January 1

There are 230 entries for this date: Jerry Coyne Wendy Kaminer Sarah Vowell Quentin Crisp Elmina D. Slenker Frances Hamerstrom Arthur C. Clarke Baron d’Holbach James Thurber Bill Bryson Heywood C. Broun Samuel Butler T.C. Boyle John Toland Edwin Kagin Marie Bashkirtseff Jennifer Michael Hecht Myla Goldberg Margaret Atwood Chalmers Roberts Ben Winter José Saramago Ayaan Hirsi Ali Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Joseph McCabe Carl Sagan Albert Camus Will Durant André Malraux Ludovic Kennedy Scott Galloway Alfred Jules Ayer Lee Child Warren Allen Smith Sylvia Plath Malcolm Margolin Fran Lebowitz Max Stirner Anne Tyler Ursula K. Le Guin Tariq Ali Philip Pullman Lewis Wolpert Oscar Wilde Mary Daly Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Michael Lewis Katha Pollitt Eleanor Roosevelt Dan Savage John McWhorter Denis Diderot Neil deGrasse Tyson Carl Brandes Gore Vidal Graham Greene Prosper Merimee Albert Ellis Walter Lippmann Stephen King H.G. Wells George R.R. Martin Simon Singh Jerry DeWitt James Fenimore Cooper Ted Gup Alain Locke Avijit Roy Leo Tolstoy Malcolm Bradbury Robert M. Pirsig Richard Wright Chapman Cohen Edgar Rice Burroughs Mary Godwin Shelley C. Wright Mills Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Barbara Ehrenreich Zona Gale Howard Zinn Annie Proulx Tom Flynn Maria Deraismes V. S. Naipaul Felix Adler Lillie Devereux Blake Robert G. Ingersoll Tom Brazaitis Charles Southwell Lawrence Lader Janet Jeppson Asimov Robert Taylor James Baldwin Wil Wheaton Meg Bowman Aldous Huxley Lucy Colman Eric Hoffer Vern Bullough Samuel Porter Putnam Hendrik Hertzberg Anthony Collins Donald B. Ardell Henry David Thoreau Sherry Matulis Oliver Sacks Robert A. Heinlein Eleanor Clift Alexander Pushkin Benjamin Underwood Peter Singer Charlotte Perkins Gilman Barbara G. Walker Edward Clodd Ashley Montagu Jean-Jacques Rousseau Emma Goldman George Orwell Dan Barker Julian Huxley Erich Maria Remarque Dan Brown Ian McEwan Jean-Paul Sartre Ira Cardiff Elbert Hubbard Salman Rushdie Joyce Carol Oates Ann Druyan Harriet Martineau Robert Munsch Maurice Sendak Saul Bellow Sara Paretsky Alice Hubbard Ken Follett Susan Jacoby Barbara Smoker Thomas Hardy Mikhail Bakunin Harlan Ellison Adam Carolla Pär Lagerkvist Joan Collins Honoré de Balzac Nora Ephron Kate Cohen Bertrand Russell Louis “Studs” Terkel Seymour Hersh (Quote) L. Frank Baum Ariel Durant George Will Mary L. Trump Yoram Kaniuk Derek Humphry Peter Watson Clarence Darrow Christopher Hitchens Jon Krakauer Sam Harris Marjory Stoneman Douglas Robert M. Sapolsky Arthur Hailey A.C. Grayling John Fowles Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner Jane Rule Gloria Steinem Stephen Pearl Andrews Pamela Sargent Carl Reiner Philip Roth Robert Blatchford Joseph Priestley Harry Harrison Douglas Adams Amy Alkon John Stossel William Godwin Brian Cox Pamela Paul Daniel Handler John Steinbeck Charles Watts Victor Hugo Hemant Mehta Grant Allen W.E.B. Du Bois Rebecca Newberger Goldstein Josephine K. Henry James A. Haught André Breton Sir Francis Galton Natalie Angier Octave Mirbeau Simon Pegg Henry Rollins Judy Blume Lydia Maria Child Sikivu Hutchinson Amy Lowell James Parton Alice Walker Sinclair Lewis James A. Michener Ayn Rand Havelock Ellis Jack Germond Victor Stenger Edward Paul Abbey Robin Morgan David Friedrich Strauss Jules Feiffer W. Somerset Maugham Virginia Woolf Beatrice Webb Johan August Strindberg Julian Barnes Niall Shanks A.A. Milne Molière Jean Meslier Col. Ethan Allen Simone de Beauvoir Lewis Lapham Zora Neale Hurston Isaac Asimov Michel Onfray Gustave Tridon

    Michel Onfray

    Michel Onfray

    On this date in 1959, Michel Onfray was born in Argentan in northwest France. He taught philosophy in high school in Caen from 1983 to 2002. During this time he received his doctorate from the University of Caen in 1986. Onfray’s first book, Le ventre des philosophes, critique de la raison diététique (The Philosophers’ Stomach: A Critique of Dietary Reasoning) was published in 1989.

    Onfray has written over 100 published books, which are popular throughout France as well as other parts of Europe, Latin America and even East Asia. However, only one, Traité d’Atheologie (2005) has been published in English: Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

    In 2002 he founded the Université Populaire (People’s University) in Caen, at which he and others give free lectures on philosophy and other intellectual topics. The main thrust of Onfray’s work is atheist, materialist and hedonist. On the Brain@McGill website affiliated with the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, Bruno Dubuc writes: “The French author Michel Onfray may be the philosopher who best represents the hedonist tradition today. In his many works, Onfray attempts to reposition the human body at the centre of our world view. … Onfray specializes in a certain ancient philosophy that has been buried under 2000 years of Christianity.”

    In Atheist Manifesto, Onfray makes a strong case for removing all the remnants of Judeo-Christian ideology from our secular culture. Onfray is also a historian of philosophy who loves to point out why many philosophers are undeserving of our respect. He has so far published six volumes in the series La contre histoire de la philosophie (The Counter-History of Philosophy).

    Photo by Perline via CC 3.0

    “I persist in preferring philosophers to rabbis, priests, imams, ayatollahs, and mullahs. Rather than trust their theological hocus-pocus, I prefer to draw on alternatives to the dominant philosophical historiography: the laughers, materialists, radicals, cynics, hedonists, atheists, sensualists, voluptuaries. They know that there is only one world, and that promotion of an afterlife deprives us of the enjoyment and benefit of the only one there is. A genuinely deadly sin.” 

    —Onfray, "Atheist Manifesto" (2005)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

    Gustave Tridon

    Gustave Tridon

    On this date in 1841, Edme Marie Gustave Tridon was born into a wealthy family in Châtillon-sur-Seine, France. He studied law and was qualified to practice it but never did. As a student he became a radical republican socialist and opponent of Emperor Napoleon III.

    He also embraced metaphysical materialism and atheism, considering the latter the highest achievement of scientific reason. Among the figures of the French Revolution, he most admired Jacques-René Hébert, a Parisian guillotined by the Jacobins. Tridon published two books on the Hébertists: The Hébertists: Protest Against a Historical Calumny (1864) and The Commune of 1793: The Hébertists (1871). He also published a history titled The Gironde and the Girondists (1869).

    Tridon’s views corresponded with those of veteran revolutionary Louis Auguste Blanqui, whom he met in the Sainte-Pélagie prison in 1865. Tridon had been incarcerated there for writing anti-religious articles deemed contrary to morality. After his release he founded the journal Candide, which was eventually shut down by the authorities, and Tridon was jailed again.

    In 1866 he joined the First International, one of the first Blanquists to do so. On his return to France from the International congress, he was again arrested and remained in prison until 1868. He founded the journal Revue and contributed articles to several other journals. In January 1870, fearing arrest, he fled to Brussels. He was sentenced in absentia to deportation.

    A dark stain on his legacy was the so-called racial anti-Semitism in vogue within the French anarchist left during the mid-19th century. Tridon wrote Du Molochisme Juif, a screed published posthumously that pleaded for an Aryan victory over the Jews to save Western civilization and referred to Jews as “a carnivorous race sacrificing humans to its gods.” (Judd L. Teller, Scapegoat of Revolution, 1954.)

    The exact cause of his death at age 30 is uncertain. Some sources say it was suicide, but British author Joseph Mazzini Wheeler wrote that while imprisoned in Sainte-Pélagie, he “contracted the malady which killed him.” 

    Historian Maurice Dommanget wrote in Hommes et Choses de la Commune (Men and Things of the Commune) that “This twenty-nine-year-old man is already worn out. He is hunched to the point that he looks like he is hunchbacked, his face is riddled with pimples, his cheeks hang down. His weak constitution, his delicate health did not allow him to overcome the feverish militant life and the long stays in prison.” D. 1871.

    “He received the most splendid Freethinker’s funeral witnessed in Belgium.”

    —"A Biographical Dictionary of Freethinkers of All Ages and Nations," by Joseph Mazzini Wheeler (1889)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Isaac Asimov

    Isaac Asimov

    On this day in 1920, Isaac Asimov, a self-described “second-generation freethinker” and one of the world’s most prolific authors, was born in Petrovichi, Russia. He moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York, in 1923 and became a naturalized citizen in 1928. He sold one of his earliest published short stories, “Nightfall,” in 1941, which was eventually voted the best science-fiction short story ever written, by the Science Fiction Writers of America.

    Asimov graduated from Columbia University in 1939, earned his M.A. in 1941 and a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1948. He was hired by Boston University’s School of Medicine to teach biochemistry the following year. He became an associate professor of biochemistry in 1955 and professor in 1979, although he stopped teaching in 1958 to devote his life to writing.

    I, Robot (1950) was the title of his first collection of short stories. Employing the “Asimovian Law of Composition,” which meant writing from nine to five, seven days a week (often closer to 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.), he averaged at least 12 new books a year. Asimov won five Hugos, three Nebula Awards, and his best-known “Foundation” trilogy was given a 1966 Hugo as “Best All-Time Science-Fiction Series.” Nonfiction works by Asimov were typically encyclopedic in range, such as his well-known Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (1968) and Asimov’s Annotated Paradise Lost (1974). He wrote a series of popular books on science and history, and even a guide to Shakespeare.

    Asimov was an atheist: “I am Jewish in the sense that if an Arab wanted to throw a rock at a Jew, I would qualify as a target as far as he was concerned. However, I do not practice Judaism or any other religion.” (March 17, 1969 letter.) “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” (Feb. 22, 1966 letter.) He published 470 books, covering every category in the Dewey Decimal System, fiction and nonfiction. 

    Asimov was married twice and had a son and daughter from his first marriage. His 1992 death from heart and kidney failure was a consequence of AIDS, a fact later revealed by his wife Janet Asimov.

    “Just the force of rational argument in the end cannot be withstood.”

    —Asimov, solstice speech to the New Jersey Freedom From Religion Foundation (Dec. 22, 1985)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Zora Neale Hurston

    Zora Neale Hurston

    On this date in 1891, writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston was born in Eatonville, Fla., the first all-black community to be incorporated in the U.S. Her mother was a country schoolteacher and her father a Baptist preacher who became three-term mayor of Eatonville. “My head was full of misty fumes of doubt,” she would later write. “Neither could I understand the passionate declarations of love for a being that nobody could see. Your family, your puppy and the new bull-calf, yes. But a spirit away off who found fault with everybody all the time, that was more than I could fathom.”

    She was farmed out to relatives when her mother died in 1904. By 14 she had left town to work as a maid for whites. As a live-in maid she enrolled at Morgan Academy in Baltimore. She attended Howard University intermittently from 1918-24 while working as a manicurist and maid for prominent blacks. She moved to New York City in 1925 with “$1.50, no job, no friends, and a lot of hope,” into the midst of the Harlem Renaissance.

    Her short story “Spunk” (1925) brought her notice. Fannie Hurst, author of Imitation of Life (1933), gave her a job. Another white patroness arranged a scholarship for her at Barnard College. Hurston graduated in 1928 and did graduate study at Columbia, where her talents caught the eye of an anthropology professor, who suggested she incorporate anthropology into her writing.

    A commission by a wealthy white patron to collect folklore stymied her career, since the contract barred Hurston from writing. In 1933 she wrote her best-known story, “The Gilded Six-Bits.” Her first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, debuted in 1934, followed by Mules and Men (1937), Tell My Horse (1937) and the classic novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). In all she wrote seven books plus her memoir Dust Tracks on a Road (1942).

    Many of her short stories were published in magazines and anthologies. Hurston married three times but none of the marriages lasted. She was forced to take diverse “day jobs” to support her writing, from working as a drama instructor at North Carolina College for Negroes at Durham (1939), to working as a maid once again in 1950. 

    Writer Alice Walker revived interest in Hurston in the 1970s. A Hurston reader, I Love Myself When I am Laughing … and Then Again When I am Looking Mean and Impressive, was published in 1979. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994. The Complete Stories came out in 1995.

    She died of a stroke and heart disease at age 69 in a home for the poor and was buried in an unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, Fla. (D. 1960)

    “Prayer seems to me a cry of weakness, and an attempt to avoid, by trickery, the rules of the game as laid down. I do not choose to admit weakness. I accept the challenge of responsibility. Life, as it is, does not frighten me, since I have made my peace with the universe as I find it, and bow to its laws.”

    —Hurston in her autobiography "Dust Tracks on a Road" (1942)

    Lewis Lapham

    Lewis Lapham

    On this date in 1935, Lewis Henry Lapham was born in San Francisco. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University in 1956 and attended Cambridge University (1956–57). After graduation he worked as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner (1957-60) and at age 25 became the U.N. correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune (1960-62). He later became managing editor of the prominent literary journal Harper’s Magazine (1971-75) and was soon appointed its editor (1976-2006).

    He was a prolific journalist who wrote articles for many publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. In 2007, Lapham founded and became editor of Lapham’s Quarterly, a history magazine. His many books include Waiting for the Barbarians (1998) and Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy (2005).

    Lapham was also the host of the television show “Bookmark” (1988-91). He received the 1994 and 1995 National Magazine Awards for his journalistic contributions to Harper’s. In 2007, Lapham was included in the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame. He married Joan Brooke Reaves in 1972 and they have three children: Anthony, Elizabeth and Winston. Andrew married the daughter of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

    “As an unbaptized child raised in a family unaffiliated with the teachings of a church, I missed the explanation as to why the stories about Moses and Jesus were to be taken as true while those about Apollo and Rumpelstiltskin were not,” Lapham wrote of his lifelong nonbelief in “Mandates of Heaven,” the introduction to the Winter 2010 issue of Laphams Quarterly. He continued: “[French philosopher Michel] Onfray observes that ‘a fiction does not die, an illusion never passes away,’ situating Yahwey, together with Ulysses, Allah, Lancelot of the Lake, and Gitche Manitou, among the immortals sustained on the life-support systems of poetry and the high approval ratings awarded to magicians pulling rabbits out of hats.”

    He expressed his disdain for the intersection of church and state in America, saying, “The dominant trait in the national character is the longing for transcendence and the belief in what isn’t there — the promise of the sweet hereafter that sells subprime mortgages in Florida and corporate skyboxes in heaven.”

    Photo (cropped) by Terry Ballard under CC 2.0

    “God is the greatest of man’s inventions, and we are an inventive people, shaping the tools that in turn shape us, and we have at hand the technology to tell a new story congruent with the picture of the earth as seen from space instead of the one drawn on the maps available to the prophets wandering the roads of the early Roman Empire.” 

    —Lewis Lapham, Lapham's Quarterly (Winter 2010)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Simone de Beauvoir

    On this date in 1908, French author and atheist Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris to Georges Bertrand de Beauvoir, a legal secretary, and Françoise de Beauvoir (née Brasseur), a wealthy banker’s daughter and devout Catholic. A deeply religious child, she initially wanted to be a nun but at age 14 had a crisis of faith and concluded there was no God. She instead studied and taught philosophy and wrote prolifically.

    Educated at the Sorbonne, de Beauvoir played a major role in the French Existentialist movement, along with close companion and atheist Jean-Paul Sartre. She is best-known for her monumental work The Second Sex (1949), in which she posited that society treats woman as “the other.” She also wrote popular novels and other nonfiction such as A Very Easy Death (1964)De Beauvoir championed freedom as the ultimate good.

    She and Sartre were involved romantically from 1929 until his death in 1980. She never married or had children while engaging in a number of open relationships, including with women. Perhaps her most famous lover was American author Nelson Algren, whom she met in Chicago in 1947. She died of pneumonia at age 78 in 1986 and is buried next to Sartre in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.

    Moshe Milner photo, Creative Commons 3.0

    “Man enjoys the great advantage of having a God endorse the codes he writes; and since man exercises a sovereign authority over woman, it is especially fortunate that this authority has been vested in him by the Supreme Being. For the Jews, Mohammedans, and the Christians, among others, man is master by divine right; the fear of God, therefore, will repress any impulse toward revolt in the downtrodden female.”

    —-Simone de Beauvoir, "Situation and Character," "The Second Sex" (1949, translated and edited by H.M. Parshley, 1953)

    Col. Ethan Allen

    On this date in 1738, Ethan Allen was born in Litchfield, Conn., the eldest of eight children. Allen was the author of the first rationalist book published in America, titled Reason, the Only Oracle of Man: Or, a Compendious System of Natural Religion (1784). The New England Revolutionary War soldier critiqued Calvinist theology while promoting a deistic philosophy. 

    He married Mary Brownson, five years his senior, in 1762. They had a daughter, Loraine, the next year and bought a small farm which they developed into an ironworks. The marriage was unhappy as Mary was rigidly religious and barely literate. They had four more children; only two survived to adulthood. In 1770 Allen was named colonel of the “Green Mountain Boys” in Vermont and after the Revolutionary War became a member of the Vermont Legislature. Before the war he formed a land-speculation company with three of his brothers.

    Reason, the Only Oracle of Man was a typical Allen polemic but its target was religious, not political. Specifically targeting Christianity, it attacked the bible, established churches and the priesthood. In it he wrote, “In those parts of the world where learning and science have prevailed, miracles have ceased; but in those parts of it as are barbarous and ignorant, miracles are still in vogue.” Allen espoused a mixture of deism, Spinoza‘s naturalist views and precursors of transcendentalism, with man acting as a free agent within the natural world.

    Mary Allen died in 1783 of consumption, followed several months later by Loraine’s death. In 1784 he married Frances “Fanny” Montresor Brush Buchanan, a widow. They had three children, the last a son born several months after Allen’s death at age 51 in 1789 of what was thought to be a cerebral hemorrhage. His two sons went on to graduate from West Point.

    “In the circle of my acquaintance, (which has not been small), I have generally been denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious I am no Christian, except mere infant baptism make me one; and as to being a Deist, I know not, strictly speaking, whether I am one or not, for I have never read their writings …”

    —Ethan Allen, "Reason, the Only Oracle of Man" (1784)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Molière

    Molière

    On this date in 1622, playwright and poet Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, who adopted the stage name Molière as an actor, was born in Paris. His father was an upholsterer/valet to King Louis XIII. Molière studied philosophy in college, started a Parisian acting troupe and toured the provinces with it for many years, acting, directing and writing.

    As a favorite of King Louis XIV, he produced a succession of 12 popular comedies still being performed, including “The School for Wives” (1662), “Don Juan” (1665), “Le Misanthrope” (1666) and “Tartuffe” (1667), all irreverent and increasingly irreligious. “Tartuffe,” a satire on religiosity, originally featured a hypocritical priest. Although Molière rewrote Tartuffe’s profession to avoid scandal, some religious officials nevertheless called for him to be burned alive as punishment for his impiety. He would claim he was attacking hypocrisy more than religion.

    He married actress Armande Bejart when she was 19 and they had a daughter, Esprit-Madeleine, in 1665. Becoming ill while playing the lead in his play “Le Malade imaginaire” (“The Imaginary Invalid”), Molière insisted on finishing the show, after which he died. He had long suffered from tuberculosis. The church refused to bury him in sanctified ground because he had not received the last rites and did not renounce his profession as an actor before his death. When the king intervened, the archbishop of Paris allowed him to be buried only after sunset among the suicides’ and paupers’ graves with no requiem Masses permitted in the church. D. 1673.

    “Though living in an age of reason, he had the good sense not to proselytize but rather to animate the absurd …”

    —Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Molière

    Jean Meslier

    Jean Meslier

    On this date in 1664, Jean Meslier was born in Mazerny in the Ardennes, France. Meslier became the village priest in Etrépigny, where he served for 40 years. He is noted for leaving, on his deathbed in 1729, a several-hundred page manuscript titled Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier, which denounced Christianity and all religion, calling it the “opium of the people.” He was an early exponent of communal values and an advocate of radical equality. Though the manuscript was suppressed by the church, it was circulated illicitly.

    Meslier is the originator of the quote, often attributed to Denis Diderot, that the world will be free when “the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” French philosopher Michel Onfray said of Meslier in his Atheist Manifesto (2005), “For the first time (but how long will it take us to acknowledge this?) in the history of ideas, a philosopher had dedicated a whole book to the question of atheism. … The history of true atheism had begun.” 

    Voltaire published an “extract” of Meslier’s magnum opus in 1761, selectively edited to make it seem as if Meslier was a deist like Voltaire instead of the atheist he proclaimed himself to be. The memoir was not published in its entirety until 1864. As of this writing, no full translation is known to have been completed. Despite its incompleteness, Meslier’s work was influential in the French Enlightenment and widely read by 19th-century American freethinkers. D. 1729.

    “How I suffered when I had to preach to you those pious lies that I detest in my heart. What remorse your credulity caused me! A thousand times I was on the point of breaking out publicly and opening your eyes, but a fear stronger than myself held me back, and forced me to keep silence until my death.”

    —"Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier"
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

    Niall Shanks

    Niall Shanks

    On this date in 1959, Niall Shanks was born in Cheshire, England. He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Leeds in 1979, his master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Liverpool in 1981 and his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Alberta, Canada. Shanks taught philosophy, biological sciences, physics and astronomy at East Tennessee State University (1991–2005) and at Wichita State University in Kansas (2005–11). He was especially interested in evolutionary biology and wrote several books, including Brute Science: The Dilemmas of Animal Experimentation (with Hugh LaFollette, 1997), God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory (2004) and Animal Models in the Light of Evolution (2009).

    Shanks was a self-described atheist who strongly supported evolution education. In his article “Fighting for Our Sanity in Tennessee,” published in Volume 21 of Free Inquiry magazine, he described his experience of being a nonbeliever who taught evolution in the bible belt: “I am an atheist for the same reason that I am an ‘asantaclausist.’ There is no convincing evidence to support claims about the existence of either alleged entity. Actually Santa may be the better off of the two, for the sincere testimony of small children is a tad more convincing than that of wily adults with sophistical arguments and axes to grind.”

    In God, the Devil, and Darwin, Shanks denounced creation science: “The real motivations of the intelligent design movement … have little to do with science but a lot to do with politics and power — in particular, the imposition of discriminatory, conservative Christian values on our educational, legal, social and political institutions.” Shanks continued, “While we in the West readily point a finger at Islamic fundamentalism, we all too readily downplay the Christian fundamentalism in our own midst. The social and political consequences of religious fundamentalism can be enormous.”

    He died in Wichita in 2011 at age 52 following a lengthy illness.

    “Of God, the Devil and Darwin, we have really good scientific evidence for the existence of only Darwin.” 

    —Shanks, "God, the Devil, and Darwin" (2004)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    A.A. Milne

    On this date in 1882, classic children’s author Alan Alexander Milne, known as A.A. Milne, was born in England and brought up in London. With his brothers he attended his schoolteacher father’s school, Henley House. One of his influential teachers there was H.G. Wells. Attending Cambridge on a mathematics scholarship, Milne was given the gift of 1,000 pounds by his father upon graduation. He used it to move back to London and become a writer.

