There’s no proselytizing.”

    Lennon also wrote lyrics saying “I don’t believe in Bible” or Jesus: “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” (D. 1980)

    PHOTO: Lennon the month before his death; Jack Mitchell photo for The New York Times under CC 3.0.


    Imagine there’s no heaven,
    It’s easy if you try,
    No hell below us,
    Above us only sky.
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today.

    Imagine there’s no country,
    It isn’t hard to do.
    Nothing to kill or die for,
    And no religion, too.
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace–

    You may say I’m a dreamer.
    But I’m not the only one.
    I hope someday you’ll join us,
    And the world will be as one.

    — Words and music by John Lennon. 1971 Northern Songs Ltd. (Maclen Music)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    Giuseppe Verdi

    Giuseppe Verdi

    On this date in 1813, Italy’s great composer, Giuseppe Verdi, was born to a humble family in Le Roncole, a village near Busseto. He started music lessons with the village church organist at age 7. He was turned away from a conservatory in Milan, but studied privately. His first opera, “Oberto,” was produced at La Scala in 1839. Many operas would follow, including “Rigoletto” (1851), “Il Trovatore” (1853), “La Traviata” (1853) and “Les Vepres Siciliennes” (which was criticized by clergy, 1855).

    The composer of “Don Carlos” (1867), “Aida” (1870), “Otello” (1886) and “Falstaff” (1893) was acclaimed internationally and regarded by contemporaries as the greatest Italian composer of his century. Verdi’s early personal life was marked by family tragedies, including the death of his sister at age 17. He married Margherita Barezzi, the daughter of a patron, in 1836 and she gave birth to children in 1837 and 1838 but both died in infancy. Margherita died of encephalitis at age 26.

    Verdi was generally anti-clerical and a rationalist. He sympathized with 19th-century campaigns for freedom. At the end of his career, Verdi shared his wealth, endowing the city of Milan with two million lire in 1898 to establish a home for aging musicians, the grounds of which became his final resting place. He also provided funds for a hospital near Busseto.

    He married soprano Giuseppina Strepponi in 1859 after they had lived together for several years, a scandalous cohabitation in the eyes of some. She died in 1897. Later in life Strepponi wrote: “I exhaust myself in speaking to him about the marvels of the heavens, the earth, the sea, etc. It’s a waste of breath! He laughs in my face and freezes me in the midst of my oratorical periods and my divine enthusiasm by saying ‘you’re all crazy,’ and unfortunately he says it with good faith.” (Verdi: A Biography by Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, 1993.)

    Verdi died of a stroke in 1901 at age 87. “[My funeral is to be without] any part of the customary formulae,” Verdi wrote in his will (cited by F.T. Garibaldi in Giuseppe Verdi, 1903). An estimated 300,000 people came to his memorial service in Milan, where Arturo Toscanini directed musicians and a choir of over 800 voices in Verdi’s Va, pensiero (known as the chorus of the Hebrew slaves) from “Nabucco.” (D. 1901)

    “Like many nineteenth-century artists, Verdi was an agnostic whose elevated sense of morality and duty bypassed divine sanction. Strepponi, replying in 1871 to a friend bent on Verdi’s conversion, at first wrote that, with the highest virtues, her husband was an atheist; she then revised this to ‘I won’t say an atheist, but certainly very little of a believer.’ “

    — "The Life of Verdi" by John Rosselli (2000)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Sabrina Gaylor
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    Roger Williams (Banished)

    Roger Williams (Banished)

    On this approximate date in 1635, Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for advancing the notion that the civil state should not enforce religious injunctions. Fleeing with four others and enduring deprivations in the wilderness, Williams settled in 1636 at a site in Rhode Island that he named Providence. Williams established a colony where Baptists like himself, Quakers and other nonconformists were welcomed.

    The settlement was chartered in 1663 by the British crown. The charter promised “no person within the said colony … shall be in any wise molested, punished, disquieted or called in question for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony.” Today the Roger Williams National Memorial can be found on 4.5 acres of landscaped park on the site of the original settlement.

    “God requireth not an uniformity of Religion to be inacted and inforced in any civill state.”

    — Roger Williams' "The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience." Cited by Leo Pfeffer in "Church, State, and Freedom" (1953).
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    Peter Lipton

    Peter Lipton

    On this date in 1954, Peter Lipton was born in New York City. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1976 with a degree in philosophy and physics and earned a doctorate in philosophy from New College in Oxford in 1985. Lipton was particularly interested in the philosophy of science and religion. He was a professor of the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University from 1997 to 2007 and headed the department for over 10 years. He previously worked as an assistant professor at Williams College from 1985-90 and an assistant research professor at Clark University from 1982-85.