    Milne freelanced for newspapers, joined the staff of Punch magazine and wrote a book that flopped, Lovers in London. In 1913 he married Dorothy “Daphne” de Sélincourt. In 1915 he volunteered in World War I and wrote his first play while serving. His only child, Christopher, was born in 1920. In his 1974 book The Enchanted Places, Christopher wrote about being estranged from his parents and resenting what he came to see as his father’s exploitation of his childhood.

    When We Were Young was published in 1924, followed by Winnie the Pooh (1926), The House at Pooh Corner (1926) and Now We Are Six (1927). Milne subsequently wrote several plays, a detective novel and Year In, Year Out (1952). D. 1956.

    “The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief — call it what you will — than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.”

    —A.A. Milne, cited in "2000 Years of Disbelief" by James A. Haught (1996)

    Julian Barnes

    Julian Barnes

    On this date in 1946, Julian Barnes was born in Leicester, England. He attended the City of London School, and graduated from Magdalen College in 1968 with a degree in modern languages. He became a reviewer and editor for the New Statesman and New Review in 1977 and worked as a television critic for the New Statesman from 1979-86. Barnes has published 18 novels (some under the pseudonym of Dan Kavanagh) as of this writing. The Sense of an Ending won the 2011 Booker Prize. The most recent are The Noise of Time (2016), The Only Story (2018) and The Man in the Red Coat (2019).

    Barnes married literary agent Pat Kavanagh in 1979 and was widowed in 2011 after Kavanagh died of a brain tumor. He is the author of Nothing to be Frightened Of, a 2008 memoir focusing on death and mortality. “I don’t believe in God but I miss him,” Barnes proclaimed in the opening sentence. In a 2008 interview with Maclean’s magazine, he further explained, “I regard myself as a rationalist.”

    PHOTO: Barnes in 2019. CC 4.0

    “It is a bizarre thought that in this presidential cycle we could have had a woman in the White House, we might have a black man in the White House, but if either of them had said they were atheists neither of them would have had a hope in hell.”

    —Barnes, interview with Maclean’s magazine (2008)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Beatrice Webb

    Beatrice Webb

    On this date in 1858, Beatrice Webb (née Beatrice Potter) was born in Gloucestershire, England. The eighth of nine sisters, Potter’s mother resented her for not having been born a boy. Like most Victorian girls, Potter received a poor education in spite of her father’s wealthy career as a timber entrepreneur. Unusually though, her father, unlike most Victorian men, believed in the intellectual equality, if not superiority of women. As a teenager, with an increasingly inquisitive mind, Potter read every history, economy and philosophy book within reach and began to rebel against her privileged life.

    Herbert Spencer, a close friend of the family, intrigued Potter with his “scientific method,” which she believed could be applied to solve society’s social problems. She was one of the first researchers to argue that poverty has underlying causes instead of being a deserved state. By 1885 her research, including on the English cooperative movement and housing projects for the poor, inspired her to break with capitalism and openly advocate socialism. The success of her research was her fearless commitment to disguise herself as one of her subjects (often poor workers) and immerse herself in their lifestyle.

    In 1890 Potter needed historical information for an upcoming book on London sweatshops and was referred to socialist and reformist Sidney Webb. Webb fell in love with her but she rejected his proposals for marriage until it became apparent that they were deeply intellectually compatible. They married in 1892 and wrote their first of many books together, The History of Trade Unionism (1894). Personal friend H.G. Wells once described the Webbs as “the most formidable and distinguished couple conceivable” (Oxford Companion to English Literature, 1995).

    The Webbs’ influence on British government is still felt. Beatrice was among the first to conceive of a “national health plan,” the basis for the National Health Service. She also apprenticed with Charles Booth, helping him write the influential study The Life and Labour of the People in London (1902-03). In opposition to Britain’s 1934 Poor Law, the Webbs wrote a minority report which helped lay the foundation of Britain’s social services system.

    After joining the Fabian Society in the 1890s, the Webbs socialized with other freethinkers. Along with George Bernard Shaw and Graham Wallas, the Webbs founded The London School of Economics and Political Science in 1895 to train social scientists to promote “the betterment of society.” The Webbs both held government posts throughout their later years. Together, they published around 500 books, articles, pamphlets and edited volumes. They are interred together in the nave of Westminster Abbey. D. 1943.

    PHOTO: Webb in 1875.

    “That part of the Englishman’s nature which has found gratification in religion is now drifting into political life.”

    —Webb, quoted in "100 Years of Freethought" by David H. Tribe (1967)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Johan August Strindberg

    On this date in 1849, dramatist and novelist Johan August Strindberg, one of nine children, was born in Stockholm, Sweden. His family was poor, as demonstrated by the title of his autobiography, The Son of a Servant (1886). He attended Upsala University and, while working at the Royal Library in Stockholm, wrote a popular novel, Roda rummet (1879), which made him a national celebrity. The author of more than 70 plays, he is considered an important influence to modern playwrights.

    His 1882 religious satiric story, Det nya riket (The New Kingdom), created such a ruckus he had to leave the country. When he returned he became an active leader with the Swedish Rationalists. He corresponded with Nietzsche and was an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe. A passage with an unorthodox description of the Last Supper in his collection of his stories, Giftas (1884), was censored as anti-Christian and Strindberg was charged with blasphemy.

    Although in Switzerland at the time, he returned to Sweden to face charges and was acquitted. He suffered a mental breakdown, which he never really recovered from, in the late 1890s, although he remained active in theater. D. 1912.

    “Reason, too, was sin; the greatest of all sins, for it questioned God’s very existence, tried to understand what was not meant to be understood. Why it was not meant to be understood was not explained; probably it was because if it had been understood the fraud would have been discovered.”

    —Strindberg, "Married" ("Giftas"), 1884
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Sabrina Gaylor

    W. Somerset Maugham

    W. Somerset Maugham

    On this date in 1874, William Somerset Maugham was born in Paris, where his father was an attorney with the British Embassy. He was orphaned by the time he was 10 after his father died of cancer and his mother of tuberculosis. He underwent medical training at St. Thomas Hospital in London, becoming a doctor in 1897. After publishing his first novel, Liza of Lambeth (1897), Maugham left his medical career to pursue writing. His literary skill and concise writing style helped him become an accomplished novelist, playwright and short-story writer.

    He is most famous for writing the semi-autobiographical novel Of Human Bondage (1917). His other popular works include The Moon and Sixpence (1919), Cakes and Ale (1930), The Razor’s Edge (1944) and the short story “Rain” (1923). He married Syrie Wellcome following her divorce from Henry Wellcome in 1917. The marriage was unhappy and they divorced in 1928. They had one daughter, Mary Elizabeth, born in 1915. Many of Maugham’s significant relationships were with men. Frederick Gerald Haxton, his American secretary, was his lover and companion from 1914 until Haxton’s death in 1944.

    Maugham was a nonbeliever who saw no need for religion. “I remain an agnostic, and the practical outcome of agnosticism is that you act as though God did not exist,” he wrote in his memoir The Summing Up (1938). In the notebook he kept from 1892-1949, he discussed his lack of religious beliefs more extensively: “I’m glad I don’t believe in God. When I look at the misery of the world and its bitterness I think that no belief can be more ignoble.” (A Writer’s Notebook, 1949.)

    He continued in his notebook: “The evidence adduced to prove the truth of one religion is of very much the same sort as that adduced to prove the truth of another. I wonder if that does not make the Christian uneasy to reflect that if he had been in Morocco he would have been a Mahometan, if in Ceylon a Buddhist; and in that case Christianity would have seemed to him as absurd and obviously untrue as those religions seem to the Christian.” D. 1965.

    “I do not believe in God. I see no need of such idea. It is incredible to me that there should be an after-life. I find the notion of future punishment outrageous and of future reward extravagant. I am convinced that when I die, I shall cease entirely to live; I shall return to the earth I came from.” 

    —Maugham, "A Writer’s Notebook" (1949)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor and Eleanor Wroblewski

    Virginia Woolf

    On this date in 1882, novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf, née Adeline Virginia Stephen, the daughter of freethinker Sir Leslie Stephen and Julia Jackson Duckworth, was born in London. Starting at an early age, she and her sister Vanessa were sexually abused by two half-brothers. Woolf’s mother died when she was in her early teens, followed by the death of her caretaking half-sister Stella, then her father from a slow cancer in 1904 and finally her brother Toby in 1906.

    Woolf had the first of several major breakdowns following Toby’s death. She moved into the home of her sister Vanessa and her husband Clive Bell in Bloomsbury, which became the hub of the intellectual and largely freethinking Bloomsbury group. In 1905 she began working for the Times Literary Supplement. She married Leonard Woolf in 1912.

    Her first book, The Voyage Out, was published in 1915, followed by Night and Day (1919), Jacob’s Room (1922), Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and Orlando (1938). Woolf wrote more than 500 essays, among them “A Room of One’s Own” (1929), in which she famously observed, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Her “Three Guineas” was likewise a feminist rallying cry to women to come into their own.

    Woolf pioneered the modern novel, employing stream-of-consciousness and a non-linear narrative. Orlando featured an androgynous protagonist, reputedly inspired by Vita Sackville-West, with whom she had a love affair. Woolf committed suicide by drowning herself during a recurring period of mental breakdown and despair in early World War II, writing her husband: “I owe all my happiness to you but can’t go on and spoil your life.” (D. 1941)

    “I read the Book of Job last night — I don’t think God comes well out of it.”

    —letter to Lady Robert Cecil, Nov. 12, 1922, "The Letters of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 2," eds. N. Nicolson and J. Trautmann (1976)

    Jules Feiffer

    On this date in 1929, cartoonist, playwright and author Jules Feiffer was born in the Bronx, New York. He studied at Pratt Institute (1947-51). His weekly editorial cartoon appeared in the Village Voice for 42 years. Feiffer won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1986. His cartoons have been published in 19 books. He was named to the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2004.

    Feiffer’s anti-military animated cartoon “Munro” won an Academy Award in 1961. His comedy “Little Murders” (1967) won an Obie. Among his other plays and revues is “Knock Knock,” which had a 1976 Broadway run starring Lynn Redgrave. Feiffer wrote the screenplay for the film “Carnal Knowledge” (1971), which spawned censorship and lawsuits.

    Feiffer has been married three times and has three children. His daughter Halley Feiffer is an actress and playwright. In 2016 he married freelance writer JZ Holden. The ceremony combined Jewish and Buddhist traditions. She is the author of Illusion of Memory (2013). 

    Feiffer reading at Politics and Prose in 2018 in Washington, D.C. Photo by SLOWKING under CC BY-NC.

    “Christ died for our sins. Dare we make his martyrdom meaningless by not committing them?”

    —Feiffer, cited by Warren Allen Smith in "Who's Who in Hell" (2000)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    David Friedrich Strauss

    On this date in 1808, theologian and author David Friedrich Strauss was born in Ludwigsburg, Germany, the son of a merchant. He pioneered scholarship questioning the historicity of Jesus. Strauss became a Lutheran vicar in 1830 and studied theology under Hegel. He was appointed to the Theological Seminary at the University at Tubingen. His two-volume work Das Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet (The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1835) dissected the New Testament as largely mythical and was published to great acclaim but lost him his teaching post. The British freethinking novelist George Eliot translated its fourth edition in 1860 into English.

    In 1836 he left the church. In 1841 he married mezzo-soprano opera singer Agnese Schebest. They divorced in 1846 after having two children. In his final book, The Old Faith and the New: A Confession (1872), Strauss eschewed Christianity and the concept of immortality to embrace materialist philosophy.  D. 1874.

    Compiled by Annie Laure Gaylor

    Victor Stenger

    Victor Stenger

    On this date in 1935, particle physicist, author and skeptic Victor John Stenger was born in Bayonne, New Jersey. Stenger, the son of a first-generation Lithuanian immigrant and a second-generation Hungarian immigrant, grew up in a Catholic neighborhood. He earned a bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Newark College of Engineering and a master’s in physics from UCLA, followed by a Ph.D. After taking a position on the University of Hawaii faculty, Stenger began a long and influential career during one of the most exciting times for physics in history.

    His experiments helped establish standard models in physics, examining and uncovering the properties of quarks, gluons, neutrinos and “strange” particles. Stenger also made contributions to the emerging fields of high-energy gamma ray and neutrino astronomy. In his last major research endeavor before retiring in Colorado in 2000, Stenger collaborated on a project in Japan that demonstrated for the first time that the neutrino has mass. The project’s head researcher won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002.

    In addition to his numerous and influential peer-reviewed articles, Stenger wrote 12 books, including the 2007 bestseller God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist. Some of his other titles include Not By Design: The Origin of the Universe (1988), The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology (1995), The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason (2009), The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us (2011), and God and the Folly of Faith: The Fundamental Incompatibility of Religion and Science and Why It Matters (2012).

    Stenger’s work hinged on the interplay between philosophy, particle physics, quantum mechanics and religion. He was a self-professed skeptic and atheist, maintaining that all things in existence — including consciousness and the subjective illusion of libertarian free will — may be revealed and described by rational scientific inquiry without resorting to supernatural explanations, the meaning of which are empty, useless, unproductive and put a crippling end to intellectual progress.

    In order to champion these causes, Stenger pursued public speaking, debating prominent Christian apologists and participating in the 2008 “Origins Conference” hosted by the Skeptics Society. Stenger was a member of a number of skeptics and humanist organizations, including presidential stints with the Hawaiian Humanists from 1990-94 and the Colorado Citizens for Science from 2002-06.

    He was an honorary director of FFRF, a member of the Society of Humanist Philosophers and the Free Inquiry editorial board, and a fellow of the Center for Inquiry and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Among a number of visiting positions, Stenger was an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado and an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii. Stenger lived with his wife Phylliss, whom he married in 1962. They had two children. (D. 2014)

    PHOTO: Licensed under CC BY 3.0.

    “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”

    —Stenger, who suggested this slogan post-9/11 after ideas for bus signs were solicited by the Richard Dawkins Foundation.
    Compiled by Noah Bunnell

    Edward Paul Abbey

    Edward Paul Abbey

    On this date in 1927, author Edward Paul Abbey was born in Indiana, Pa., to Mildred (Postlewait) and Paul Abbey, the eldest of five siblings. Both were hardworking, independent persons, and while Mildred was a lifelong liberal Presbyterian, Paul was more radical, declaring himself an atheist and a socialist as a young adult. Edward Abbey served in the U.S. Army as a military police officer in Italy and then enrolled at the University of New Mexico, where he earned a B.A. in philosophy and English in 1951 and a master’s in philosophy in 1956. He married Jean Schmechal, the first of his five wives (with whom he had five children), as an undergrad. He was removed as editor of the student newspaper for putting Diderot’s famous quote, “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest,” on the cover of one issue.

    He worked as a welfare caseworker, teacher, bus driver and technical writer before starting a career as a ranger and fire lookout at several national parks or monuments. His two seasons at Arches National Monument (later a national park) near Moab, Utah, in 1956-57 provided the grist for the book that brought him acclaim, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness (in 1968), a nonfiction work that was preceded by three novels. His 1975 comic novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, about a group of ecological saboteurs is perhaps his best-known work. While he wrote primarily about environmental issues and land-use policies, Abbey was basically a political anarchist, and according to Wilderness.net, “he wasn’t comfortable with environmental activists or activism as a whole.”

    His best friend Jack Loeffler recorded Abbey’s thoughts on religion after their 1983 camping trip in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, included in his 1989 book Headed Upstream: Conversations with Iconoclasts, in which Abbey said, “I regard the invention of monotheism and the otherworldly God as a great setback for human life.” Abbey himself roundly condemned religion in his own works, particularly in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, published in 1989, the year he died of esophageal hemorrhaging after surgery for a congenital circulatory disorder. “What is the difference between the Lone Ranger and God?” Abbey asked, before answering, “There really is a Lone Ranger.”

    Fair use photo

    “Whatever we cannot easily understand we call God; this saves much wear and tear on the brain tissues.”

    —"A Voice Crying in the Wilderness: Notes from a Secret Journal" (1989)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Robin Morgan

    On this date in 1941, Robin Morgan — feminist author, journalist, editor, lecturer, organizer, atheist and activist — was born in New York City. As she notes in her memoir, Saturday’s Child, “Saturday’s child has to work for a living.” She started at age 2 as a tot model. She had her own radio show by age 4, then acted in the role of Dagmar on the popular series “Mama” in the 1940s and 1950s. She left show biz to write and became a founder and leader of the contemporary feminist movement.

    Morgan’s columns and articles for Ms. magazine appeared from 1974-88. She was editor-in-chief of Ms. for four years and later its international consulting editor. Her groundbreaking anthology Sisterhood Is Powerful came out in 1972, followed by Sisterhood Is Global (1984), Sisterhood Is Forever (2003) and Fighting Words: A Toolkit for Combating the Religious Right (2006). Morgan is a distinguished poet and the author of more than 20 books, including her 2006 novel The Burning Time, based on the first witchcraft trial in Ireland.

    She has traveled the globe as a feminist activist, scholar, journalist and lecturer. She is a co-founder of the Feminist Women’s Health Network, the Feminist Writers’ Guild, Media Women and the National Network of Rape Crisis Centers. Her timely The Demon Lover: On the Sexuality of Terrorism tells the personal story of her travel to refugee camps in the Middle East, with a post-9/11 introduction and afterword. A recipient of many awards, she was named FFRF’s Freethought Heroine in 2005 and is an honorary director.

    She was married from 1962-83 to poet Kenneth Pitchford, a founding member of the Effeminist movement. He and Morgan, who are both bisexual, have a son, musician Blake Morgan.

    She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010. Instead of curtailing her effectiveness, the diagnosis inspired her to take the lead in creating the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation’s Women and PD Initiative to help women be better served by research, treatment and assistance for their caregivers. Morgan has shared her struggle with the disease by writing and presenting about her experiences at a variety of venues, including her 2015 Ted Talk, viewed over a million times. In 2018 she published Dark Matter: New Poems, which includes the verses from that presentation.

    “Religion is not about awe and joy, despite its purported proprietorship of these and its promise to eventually deliver what already lies around us every day, freely available for utter celebration. Religion is about something else. The etymology of the word itself, from the Latin, to being ‘bound by rules.’ Religion is about terror.”

    —Freethought Heroine acceptance speech at FFRF's national convention (Nov. 11, 2005)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo by Brent Nicastro

    Jack Germond

    Jack Germond

    On this date in 1928, journalist John Worthen “Jack” Germond was born in Newton, Mass. Germond wrote several books, mainly focusing on politics. After serving in the U.S. Army in 1946-47, he earned a B.A. and B.S. from the University of Missouri. He graduated in 1951 and began writing for the Rochester, N.Y., Times-Union, eventually heading its Washington bureau. He was the Washington Star’s political editor from 1974-81 and wrote a syndicated column on national politics for 24 years with fellow journalist Jules Witcover.

    He moved to the Baltimore Sun when the Star folded. He first appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in 1972 and “The Today Show” in 1980 and on PBS’ “The McLaughlin Group” in 1981. Germond tended to be liberal politically and was seen by many as in touch with the average American and as a traditional “old-school” newspaper reporter.

    His books included Fat Man Fed Up: How American Politics Went Bad (2005), Fat Man in the Middle Seat: Forty Years of Covering Politics (2002), Mad as Hell: Revolt at the Ballot Box, 1992 (1994), Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars? (1989) and Blue Smoke and Mirrors: How Reagan Won and Why Carter Lost the Election of 1980 (1981). He co-wrote his earlier books with Witcover. He had two daughters with his first wife, Barbara Wipple. Their daughter Mandy died at age 14 from leukemia. After a 1988 divorce he married Alice Travis, a Democratic Party official and political activist. D. 2013. 

    “In the interests of full disclosure, I must note that although I was brought up as a Protestant, I have been an atheist my entire adult life. I do not proselytize, however. Nor do I question the faith of others. I just don’t want to be obliged to accept someone else’s faith as a factor in my government. If John Ashcroft wants to hold a prayer meeting and advertise his piety, let him find someplace besides the Justice Department.”

    —Jack Germond, "Fat Man Fed Up” (2005)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

    Ayn Rand

    On this date in 1905, Ayn Rand (née Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum) was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, to a nonobservant Jewish family. She became an atheist as a teenager. Immigrating to the United States in 1921, she renamed herself Ayn (rhymes with “mine”) after a Finnish woman; the “Rand” was inspired by her Remington-Rand typewriter. She worked for Hollywood studios intermittently for 20 years, starting as an extra for Cecil B. DeMille and progressing to screenwriter. She married actor Frank O’Connor in 1929 in “a ‘proper’ nonreligious ceremony in a judge’s chambers.”

    Rand’s first novel We the Living (1936) was not initially successful. The Fountainhead (1943) secured her place in literature, followed by Atlas Shrugged (1957). Rand’s novels promote her philosophy of Objectivism, promulgated in John Galt’s famous speech from Atlas Shrugged. Galt termed faith “a short-circuit destroying the mind.” Rand’s lecture “Faith and Force: the Destroyers of the Modern World” was delivered at Yale University in 1960.

    During her lifetime, Rand’s writing provoked praise and condemnation, but more of the latter. In 2009, GQ critic Tom Carson described her books as “capitalism’s version of middlebrow religious novels” such as Ben-Hur and the “Left Behind” series. After undergoing surgery for lung cancer in 1974, she died of heart failure in 1982.

    “The human race has only two unlimited capacities: one for suffering and one for lying. I want to fight religion as the root of all human lying and the only excuse for human suffering.”

    —"Journals of Ayn Rand," ed. David Harriman (1997)

    Havelock Ellis

    On this date in 1859, sexologist Henry Havelock Ellis was born in Croydon, south London, England. He had four sisters, none of whom married. His father was a sea captain, his mother the daughter of a sea captain. Initially an educator, he returned to school to earn a medical degree but never set up a practice.

    He wrote notably on the psychology of sex and criminal reform. His writings include Man and Woman (1894), Sexual Inversion (1897), which advanced the idea that homosexuality is not a disease or a crime, and Affirmations (1898) where his agnostic views are found. He was very conversant with the bible and believed it to be a work of great value.

    Ellis studied what today are called transgender phenomena. His landmark six-volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex, was published between 1897-1910. His views were considered so controversial that a bookseller was arrested for selling one of his books. 

    In November 1891, at the age of 32 and reportedly still a virgin, Ellis married writer and feminist Edith Lees, an open lesbian. Their “open marriage” was the central subject in his autobiography My Life (1939). It’s believed he had an affair with Margaret Sanger.

    He died at age 80 in 1939. His wife died of diabetes-related causes in 1916 at age 55. (D. 1939)

    “Had there been a Lunatic Asylum in the suburbs of Jerusalem, Jesus Christ would infallibly have been shut up in it at the outset of his public career. That interview with Satan on a pinnacle of the Temple would alone have damned him, and everything that happened after could have confirmed the diagnosis.”

    —Ellis, "Impressions and Comments" (1914)

    James A. Michener

    On this date in 1907, writer James Albert Michener was born in New York City. An orphan, he spent his first few years at the Bucks County Poorhouse in Doylestown, Pa, until adopted by Edwin and Mabel Michener. As Quakers, they believed in social activism and took in several orphaned children. The family was extremely poor, moving often during Michener’s childhood. He felt that this gave him a strong sense of character, an acceptance of what life really looked like.

    In an interview with the American Academy of Achievement, Michener stated, “I think the bottom line … is that if you get through a childhood like mine, it’s not all bad. … The sad part is, most of us don’t come out.” Michener credited his mother for reading to him every night. “I had all the Dickens and Thackeray and Charles Read and Sinkiewicz and the rest before I was the age of seven or eight.” 

    Michener realized at a young age that there was a bigger world to see and, when he was 14, started hitchhiking around the U.S. with only 35 cents in his pocket: “I went everywhere, and I did it on nothing.” This interest in the world lasted a lifetime. Michener received a scholarship to study at Swarthmore College, graduating with highest honors. He studied at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, returned home to teach, and then went on to become assistant visiting professor of history at Harvard University.

    At the onset of World War II, Michener joined the Navy and was stationed in the Pacific. In 1947 he wrote his first book, Tales of the South Pacific, relating some of his experiences in the Solomon Islands, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize. The story was subsequently turned into the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “South Pacific,” which also received a Pulitzer.

    Spending many years living abroad and writing, he thoroughly researched whichever culture he was living in before he started writing. Among his books are: The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Sayonara, The Source (about religion), Hawaii, Chesapeake, The Covenant, Space, Poland, Texas and Alaska. Michener was also active in public service, was a member of the Advisory Council to NASA and was cultural ambassador to various countries. He considered himself to be a humanist, and during the 1960s spoke out, amid the concerns raised regarding John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism: “I’ve fought to defend every civil right that has come under attack in my lifetime. … I’ve stood for absolute equality, and it would be ridiculous for a man like me to be against a Catholic for President.” (The Historian, 2001.)

    Michener won several honors and awards, among them the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award. He was married three times — to Patti Koon from 1935 to 1948, when they divorced, to Vange Nord from 1948 to 1955, when they divorced, and to Mari Yoriko Sabusawa from 1955 to 1994, when she died. He died of kidney disease at age 90 in 1997.

    PHOTO: Michener in 1991 at the 50th anniversary observance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

    “I am terrified of restrictive religious doctrine, having learned from history that when men who adhere to any form of it are in control, common men like me are in peril. I do not believe that pure reason can solve the perceptual problems unless it is modified by poetry and art and social vision. So I am a Humanist. And if you want to charge me with being the most virulent kind — a secular humanist — I accept the accusation.”

    —Michener interview, Parade magazine (Nov. 24, 1991)

    Sinclair Lewis

    Sinclair Lewis

    On this date in 1885, Harry Sinclair Lewis was born in Sauk Centre, Minn. The novelist wrote such enduring classics as Main Street (1920), Babbitt (1922), Arrowsmith (1925) and the irreverent Elmer Gantry (1927). The title character, a preacher, is portrayed as a rogue and hypocrite who steals freethinker Robert G. Ingersoll’s “Love” as his signature sermon.

    Lewis’ other books include It Can’t Happen Here (1935) and The God-Seeker (1949). An unbeliever since his days at Yale, from which he graduated in 1908, Lewis was married twice and had one son. In 1930 he became the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature “for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters.” (He had refused an earlier Pulitzer Prize.)

    In his autobiographical sketch for the Nobel committee, Lewis noted that although he traveled widely, he had “lived a quite unromantic and unstirring life.” He was dubbed “the conscience of his generation” by Sheldon Norman Grebstein. (D. 1951)

    “It is, I think, an error to believe that there is any need of religion to make life seem worth living.”

    —Lewis, quoted by Will Durant in "On the Meaning of Life" (1932)

    Amy Lowell

    Amy Lowell

    On this date in 1874, poet Amy Lawrence Lowell was born in Brookline, Mass. Her father, a cousin of James Russell Lowell, was also related to Robert Lowell. Amy grew up in a house her father dubbed “Sevenels” (because seven Lowells lived there). Lowell at first had a British governess and became famous in her family for her creative misspellings. As a popular debutante, known for her dancing and conversational style, she had no less than 60 dinners thrown for her.

    Because it was not considered “proper” by her family for young women to go to college, she was denied a higher education, but made use of her family’s extensive library to educate herself. After a failed engagement and growing obesity, probably stemming from a glandular condition, Lowell was exiled to Egypt in 1897-98 to help her forget her troubles and also lose weight. The imposed spartan regimen nearly killed her.

    She started writing poetry in 1902 and met actress Ada Dwyer Russell in 1912, with whom she had a “Boston marriage” for the rest of her life. Her first of several books of poems, Men, Women & Ghosts, was published in 1916. Lowell wrote Tendencies in Modern American Poetry (1917). Her biography of John Keats appeared in 1925. What’s O’Clock, posthumously published in 1925, was awarded a $1,000 Pulitzer Prize for the best volume of verse published during the year by an American author.

    Lowell penned more than 650 poems before her death from a cerebral hemorrhage at age 51. (D. 1925)

    And every year when the fields are high
    With oat grass, and red top, and timothy,
    I know that a creed is the shell of a lie.

    —Lowell's poem "Evelyn Ray" from "What's O'Clock" (1925)

    James Parton

    James Parton

    On this date in 1822, biographer James Parton was born in Canterbury, England. His father died when he was 4 and he moved with his mother and siblings to New York the next year. He became a schoolmaster in Philadelphia and New York. He joined the staff of the Home Journal in 1848. After writing The Life of Horace Greeley (1855), Parton turned to biography and lecturing. He became a U.S. citizen in 1845.

    His many biographies include Life and Times of Aaron Burr (1857), Life of Andrew Jackson (1859-61), Life of Voltaire (2 vols., 1881), Noted Women of Europe and America (1883) and biographies of such deists as Jefferson and Franklin. His first wife, Sara, whom he married in 1856, was a popular novelist under the nom de plume Fanny Fern. (D. 1891)

    “In the days when to be an Agnostic was to be almost an outcast, [Parton] had the heart to say of the Mysteries that he did not know.”

    W.D. Howells, "Literary Friends and Acquaintance" (1901)

    Alice Walker

    Alice Walker

    On this date in 1944, novelist, poet and self-described “Earthling” Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, the youngest of eight children in a sharecropping family. Blinded in one eye during a childhood accident, she went on to become valedictorian at her high school and attended both Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College on scholarships. Walker graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1965. She worked on voter registration drives in the 1960s and married fellow civil rights worker Melvyn Leventhal in 1967. They had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1970 and divorced in 1976.

    Her first book of poetry was published in 1970. Walker edited I Love Myself When I Am Laughing and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader in 1979, introducing and popularizing Hurston to a new generation.

    The Color Purple, Walker’s bestselling 1982 novel, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 and was turned into a popular movie by Steven Spielberg. Walker introduced the term “womanist” to the feminist movement to describe African-American feminism. Her books of essays include In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983), Alice Walker Banned (1996) and Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer’s Activism (1997).

    Walker’s views on religion are expressed in “The Only Reason You Want to Go to Heaven Is That You Have Been Driven Out of Your Mind (Off Your Land and Out of Your Lover’s Arms): Clear Seeing Inherited Religion and Reclaiming the Pagan Self” (anthologized in Anything We Love Can Be Saved). Raised as a Methodist by devout parents, early in life she observed church hypocrisy, especially the silencing of the women who cleaned the church and kept it alive. “Life was so hard for my parents’ generation that the subject of heaven was never distant from their thoughts. … The truth was, we already lived in paradise but were worked too hard by the land-grabbers to enjoy it.”

    In The Color Purple, the protagonist rebels against a God who [vernacular ahead] “act just like all the other mens I know. Trifling, forgitful and lowdown.” Walker, rebelling against the misogyny of Christian teachings and the imposition of a white religion upon the enslaved, wrote: “We have been beggars at the table of a religion that sanctioned our destruction.”

    Walker added: “All people deserve to worship a God who also worships them. A God that made them, and likes them. That is why Nature, Mother Earth, is such a good choice. Never will Nature require that you cut off some part of your body to please It; never will Mother Earth find anything wrong with your natural way.”

    “It is chilling to think that the same people who persecuted the wise women and men of Europe, its midwives and healers, then crossed the oceans to Africa and the Americas and tortured and enslaved, raped, impoverished, and eradicated the peaceful, Christ-like people they found. And that the blueprint from which they worked, and still work, was the Bible.”

    —"Anything We Love Can Be Saved" (1997)

    Lydia Maria Child

    Lydia Maria Child

    On this date in 1802, Lydia Maria Child (née Francis) was born in Medford, Mass. Considered one of the first U.S. “women of letters,” she became a famous abolitionist, author, novelist and journalist. Her poem “Over the River and Through the Wood” (originally titled “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day”) became popular as a song: “Over the river and through the wood / to grandfather’s house we go.” After her mother died when she was 12, she went to live with her older married sister in Maine and studied to become a teacher.

    She ran a private school, started the first journal for children and wrote several novels and popular how-to books such as The Frugal Housewife, The Mother’s Book and The Little Girl’s Own Book. Her history, The First Settlers of New England, blamed Calvinist-based racism for the treatment of Native Americans. She married David Childs, editor and publisher of the Massachusetts Journal, in 1828 when she was 26.

    An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans recruited many to the anti-slavery movement, but made Child a pariah in Boston society. Her two-volume The History of the Condition of Women, in Various Ages and Nations was published in 1835. She continued abolition work, supporting herself through popular writings and newspaper columns. The Progress of Religious Ideas (1855) rejected theology, dogma, doctrines, and talked of “Providence” as the inward voice of conscience. Her funeral was presided over by Wendell Phillips, who said she was “ready to die for a principle and starve for an idea.” John Greenleaf Whittier recited a poem in her honor and The Truth Seeker memorialized her. D. 1880.

    “It is impossible to exaggerate the evil work theology has done in the world.”

    —Child, "The Progress of Religious Ideas Through Successive Ages" (1855)

    Sikivu Hutchinson

    Sikivu Hutchinson

    On this date in 1969, Black activist, author and feminist Sikivu Hutchinson was born in Los Angeles to Yvonne (Divans) and Earl Ofari Hutchinson Jr., respectively a retired English teacher and a noted analyst and commentator on race, politics and civil rights. Her grandfather, Earl Hutchinson Sr., published his autobiography A Colored Man’s Journey Through 20th Century Segregated America when he was 96.

    Hutchinson earned a B.A. in anthropology from UCLA and a Ph.D. in performance studies from New York University in 1999. She taught women’s studies, cultural studies, urban studies and education at UCLA, the California Institute of the Arts and Western Washington University. 

    Her first book was Imagining Transit: Race, Gender, and Transportation Politics in Los Angeles (2003) and was followed by Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars (2011), Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels (2013) and Humanists in the Hood: Unapologetically Black, Feminist, and Heretical (2020).

    Her novel White Nights, Black Paradise (2015), with a focus on Black women, the Peoples Temple and the Jonestown massacre, was later adapted for the stage. Her novel Rock ’n’ Roll Heretic: The Life and Times of Rory Tharpe (2021) detailed the life of an ex-Pentecostal Black female electric guitarist who at one point says, “Those white boys on the major labels would never give an inch to a Negro woman playing race music.” 

    Hutchinson founded Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA) in 2010 and is the founder of the Women’s Leadership Project, a high school feminists of color mentoring program in South Los Angeles. She received the Foundation Beyond Belief’s 2015 Humanist Innovator award and the Secular Student Alliance’s 2016 Backbone award. In 2020, the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, a chapter of the American Humanist Association, named her one of its three Humanists of the Year.

    BSLA has twice partnered with the Freedom From Religion Foundation by selecting recipients  for FFRF’s Forward Freethought Tuition Relief Scholarships. In 2020, four secular students of color each received $5,000 stipends, double the amount of the inaugural awards. 

    Hutchinson has written and spoken extensively on the particular challenges of “coming out” as an atheist female of color. “[P]atriarchy entitles men to reject organized religion with few implications for their gender-defined roles as family breadwinners or purveyors of cultural values to children. Men simply have greater cultural license to come out as atheists or agnostics.” (Feminism: Opposing Viewpoints, April 1, 2012)

    She has been married to Stephen Kelley as of this writing in 2023 for 17 years and has a nonbinary daughter, Jasmine Hutchinson Kelley. She’s a distance runner, acoustic guitarist and rock music enthusiast whose favorites include the Beatles, Neil Young, Sonic Youth, Parliament/Funkadelic, Hendrix/Band of Gypsys, Malina Moye, Brittany Howard, David Bowie and Bob Dylan. 

    “The white fundamentalist Christian stranglehold on Southern and Midwestern legislatures has proven to be a national cancer that further exposes the dangerous lie of a God-based, biblical morality.”

    —Hutchinson, commenting on restrictive abortion bills, The Humanist magazine (July/August 2019)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Judy Blume

    Judy Blume

    On this date in 1938, author Judith Blume (née Sussman) was born in Elizabeth, N.J., the daughter of homemaker Esther (Rosenfeld) and dentist Rudolph Sussman. Blume has described her home as culturally Jewish rather than religious. Her father had six brothers and sisters, almost all of whom died while she was young, so “a lot of my philosophy came from growing up in a family that was always sitting Shiva.” (Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women) 

    When she was in third grade, she moved with her mother and her older brother David to Miami Beach in hopes the climate would help David recuperate from a kidney infection. Her father stayed in New Jersey. It was then Blume’s “personal relationship” with God started because she thought it was up to her to protect her father. 

    “I had to keep him safe. I had to keep him well — a terrible burden, you know, for a 9-year-old kid — or 8, really, when I left. And so I would make all kinds of bargains with God. And I had little prayers that I repeated a certain number of times a day. And I hung on to it for a while.” (NPR “Fresh Air,” April 24, 2023)

    She was an introspective girl who loved to read. Asked as an adult which of her books was most autobiographical, she said it was Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself (1977). “Sally is the kind of girl I was at ten. Curious and imaginative, but also a worrier.” (judyblume.com)

    After graduating from an all-girls high school, she earned a B.A. in education from New York University in 1960. In 1959 her father had died and she married John Blume, an attorney. Their daughter Randy was born in 1961 and son Lawrence in 1963. After their divorce in 1975, she married Thomas Kitchens, a physicist. They moved to New Mexico for his work and divorced in 1978. In 1987 she married George Cooper, an attorney and nonfiction writer, and as of this writing in 2023 they live in Key West, Fla., and operate a bookstore. Both survived cancer. It’s tough to beat pancreatic cancer but he did, and Blume had a mastectomy in 2012 due to breast cancer.

    Blume had started writing after her children were in nursery school but collected a lot of rejection slips until 1969 when her picture book The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo was published. It was the start of something big. As of 2023, her 29 books, all but four for children and teens, have sold more than 90 million copies in 39 languages.

    The best-seller success of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970) was a turning point for Blume. “She acknowledges that it was the first book she gave herself permission to write from her own experience, and it was then that she began to grow ‘as a writer and as a woman.’ ” (Ibid., Shalvi/Hyman) Margaret has a Christian mother and a Jewish father, asks God to help her choose a religion and prays at age 11 to experience puberty. The story closes with her stuffing her bra with cotton balls. Abby Ryder Fortson played the title character in the 2023 film adaptation directed by Kelly Fremon Craig.

    Blume said she “was kind of angry at organized religion there for a while, and I wanted it to be different. … [W]e tried joining a synagogue and sending the kids to Sunday school. It didn’t work for me. I just felt they were learning things that I didn’t like, and they were not bat and bar mitzvahed. (Ibid., “Fresh Air”) 

    Some of her books for young adults were controversial because of the topics she tackled such as family conflict, gender, sexuality, bullying, body image and normal bodily functions. The novel Forever (1975) was frequently banned for its portrayal of teen sex. Are You There God? and others have also been removed from library shelves after religious conservatives complained.

    Her work regularly appears on lists of “most frequently challenged authors.” She has served as a spokesperson for the National Coalition against Censorship. The documentary “Judy Blume Forever” directed by Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and was released on Prime Video in April 2023.

    She was the subject of the Proust Questionnaire in the May 2023 Vanity Fair. Asked how she would like to die, Blume said: “Okay, if I have enough time I might go to Switzerland and drink the drink. I believe in euthanasia. What we do for our beloved pets, we should be able to do for our beloved humans or ourselves.”

    Her heroes? “The surgeon, oncologists, and nurses who were there for George and saved his life.” 

    PHOTO:  Blume in 2009; Carl Lender photo under CC 2.0.

    TERRY GROSS: What were your children being taught in Sunday school that you didn’t approve of?
    BLUME: “I didn’t like how much we are the chosen people, and we are different, and we are better. I didn’t like that.”

    —National Public Radio "Fresh Air" (April 24, 2023)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Henry Rollins

    Henry Rollins

    On this date in 1961, Henry Rollins (né Henry Lawrence Garfield) was born in Washington, D.C. After high school, Rollins worked on the crew of several D.C. punk bands including Teen Idles. He sometimes filled in for absent lead singers. By 1980, talk of his vocal ability had spread around the D.C. punk rock scene. Rollins became the lead vocalist and lyricist of a band called State of Alert. He was promoted to manager of an ice cream store in Georgetown, which he used to fund his musical hobby.

    Rollins became a huge fan of the punk band Black Flag, exchanging letters with its bassist and attending as many concerts as he could and even putting the band up in his parents’ home during an East Coast tour. The band was won over by Rollins’ vocal talent and stage presence. He joined Black Flag as its new frontman and lead singer, quit his manager position, changed his name from Garfield to Rollins and moved to Los Angeles.

    Black Flag disbanded in 1986, but Rollins was already touring successfully as a solo artist. He released three solo albums in 1987: Hot Animal Machine, with guitarist Chris Haskett, Drive by Shooting and Big Ugly Mouth. In that same year, Rollins assembled an alternative hard rock group called Rollins Band, active until 2003. Their first chart-topping album was The End of Silence (1992). In 2000, Rollins Band was 47 on VH1’s list of 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Rollins won a Grammy Award in 1995 for Best Spoken Word Album for Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag, a recording of Rollins reading his memoir of the same title.

    Rollins has appeared on numerous television series, including MTV’s “Oddville,” (1997), “Batman Beyond” (2001), “The Henry Rollins Show” (2006-2007) and “Sons of Anarchy” (2009). He has authored several books, including a trilogy based on his travels called Black Coffee Blues (1992). He has also appeared in over a dozen films, including “Heat” (1995) with Al Pacino, “Lost Highway” (1997) with Bill Pullman, “Jackass The Movie” (2002) and “Jackass The Movie Two” (2006). Rollins is an activist for gay and human rights. An outspoken war critic, he is strongly supportive of troops.

    Rollins said on SIRIUS XM radio: “I’m sure there’s gay people who are Catholics. How do they reconcile that? How do they reconcile that somewhere in the paperwork their religion doesn’t like them?” (“Ron & Fez on The Virus,” video, date unknown). On the same show, Rollins reacted to the expulsion of the child of two lesbians from a Catholic preschool: “When you encounter that kind of hatred, leave. … I was happy that the kid got expelled because maybe the kid has a chance now. They can be put into a place without discrimination, that doesn’t eventually make part of the curriculum to exclude people, like homosexuals.”

    Rollins occasionally used “The Henry Rollins Show” to passionately critique religion: “Christian fundamentalists see their fingers being pulled off the steering wheel as their oppressive shackles are more and more being seen as fear-based nonsense” (video, date unknown). Friends with actor William Shatner, he contributed to the mostly secular “Shatner Claus: The Christmas Album” in 2018.

    PHOTO: Rollins signing an airman’s guitar during a 2003 USO tour in Iraq.

    “In the theory of evolution there is no talk of God and no Bibles are used. They’re not looking for higher powers, extraterrestrials, or anything else that could be found in the science fiction section, because they are not dealing with fiction.” 

    —Henry Rollins, on an episode of "The Henry Rollins Show” (date unknown)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Simon Pegg

    Simon Pegg

    On this date in 1970, actor, screenwriter, comedian and author Simon John Pegg (né Beckingham) was born to parents Gillian Rosemary (née Smith), a civil servant, and John Henry Beckingham, a jazz musician, in Brockworth, England. Following his parents’ divorce when he was seven, Pegg adopted his stepfather’s surname.

    Showing a penchant for comedy at a young age, Pegg was the drummer of a band called “God’s Third Leg” when he was 16. Pegg studied English literature and performance studies at Stratford-upon-Avon College, later graduating from Bristol University in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in theater, film and television.

    Moving to London, Pegg pursued a career in standup comedy, which soon led to television opportunities. He emerged into the spotlight after co-writing and co-starring in the sitcom “Spaced” (1999-2001), for which he won a British Comedy Award. For the show, Pegg worked with writer and director Edgar Wright and co-star Nick Frost, who also happened to be his best friend and flatmate. Following the success of the show, Pegg continued to work with them, creating his most lauded films in the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy — “Shaun of the Dead” (2004), “Hot Fuzz” (2007) and “The World’s End” (2013).

    Pegg’s other major roles include parts in “Doctor Who” (2005), “Mission: Impossible III” (2006), “Run Fatboy Run” (2007), “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” (2008), “Star Trek” (2009), “Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol” (2011), “Paul” (2011) and “Star Trek into Darkness” (2013). Pegg has also done voice parts for “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” (2009), “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (2010) and “The Adventures of Tintin” (2011).

    Pegg married Maureen McCann in 2005 and they have one child.

    As an atheist, I’d skip the prayer and go straight to the colonel, who is arguably the god of affordable, bucket housed fried chicken bits.”

    —Pegg, from his Twitter account (Nov. 18, 2010)
    Compiled by Noah Bunnell; photo by S_Bukley, Shutterstock.com

    Sir Francis Galton

    Sir Francis Galton

    On this date in 1822, Sir Francis Galton was born in Birmingham, England. The grandson of Erasmus Darwin and cousin of Charles, he was educated in mathematics at Cambridge. An inheritance in 1844 left him free to travel widely. He became a famous explorer, writing several books about his travels in Syria, Egypt and southwest Africa.

    In 1863 he became general secretary of the British Association and published a book on weather mapping. His Hereditary Genius was published in 1865. Galton coined the term “eugenics,” defining it very differently from its current meaning. Galton founded a eugenics research fellowship and chair at University College. He also coined the term “nature versus nurture.” His study “Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer” was published in the Aug. 1, 1872, issue of Fortnightly View.

    Galton charmingly showed how royalty, the most-prayed-for people in the world, “are literally the shortest lived” of the affluent. Galton observed: “It is a common week-day opinion of the world that praying people are not practical.” He made scholarly contributions to fields as diverse as fingerprinting and psychology. D. 1911.

    “Your book drove away the constraint of my old superstition, as if it had been a nightmare.”

    —Galton letter to Charles Darwin, recorded in "Life and Letters of F. Galton" (1914)

    Natalie Angier

    Natalie Angier

    On this date in 1958, Natalie Angier, Pulitzer Prize-winning science columnist for The New York Times, was born in New York City to a Jewish mother and a father with a Christian Science background. She attended the University of Michigan for two years, then transferred to Barnard College, where she studied English, physics and astronomy and graduated with high honors.

    At 22 she became a founding staff reporter for the science magazine Discover. Throughout the 1980s, Angier worked as a senior science writer for Time magazine, as an editor for the women’s business magazine Savvy and as a professor of journalism in a graduate program at New York University. She began writing for The New York Times in 1990 and won a Pulitzer after just ten months on the job for a series of science articles. She became a columnist in 2007 for the Times’ science section.