    Lipton is most famous for his book Inference to the Best Explanation (1991), which explores the idea of the best explanation being the one that best fits the evidence. He was the Medawar Prize Lecturer of the Royal Society in 2004. Lipton married Diana Warner in 1984 and they had two sons, Jonah and Jacob.

    Lipton was culturally Jewish and considered himself to be a “religious atheist,” according to his obituary in The Telegraph. He died of a heart attack at age 53 after playing squash. (D. 2007)

    “It’s irrational to fear what death will feel like if you know it won’t feel like anything, but it doesn’t follow that it is irrational to fear death. It’s not irrational to look forward to the pleasures of living, and if we know that death will take these away, the fear of losing those pleasures doesn’t seem irrational either.”

    — Lipton, quoted in The Telegraph (Dec. 17, 2007)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    Chris O’Dowd

    Chris O’Dowd

    On this date in 1979, actor Chris O’Dowd was born in Sligo, Ireland, the youngest of five children. His mother was a psychotherapist and his father was a graphic designer. Feeling that his only career options at home were to join his father’s business or work in the fish market, O’Dowd left to attend University College-Dublin, where he studied politics and sociology. It was at UCD that he became interested in acting. Eventually he left UCD without finishing his degree to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.

    His first on-screen acting appearance was in 2003 when he was cast in the BBC television series “Red Cap.” His big break came in 2006 when he landed a starring role in the popular comedy “The IT Crowd” (2006-13). He has since appeared in a number of films, including the box office hit Bridesmaids (2011) Friends with Kids (2011) and The Sapphires (2012). He is also a writer and actor for the original series “Moone Boy,” which he created.

    O’Dowd has been very open about the fact that he’s not religious. In an interview with GQ magazine, he referred to religion as a “weird cult” and suggested that President Obama had to overstate his Christianity in order to be elected.

    PHOTO: O’Dowd at the 2013 British comedy awards. Photo by Christopher William Adach under CC 2.0.

    “For most of my life, I’ve been, ‘Hey, I’m not into it, but I respect your right to believe whatever you want’. But as time goes on, weirdly, I’m growing less liberal. I’m more like, ‘No, religion is ruining the world, you need to stop!’ ”

    — Chris O’Dowd interview, GQ (March 8, 2014)
    Compiled by Dayna Long
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    Annika Sörenstam

    On this date in 1970, professional golfer Annika Charlotta Sörenstam was born in Bro, Sweden, to Gunilla and Tom Sörenstam. Her mother worked in a bank and her father was an IBM executive. Her younger sister Charlotta also became a pro golfer.

    Extremely shy as a youth. she was a talented all-around athlete, excelling in soccer, tennis, skiing and golf. She would deliberately miss putts in the last round of tournaments in order to avoid making remarks as the winner.

    She moved to the U.S. to play college golf at the University of Arizona in Tucson and won the NCAA Division I championship as a freshman. She turned pro in 1992 and in 1995 won the first of her eventual 72 LPGA Tour titles (3rd all-time as of this writing in 2023). All told she won 97 professional events, garnering nearly $23 million in earnings, the most of any woman golfer ever. She retired from the tour in 2008 but continued to play in selected events.

    In 1997, Sörenstam married David Esch, whom she’d met three years earlier when he worked for Ping, a club manufacturer. After a 2005 divorce, she married Mike McGee, the managing director of the ANNIKA brand of businesses. She gave birth to Ava Madelyn McGee in 2009 when she was 38. Their son, William Nicholas McGee, followed in 2011.

    Sörenstam published “Golf Annika’s Way” in 2004, an autobiography and golf instructional book. She holds dual Swedish and American citizenship and lives primarily in Florida. She is a U.S. ambassador for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and in 2021 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with golfers Gary Player and (posthumously) Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

    At the 2023 American Century celebrity tournament won by NBA star Stephen Curry, Sörenstam finished sixth behind Curry, tennis player Mardy Fish, hockey player Joe Pavelski, former major league pitcher Mark Mulder and quarterback Aaron Rodgers

    PHOTO: Sörenstam in Los Angeles at the 2008 ESPYs (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly); shutterstock.com/s_bukley photo.

    “I believe in the good message that exists within religion. But that there is someone up there above the clouds who rules, I doubt.”

    — Interview on Sveriges Radio (January 2002)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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