    Her books include Natural Obsessions (1988), about the world of cancer research, The Beauty of the Beastly (1995) and Woman: An Intimate Geography (1999), a National Book Award finalist and best-seller. Woman won a Maggie Award from Planned Parenthood, was nominated for the Samuel Johnson Award (Britain’s largest nonfiction literary prize) and was named one of the best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, People magazine, National Public Radio, amazon.com, Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and the New York Public Library.

    In 2002 she edited The Best American Science and Nature Writing and in 2010 edited The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. Her writing has appeared in numerous magazines, publications and anthologies. She began serving a five-year term as the Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University in 2007, previously filled by Oliver Sacks, Toni Morrison, Jane Goodall and others who were “distinguished contributors to cultural achievement.”

    Angier, a self-proclaimed “lonely atheist,” was a guest on Freethought Radio in 2006. In The New York Times Sunday Magazine (Jan. 14, 2001), Angiers outed herself as an atheist in the article “Confessions of a Lonely Atheist”: “I’m an Atheist. I don’t believe in God, Gods, Godlets or any sort of higher power beyond the universe itself, which seems quite high and powerful enough to me. I don’t believe in life after death, channeled chat rooms with the dead, reincarnation, telekinesis or any miracles but the miracle of life and consciousness, which again strike me as miracles in nearly obscene abundance.”

    Angier received an Emperor Has No Clothes Award at the 2003 FFRF national convention. In 1991 she married Rick Weiss, a former science reporter for the Washington Post. They have a daughter, Katherine Weiss Angier, who graduated summa cum laude in 2018 from Princeton with a degree in biology.

    “Sure, I’m a soapbox atheist. But [my daughter] doesn’t have to take my word for anything. All she has to do is look around her, every day, to find the bible she needs — in the sky, sun, moon, Mars, leaves, lady bugs, stink bugs, possums, tadpoles, cardinals, the wonderful predatory praying mantises that have gotten really big and fat this year on all the insects this rainy year has brought. Life needs no introduction, explanation or excuse. Life is bigger than myth — except in California.”

    —Angier, Emperor Has No Clothes Award acceptance speech at the 2003 national FFRF convention
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch; photo by Brent Nicastro

    Octave Mirbeau

    Octave Mirbeau

    On this date in 1848, French playwright and novelist Octave Mirbeau was born in Paris. He was expelled from a Jesuit college at age 15. Mirbeau adopted strong anarchist views and a fondness for art and art criticism. He ghost-wrote at least 10 novels and many under his own name, including Le Calvaire (Calvary, 1886), Le Journal d’une femme de chambre (Diary of a Chambermaid, 1900) and Dingo (1913). In his 1888 novel, L’Abbé Jules, Mirbeau’s main character is a priest who rebels against Catholicism. The novel explores the repressive and abusive role religion plays in human life.

    Sébastien Roch, published in 1890, recounts the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy by priests that results in the boy’s expulsion from school and the subsequent destruction of his life. Mirbeau’s plays included “Les Mauvais bergers” (The Bad Shepherds, 1897), the acclaimed “Les affaires sont les affaires” (Business is Business, 1904) and “Le Foyer” (Charity, 1908), a comedy accusing the Catholic Church of exploiting young girls. Mirbeau and French actress Alice Regnault wed in London in 1887. Mirbeau is buried in Paris. D. 1917.

    “The universe appears to me like an immense, inexorable torture-garden. … Passions, greed, hatred, and lies; social institutions, justice, love, glory, heroism, and religion: these are its monstrous flowers and its hideous instruments of eternal human suffering.”

    —from Mirbeau's novel "Le Jardin des supplices" (The Torture Garden), 1899
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    André Breton

    André  Breton

    On this date in 1896, French poet and writer André Breton was born in Tinchebray, France. He wrote poetry early in life but formally studied medicine and later psychiatry. He met Sigmund Freud in 1921 and his later writings were inspired in part by Freud’s ideas. Breton is considered, along with Salvador Dalí and others, a founder of surrealism. His Surrealist Manifesto was published in 1924, and that same year he influenced the founding of the Bureau of Surrealist Research.

    The French government in 1938 sent Breton on a cultural commission to Mexico, where he met Leon Trotsky, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Breton and Trotsky wrote a manifesto calling for freedom in art, “Pour un art révolutionnaire indépendent” (“Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art”). Breton joined the French Army medical corps during World War II, at which time the Vichy government banned his writings. He escaped to the United States in 1941. Upon his return to Paris in 1946, he became a strong proponent of anarchism and founded a new group of surrealists.

    Breton was extensively published. Some of his works include If You Please (1920), The Magnetic Fields (1920), A Corpse (1924), Nadja (1928), The Second Manifesto of Surrealism (1920), The Automatic Message (1933), What Is Surrealism (1934), Manifestoes of Surrealism (1955) and The Magic Art (1957). In André Breton: Arbiter of Surrealism (1967), Clifford Browder noted: “Breton was unflinching in his rejection of mysticism, which he associated with the worship of a superior power outside the human mind; for him the Surrealist merveilleux contained no trace of religious mystery.”

    Breton was married three times. He met his third wife while in exile in the U.S. He had one daughter, Aube, with his second wife. Breton died in 1966 at age 70 and is buried in Paris.

    “Everything that is doddering, squint-eyed, vile, polluted and grotesque is summoned up for me in that one word: God!”

    —Breton, "Surrealism and Painting" (1928)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    James A. Haught

    James A. Haught

    On this date in 1932, journalist and author James Albert Haught was born in the rural West Virginia town of Reader, which had no electricity or paved streets. His family had gas lights and running water, while most households lived with kerosene lamps and outdoor privies.  His parents never attended church, and he ignored religion.

    After graduating with a high school class of 13, he worked as an apprentice printer at the Charleston Daily Mail and later was hired in 1953 as a reporter by a rival paper, the Gazette. Republican Gov. Arch Moore Jr. derisively called the Gazette “The Morning Sick Call” in the mid-1970s for its critical reporting on his administration. Moore pleaded guilty in 1990 to five felonies and served 32 months in federal prison for extortion and obstruction of justice.

    Haught’s city editor in the 1950s asked him to start going to church on Sunday so he could write a weekly religion column. Despite Haught’s protest that he’d been churchless his entire life, the editor said, “Fine. That will make you objective.” Years on the church beat gradually filled him with distaste for supernatural miracle claims and he felt dishonest mingling with worshipers while not revealing his doubts about gods, devils, heavens, hells, prophecies and other dogma.

    His investigative reporting led to several criminal indictments and he won about two dozen newswriting awards. He was named associate editor in 1983 and editor in 1992. When the Gazette and Daily Mail merged in 2015, he assumed the title of editor emeritus while still working full-time on editorials, personal columns and news stories. The only break from daily journalism was as a press aide to U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd for several months in 1959.

    In the 1980s he started writing freethought books (12 as of this writing in 2023) and magazine essays. He served as a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine and writer-in-residence for the United Coalition of Reason and started blogging at Daylight Atheism and Canadian Atheist. Many of his columns ran in Freethought Today and he was an FFRF Life Member.

    Haught, who had four children and 12 grandchildren, shied from labels describing the degree of his religious doubt and preferred to be considered as simply an honest person who didn’t claim to know supernatural things that nobody can know. Nancy, his first wife, died in 2008 and he married retired teacher Nancy Lince in 2013. She died in 2021.

    He was a longtime member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. He once debated UU President William Sinkford after Haught observed the national organization turning “more ‘churchy’ and using god-talk. … I proposed that the denomination adopt a statement saying: ‘The UUA takes no position on the existence, or nonexistence, of God. Members are free to reach their own conclusions about this profound question.’ Actually, that statement expresses the UU reality, but leaders were afraid to put it into writing.” (United Coalition of Reason interview, Aug. 23, 2017)

    Even at age 90, Haught shrugged off the frailties of age and kept on writing, including a weekly blog for FFRF’s Freethought Now. A column he wrote for his 90th birthday was titled “My Thoughts on Mortality.” He died of cancer at age 91 in hospital hospice in Charleston. (D. 2023)

    PHOTO: Haught in the newsroom early in his journalism career of 60-plus years.

    “Although billions of people pray to invisible gods, they’re just imaginary, as far as a sincere inquirer can tell. So, to me, the only honest viewpoint is the humanist one, which doubts the supernatural and focuses on improving human life.”

    —Haught, "To Question Is the Answer" (July 2007)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Josephine K. Henry

    Josephine K. Henry

    On this date in 1846, Josephine Kirby Henry, née Williamson, was born into a wealthy family in Newport, Kentucky. She was 15 when her family moved to Versailles. She gave piano lessons and taught at the Versailles Academy for Ladies. In 1868 she married William Henry, who had served as a captain in the Confederate Army.

    Henry was the first woman in the South to run for state office as a candidate of the Prohibition Party for clerk of the Court of Appeals in 1890, receiving nearly 5,000 votes in the notoriously anti-suffrage state. Kentucky was the last state in the union to grant women such basic rights as property ownership, guardianship of their children and the right to make a will. Henry was credited as the main force behind the adoption of the 1894 Woman’s Property Act, garnering 10,000 signatures.

    Serving on the revising committee of Elizabeth Cady Stanton‘s The Woman’s Bible, Henry submitted two letters which were published in the appendix. For this heresy, she was declared an “undesirable member” of the Kentucky Equal Rights Association. Henry wrote a 30-page booklet, “Woman and the Bible” (1905), followed by a critique of the treatment of women in the institution of marriage: “Marriage and Divorce” (c. 1907).

    She died in Versailles after suffering a stroke at age 84. (D. 1928)

    “Is not the Church today a masculine hierarchy, with a female constituency, which holds woman in Bible lands in silence and in subjection? No institution in modern civilization is so tyrannical and so unjust to woman as is the Christian Church. It demands everything from her and gives her nothing in return.”

    —from Henry's 1897 letter responding to Frances Willard's praise of "The Woman's Bible"

    W.E.B. Du Bois

    W.E.B. Du Bois

    On this date in 1868, W.E.B. Du Bois (William Edward Burghardt) was born in Great Barrington, Mass. He attended all-black Fisk College in Nashville, then earned his B.A. in 1890 and his M.S. in 1891 from Harvard. Du Bois studied at the University of Berlin on a fellowship. Returning from Europe, he completed his graduate studies in history and in 1895 was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. He taught economics and history at Atlanta University from 1897-1910. The Souls of Black Folk (1903) made his name, in which he urged black Americans to stand up for their educational and economic rights.

    Du Bois was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and edited the NAACP’s official journal, The Crisis, from 1910-34. He turned The Crisis into the foremost black literary journal. He expanded his interests to global concerns and is called the “father of Pan-Africanism” for organizing international black congresses.

    Although he used some religious metaphor and expressions in some of his writing, Du Bois called himself a freethinker (see quote below). In “On Christianity,” a posthumously published essay, Du Bois critiqued the black church: “The theology of the average colored church is basing itself far too much upon ‘Hell and Damnation’ — upon an attempt to scare people into being decent and threatening them with the terrors of death and punishment. We are still trained to believe a good deal that is simply childish in theology. The outward and visible punishment of every wrong deed that men do, the repeated declaration that anything can be gotten by anyone at any time by prayer.”

    Du Bois married Nina Gomer, with whom he had two children. As a widower he married Shirley Graham. At age 93, he and his wife traveled to Ghana to take up residence and start work on an encyclopedia of the African diaspora. In early 1963 the U.S. refused to renew his passport because of his Communist Party ties, so he made the symbolic gesture of becoming a citizen of Ghana, where he died two years later in Accra.

    “My ‘morals’ were sound, even a bit puritanic, but when a hidebound old deacon inveighed against dancing I rebelled. By the time of graduation I was still a ‘believer’ in orthodox religion, but had strong questions which were encouraged at Harvard. In Germany I became a freethinker and when I came to teach at an orthodox Methodist Negro school I was soon regarded with suspicion, especially when I refused to lead the students in public prayer. When I became head of a department at Atlanta, the engagement was held up because again I balked at leading in prayer. … I flatly refused again to join any church or sign any church creed. From my 30th year on I have increasingly regarded the church as an institution which defended such evils as slavery, color caste, exploitation of labor and war. I think the greatest gift of the Soviet Union to modern civilization was the dethronement of the clergy and the refusal to let religion be taught in the public schools.”

    —W.E.B. Du Bois, "African-American Humanism: An Anthology," edited by Norm R. Allen Jr. (1968)

    Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

    Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

    On this date in 1950, novelist and philosopher Rebecca Newberger was born in White Plains, N.Y. She was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household in White Plains and attended a Jewish high school for girls (or yeshiva) in Manhattan. Overcoming her upbringing, she “was born into consciousness” at Columbia University and received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Barnard College in 1972, graduating summa cum laude. She earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Princeton in 1977.

    She was a philosophy professor at Barnard, taught in the MFA writing program at Columbia and the philosophy department at Rutgers. For five years she was a visiting professor of philosophy at Trinity University in Hartford, Conn. Goldstein has been a visiting scholar at Brandeis University, a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and a Guggenheim Fellow. She was the Miller Scholar at the Santa Fe Institute in 2011, a  Franke Visiting Fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University in 2012 and the Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College in 2013.  She was also appointed a Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the New College of the Humanities in London, UK, in 2011 and a Visiting Professor at New York University in 2016. 

    In September of 2015  she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President  Barack Obama. Previously she was named a MacArthur Fellow, known as the “Genius Award.” In 2005 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has two daughters, Yael and Danielle, with her first husband, physicist Sheldon Goldstein. In 2007 she married Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker

    Her novels and nonfiction writing have received many awards. Her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, which addresses philosophical themes, was published in 1983. Other novels include The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind; The Dark Sister, Mazel, and Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal and Quantum Physics. Her book of short stories is called Strange Attractors. In 2005 she wrote Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel, and in 2006, Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, a biography of the 17th-century thinker.

    In 2010 she returned to novel writing with Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, a playful work with the timely theme of a protagonist who is author of a best-selling book on atheism. It concludes with a debunking of 36 arguments for the existence of God. In Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Just Go Away (2014), she imagines Plato’s take on the modern age with its technological wonders and argues that his philosophy is still relevant today. 

    In 2008 she was designated a Humanist Laureate by the International Academy of Humanism. In 2011 she was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association and a Freethought Heroine by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Her FFRF acceptance speech, “Strong resistance to God’s existence,” is here. Goldstein also serves on FFRF’s honorary board.

    LUKE FORD: “Tell me about you and God.”
    REBECCA GOLDSTEIN: “I lived Orthodox for a long time. … I was torn like a character in a Russian novel. It lasted through college. I remember leaving a class on mysticism in tears because I had forsaken God. That was probably my last burst of religious passion. Then it went away and I was a happy little atheist.”

    —Goldstein, interview with Luke Ford at lukeford.net (April 11, 2006)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

    Grant Allen

    Grant Allen

    On this date in 1848, author Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen was born near Kingston, Ontario, Canada. His father was a Protestant minister. Allen studied at the College Imperial of Dieppe, the King Edward’s School of Birmingham and Oxford University. He taught at a college for Blacks at Spanish Town, Jamaica, for four years, where his agnostic and other progressive views matured.

    He returned to England and began writing books. His well-regarded Physiological Aesthetics (1877) was dedicated to Herbert Spencer. Other books include Vignettes from Nature (1881), The Evolutionist at Large (1881), The Colours of Flowers (1882) and The Evolution of the Idea of God (1897). The Hand of God, a collection of essays, was published posthumously in 1909 by the Rationalist Press Association. The Evolution of the Idea of God offered a theory of religion comparable to Spencer’s “ghost theory.” The young G. K. Chesterton said of Allen’s book, “It would be much more interesting if God wrote a book on the evolution of the idea of Grant Allen.”

    Allen married twice and had one son, Jerrard. He died of liver cancer at age 51 at his home in 1899.

    “[T]he vast mass of existing gods or divine persons, when we come to analyze them, do actually turn out to be dead and deified human beings. … I believe that corpse worship is the protoplasm of religion.”

    —Allen, quoted in "Who's Who in Hell," ed. Warren Allen Smith (2000)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Hemant Mehta

    Hemant Mehta

    On this date in 1983, atheist blogger and activist Hemant Mehta was born in Chicago to a family that practiced Jainism. He abandoned his faith as a teen. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he formed the school’s first nonreligious group, Students WithOut Religious Dogma, or SWORD. He graduated in 2001 with degrees in math and biology and taught high school math for seven years before resigning to work full time on behalf of secular causes.

    Mehta decided in 2006 that he wanted theists to learn more about how religious institutions are viewed by the nonreligious. This led him to “sell his soul on eBay” by posting on the popular auction website that he would attend the highest bidder’s choice of religious institution. For every $10 the highest bidder gave him, he would attend one service.

    The winner, a Seattle minister, bid $504 and decided Mehta would go to a variety of churches and write about his experiences. This resulted in Mehta’s first book, I Sold My Soul on eBay (2007). He published The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide in 2012 and edited the 2017 book Queer Disbelief: Why LGBTQ Equality Is an Atheist Issue by Camille Beredjick.

    His popular blog Friendly Atheist highlights events, issues and people that are important to the nonreligious community. Mehta was a 2019 recipient of FFRF’s Nothing Fails Like Prayer Award, given to freethinkers who offer secular invocations before public boards. A transcript of his acceptance speech questioning whether atheism is still taboo in politics is here. A 26-minute video of the speech is here.

    He chaired the Foundation Beyond Belief, a nonprofit that raises money for people in need, and the Secular Student Alliance and was also spokesperson for the Chicago Coalition of Reason. Mehta is the co-host, with Jessica Bluemke, of the weekly Friendly Atheist podcast, which has produced over 270 episodes as of June 2019.

    “At age fourteen I was asking questions. When the answers failed to satisfy me, I searched elsewhere for different answers and found wisdom in atheism.”

    —Mehta, “I Sold My Soul on eBay” (2007)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano; Ingrid Laas photo

    Victor Hugo

    Victor Hugo

    On this date in 1802, author Victor Marie Hugo was born in Besançon, France, the son of a Napoleonic officer. By 17 he had earned three prizes for poetry at Toulouse. King Louis XVIII awarded Hugo a royal pension after his Odes and Poetry appeared (1822). His first drama, “Cromwell,” was published in 1827.

    After devoting nearly two decades to stage writing, Hugo turned to fiction. His novel, known in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, was published in 1831 and featured a villainous priest. It has been turned into several movies and dramatizations, including a Disney cartoon (which interestingly turned villain Claude Frollo into a layperson). Les Misérables was published in 1862 in 10 languages. The epic tale has spawned several movies and stage productions, including its Broadway debut in 1987.

    Hugo was forced to flee to Belgium after Napoleon III’s coup d’etat in 1851. He eventually returned to France when the republic was proclaimed and was elected a senator in 1876. Although his religious views wavered over his long and tempestuous life, Hugo was anti-clerical, freedom-loving and generally considered to have been a rationalistic deist.

    He married Adèle Foucher in 1822 and they had five children before her death in 1868. He died at age 83 in 1885.

    “An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.”

    —from Hugo's play "Ninety-three" (1881)

    John Steinbeck

    John Steinbeck

    On this date in 1902, author John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. was born in Salinas, Calif. He studied marine biology at Stanford but did not graduate. His long list of humanistic novels includes the classics Of Mice and Men (1937) and The Grapes of Wrath (1939), which won a Pulitzer Prize. He also wrote Tortilla Flat (1935), The Red Pony (1937), Cannery Row (1945), East of Eden (1952) and The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), 33 books in all. He was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.” 

    Asked to complete a routine medical questionnaire for his new doctor, Steinbeck did so and added a letter dated March 5, 1964: “I shall probably not change my habits very much unless incapacity forces it. I don’t think I am unique in this. Now finally, I am not religious so that I have no apprehension of a hereafter, either a hope of reward or a fear of punishment. It is not a matter of belief. It is what I feel to be true from my experience, observation and simple tissue feeling.” (Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, ed. Elaine Steinbeck, 1975.)

    He married Carol Henning in 1930, divorced in 1943; Gwyn Conger in 1943, divorced in 1948; and Elaine Anderson Scott in 1950, together until his death in 1968 at age 66 from heart failure. He had two sons with his second wife.

    “Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches — nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low calorie despair.”

    —Steinbeck, Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1962)

    Charles Watts

    Charles Watts

    On this date in 1836, Charles Watts was born in Bristol, England, into a family of Methodists. At age 16 he moved to London to work with his older brother in a printing office. The brothers were acquainted with many freethinkers and founded a publishing business, Watts & Co., in 1864. Along with Charles Bradlaugh and others, Watts co-founded the National Secular Society in 1866.

    Watts wrote extensively on freethought, including Freethought: Its Rise, Progress and Triumph (1885). In an 1868 pamphlet on Christianity, he wrote: “In Spain religion is cruel oppression, in Scotland it is a gloomy nightmare, in Rome it is priestly dominion, while in England it is simply emotional pastime. All these different phases of Christianity indicate that theological opinions depend on surrounding circumstances, and cannot therefore be the cause of the civilisation of the world.”

    He emigrated to Toronto in 1883, where he lectured and became the leader of the secularist movement in Canada. Returning to England in 1891, he worked for The Freethinker, the world’s oldest surviving freethought publication (internet-only since 2014). Watts’ wife, Kate Eunice Watts, also wrote and traveled with him. Some of her writings included The Education and Position of Woman and Christianity: Defective and Unnecessary.

    Watts died at age 70 in 1906. His son, Charles Albert Watts, developed the Rationalist Press Association, still in existence as the Rationalist Association.

    “The object of Christ was to teach his followers how to die, rather than to instruct them how to live.”

    —from Watts' pamphlet "Christianity: Its Nature and Influence on Civilisation" (1868)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Daniel Handler

    Daniel Handler

    On this date in 1970, Daniel Handler was born in San Francisco. His father was a Jewish refugee from Germany. Handler graduated in 1992 from Wesleyan University, where he met graphic artist Lisa Brown, his future wife. His first novel, The Basic Eight, was published in 1999. Handler is best known for his writing under the pen name Lemony Snicket, most notably the 13-volume A Series of Unfortunate Events. In these children’s books, Snicket is slowly revealed to be not only a pen name but an important character in the fictional world Handler created.

    The three protagonists are orphans who live in a fictional world where they must continually battle against adversity and the efforts of various villains to steal their fortune. The first book, The Bad Beginning, was published in 1999, and the last, The End, in 2006. During this time, Handler made many personal appearances and gave several interviews as Lemony Snicket’s personal assistant, claiming that Mr. Snicket had been unable to appear at the last minute.

    Since the conclusion of the series, Handler has written picture books and short stories under the Snicket name. He also continues to write for adults under his own name, including the novels Watch Your Mouth (2000) and Why We Broke Up (2011). Handler has also worked as a screenwriter and was involved in the production of the 2004 film adaptation of the beginning of the series.

    Handler describes himself as a secular humanist. He drew on his Jewish heritage in the winter holiday book The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming (2007).

    PHOTO: Handler in 2009 at a book signing; Aaron Gustafson photo under CC 2.0.

    “The [‘Series of Unfortunate Events’] books have drawn the ire and praise of fundamentalist Christians, some of whom believe the books to be Christian allegories and some of whom believe them to be long insults against Christianity. The thing is, the books are really neither.”

    —Handler interview on CNN.com (Oct. 5, 2006)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

    Pamela Paul

    Pamela Paul

    On this date in 1971, journalist and author Pamela Lindsey Paul was born in New York to Carole and Jerome Paul. Her father was a construction contractor and her mother was an advertising copywriter and, later, editor of Retail Ad World. She has 7 brothers. Her parents divorced when she was 3 or 4.

    “Like many other morbid kids with Jewish ancestry, I was drawn to Holocaust reading from the moment I entered adolescence, seeking out the death and torture and deprivation and evil,” Paul said in her 2017 memoir “My Life With Bob.” Bob (short for Book of Books) was her journal detailing all the books she had read since high school and her intense relationship with reading. She lived with her mother on Long Island except for weekends with her father on New York’s Upper West Side.

    She enrolled at Brown University in Providence, R.I. As a challenge to herself, she joined the rugby team. “And I joined a gospel choir even though I’m an atheist and I can’t sing. I guess I do have a streak of wanting to put myself in situations that are uncomfortable and challenging and like, can you take it?” (Women’s Wear Daily, April 20, 2021)

    After graduation, Paul taught American history at a startup international school in Thailand before taking marketing jobs at Scholastic Inc. and Time Inc. in New York. She then joined fiancé Bret Stephens in London, where she first wrote professionally with a monthly column on global arts in The Economist. 

    Her reporting and columns have appeared in numerous notable publications. Her first book, “The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony” (2002), came in the wake of her divorce from conservative journalist Bret Stephens, whom she wed in 1998. A starter marriage was defined as starting before age 30, being childless and ending within five years.

    She joined The New York Times in 2011 as a columnist, children’s books editor and features editor. She edited the paper’s Book Review for nine years and as of this writing in 2023 is among its opinion columnists, as is Stephens. She has written eight books, the most recent being “Rectangle Time” and “100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet,” both published in 2021.

    Paul came under fire in 2023 for defending author J.K. Rowling from allegations of transphobia, “because she has asserted the right to spaces for biological women only, such as domestic abuse shelters and sex-segregated prisons” and for insisting “that when it comes to determining a person’s legal gender status, self-declared gender identity is insufficient.” (The Advocate, Feb. 16, 2023) Rowling also received substantial support from groups traditionally seen as backing women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

    Amy Schneider, the first trans contestant on “Jeopardy!” and the highest-winning woman in the show’s history, was a critic: “If certain famous billionaire authors were to advocate for ‘Whites only’ spaces, we’d all see it as the hate speech that it is. But when they advocate for ‘cis only’ spaces, the most powerful newspaper in the country rushes to their defense.” (Schneider tweet, Feb. 16, 2023) 

    In a column headlined “I Pledge Allegiance to … My Conscience” (March 16, 2023), Paul praised Marissa Barnwell, 15, a Black honor student grabbed by a South Carolina teacher and shoved against a hall wall for not acknowledging that the Pledge of Allegiance was being recited over a loudspeaker. She’d stopped saying the pledge in third grade. “Don’t you love this country?” the teacher asked.

    Something similar happened to Paul in the second grade when she opted out of the pledge, despite being “painfully shy,” and was sent to the principal’s office. “I remember my mother being called and that whatever she said must have appeased them.” The Barnwells are suing the school district for violating the First and Fourteenth amendments. 

    PHOTO: Paul at the 2019 Texas Book Festival in Austin; photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0.

    “Unhappy with what much of the country believes, the court’s right wing chooses to believe what it would like and foists the results on the rest of us. Just like Coach Kennedy, they’re out to proselytize.”

    —Paul slamming the SCOTUS 6-3 decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District that held a public high school football coach's onfield prayer was constitutional. (New York Times, July 17, 2022)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    William Godwin

    William Godwin

    On this date in 1756, William Godwin was born in England, the son and grandson of strait-laced Calvinist ministers. Godwin followed in paternal footsteps, becoming a minister by age 22. His reading of atheist d’Holbach and others caused him to lose both his belief in the doctrine of eternal damnation and his ministerial position. Through further reading, Godwin gradually became godless. His Political Justice and The Enquirer (1793) argued for morality without religion and caused a scandal. He followed that philosophical book with a trail-blazing fictional detective story, Caleb Williams (1794). 

    He and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, secretly married in 1797. She died tragically after giving birth to their daughter Mary in 1797. Godwin and his second wife Mary Jane opened a bookshop for children and he became a proficient author of children’s books, employing a pseudonym due to his notoriety. Godwin’s life was marked by poverty and further domestic tragedies. He was responsible for a family of five children, none of whom had the same two parents.

    Influenced by Coleridge, Godwin became more of a pantheist than an atheist. He died in 1836 at age 80.  (D. 1836)

    “The religions of the heathen world consisted principally in the practice of certain observances and ceremonies, and made them appeal to the senses. They do not obviously lead to debates and hostility of one religion to another. But the Christian religion is a religion of faith and dogmas. The opposite opinions of predestination and free-will, of faith and works, of a particular and a general providence … unavoidably led to the engendering of much pertinaciousness and bitterness of controversy.”

    —"Essays by the Late William Godwin," Henry S. King & Co. (1873)

    Brian Cox

    Brian Cox

    On this date in 1968, Brian Edward Cox was born in Lancashire, England. After completing his secondary education, Cox joined the rock band Dare as a keyboardist. Following the band’s breakup, Cox enrolled at the University of Manchester to study physics. He continued his career in music, playing with the pop band D:Ream, while receiving his B.Sc. and M.Phil degrees. D:Ream had several hits on the UK charts, including “Things Can Only Get Better,” a No. 1 hit.

    As of this writing he works as a particle physicist at the University of Manchester and at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland. He married Gia Milinovich in 2003 and they have one child. He was elected in 2016 as a Fellow of the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of sciences. 

    Cox is best known for his science outreach to the general public and has appeared on numerous BBC television and radio programs. Cox also lectures widely, has given several TED talks, and has co-authored several books about physics, including 2009’s Why Does E=mc²? (And Why Should We Care?).

    Cox is a strong advocate for science education and government funding of scientific research. Asked by the Guardian (March 6, 2010) if he has “ever believed in God,” Cox replied, “No! I was sent to Sunday school for a few weeks but I didn’t like getting up on Sunday mornings. But some of my friends are religious. I don’t have a strong view on religion, other than illogical religion. Young earth creationism, for example: bollocks.”

    Cox says the label of atheist does not apply to him because there is so much that is unknowable. His story “The Large Hadron Collider: A Scientific Creation Story” was one of 42 included in “The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas” in 2009. From the essay: “When the pattern of atoms known as you ceases to be, the building blocks will return to the voids of space and in a billion years or more they may take their place in another structure so beautiful that a future mind may perceive it to be the work of a god.”

    PHOTO: The Royal Society

    “So for me, the idea I would be able to have an entertaining and enjoyable afternoon discussing with people with whom I suppose I have to say I disagree at the most fundamental level, because I don’t have a particular faith, or any faith in fact – however, I think that difference of opinion and view of the world is to be celebrated and explored.”

    —"Professor Brian Cox condemns 'toxic' rows between science and religion," Christian Today (Sept. 9, 2016)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

    John Stossel

    John Stossel

    On this date in 1947, journalist John Frank Stossel was born in Chicago Heights, Illinois, to Jewish parents from Germany. He was raised Protestant. He attended Princeton University, earning a degree in psychology in 1969.

    He worked as a reporter for several media outlets around the country, then became an editor for “Good Morning America” and in 1981 a correspondent for “20/20.” Stossel moved in 2009 to the Fox Business Channel to host “Stossel,” a weekly program that approaches issues from a libertarian perspective.

    He has written three books. Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of Liberal Media (2005) was on The New York Times best-seller list for 11 weeks. His second book was Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel: Why Everything You Know is Wrong (2007), and the third was No, They Can’t: Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed (2012).

    Stossel has received 19 Emmy Awards and five awards from the National Press Club. Stossel is married to Ellen Abrams and has two children, who were raised Jewish by his wife. In a “Stossel” episode (Dec. 16, 2010), he identified himself as agnostic. “God may exist, but I want more evidence and I’ve looked for it,” he said, adding that he can’t bring himself to see the bible as “the word of God.”

    PHOTO: Stossel in 2018 in Teaneck, N.J.; Gage Skidmore photo. CC 3.0

    “I want to [believe]. I see the peace and purpose it gives most of you who believe, and I tried. I just can’t.”

    —Stossel to Gretchen Carlson on Fox News (Dec. 13, 2012)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

    Amy Alkon

    Amy Alkon

    On this date in 1964, advice columnist and author Amy Alkon was born into a Jewish Michigan family. She grew up in Farmington Hills, a wealthy Detroit suburb. She recalled “non-Jewish kids around us egging our house, shaving-creaming ‘Dirty Jews’ & the like on our garage door, & physically bullying me” in an online tweet she wrote on Aug. 8, 2018.

    She started dispensing advice after moving to New York City and setting up on a street corner in SoHo as one of three women who called themselves “The Advice Ladies.” The three co-authored Free Advice: The Advice Ladies on Love, Dating, Sex, and Relationships (1996), which Alkon followed up with I See Rude People: One Woman’s Battle to Beat Some Manners Into Impolite Society in 2009.

    She wrote “Ask Amy Alkon,” a column in the New York Daily News before she became nationally distributed as “Ask the Advice Goddess” through the Creators Syndicate and reaching about 100 publications. LA Weekly called her “Miss Manners With Fangs.”

    “I’m an atheist (I require evidence to believe; don’t go on faith), but it’s rude & wrong to paint religious people as a big bunch of idiots,” Alkon tweeted on Aug. 30, 2017. She blogs at advicegoddess.com and as of this writing in 2020 lives in Santa Monica, Calif. Her weekly podcast “HumanLab: The Science Between Us” features behavioral scientists discussing their work. Her 15-minute, 2016 TED talk “The Surprising Self-Interest in Being Kind to Strangers” is here.

    Along with her advice columns, she blogs about applied behavioral science and discusses religion. For example, in a Sept. 28, 2007 blog titled “Religion As A Black Market For Irrationality,” she detailed how Sam Harris in Newsweek “lays out the gist of evidence-free living. Reason is a compulsion, not a choice.” Alkon also writes what she calls “science-help” books. In Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence (2018), she humorously debunked widely accepted but scientifically unsupported notions about self-esteem, shame, willpower and more.

    Asked by the Detroit Metro Times (Dec. 15, 1999) about her views on marriage, she said, “I don’t believe in marriage; not the way it’s practiced. I just don’t see committing to be with somebody ’till death do us part.’ I can live to be maybe 120 if I take care of myself. … My idea of a great relationship is one in which I live separately from the person I’m involved with.”

    Looks aren’t important, she said. “I, personally, don’t care if a guy has a face like a shoe, if he’s tall, nice and smart.” The Metro Times then asked, “Dr. Laura: Love her or hate her?” Alkon: “She’s an evil witch. I call it ‘car-crash radio.’ There’s no reason to berate people like she does. I hate hypocrisy, and I think she’s a horrible hypocrite.”

    PHOTO: Alkon in August 2009 during DeepGlamour’s first birthday party; photo by Virginia Postrel under CC 2.0.

    “Doubt gets a bad rap. Doubting doesn’t mean you’ve stopped believing, but that you’ve started thinking. Sheep doubt nothing. Chances are you’ll get further in life by questioning things than by living like something that ends up as dinner and a sweater.”

    —Alkon, "I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle to Beat Some Manners Into Impolite Society" (2009)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Douglas Adams

    Douglas Adams

    On this date in 1952, science fiction/comedy writer Douglas Noel Adams was born in Cambridge, England. He was educated at St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a B.A. in 1974 and later earned his master’s in English literature. Adams worked as a writer and producer in radio and television.

    In 1978, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” ran as a series on BBC Radio and was published as a novel in 1979. More than 14 million copies of the cult sci-fi novel have sold worldwide, followed by sequels. The satiric novel chronicles the adventures of an alien, Ford Prefect, and his human companion, Arthur Dent, as they travel the universe looking for the meaning of life after Earth’s destruction. Adams was also an internet pioneer.

    He married Jane Belson in 1991 and they had a daughter, Polly, in 1994. He was at work on a screenplay for Hitchhiker when he died unexpectedly at age 49 of a heart attack in 2001. (It was made into a movie in 2005.) Adams called himself a “committed Christian” as a teenager, who began to rethink his beliefs at age 18 after listening to the nonsense of a street preacher. He credited books by his friend Richard Dawkins, including The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, for helping to cement his views on religion.

    Dawkins used Adams’s influence to bolster arguments for nonbelief in his 2006 book The God Delusion, which he dedicated to Adams, whom he jokingly called “possibly [my] only convert” to atheism. After Adams’ death, Dawkins wrote, “Science has lost a friend, literature has lost a luminary, the mountain gorilla and the black rhino have lost a gallant defender.”

    Adams’s official biography Wish You Were Here shares its name with the Pink Floyd song. Adams was friends with Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. Adams chose the name for Pink Floyd’s 1994 album “The Division Bell” by picking the words from the lyrics to one of its tracks, “High Hopes.” He played guitar lefthanded and had two dozen lefthanded guitars.

    He was living in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he died and was cremated. His ashes are in Highgate Cemetery East in London. In The Salmon of Doubt, a compilation of Adams’ writings published posthumously in 2002, he wrote of religion: “But it does mystify me that otherwise intelligent people take it seriously.” (D. 2001)

    “If you describe yourself as ‘Atheist,’ some people will say, ‘Don’t you mean “Agnostic?’ I have to reply that I really do mean Atheist. I really do not believe that there is a god — in fact I am convinced that there is not a god (a subtle difference). I see not a shred of evidence to suggest that there is one. It’s easier to say that I am a radical Atheist, just to signal that I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and that it’s an opinion I hold seriously.”

    —Adams interview, American Atheist (Winter 1998-99)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Harry Harrison

    Harry Harrison

    On this date in 1925, author and editor Harry Max Harrison (né Henry Maxwell Dempsey) was born in Stamford, Conn. His mother was a Russian born in Latvia and his father, of Irish descent, was born in New York state. Growing up in New York City, Harrison spent a lot of time alone, excelling in science at school and devouring science fiction books.

    At age 13 he was one of the founding members of the Queens chapter of the Science Fiction League. After high school he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, where high marks on technical aptitude tests secured him training in computers. Discharged in 1946, Harrison enrolled in the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City, where he met many artists who gained prominence in the comic book industry.

    Harrison became an exemplary comic book artist himself, designing hundreds of  pages of comics and covers over the next few years, including “Worlds Beyond: A Magazine of Science Fiction Fantasy.”

    As the “Red Scare” in the 1950s advanced, comic books became a political target, blamed for “corrupting America’s youth.” The comic book boom came to an end, forcing artists like Harrison to take up other trades. Harrison stuck with his childhood love and started writing science fiction. He was one of the main writers of the Flash Gordon comic strip in the 1950s and 1960s. One of his novels, Make Room! Make Room! (1966), was the basis of the sci-fi classic film “Soylent Green” (1973).

    Some of his other prominent books (there are dozens) include The Stainless Steel Rat (1961), Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965), The Technicolor Time Machine (1967) and A Rebel in Time (1983). An entry titled “Atheist” linked to his website details how Harrison’s short story “The Streets of Ashkelon” (1962) remained unpublished for over a year because the hero was an atheist who tried to protect the inhabitants of an alien world from the influence of a Christian missionary: “The story was regarded as being too offensive for a Christian readership.”

    He married Evelyn Harrison in 1950, divorcing in 1951. He married dress designer and ballet dancer Joan Merkler in 1954. They had two children, Todd and Moira, and were married until her death in 2002. He died in 2012 at age 87 in his apartment in Brighton, England. (D. 2012)

    “We atheists lead happy lives, never concerned with the-dying-and-burn forever-in-hell nonsense. We know better. We enjoy happiness with our friends and neighbors and ignore all the greed and rituals that pay the parasite priests. Let them wallow in their medieval superstition while we enjoy all the wonders of our God-free universe.”

    —Henry Harrison News blog, "They're Afraid of Us!" (April 23, 2011)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Joseph Priestley

    Joseph Priestley

    On this date (under the Old Style calendar) in 1733, chemist and discoverer of oxygen Joseph Priestley was born in Fairhead, England, near Leeds, the oldest of six children. Destined for the ministry, Priestley realized he rejected much of Calvinism and decided to attend a Dissenting seminary, Daventry Academy. He worked as a minister while conducting scientific experiments and then secured a position at the Dissenting Academy, Warrington. He was eventually ordained and became an early founder of Unitarianism in England, at a time when Dissenters could be deprived of their citizenship and Unitarianism was not lawful.

    He produced carbonated water and isolated eight gases in the air, including oxygen, and is considered to have laid the foundation for the science of chemistry. Priestley wrote The History and Present State of Electricity (1767) at the encouragement of his colleague Benjamin Franklin.

    Priestley’s History of the Corruptions of Christianity (1782) was burned and reviled for its rejection of the Trinity, predestination and divine revelation. In it he averred that a pure form of Christianity had been corrupted. This was followed by History of Early Opinions Concerning Jesus Christ (1786). A General History of the Christian Church to the Fall of the Western Empire was finished in four volumes by 1803.

    A defender of the French Revolution, Priestley lost his laboratory and home in Birmingham when they were stormed and burned down by mobs. His membership in the Royal Society was also withdrawn and he was burned in effigy. Priestley and his family emigrated to the U.S. in 1794 with hopes of setting up a model community but settled for building a house with a built-in lab in Northumberland, Pa., where he died at age 70 in 1804.

    After weathering so much personal criticism, Priestley was notorious among freethinkers for writing about Franklin: “It is much to be lamented that a man of Dr. Franklin’s general good character and great influence should have been an unbeliever in Christianity and also have done so much as he did to make others unbelievers.” Priestley helped found the first Unitarian church in the U.S. (D. 1804)

    What does Priestley mean, by an unbeliever, when he applies it to you? How much did he unbelieve himself? Gibbon had it right when he denominated his Creed, ‘scanty.’ “

    —John Adams, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson (18 July 1813), "The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Vol.10" (1856)

    Robert Blatchford

    Robert Blatchford

    On this date in 1851, Robert Peel Glanville Blatchford was born in Maidstone, England. He was raised by his actress mother after his father’s death. At age 20 he joined the army, which he served in for six years, attaining the rank of sergeant. He was deeply influenced by his military service and would write several books drawn from this experience, most famously My Life in the Army (1910).

    After leaving the service, Blatchford married Sarah Crossley. In 1883, he began writing for newspapers around Manchester, where they settled. In 1885 he moved to London to become a full-time journalist, using the pen name “Nunquam Dormio” (Latin for “I never sleep”), which he would continue to use throughout his life, sometimes shortening it to merely “Nunquam.” Blatchford became attracted to socialist ideas while reporting on conditions in Ireland and the slums of Manchester.

    In 1891 he co-founded the socialist newspaper The Clarion, for many years the primary popularizer of English socialism. His first popular book, Merrie England, an influential explication of socialist principles, was published in 1893. In that same year, Blatchford was involved in the foundation of the Independent Labour Party, a forerunner of the modern Labour Party, despite his distrust of electoral and party politics. His autobiography, My Eighty Years, was published in 1931.

    In 1903 he wrote God and My Neighbor, a critique of religion, especially Christianity. God and My Neighbor sparked major debate and brought condemnations from the pulpit for two years after publication. Later in life, Blatchford abandoned his earlier materialist views after the death of his wife in 1921; unable to believe that she was really gone, he turned to spiritualism, while continuing to reject Christianity and other revealed religions. (D. 1943)

    “I cannot believe that any religion has been revealed to Man by God. Because a revealed religion would be perfect, but no known religion is perfect; and because history and science show us that known religions have not been revealed but have been evolved from other traditions.”

    —Blatchford, "God and My Neighbor" (1903)

    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

    Philip Roth

    Philip Roth

    On this date in 1933, author Philip Milton Roth was born to Herman Roth and Bess (Finkel) Roth in Newark, N.J., where he grew up with an older brother. He encountered anti-Semitism at an early age and later wrote that his childhood love of baseball offered him “membership in a great secular nationalistic church from which nobody had ever seemed to suggest that Jews should be excluded.” At Bucknell University he decided the school’s “respectable Christian atmosphere [was] hardly less constraining than [his] own particular Jewish upbringing.”

    After earning a master’s in English in 1955 from the University of Chicago, he taught there for two years and started writing short fiction. Roth published Goodbye, Columbus, a collection of short stories and the title novella, to critical acclaim in 1959. He then worked as a visiting lecturer at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, followed by two years as a writer-in-residence at Princeton University. Letting Go (1962) was his first full-length novel. When She Was Good (1967), which Roth once called a “book with no Jews,” is also his only novel to feature a female protagonist.

    He had married Margaret Martinson in 1956. They separated in 1963 and she died in a car accident in 1968. Martinson was the inspiration for female characters in several of his novels, including Lucy Nelson in When She Was Good. He didn’t marry again until 1990, when he wed English actress Claire Bloom. They divorced in 1995, after which she published a memoir that described their marriage in detail unflattering to Roth. Both marriages were childless.

    Roth started teaching literature in the late 1960s at the University of Pennsylvania. The 1969 feature film adaptation of Goodbye, Columbus coincided with the publication of Portnoy’s Complaint, which soon became a best-seller amid controversy for its prurient content. (Those who’ve read it will likely not forget Portnoy’s “affair” with a slab of liver.) Roth’s works in the 1970s included a Richard Nixon parody titled Our Gang, The Breast, The Great American Novel and, what some consider his best novel, My Life as a Man. Three novels (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound and The Anatomy Lesson) were published in one volume in 1985.

    The 1990s saw publication of Deception, Patrimony: A True Story, Operation Shylock, Sabbath’s Theater and a trilogy consisting of American Pastoral (which won a Pulitzer), I Married a Communist and The Human Stain. He remained prolific after the turn of the century with The Dying Animal, The Plot Against America, Everyman, Indignation, The Humbling, Nemesis and Exit Ghost, the ninth book narrated by Zuckerman, Roth’s fictional alter ego.

    Roth won a slew of writing awards besides the Pulitzer and eight of his novels were adapted for movies. He was awarded the 2010 National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama at the White House in 2011. He died of congestive heart failure at age 85. (D. 2018)

    PHOTO: Roth in 1973.

    “I’m exactly the opposite of religious, I’m anti-religious. I find religious people hideous. I hate the religious lies. It’s all a big lie. … I have such a huge dislike. It’s not a neurotic thing, but the miserable record of religion. I don’t even want to talk about it, it’s not interesting to talk about the sheep referred to as believers.”
    — Interview with Martin Krasnik of The Guardian, Dec. 14, 2005

    “Do you consider yourself a religious person?”
    “No, I don’t have a religious bone in my body,” Roth said.
    “So, do you feel like there’s a God out there?” Braver asked.
    “I’m afraid there isn’t, no,” Roth said.
    “You know that telling the whole world that you don’t believe in God is going to, you know, have people say, ‘Oh my goodness, you know, that’s a terrible thing for him to say,” Braver said.
    Roth replied, “When the whole world doesn’t believe in God, it’ll be a great place.”
    — Interview with CBS News correspondent Rita Braver, Oct. 3, 2010

    — Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Pamela Sargent

    Pamela Sargent

    On this date in 1948, science fiction writer Pamela Sargent was born to nonreligious parents in Ithaca, N.Y. Asked in 1990 who inspired her as a child, she said her grandmother did: “She’d been kind of rebellious as an adolescent herself, and managed to get herself expelled from a convent where she was a student. Apparently the nuns considered her ‘wild,’ even though she didn’t do much more than sneak out after hours to meet guys.”

    Sargent earned her B.A. and M.A. from SUNY-Binghamton. Sargent is the author of many science fiction books and short stories and has edited several anthologies specializing in female and feminist science fiction. Her early books include Women of Wonder: Science Fiction Stories by Women About Women (1975), Cloned Lives (1976), Bio-Futures: Science Fiction Stories about Biological Metamorphoses (1976), Starshadows: Ten Stories (1977), The Sudden Star (1979), The Alien Upstairs (1983), Alien Child (1988), The Best of Pamela Sargent (1987) and Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years (1995).

    She continues to publish regularly as of this 2019 writing. Her novel Season of the Cats was published in 2015 and her epic historical novel Ruler of the Sky (1993) about Genghis Khan came out in a new Spanish edition in 2019.

    Sargent photo by Jerry Bauer.

    Gore Vidal once wrote that, whatever most writers say, the books that influence them most are those read in childhood — before the age of twelve, say — presumably because childhood experiences are the most formative. Assuming he’s right, the most influential books for me must be Bambi, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, Grimm’s fairy tales, Bulfinch’s Mythology, Walter Farley horse books like The Black Stallion (I read them all), The Cloister and the Hearth and other historical novels too numerous to list, Fred Hoyle’s The Nature of the Universe, and The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, which my mother gave me, interestingly enough. Oh, and the Bible, believe it or not, even though I was brought up as an atheist.”

    —Pamela Sargent, 1990 interview with Jill Engel-Cox, NOVA Express

    Carl Reiner

    Carl Reiner

    On this date in 1922, actor Carl Reiner was born in the Bronx, New York, to immigrant Jewish parents. The son of a Romanian-born watchmaker and a Hungarian mother started his distinguished entertainment career in Broadway musicals after serving in the Pacific during World War II. Among his lifetime achievements in writing, directing, producing and acting for television and film, Reiner was perhaps most noted for creating, directing and frequently appearing on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-66).

    He was cast in comedian Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” (1950-54), appearing in skits while also working alongside writers Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. He directed “Oh, God!” (1977), starring George Burns and directed and co-wrote four Steve Martin films: “The Jerk” (1979), “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982), “The Man With Two Brains” (1983) and “All of Me” (1984). In 2007, the Director’s Guild of America honored him with an Honorary Life Member award. Over his career he won nine prime-time Emmy Awards and a Grammy.

    Reiner married Estelle Lebost in 1943 and they were married until her death at age 94 in 2008. Their children are Rob (b. 1947), Annie (b. 1949) and Lucas (b. 1960). Estelle delivered the line “I’ll have what she’s having” in the famous restaurant scene in Rob’s 1989 film “When Harry Met Sally.”

    Reiner wrote 18 books, including five biography/memoirs (the last announced in 2017 when he was 95). At 97 he was still active on Twitter and still had his sense of humor, publishing an illustrated children’s book in 2017 titled You Say God Bless You for Sneezing and Farting!

    Reiner called himself a Jewish atheist. “I have a very different take on who God is,” he said in a 2008 Los Angeles Times interview. “Man invented God because he needed him. God is us.”

    Reiner in October 2018 denounced the Trump administration and said his goal was to live to see him voted out of office. He didn’t quite make it, dying at home in Beverly Hills at age 98 about four months before the election. (D. 2020)

    PHOTO: Reiner at age 38.

    MOMENT: Have you always been an atheist?
    REINER: I became an atheist after Hitler came. I said, what is this? If there was a God, would he not be hearing 18 million people, 16 million Jews, or 20 million other people, saying,”Please God, don’t do this, make him stop?” God was so busy doing what? Striping zebras or fixing the long necks of giraffes?

    —Interview, Moment magazine, founded by Elie Wiesel (May 1, 2013)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Stephen Pearl Andrews

    Stephen Pearl Andrews

    On this date in 1812, abolitionist Stephen Pearl Andrews was born in Templeton, Mass., the youngest of eight children of a Baptist minister and his wife. Andrews was educated at Amherst, studied law in Louisiana and moved with his bride to Houston with the intent to work to make Texas a “free” (anti-slavery) state. In 1843 he was mobbed and barely escaped with his life. He lectured against slavery in England, seeking help from the British Anti-slavery Society. By 1847 he had moved to New York, where he became an expert in phonography.

    Reputedly studying more than 30 languages, Andrews was considered the leading Chinese scholar in the U.S. and published “Discoveries in Chinese” in 1854. According to freethought biographer Samuel Putnam, Andrews proposed a “unity of law in the universe,” a principle he felt applied to science, philosophy and language. Accordingly, Andrews invented a universal language, “Alwato.”

    The prolific tract writer, whose diverse subjects ranged from “Love, Marriage and Divorce” to “Ideological Etymology,” was a regular contributor to the leading freethought newspaper The Truth SeekerHe was also the author of several books on labor and wage theory and individualist anarchism. (D. 1886)

    “I reject and repudiate the interference of the State, precisely as I do the interference of the Church.”

    —Andrews, "The True Constitution of Government in the Sovereignty of the Individual" (1851)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Gloria Steinem

    Gloria Steinem

    On this date in 1934, feminist leader and journalist Gloria Steinem was born in Toledo, Ohio, to Leo and Ruth (Nuneviller) Steinem. Her father abandoned the family when she was 10, leaving her to care for her mother, who was dysfunctional from depression. She went to school when possible, tap-danced in talent contests and mothered her mother. In 1951 she moved in with her older sister in Washington, D.C., and completed her high school education. She was accepted by Smith College, where she first started to write, and graduated magna cum laude in 1956.

    The recipient of a two-year grant to India, she discovered that she was pregnant. During a stopover in England en route to India and facing a desperate crossroads, Steinem managed to arrange an abortion. She was later on the vanguard of those calling for legalized abortion. She moved in 1960 to New York City to start a journalism career, where she was met with sexist roadblocks such as the Life magazine editor who told her “We don’t want a pretty girl. We want a writer.”

    In 1969 Steinem wrote her first feminist article. Throughout the next five years, she stumped for feminism around the country, becoming the women’s movement’s best-known, most quotable exponent. She helped found Ms. Magazine in 1971, convinced that freedom would come through “individual women telling the truth.” She defined feminism as “the belief that women are full human beings.”

    In 1972, McCall’s magazine named her Woman of the Year. She was an influential participant at the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977, a landmark gathering. “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions,” her first collection of essays and articles, was published in 1983. She also wrote “Marilyn: Norma Jeane” (1986), a biography of Marilyn Monroe, “Revolution From Within: A Book of Self-Esteem” (1992) and “Moving Beyond Words” (1997). An idea generator and original thinker, Steinem remains one of feminism’s most elegant, loyal and thoughtful advocates.

    PHOTO: Steinem speaking at the Women Together Summit at Carpenters Local Union in Phoenix in 2016. Gage Skidmore photo under CC 2.0.

    “It’s an incredible con job, when you think of it, to believe something now in exchange for life after death. Even corporations, with all their reward systems, don’t try to make it posthumous.”

    —Steinem, interview with Annie Laurie Gaylor, The Feminist Connection (November 1980)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Bill Dunn

    Jane Rule

    Jane Rule

    On this date in 1931, lesbian writer Jane Rule was born in Plainfield, New Jersey. She graduated from Mills College, Oakland, California, in 1952 and became an occasional student at University College, London. Her first book, Desert of the Heart, a novel, was turned into the 1984 movie, “Desert Heart.” While teaching at Concord Academy in Massachusetts, she fell in love with Helen Sonthoff, a creative writing instructor who was married to Herbert Sonthoff, a German who had fled the Nazi regime.

    Rule moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1956 and taught intermittently at the University of British Columbia until 1976. At age 40, Sonthoff came to Vancouver to visit Rule, then 25, and they resumed their intimate relationship. They lived as a couple until Sonthoff died in 2000.

    She was good friends with writers Kate Millett and Margaret Atwood. Among her many books, which include novels and nonfiction, are After the Fire (1988), Memory Board (1987), Hot-Eyed Moderate (1985), Contract with the World (1982) and Lesbian Images (1982). Among her awards were being named author of the Best Story of the Year 1978 by the Canadian Authors Association. She died of liver cancer in 2007.

    “I’m a nonbeliever. I don’t believe in the existence of a God. I don’t believe in the Christian dogma. I find it horrifyingly silly. The intolerance that flows from organized religion is the most dangerous thing on the planet.”

    —Rule, "Brave Souls: Writers and Artists Wrestle with God, Love, Death and the Things That Matter" by Douglas Todd (1996)

    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

    A.C. Grayling

    A.C. Grayling

    On this date in 1949, British author, philosopher and atheist Anthony Clifford Grayling was born in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), where his father was a banker. He spent his childhood in Africa. When he was 19, his older sister Jennifer was murdered in Johannesburg. When her parents went to identify the body, her mother had a fatal heart attack. After earning a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in England, Grayling lectured in philosophy at Bedford College-London and St. Anne’s College-Oxford before taking up a post in 1991 at Birkbeck College-University of London, where he was a philosophy professor until 2011. He then founded and became the first master of New College of the Humanities.

    Grayling is the author of over 30 books on philosophy, biography, the history of ideas, human rights and ethics, including The Refutation of Scepticism (1985), The Future of Moral Values (1997), Wittgenstein (1992), What Is Good? (2000), The Meaning of Things (2001), The Good Book (2011), The God Argument (2013), The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind (2016), War: An Enquiry (2017) and Democracy and its Crises (2017). His 2006 play “Grace” was co-written with Mick Gordon. The title character is a science professor who rejects religion.

    He’s a vice president of the British Humanist Association, an honorary associate of the National Secular Society and has held positions with many other academic and literary organizations. The awards bestowed on him are numerous, including the Order of the British Empire, and others honoring his contributions to philosophy and ethics. One current biographical source says that Grayling believes that religion for historical reasons has had influence far out of proportion to the number of adherents and its intrinsic merits, “with the result that they can distort such matters as public policy (e.g., on abortion) and science research and education (e.g., stem cells, teaching of evolution).”

    In a 2013 interview, freethinker Sam Harris asked Grayling if “a person can be both a humanist and a person of faith?” Grayling replied, “No, religion and humanism are not consistent — unless you mean ‘humanism’ in the Renaissance sense, where it denoted the study of classical literature. But this study soon showed people that the ideas and outlook of classical thought is at odds with religion, which is why humanism is now a secular philosophy.”

    He and his wife, novelist Katie Hickman, have a daughter, Madeleine, and a stepson, Luke. He also has a son, Jolyon, and a daughter, Georgina, from his first marriage. 

    “In the study of history I became aware of the effects of religious divisions and sectarianism on individuals and societies, and came to think that freedom from religious influence is a human rights issue. I am an atheist, a secularist and a humanist.”

    —Grayling, interviewed by Sam Harris, samharris.org (March 30, 2013)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Arthur Hailey

    Arthur Hailey

    On this date in 1920, writer Arthur Hailey was born in Bedfordshire, England. In 1939 he joined the Royal Air Force as a pilot and served until 1947, when he emigrated to Canada. His career as a writer began in 1955 when he imagined what would happen if the pilot and co-pilot both became ill and if he, as a former fighter pilot, would be able to fly the plane. His teleplay, “Flight Into Danger,” produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, later morphed into the successful novel, Airport (1968), which was spoofed in the 1980 Leslie Nielsen movie “Airplane!”

    After working as a television writer, Hailey began to write novels, some based on his TV scripts. His books were aimed at a popular audience and many were best-sellers. Hailey is often considered to be one of the pioneers of the “disaster fiction” genre and, by extension, the “disaster movie.” Many of the novels are set in institutions the public must interact with — like airports and hotels — but are unaware of their inner workings.

    Hailey’s last novel, Detective (1998), is a mystery told from the perspective of a Miami homicide detective. This detective also happens to be a former Catholic priest who has lost his religion; the work deals with themes of religion and questions the Catholic Church. Hailey said his aim in writing the book was to share his own thoughts about religion without making it “a lecture.” 

    He married Joan Fishwick in 1944 and was divorced in 1950, then was married to Sheila Dunlop from 1951 until his death at age 84 in 2004. He had six children.

    “”But quite suddenly, as I was reciting the Creed in a church in Cyprus, where we were stationed, I found myself saying ‘I don’t believe this any more.’ I lost my faith and became an agnostic.”

    —Hailey, quoted in The Independent (Nov. 27, 2004)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

    Robert M. Sapolsky

    Robert M. Sapolsky

    On this date in 1957, biologist and neuroendocrinologist Robert Morris Sapolsky was born in Brooklyn, New York. Sapolsky, whose parents emigrated from the Soviet Union, was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in the Bensonhurst neighborhood. His father was an architect. He was a precocious student, teaching himself Swahili and writing letters to primatologists as a student at John Dewey High School on Coney Island.

    He graduated from Harvard University in 1978 with a B.A. in biological anthropology and received his Ph.D. in neuroendocrinology from The Rockefeller University in New York City in 1984. He did post-doctoral work at the Salk Institute and was a research associate at the Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya. From 1978 until 1990 he spent three to four months a year living in a pup tent in Kenya to study the baboon population. 

    Sapolsky is a professor of biology, neurological sciences and neurosurgery at Stanford University. His work as a neuroendocrinologist has addressed the issues of stress and neuronal degeneration. Among the latest of his nearly 300 journal publications (as of this writing) is “This Is Your Brain on Nationalism: The Biology of Us and Them” (Foreign Affairs, 2019). 

    His books include Stress, the Aging Brain, and the Mechanisms of Neuron Death (1992), Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (1994), Junk Food Monkeys (1997), The Trouble with Testosterone and Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament (1998), the best-selling A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons (2001), Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals (2005) and Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (2017).

    Sapolsky has received numerous honors and awards, including the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship Genius Grant in 1987 and the 2008 Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization. In 2002 he was the recipient of FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award (“Belief and Biology” acceptance speech) and was named to FFRF’s Honorary Board in 2010. He is married to Lisa Sapolsky, a neuropsychologist. They have two children, Benjamin and Rachel. 

    PHOTO: Sapolsky in 2009; National Institutes of Health photo

    “I was raised in an Orthodox household, and I was raised devoutly religious up until around age 13 or so. In my adolescent years, one of the defining actions in my life was breaking away from all religious belief whatsoever.”

    —Robert Sapolsky, Emperor Has No Clothes Award acceptance speech (Nov. 23, 2003)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Marjory Stoneman Douglas

    Marjory Stoneman Douglas

    On this date in 1890, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who became one of the greatest environmental writers and activists of the 20th century, was born in Minneapolis, the only child of Frank Stoneman and Florence (Trefethen) Douglas. Her parents separated when she was 6 and she had an unsettled upbringing, with her mother suffering from mental illness. Her upbringing, she wrote in her 1987 autobiography, contributed to her becoming “a skeptic and a dissenter.” After graduating from Wellesley College in 1912 (her mother died when she was a senior), Douglas served in Europe during World War I with the American Red Cross.

    She became an early feminist and vigorous civil rights activist. In 1916 she and others lobbied Florida legislators for women’s suffrage. She had moved to Florida and married Kenneth Douglas in 1914, a much older man who was later revealed to be a bigamist and con artist. She went to work for her father in 1915 at the paper that became the Miami Herald. From 1920 to 1990, Douglas published 109 fiction articles and stories.

    She dedicated five years to her groundbreaking book The Everglades: River of Grass (1947). The book forever changed the way that Americans viewed wetlands and the relationship between Floridians and the Everglades. It was a best-seller and battle anthem for preservationists. She founded Friends of the Everglades in the 1960s and led the group for three decades. In 1993 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. She was inducted into the National Wildlife Federation Hall of Fame in 1999 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.

    Although Douglas grew up in a religious household, she called herself an agnostic. In her autobiography she wrote, “The soul is a fiction of mankind, because mankind hates the idea of death. It wants to think that something goes on after. I don’t think that it does, and I don’t think we have souls. I think death is the end. A lot of people can’t bear that idea, but I find it a little restful, really.”

    Before her death at age 108, she asked that there be no religious ceremony. (D. 1998)

    PHOTO: Marjory Stoneman as a Wellesley senior.

    “I believe that life should be lived so vividly and so intensely that thoughts of another life, or of a longer life, are not necessary.”

    —Douglas' autobiography "Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Voice of the River" (1987)
    Compiled by Molly Hanson

    Sam Harris

    Sam Harris

    On this date in 1967, author and neuroscientist Samuel Benjamin Harris, a key figure in the 21st century freethought movement, was born in Los Angeles, the son of TV producer and writer Susan (Spivak) Harris and actor Berkeley Harris, who divorced when Sam was 2. He grew up in his mother’s secular household and enrolled at Stanford University to study philosophy but left during his sophomore year to study Eastern religions and meditation in India. He eventually returned to Stanford and graduated in 2000.

    He started writing his first book, The End of Faith, after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. It received the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction in 2005 and was followed by his Letter to a Christian Nation in 2006. Harris married in 2004 and has two daughters with his wife Annaka, an author and science editor. They co-founded the nonprofit Project Reason in 2007. He received a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience in 2009 from UCLA. Five of his books are New York Times bestsellers. His latest, as of this writing, are Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (2014) and Islam and the Future of Tolerance (with British activist Maajid Nawaz, 2015).

    Harris is generally considered a member of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism” along with Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens. The name comes from the title of a video they made during a two-hour unmoderated discussion at Hitchens’ home on Sept. 30, 2007. Journalist Simon Hooper described New Atheism as “the view that superstition, religion and irrationalism should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises in government, education and politics.”

    Harris has no use for the term New Atheism or for the atheist label. In a 2007 speech he said that while he had become “one of the public voices of atheism, I never thought of myself as an atheist before being inducted to speak as one. I didn’t even use the term in The End of Faith, which remains my most substantial criticism of religion. And, as I argued briefly in Letter to a Christian Nation, I think that ‘atheist’ is a term that we do not need, in the same way that we don’t need a word for someone who rejects astrology. We simply do not call people ‘non-astrologers.’ All we need are words like ‘reason’ and ‘evidence’ and ‘common sense’ and ‘bullshit’ to put astrologers in their place, and so it could be with religion.”

    Christopher Michel photo (cropped), CC 4.0

    “It is time that we admitted that faith is nothing more than the license religious people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail.”

    —"Letter to a Christian Nation" (Knopf, Sept. 19, 2006)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Jon Krakauer

    Jon Krakauer

    On this date in 1954, author Jon Krakauer was born in Brookline, Mass., to Carol Ann (Jones) and Lewis Krakauer. His mother was a Unitarian of Scandinavian descent and his father was of Jewish-Polish descent. “I grew up in a family of atheists, so the closest I’ve ever had to religion is [mountain] climbing,” Krakauer said. (Entertainment Weekly, July 18, 2003)

    He grew up in Corvallis, Ore., where his father established a medical practice and introduced him to climbing at age 8. After high school, Krakauer earned a degree in environmental studies in 1976 from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. 

    He met outdoorswoman Linda Mariam Moore the next year and they married in 1980 before moving to Seattle. He climbed mountains and worked as a freelance journalist, often contributing to Outside magazine. “Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains” (1990) was his nonfiction collection of articles and essays on mountaineering and rock climbing.

    “Into the Wild” (1996) spent two years on The New York Times best-seller list and documented the travels of Christopher McCandless, whose remains were found in 1992 in Alaska, where he had died of starvation.

    “Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster” (1997) was named Book of the Year by Time magazine and was among three books considered for the General Non-Fiction Pulitzer Prize in 1998. It focused on a deadly 1996 climb he was part of that killed eight people.

    “Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith” (2003), his third nonfiction best-seller, juxtaposed the histories of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the 1984 murders of their sister-in-law and infant niece by brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty due to their fundamentalist Mormon beliefs. 

    “Faith-based violence was present long before Osama bin Laden, and it will be with us long after his demise,” Krakauer wrote in the book.”There is a dark side to religious devotion that is too often ignored or denied. As a means of motivating people to be cruel or inhumane — as a means of inciting evil, to borrow the vocabulary of the devout — there may be no more potent force than religion.”

    It was widely panned by Mormons, which didn’t surprise Krakauer. “They’ve already basically let it be known that good Mormons should not read this book. And I think they will be very uncomfortable with the history; they will not like the fact that I point out that Joseph Smith told 14-year-old girls ‘God says you should marry me, if you don’t …’ His way of getting laid doesn’t reflect well on him.” (Entertainment Weekly, July 18, 2003) In April 2022, a limited series was released by Hulu starring Andrew Garfield and Daisy Edgar-Jones.

    “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman” (2009) drew on the journals and letters of Pat Tillman, a professional football player and Army Ranger whose death in Afghanistan made him a symbol of American heroism, then became controversial because the Army had covered up the fact that he died from friendly fire.

    In “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town” (2015), Krakauer explored how rape is handled by colleges and the criminal justice system. It followed several cases of women raped in Missoula, Montana, many of them linked in some way to the University of Montana.

    He has more questions than answers about religion. “I brought some of those questions to the fore in [“Under the Banner of Heaven”] because I wanted to make people think about religion and its good and bad sides. But I still have to say there is a lot that scares me about religion. Once you believe that God is speaking directly to you, there is no discussion.” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 27, 2003) 

    “All religious belief is a function of non-rational faith, and faith by its very definition tends to be impervious to intellectual argument or academic criticism.”

    —"Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith" by Jon Krakauer (2003)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Christopher Hitchens

    Christopher Hitchens

    On this date in 1949, writer and columnist Christopher Eric Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, England. He attended Cambridge and graduated from Oxford in 1970, reading in philosophy, politics and economics. From 1971-81 he worked as a book reviewer for The Times of London.

    In 1981 he emigrated to the United States. He wrote “Minority Report,” a column for The Nation, from 1982-2002. He then wrote for Slate, The Daily Mirror, The Atlantic Monthly, Vanity Fair, Harper’s and several other publications. As a foreign correspondent, he covered events in 60 countries on five continents. He became a U.S. citizen in 2007.

    Hitchens wrote a host of books, but is best-known in freethought circles for authoring The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (1995) and God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everthing (2007). His criticisms of President Clinton and support for President Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq made him increasingly controversial among progressive readership, but he remained a stalwart atheist and iconoclast. When the Freedom From Religion Foundation instituted its Honorary Board of Directors in 2010, Hitchens was a member.

    In “Papal Power: John Paul II’s other legacy” (Slate.com, April 1, 2005), Hitchens pointed out that the pope “was a part of the cover-up and obstruction of justice that allowed the child-rape scandal to continue for so long.”

    Hitchens married Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, in 1981. They had a son, Alexander, and a daughter, Sophia. After divorcing, he married Carol Blue, an American screenwriter, in a ceremony at the apartment of Victor Navasky, editor of The Nation. He and Blue had a daughter, Antonia.

    After being diagnosed in 2010 with esophageal cancer, he died of pneumonia at age 62 at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. (D. 2011)

    “Gullibility and credulity are considered undesirable qualities in every department of human life — except religion. … Atheism strikes me as morally superior, as well as intellectually superior, to religion. Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are all wrong.”

    —Hitchens, "The Lord and the Intellectuals," Harper's (July 1982)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo by Brent Nicastro

    Clarence Darrow

    Clarence Darrow

    On this date in 1857, Clarence Darrow, later dubbed “Attorney for the Damned” and “the Great Defender,” was born in Farmdale, Ohio. For a time he lived in a home that had served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. His father was known as the “village infidel.” Darrow attended the University of Michigan Law School for one year, then passed the bar in 1878 and moved to Chicago. There he joined protests against the trumped-up charges against four radicals accused in the Haymarket Riot case.

    Darrow became corporate counsel for the city of Chicago, then counsel for the Chicago & North Western Railway. He quit this lucrative post when he could no longer defend their treatment of injured workers, then went on to defend without pay socialist striker Eugene V. Debs. In 1907, Darrow successfully defended labor activist “Big Bill” Haywood, charged with assassinating a former governor. His passionate denunciation of the death penalty prompted him to defend the famous killers, Loeb and Leopold, who received life sentences in 1924.

    His most celebrated case was the Scopes Trial, defending teacher John Scopes in Dayton, Tenn., who was charged with the crime of teaching evolution in the public schools. Darrow’s brilliant cross-examination of prosecuting attorney William Jennings Bryan lives on in legal history. During the trial, Darrow said: “I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure — that is all that agnosticism means.”

    Darrow wrote many freethought articles and edited a freethought collection. His two appealing autobiographies are The Story of My Life (1932), containing his plainspoken views on religion, and Farmington (1932). He also wrote Resist Not Evil (1902), An Eye for An Eye (1905), and Crime, Its Causes and Treatments (1925). His freethought writings are collected into Why I Am an Agnostic and Other Essays. He told The New York Times, “Religion is the belief in future life and in God. I don’t believe in either.” (April 19, 1936)

    He married Jessie Ohl in 1880 and they had a son, Paul Edward, in 1883 before divorcing in 1897. Darrow married Ruby Hammerstrom, a journalist 16 years his junior, in 1903. He died at age 80 of heart disease. (D. 1938)

    PHOTO: Darrow in 1922.

    “I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.”

    —Darrow, 1930 speech, Toronto, Canada

    Peter Watson

    Peter Watson

    On this date in 1943, Peter Frank Patrick Watson was born in Birmingham, England. An intellectual historian and investigative journalist, he was educated at the universities of Durham, London and Rome, later living in the U.S. He has written for The Observer, The New York Times, Punch and The Spectator and is the author of fiction, as well as many books on art history, biography, psychology and true crime. Between 1997 and 2007, he was a research associate at the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre at Cambridge University.

    His books include The Age of Nothing: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God (2014, published in the U.S. as The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God), The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums (2006, with Cecilia Todeschini), Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud (2005), Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century (2001) (also published as A Terrible Beauty), Sotheby’s: The Inside Story (1998), Landscape of Lies (1989) and The Caravaggio Conspiracy (1984).

    In Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, Watson seeks a new way to tell the history of the world from prehistory to modern day, asserting that human knowledge is divided into two realms: inward (philosophy and religion) and outward (observation and science). His stance supports the latter. Twins: An Uncanny Relationship? (1982), explores behavior patterns shared by identical twins, “to offer a rational alternative to mumbo jumbo for explaining many of the coincidences reported in twin studies, ” according to a Los Angeles Times review.

    “A few saints and a little charity don’t make up for all the harm religion has done over the ages,” he said on CBC News, May 5, 2007. When asked about the good that religion has done in the world in an interview by The New York Times Magazine (Dec. 11, 2005), Watson replied: “I lead a perfectly healthy, satisfactory life without being religious. And I think more people should try it.”

    Watson speaking at Cambridge; Juan Jaen photo under CC 2.0.

    “Religion has kept civilization back for hundreds of years, and the biggest mistake in the history of civilization, is ethical monotheism, the concept of the one God. Let’s get rid of it and be rational.”

    —Watson interview, CBC News (May 5, 2007)

    Compiled by Jane Esbensen

    Derek Humphry

    Derek Humphry

    On this date in 1930, journalist, author and activist Derek Humphry was born in Bath, England. Growing up in a broken home during World War II, Humphry received a substandard childhood education. He attended close to a dozen different schools before leaving the school system at the age of 15 to pursue a career in journalism. He worked for the Yorkshire Post as an editorial manager prior to being drafted for the British Army at age 18.

    Not long after his service, he resumed his career in journalism and became a reporter on the Manchester Evening News, the largest evening UK newspaper. During his journalism career, Humphry specialized in issues of race relations, immigration, prison conditions, police brutality and corruption. This led to the production of Because They’re Black (1971), a book that argued for racial harmony in Britain and won him the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize.

    In 1978 he accepted a position as a special feature writer for the Los Angeles Times and moved to the U.S. The same year he published Jean’s Way, based on the death of his first wife from breast cancer. Humphry firmly believes in the right to die and has spent many decades advocating the legal practice of euthanasia. He has written a number of books on euthanasia, including Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying (1991), which marked the emergence of the Death with Dignity movement in the United States, Freedom to Die: People, Politics & The Right-To-Die Movement (1998) and Good Life, Good Death: The Memoir of a Right to Die Pioneer (2017).

    He co-founded the Hemlock Society in 1980. It later split into two separate organizations — Compassion and Choices and Final Exit Network. Compassion and Choices focuses on legislative change while Final Exit Network focuses on the need for compassionate support for those suffering from incurable diseases. In a 1995 interview, Humphry was asked if he was a religious person and replied that he is an atheist.

    “The euthanasia movement’s clash with religion is the heart of the struggle. People lose sight of that. But in a small way, it’s altering 2,000 years of Christianity.”

    —Humphry, “The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity Presents Dignity and Dying: A Christian Appraisal” (1996)
    Compiled by Tolulope Igun

    Yoram Kaniuk

    Yoram Kaniuk

    On this date in 1930, author and painter Yoram Kaniuk was born in Tel Aviv in the British Mandate of Palestine. His father was the first curator of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. His godfather, Hayyim Nahman Bialak, was a pioneer of modern Hebrew poetry and his grandfather taught Hebrew and wrote textbooks.

    While Kaniuk was still a teen, he served in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. While serving, he was wounded when an Englishman disguised in a kaffiyeh (headdress) shot him in the legs. This, along with other of Kanuik’s profound experiences, inspired the nearly 30 novels he produced. Some of Kaniuk’s best-known works are Hemo, King of Jerusalem (1948), Confessions of a Good Arab (1984) and His Daughter (1988). His writings focused on the war, the Holocaust and the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

    Kaniuk spoke out against religious extremism and in 2011 won a legal battle in the district court of Tel Aviv in which he successfully appealed to change the status of his official national identity from Jewish to no religion. He advocated for the freedom of the next generation to identify as Jewish by nationality rather than by religion.

    In his final years he battled bone marrow cancer and became fascinated with death. His final novel, Between Life and Death, detailed the four months he spent in a coma near the end of his existence. Upon his death, Kaniuk donated his body to science to avoid ultra-Orthodox funeral rituals.

    In 1958 while living in the U.S., Kaniuk married Miranda Baker, a Christian, and returned to Israel with her. They had two daughters, Aya and Naomi. He died of cancer at age 83. (D. 2013)

    “[Israel] established a state out of religion rather than the nation we almost became. Along the way we did not stop in the hallway of civilization, and religion attached itself to us like a leech, because that is the only way it survives, and now it has come back and returned.”

    —Kaniuk, quoted a month before he died, "Yoram Kaniuk’s last published words: ‘We messed it up." (The Times of Israel, June 9, 2013)
    Compiled by Tolulope Igun

    Mary L. Trump

    Mary L. Trump

    On this date in 1965, psychologist and author Mary Lea Trump was born in New York City to Linda Lee Clapp, a flight attendant, and Fred Trump Jr., a commercial airline pilot and future President Donald Trump’s older brother. She has a brother, Fred Trump III.

    Her father died of a heart attack exacerbated by alcoholism at age 42 when she was 16. “We were sort of knee-jerk Protestants. We didn’t go to church much. I did Sunday School for a little bit. I actually used to wear a cross, which I think is hysterical now. As soon as my dad died, though, it was over for me.” (Sydney Morning Herald, Sept. 17, 2021)

    She studied English literature at Tufts University in Massachusetts, earned a master’s in English literature at Columbia University and received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Adelphi University on Long Island, N.Y. Trump worked at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center while doing research for her doctorate and later taught graduate courses in developmental psychology, trauma and psychopathology.  She received certification as a professional life coach and founded a New York-based company in 2012 called the Trump Coaching Group.

    She contributed to the book “Diagnosis: Schizophrenia,” published by Columbia University Press in 2001. Her book “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” was an unauthorized 2020 biography of her uncle Donald. Legal efforts to stop publication failed and it sold nearly a million copies on the first day of sales.

    Her 2021 book “The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal” detailed damage to the U.S. from what Trump called systemic racism and the nation’s failure to address the scourge of white supremacy. She hosts “The Mary Trump Show,” a podcast focusing on “politics, pop culture and everything in between.” 

    In “Too Much and Never Enough,” Trump said the family’s homophobia caused her to stay in the closet for many years out of fear of being disowned. She wrote that her grandmother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, called Elton John a “faggot” who shouldn’t be performing at Princess Diana’s memorial, so she hid her plans to marry a woman. Now divorced, Trump conceived a daughter, Avary, through in-vitro fertilization, raising her on Long Island.

    She has expressed concern that “increasingly there is an empowering of white evangelical Christians who are increasingly intolerant and have an outsized voice in our politics. I don’t think you can be elected to higher office in this country if you don’t espouse religious views. That’s really troubling.” (Ibid.)

    Asked how Donald Trump was able to successfully court evangelicals despite his lack of religion, she commented: “He certainly hasn’t read the Bible. This is a thrice-married person, with five children from three different marriages, who has 26 accusations of sexual assault against him. And yet you know what they said? That God ‘sometimes picks imperfect vessels.’ ” (Ibid.) 

    PHOTO: Trump at the Nexus Institute roundtable “Why is fascism popular again?” in December 2021. YouTube screenshot under CC 3.0.

    “It just seemed absurd that there could be any kind of higher power. None of it made sense to me any more. So, since the age of 16, I have been an unwavering atheist. And I worry a lot about how religion is intertwined in politics in this country.”

    —Trump, on the unexpected death of her father at age 42, Sydney Morning Herald (Sept. 17, 2021)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    George Will

    George Will

    On this date in 1941, journalist and author George Frederick Will was born in Champaign, Ill. His father was a philosophy professor, specializing in epistemology, at the University of Illinois. Will has a bachelor’s degree from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. (1962), a master’s in politics from Oxford University (1964) and a Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University (1968).

    Will taught political philosophy at Michigan State University, the University of Toronto and then at Harvard. He served on the staff of U.S. Sen. Gordon Allott (R-Colo.) from 1970-1972. He edited National Review from 1972 to 1978. He’s generally regarded as a libertarian-style conservative. In 1974 he started writing a twice-weekly column for the Washington Post and by 1976 was a contributing editor and columnist for Newsweek. He joined ABC as a news analyst in the early 1980s and has since been a contributor to Fox News, MSNBC and NBC.

    Will won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1977. His Newsweek and newspaper columns have been published in five books and he has authored books on other subjects such as political philosophy and baseball. His book Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball (1989) was the top national best-seller for over two months. Will has three children from his first marriage with Madeline Marion (divorced 1991). He married Mari Maseng in 1991. They have a son together.

    Will taught a freshman seminar titled “Varieties of American Conservatism” at Princeton during the 2018-19 academic year.

    PHOTO: Will at a Nationals-Orioles baseball game in 2011; photo by Keith Allison under CC 2.0.

    “I’m an amiable, low-voltage atheist.”

    —Will interview, The Daily Caller (May 3, 2014)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Ariel Durant

    Ariel Durant

    On this date in 1898, Ariel Durant (neé Chaya Kaufman) was born in Proskuriv (now Khmelnytskyi), Ukraine. However, May 10 may not be her actual birthday. While immigrating to America, Durant and her four sisters were all registered as being born on May 10. She moved to New York in 1901 along with her large family to meet her father, who was already living in the U.S. and working as a newspaper vendor.

    She began attending the Ferrer School in New York when she was 13, where she met teacher Will Durant. They were married in 1913 when Durant was 15 and he was 28. She later changed her name from Ida to Ariel, a nickname her husband called her because she reminded him of Shakespeare’s sprite in “The Tempest.”

    The Durants co-wrote the extensive 11-volume The Story of Civilization (1927–75), a collection of influential books that document Western history. The popular books won two prizes: a Pulitzer in 1968 for Rosseau and Revolution (1967) and the Huntington Hartford Foundation Award for Literature for The Age of Louis XIV (1963). In 1965 Durant was named Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles Times. Durant had one daughter, Ethel, and an adopted son named Louis, who was her sister Flora’s child.

    Durant was raised in a Jewish family but she and her siblings gradually lost their faith. Her uncle Maurice was not religious and his views influenced Ariel. In the Durants’ A Dual Autobiography (1977), she wrote, “We never deserted our faith for any other, but we lost most of it as we rubbed against a harsh and increasingly secular world. … [M]y Uncle Maurice helped to free me from such nonsense, and awoke in me a desire to read books and enter the world of thought.”

    She died two weeks before her husband in 1981. They are buried in Los Angeles.

    “Does history support a belief in God? If by God we mean not the creative vitality of nature but a supreme being intelligent and benevolent, the answer must be a reluctant negative.” 

    —Will and Ariel Durant, "The Lessons of History" (1968)

    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Seymour Hersh (Quote)

    Seymour Hersh (Quote)

    “Our country has been hijacked by a bunch of religious nuts. But how easy it was. That’s a little scary.”

    —Investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winning author Seymour Hersh (1937-), speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on March 1, 2004 (Wisconsin State Journal, March 2, 2004)

    L. Frank Baum

    L. Frank Baum

    On this date in 1856, author Lyman Frank Baum was born in Chittenango, New York, into a Protestant family of European heritage. He was the seventh of nine children born to Cynthia (Stanton) and Benjamin Baum, five of whom survived to adulthood. Baum was a wealthy businessman who had made his fortune in the Pennsylvania oil fields and real estate.

    Baum grew up in the “burned-over district” of New York state amid the intellectual and spiritual movements that included chautauqua. He was sent to Peekskill Military Academy at age 12 but left after two years due to the harsh discipline that clashed with his sensitive nature. He never graduated from high school and in general disdained higher education.

    After dabbling in publishing with a small printing press his father bought him, Baum at age 20 started breeding Hamburg chickens and started a poultry trade journal. His first book was The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs (1886).

    In 1880 his father made him manager of several theaters he owned, and Baum wrote plays and started a theatrical company to perform them. He also acted in and wrote songs for some productions. In 1882 he married Cornell University student Maud Gage, daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, the women’s suffrage activist. It was a cause he enthusiastically supported.

    The Baums moved in 1888 to South Dakota, where he opened a store and edited the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. His description of Kansas in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) was based on his experiences in drought-ridden South Dakota. The Baums, now with four sons, moved to Chicago after the Aberdeen paper failed in 1891. He worked as a reporter and then branched out into other writing.

    Baum got the name of the locale for his most famous book from a file cabinet drawer marked O-Z. A stage version ran on Broadway from 1902-11 and successfully toured the U.S. He wrote 14 novels in the Oz series, 41 other novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems and at least 42 scripts. The 1939 adaptation of the first Oz book, starring 16-year-old Judy Garland, became a cinematic landmark.

    Two short, racist editorials he wrote just before and shortly after the 1890 massacre of Lakota Indians at Wounded Knee have marred his legacy. The first mourned the death of Sitting Bull but added, “With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them.” The second called for their extermination: “Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.”

    Baum was raised Methodist but joined the Episcopal Church in Aberdeen to participate in community theatricals. He and Maud were encouraged to become members of the Theosophical Society in 1892 by Gage. They sent their older sons to Ethical Culture Sunday school in Chicago.

    The Baums moved to Hollywood, California, in 1910 for his health and built a large home they named Ozcot. He continued to write. Suffering from protracted gall bladder problems, Baum had a stroke and died the next day, 10 days short of his 63rd birthday. (D. 1919)

    PHOTO: Baum c. 1911. 

    “With his skepticism toward God — or men posing as gods — Baum affirmed the idea of human fallibility, but also the idea of human divinity. The Wizard may be a huckster — a short bald man born in Omaha rather than an all-powerful being — but meek and mild Dorothy, also a mere mortal, has the power within herself to carry out her desires.”

    —"Frank Baum, the Man Behind the Curtain," Smithsonian Magazine (June 25, 2009)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Louis “Studs” Terkel

    Louis “Studs” Terkel

    On this date in 1912, Louis Terkel was born in the Bronx, N.Y., the third son of Samuel Terkel, a tailor, and the former Anna Finkel, an emigrant from Bialystok, Poland. A spirited man, he called himself an agnostic. Life was about life, not looking ahead to death, said Terkel, who spent most of his 96 years on Earth in Chicago.

    As an actor in the theater he took the name Studs, after James T. Farrell’s fictional Studs Lonigan. He earned degrees in law and philosophy, was part of the Federal Writers’ Project and worked in radio drama and scriptwriting. He created his own radio show in 1945, a blend of music, interviews and commentary.

    “Studs’ Place,” his first TV show, went on the air in 1950 but was soon canceled due to NBC’s nervousness about Terkel’s left-wing politics. He was back on the radio before long at WFMT, where his on-air career flourished for decades. He interviewed Bertrand Russell in Wales in 1962 when Russell was 90. “In the course of nature, I will soon die,” Russell told him. “My young friends have the right to many fruitful years. Let them call me fanatic.”

    Division Street: America (1966) was Terkel’s first best-seller and became the blueprint for other literary oral histories like Hard Times, Working, The Good War, Race and Coming of Age. All told, he wrote 18 books. The last (in 2008) was P.S.: Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening. Terkel told AARP magazine (March/April 2006), “I think we’re capable of extraordinary things, human beings. I call that God-like.” He died at home in Chicago at age 96. (D. 2008)

    “TIPPETT: So, you know, one thing that is very striking that I didn’t expect is that this book, your book about death, it’s really a very religious book.
    TERKEL: Religious book?
    TIPPETT: Yes. I mean, there’s a lot of religion in it, all the way through it. I mean, did you know that, that those themes would be so prominent when you started it?
    TERKEL: Well, I knew religion would play a role when I — to be fair, I happen to be an agnostic. You know what an agnostic is, don’t you?
    TIPPETT: Oh, yeah.
    TERKEL: A cowardly atheist. And I’m an agnostic. … You asked about the afterlife. Well, I can’t take bets on it. Who’s going to take my bet, you know? I, myself, don’t believe in any afterlife. I do believe in this life, and what you do in this life is what it’s all about.”

    —Interview with Krista Tippett on "Speaking of Faith," American Public Media, 2004
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Bertrand Russell

    Bertrand Russell

    On this date in 1872, Bertrand Arthur William Russell was born in England. “A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men,” Russell wrote. “Bertie” to friends, Russell, during his 97 years, did all he could to add to human knowledge and to inspire kindness.

    His second wife, Dora Black, called him “enchantingly ugly.” An attorney who won a suit to void Russell’s appointment to the philosophy department at the College of the City of New York in 1940 because of his liberal views, described Russell as “lecherous, libidinous, lustful, venerous, erotomaniac, aphrodisiac, irreverent, narrow-minded, untruthful and bereft of moral fiber.”

    “What I wish at bottom is to become a saint,” Russell once admitted, but he couldn’t help being pleased by the label “aphrodisiac.” The mathematician (who called his first encounter with Euclid “as dazzling as first love”) philosopher and social activist published 75 books.

    He launched headlong into a life of radicalism in his 40s as a pacifist opposing World War I. He liked to recount his experience in prison, where he was sentenced for his pacifism, and in his autobiography wrote: “I was much cheered on my arrival by the warden at the gate, who had to take particulars about me. He asked my religion, and I replied ‘agnostic.’ He asked how to spell it, and remarked with a sigh, ‘Well, there are many religions, but I suppose they all worship the same God.’ This remark kept me cheerful for about a week.”

    He spent his last years courageously working for nuclear disarmament. In “The Faith of a Rationalist,” broadcast by the BBC in 1953, Russell observed: “Cruel men believe in a cruel God and use their belief to excuse their cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly God, and they would be kindly in any case.” One of his maxims was “Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.” Russell won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.” (D. 1970)

    “I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young, and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting.”
    —Russell, "What I Believe" (1925), reprinted in "Why I Am Not a Christian" (1957)

    Nora Ephron

    Nora Ephron

    On this date in 1941, Nora Ephron was born in New York City, the eldest of four daughters of Phoebe (Wolkind) and Henry Ephron, Jewish screenwriters. She was named Nora after the protagonist in Henrik Ibsen‘s play “A Doll’s House” and grew up in Beverly Hills, Calif. She attended Wellesley College and graduated in 1962.

    Shortly after graduation, she began writing for the New York Post and worked for that publication for five years. She went on to write a column for Esquire on women’s issues. Her first film, “Silkwood” (1983), which she co-wrote, starred Meryl Streep as a labor activist and nuclear whistle blower.

    Ephron wrote, produced or directed over 15 movies, including “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993), “You’ve Got Mail” (1998) and “Julie and Julia” (1998). Discussing with interviewer Linda Wertheimer the love of butter that Ephron’s mother and chef Julia Child shared, Ephron said a cook “can never have too much butter. That is my belief. And I stuck it into the movie. If I have a religion, that’s it.” (NPR, Aug. 7, 2009)

    Kristin Marguerite Doidge in Nora Ephron: A Biography (2022) quoted longtime friend Dianne Dreyer:  “I know she didn’t believe in an afterlife, and I know she wasn’t a religious person, but she certainly believed in magic. She certainly believed that one of the greatest pleasures you can have in life is doing something special for someone else.”

    She was particularly adept at writing for the romantic comedy genre, but it was rom-com with a feminist bent. She received numerous awards, including a BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay for “When Harry Met Sally” in 1989 and was nominated for many others, including several Oscars and Golden Globes.

    Ephron was also the author of several humorous books, novels and collections of essays, including Heartburn (1996), Wallflower at the Orgy (2007), I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman (2008), and I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections (2011). Her plays include “Lucky Guy,” which premiered posthumously on Broadway in March 2013 starring Tom Hanks. Ephron had spent years researching Mike McAlary, the real journalist the play is based on. 

    Ephron was known for her sense of humor, quick wit and enjoyment of cooking. She was an accomplished chef. She worked closely with her sister, Delia Ephron, on much of her work. Ephron had a famous, short-lived marriage with Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein (inspiring her novel Heartburn). She had two sons, Max and Jacob, with Bernstein. She was married to her third husband Nicholas Pileggi, for over 20 years and was with him until she died at age 71 of acute myeloid leukemia. (D. 2012)

    PHOTO: Ephron at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival; David Shankbone photo.

    “My mother was not one to go in for superstition or miracles — godlessness was for her a form of religion, a belief in self-sufficiency above all else.”

    —Jacob Bernstein, speaking about his mother the year after her death (New York Times, March 6, 2013)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano and Bill Dunn

    Kate Cohen

    Kate Cohen

    On this date in 1970, columnist and author Kate Cohen was born in Montgomery, Ala., to Judy and Ralph Cohen. Her father taught Shakespeare at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., and then at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton. Her mother was a travel agent and later an administrator at James Madison University. She has an older sister, Amy, a classics professor, and a younger sister, Sady, a video producer.

    “I grew up Reform Jewish and bookish. Technically, I guess, the prayers we said in Hebrew to bless the wine on Friday nights were addressed to an actual being. But when we talked about God, we spoke of him as a fascinating literary character rather than as a real force in our lives. So I have no memory of believing in God, even at my bat mitzvah.” (BuzzFeed, June 9, 2015)

    “The first time I remember opting out [of religious instruction] was in elementary school in rural Virginia, when my classmates went to learn about Jesus every week in a trailer off school grounds. I got to stay behind in an empty classroom because I was Jewish,” Cohen later wrote. (Washington Post, Feb. 3, 2023)

    After earning a degree in comparative literature from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., she freelanced as a writer, copy editor and proofreader for clients large and small.

    She had met Adam Greenberg in college and moved with him to his hometown of Albany, N.Y., after she graduated. He was also raised Jewish and like her did not believe in God. They married in 1997, the year she published “The Neppi Modona Diaries: Reading Jewish Survival through My Italian Family.” (University Press of New England)

    The Cohen-Greenberg nuptials were Jewish, although “we studiously avoided invoking [God’s] name,” Cohen remembered. Library Journal called her second book, “A Walk Down the Aisle: Notes on a Modern Wedding,” published by Norton in 2001, a “poignant memoir of a modern, educated, cohabitating couple’s decision to marry” after living together for seven years.

    She and Greenberg — a hay farmer and town councilman — have three children: Noah (b. 2000), Jesse (b. 2002) and Lena (b. 2005). “We live on a farm, although of course the children are gradually leaving. We try to keep them lured in with good food and plenty of room for their friends to stay,” Cohen said.

    In 2020, after she published a succession of freelance opinion pieces in the Washington Post, the paper hired her to “provide commentary on the intersection of faith, family, politics and culture.” Her Post bio says her essays “seek to distill observations of family, politics, and culture into moments of clarity and insight.”

    One insight: “[I]t wasn’t until I had children that I realized I had to spell it out: “God was a compelling fiction created in response to human need.” Once, when her daughter was 9 and doing her math homework, she asked, “How do we know there’s no God?” Lena needed more than her brothers did to overcome her doubt, Cohen realized. “It was my solemn responsibility as a parent to give her the information she asked for, to help her understand the world.”

    Her book “We of Little Faith: Why I Stopped Pretending to Believe (And Maybe Why You Should Too)” was published by Godine in 2023. Cohen had started thinking long ago that “a lot of people were pretending to believe, as I had done, and denying themselves the pleasures of authentic thought about big questions. But also it seemed to me that if more of us said, ‘You know what? Nah,’ we could break the stranglehold that religious belief has on public life in America. And that was 10 years ago or more, before Dobbs, before this anti-trans panic, before the Supreme Court started to decide that religious freedom meant the freedom to discriminate etc., etc. Now the situation is even more urgent.” (Email correspondence, June 28, 2023)

    She was the 2023 recipient of FFRF’s Freethought Heroine Award, bestowed to recognize the special contributions of women to freethought and to the battle to keep state and church separate. Her appearance on FFRF’s talk show “Freethought Matters” is here.

    “If parents want to erase the line between religious doctrine and verifiable fact, no U.S. government, state or federal, has the right to stop them. But no government concerned with educating children should be paying for the eraser.”

    —Cohen, commenting on Oklahoma's decision to let a Catholic archdiocese operate a public school funded by taxpayers. (Washington Post, June 27, 2023)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn; photo by Elisabeth Smolarz

    Honoré de Balzac

    Honoré de Balzac

    On this date in 1799, Honoré de Balzac was born in France. Educated by the Oratorian priests at Vendome College, Balzac became a lawyer’s clerk at his parents’ insistence. When he turned to writing, his parents reduced his allowance. Balzac worked in legendary privation for the next decade, honing his skill with his first unsuccessful novels. Success came in 1830, when he produced the first part of his 47-volume La Comédie humaine.

    The prolific writer also wrote 24 unrelated novels. Skepticism pervades Balzac’s many masterpieces, including Pere Goriot and Cousin Bette. He did not marry until later in life but died at age 51, five months after marrying his longtime love Ewelina Hańska. (D. 1850)

    “I am not orthodox, and I do not believe in the Roman Church. I think that if there is a scheme worthy of our kind it is that of human transformations causing the human being to advance toward unknown zones. That is the law of creations inferior to ourselves; it ought to be the law of superior creations. Swedenborgianism, which is only a repetition in the Christian sense of ancient ideas, is my religion, with the addition which I wish to make to it of the incomprehensibility of God.”

    —Letter to Ewelina Hańska, his future wife (May 31, 1837)

    Pär Lagerkvist

    Pär Lagerkvist

    On this day in 1891, Pär Fabian Lagerkvist, who became a Nobel laureate, was born in Växjö, Småland, a rural province in southern Sweden. After a year of study at the University of Uppsala, Lagerkvist traveled to Paris in 1912, where he immersed himself in the modern art movement, which ultimately influenced his early writings. He abandoned realism and instead followed the surreal, symbolic example of the playwright August Strindberg.

    Lagerkvist described himself as “a believer without faith — a religious atheist.” (Contemporary Authors Online) Much of his work was concerned with religious themes, such as the conflict between Christianity and technology, the meaning of life and the relationship between individuals and God.

    Several of his later works, such as the novels Barabbas (1950) and Herod and Mariamne (1967) deal with biblical characters and settings in a fictional context. Others deal with religious mythology, such as 1960’s The Death of Ahasuerus, about the Christian mythological figure commonly known as the “Wandering Jew.” Many critics have said that Lagerkvist’s characters, like himself, are doubters who want to believe but lack faith.

    In 1951 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Lagerkvist did not answer questions about his personal life and discouraged the production of biographies during his lifetime. His second wife, Elaine Sandel, died in 1967. They had three children, Ulf, Bengt and Elin. He died at age 83 in Stockholm. (D. 1974)

    “If you believe in god and no god exists
    then your belief is an even greater wonder.
    Then it is really something inconceivably great.

    Why should a being lie down there in the darkness crying to someone who does not exist?
    Why should that be?
    There is no one who hears when someone cries in the darkness. But why does that cry exist?”

    —Lagerkvist, "Aftonland," translated by W. H. Auden and Leif Sjöberg in "Evening Land" (1975)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

    Joan Collins

    Joan Collins

    On this date in 1933, actress and writer Joan Henrietta Collins was born in London to Elsa (Bessant) and Joseph Collins, respectively a British dance teacher/nightclub hostess and a talent agent from South Africa. After debuting on the stage at age 9 in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” she trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. 

    Her movie debut was as a beauty contest entrant in “Lady Godiva Rides Again” (1951), followed by significant roles in other films, including a 1953 top billing in “Our Girl Friday.” After moving to Hollywood at age 22, her performance in “Land of the Pharaohs” (1955) led to a contract with 20th Century Fox and roles in several successful films in the ’50s and early ’60s, when she started appearing in television productions.

    After returning to Britain to act and later going back to Hollywood, Collins’ portrayal of Alexis Carrington on the ABC-TV series “Dynasty” from 1981-89 led to a Golden Globe in 1982 and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame the next year. It was the most-watched show in 1984-85. She continued to appear in films, on the stage and on TV into the 2000s. She also became a successful writer of fiction and nonfiction books. (Her sister was the late romance novelist Jackie Collins.)

    A political conservative, she became a regular columnist with The Spectator, a British weekly, in the late ’90s and contributed to numerous other U.S. and British publications. She was named a dame, the female equivalent of a knight, by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015 for her charitable works. Collins has married five times, most recently to Percy Gibson in 2002. He’s 31 years younger. Collins has three children.

    PHOTO: Collins in 1956 during filming of “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing.”

    “I’m not a religious person, nor am I an atheist. I’m more of an agnostic, really. But I was raised with Christian values by a Church of England mother to the amusement of my Jewish father and my ‘hovering Buddhist’ uncle George, who’d been in a Japanese concentration camp. I was told that I could choose my own religious beliefs ‘when I grew up.’ “

    —Collins' column in The Spectator magazine (Dec. 12, 2015)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Harlan Ellison

    Harlan Ellison

    On this date in 1934, Harlan Ellison was born in Cleveland. A prolific writer, Ellison penned 75 books and over 1,700 short stories, articles, columns and screenplays. His books and collections of short stories include I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream (1967), Approaching Oblivion (1974), Deathbird Stories (1975) and Strange Wine (1978). He worked as creative consultant for “The Twilight Zone” (1985–86) and as a conceptual consultant for “Babylon 5” (1994–99).

    Ellison wrote scripts for such well-known shows as “Star Trek” — including the famous episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1966) — and “The Twilight Zone.” He won numerous awards for his work, including eight Hugo Awards from 1966-86; the P.E.N. International Silver Pen in 1982 for An Edge in My Voice (1985), which was serialized in L.A. Weekly; and the Georges Melies Fantasy Film Award for Outstanding Cinematic Achievement in Science Fiction Television in 1972 and 1973.

    Ellison was raised Jewish, but became critical of religion. “The people who bomb churches and synagogues, they quote the bible. The people who shoot doctors use the bible,” Harlan said during a 1997 episode of “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.”

    In the 2008 documentary “Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth,” he said, “I find nothing more ridiculous and annoying than some guy who runs a kickoff back 105 yards from the end zone and drops to his knees and thanks God. Well, that’s foolish. God didn’t do it. He did it. Because if God did that for him, you mean God was against the other team? God is that mean-spirited that he has nothing better to do on Sunday afternoon than beat the crap out of a bunch of poor football players? I don’t believe in the universe being run by that kind of a God. I go with Mark Twain.”

    The New York Times noted in his obituary that Ellison was “ranked with eminent science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov,” however Ellison prefered to call his genre of writing “speculative fiction, or simply fiction.” Ellison wrote what could be considered his own epitaph: “For a brief time I was here; and for a brief time I mattered.” (The Essential Ellison, 1987.) He died at age 84 and was survived by his fifth wife, Susan Toth. (D. 2018)

    PHOTO: Ellison at the L.A. Press Club in 1986; Pip R. Lagenta photo under CC 2.0.

    “I think [religion] is presumptuous and I think it is silly, because it makes you believe that you are less than what you can be. As long as you can blame everything on some unseen deity, you don’t ever have to be responsible for your own behavior.” 

    —Ellison, “Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth” (2008)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Adam Carolla

    Adam Carolla

    On this day in 1964, Adam Carolla was born in Los Angeles. He briefly attended community college before deciding to pursue various professions, including working as a contractor, carpenter and boxing trainer. After working with the improv group The Groundings, Carolla decided to become a full-time comedian. He co-hosted “The Man Show” (1999–2004) and “Crank Yankers” (2002–07) with Jimmy Kimmel, whom Carolla met when teaching Kimmel to box. He also co-hosted the radio show “Loveline” (1999–2005).

    In 2009 he started hosting “The Adam Carolla Show,” a free daily podcast on the ACE Broadcasting Network. A talk show, it was the most downloaded podcast in 2011. Carolla is also a published author. His comedic works include In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks (2011) and Rich Man, Poor Man (2012). He married Lynette Paradise in 2002. They have two children.

    “I’m an atheist,” Carolla told Penn Jillette on Penn Radio in 2006. He told Jillette that he had never been religious and that the very idea of religion seemed bizarre to him. “Obviously, you could take any Christian and just have them born into fundamentalist Hasidism, and they would be walking around with the beard and the whole getup. If you weren’t indoctrinated into that early on, then it makes no sense.”

    “If you were not born into [religious] culture, it seems like the most outlandish thing in the world.”

    —Adam Carolla, Penn Radio interview (March 9, 2006)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor; photo by Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com

    Mikhail Bakunin

    Mikhail Bakunin

    On this date in 1814, Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin was born in Russia. He left the military to study philosophy, traveling as a young man to Paris, where he met Karl Marx and such artists and writers as George Sand and Proudhon. Bakunin participated in the French and German revolutions of 1848. The following year he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death in Dresden for various revolutionary efforts. His death sentence was commuted, but he was then extradited to Austria, where he was tortured and beaten, convicted and resentenced to death. Again, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

    Bakunin was next extradited to Russia, where he spent 11 years in several notorious prisons, including exile to Siberia, before escaping. He eventually made his way via Japan to the United States. Bakunin lived in a variety of Western European countries, finally settling in Geneva in 1868.

    He wrote his major works after his imprisonment, including Statism and Anarchy, 1872, in which he called for women’s equality, free education and the abolishment of hereditary property. His most notable freethought essay is “God and the State” (1883). In it, Bakunin called Jehovah, of all gods, “certainly the most jealous, the most vain, the most ferocious, the most unjust, the most bloodthirsty, the most despotic, and the most hostile to human dignity and liberty.” In this article, later published in English by Emma Goldman‘s Mother Earth Publishing (1916), Bakunin wrote: “All religions, with their gods, their demigods, and their prophets, their messiahs and their saints, were created by the credulous fancy of men who had not attained the full development and full possession of their faculties.”

    The powerful manifesto averred that as long as there is a master in heaven, humans will be slaves on Earth. (D. 1876)

    “On behalf of human liberty, dignity and prosperity, we believe it our duty to recover from heaven the goods which it has stolen and return them to earth.”
    “If God is, man is a slave; now, man can and must be free; then, God does not exist.”
    “A jealous lover of human liberty, and deeming it the absolute condition of all that we admire and respect in humanity, I reverse the phrase of Voltaire, and say that, if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.

    —Mikhail Bakunin, "God and the State" (1883)

    Barbara Smoker

    Barbara Smoker

    On this date in 1923, Barbara Smoker was born in Great Britain. Such a devout Roman Catholic that she considered becoming a nun, Smoker renounced religious faith at age 26 and became a secular humanist activist instead. She served as president of the National Secular Society (NSS), the most militant of the British secular groups, from 1971-96. Her script “Why I Am an Atheist” was recorded for the BBC in 1985. She fought a statutory ban on embryo research with a pamphlet, “Eggs Are Not People,” distributed to all members of Parliament in 1985.

    In the tradition of 19th-century secular activists Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant, Smoker officiated at more than 400 humanist funerals, as well as at weddings and analogous ceremonies on behalf of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, which she co-founded. Smoker served as chair of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society from 1981-85, editing Voluntary Euthanasia: Experts Debate the Right to Die (1986).

    When Muslims held a London demonstration in May 1989 against Salman Rushdie, Smoker, holding a banner reading “Free Speech,” was attacked by a surge of demonstrators and was rescued by a police officer.

    Smoker remained active in the NSS for the rest of her life. In 2019 she published her autobiography “My Godforsaken Life: Memoir of a Maverick.” She also received a lifetime achievement award from the NSS in 2019.Smoker remained active in the NSS for the rest of her life. In 2019 she published her autobiography “My Godforsaken Life: Memoir of a Maverick.” She also received a lifetime achievement award from the NSS in 2019.

    She died at Lewisham Hospital at age 96. (D. 2020)

    “People who believe in a divine creator, trying to live their lives in obedience to his supposed wishes and in expectation of a supposed eternal reward, are victims of the greatest confidence trick of all time.”

    —Smoker, "So You Believe in God!" (1974 pamphlet)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo courtesy of Ms. Smoker

    Thomas Hardy

    Thomas Hardy

    On this date in 1840, poet and novelist Thomas Hardy was born in Upper Bockhampton, Dorset, England. His father Thomas was a stonemason and his mother Jemina (née Hand) was well-read and instilled a love of learning in her son. At age 16 he was apprenticed to an architect. Moving to London in 1862, he studied architecture at King’s College. While working as an architect’s assistant in his late teens and early 20s, Hardy considered pursuing ordination by the Anglican Church.

    Biographer Timothy Hands in Thomas Hardy: Distracted Preacher? Hardy’s Religious Biography and its Influence on his Novels (1989) wrote that although loss of faith led to the abandonment of such plans, he in some ways remained steeped in Christianity and strongly objected to being called an atheist: “Thomas Hardy never entered the Church, but it is generally agreed that the Church most assuredly entered Thomas Hardy.” Hands dates Hardy’s “loss of faith” to 1865 when he was 25.

    Hardy was small in stature, only a little over 5 feet tall. Health concerns led him back to Dorset after five years to concentrate on writing. A Victorian realist in the tradition of George Eliot, he came to regard himself primarily as a poet but first gained fame from his novels Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895).

    He was single until marrying Emma Gifford in 1874 when he was 34. Although they later became estranged (he was allegedly a neglectful husband), her death in 1912 affected him greatly. Two years later he married his secretary Florence Emily Dugdale, who was 39 years younger, but remained preoccupied with his first wife’s death and tried to overcome his remorse by writing poetry. He had no known children.

    Scholars have strenuously debated his religious leanings. “Hardy slowly moved from the Christian teachings of his boyhood to become a thoughtful, questioning agnostic,” says the Humanists UK entry on Hardy.

    Once, when asked in correspondence by clergyman A.B. Grosart about reconciling life’s horrors with “the absolute goodness and non-limitation of God,” he very formally replied: “Mr. Hardy regrets that he is unable to offer any hypothesis which would reconcile the existence of such evils as Dr. Grosart describes with the idea of omnipotent goodness. Perhaps Dr. Grosart might be helped to a provisional view of the universe by the recently published Life of Darwin and the works of Herbert Spencer and other agnostics.” (The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840–1891, Florence Emily Hardy, 1928. She was credited as the author but Hardy himself wrote most or all of it in his later years.)

    According to scholar Trish Ferguson, Hardy had long sought a rationale for believing in an afterlife or a timeless existence, turning first to spiritualists such as Henri Bergson and then to Albert Einstein, considering their philosophy on time and space in relation to immortality. Hardy was horrified by the death and destruction of World War I and wrote it was “better to let western ‘civilization’ perish, and let the black and yellow races have a chance.” (The Pessimism of Thomas Hardy, George William Sherman, 1976)

    In Hardy’s poem “God’s Funeral” (1912), the narrator follows the procession to the grave and muses: “And though struck speechless, I did not forget / That what was mourned for, I, too, once had prized.”

    According to Lawrence J. Clipper’s 1966 study guide to Hardy’s novel The Return of the Native (1878), “Hardy reflected Nietzsche’s agonized cry that ‘God is dead’ in his novels. His view of life was that since there is no God to give meaning to life, Man is alone in the Universe, no better and no worse than other creatures who live or have lived for a brief moment on this speck called Earth.”

    Hardy died at age 87 during a bout with pleurisy. The death certificate listed “cardiac syncope” and “old age” as the causes. Despite his request to be buried alongside his first wife in Dorset, his ashes were interred in Westminster Abbey next to Charles Dickens in the abbey’s Poets’ Corner. But before cremation his heart was removed and lies in a churchyard next to Emma Hardy’s grave. (D. 1928)

    “Peace upon earth!” was said. We sing it,
    And pay a million priests to bring it.
    After two thousand years of mass
    We’ve got as far as poison-gas.

    —from Hardy's poem "Christmas: 1924"
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Susan Jacoby

    Susan Jacoby

    On this date in 1945, scholar and author Susan Jacoby was born in Okemos, Michigan. Her father was a secular Jew of German heritage who converted to Catholicism when Jacoby was a child and her mother was Irish Catholic. She graduated from Michigan State University in 1965 and started her writing career as a Washington Post reporter. Her first book, Moscow Conversations (1972), was based on articles she contributed to the Post from the Soviet Union between 1969-71. She then wrote Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge (a 1984 Pulitzer Prize finalist) and The Possible She (1979).

    Among the best-known of the prolific Jacoby’s 13 books are Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (2004) and The Age of American Unreason (2008). The latter was updated in 2018 with the title The Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies, which expanded on how the trends she analyzed in 2008 contributed to Donald Trump’s election in 2016.

    In Half-Jew: A Daughter’s Search for Her Family’s Buried Past (2000), Jacoby detailed her quest to learn more about her family’s real history. In 2013 she published The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought. Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion (2016) explored religious conversion, a topic of particular interest because of her father’s conversion to Catholicism. Her newest book, as of this writing, is Why Baseball Matters (2018), described by Yale University Press as “a love letter to the game and a tough-minded analysis of the current challenges to its special position — in reality and myth — in American culture.”

    Jacoby lectures extensively, often on the links between feminism and secularism. Her reviews, articles and essays have appeared in a wide variety of prestigious national publications, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. She has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards from institutions such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim, Rockefeller and Ford foundations. She was the recipient in 2019 of the Richard Dawkins Award from Atheist Alliance International. 

    She is a member of the honorary boards of the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Center for Inquiry, where she was also program director for the New York City branch. She received FFRF’s Freethought Heroine Award in 2004. Her acceptance speech, “How Secularism Became a Dirty Word,” is here

    PHOTO: Courtesy of susanjacoby.com

    “I’m an atheist because of, which has made a lot of people an atheist, because of the theodicy problem. The problem of if there is this all good, all powerful, all loving god, you know, how come kids are shot in Newtown? How come people when I was young died of polio, a child I knew? How come?
    “It started me thinking about what every religious thinker has thought about and had to come to grips with, which is how do you account for the problem of evil beside your belief in an all-powerful God? Well, the classic Christian answer, which satisfied Augustine, does not satisfy me or any atheist. Which is that we have free will and we are responsible for all the evil in the world.”

    —Jacoby, interviewed on "Moyers & Company" (March 1, 2013)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Ken Follett

    Ken Follett

    On this date in 1949, prolific author Kenneth Martin Follett was born in Cardiff, Wales, the eldest of four children of Martin and Lavinia Follett, respectively a tax inspector and stay-at-home mother. Follett’s parents and extended family belonged to a Puritan religious group called the Plymouth Brethren. “For us, a church was a bare room with rows of chairs around a central table. Paintings, statues and all forms of decoration were banned,” he remembers.

    He was not allowed to watch TV or go to movies, so he found entertainment in books. When he was 10 the family moved to London, where he attended public schools, graduating with honors in philosophy in 1970 from University College. Follett then worked as a reporter with the South Wales Echo and London Evening News and started writing novels in his spare time.

    He and Mary Elson had wed in 1968, the same year their son Emanuele was born. Daughter Marie-Claire was born in 1973. His spy novel Eye of the Needle (1978) became a best-seller, as did four others in that genre which were popular with readers in several languages. By then Follett was deputy managing director at Everest Books in London. The Pillars of the Earth (1989), a historical novel about building a cathedral in an English village in the Middle Ages, got rave reviews.

    The Times of London once asked readers to rate the “60 greatest novels” of the last 60 years. Pillars placed second after To Kill a Mockingbird. Follett wrote in the preface: “What’s more, I don’t believe in God. I’m not what you would call a spiritual person. According to my agent, my greatest problem as a writer is that I’m not a tortured soul. The last thing anyone would have expected from me was a story about building a church.”

    His historical Century Trilogy (2010-14), set in the 20th century, details the lives of five families: American, English, German, Russian and Welsh. His book sales top 130 million copies. He married politician Daphne Barbara Hubbard in 1985. She went on to serve 13 years in Parliament and in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s administration. In 2010, Follett and 54 other public figures signed an open letter in The Guardian objecting to Pope Benedict XVI’s state visit to the UK.

    Photo (cropped) by Blaues Sofa under CC 2.0.

    “By the time I applied to college, I had grave doubts about my parents’ religion. I had arguments with my father about theology. Philosophy is, in part, a study of what is a good argument and what is not; what is evidence and what is fake evidence. So, my interest in philosophy stemmed from the agonizing conflict I had over whether or not I believed in my parents’ religion. In the end, I completely rejected it. I’m not a religious person. I’m an atheist. I ended up being the absolute opposite of my parents.”

    —Huffington Post interview, Sept. 17, 2014
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Alice Hubbard

    Alice Hubbard

    On this date in 1861, Alice Hubbard (née Moore) was born. She was educated at State Normal School in Buffalo, New York, and the Emerson College of Oratory in Boston. She married Elbert Hubbard and became general superintendent of Hubbard’s Roycroft Shop, as well as manager of the Roycroft Inn and principal of Roycroft School for Boys. The couple espoused egalitarian marriage and feminism. Her husband, a freethinker like Alice, was a famous and respected writer particularly known for his aphorisms.

    Alice Hubbard wrote several books, including Woman’s Work: Being an Inquiry and an Assumption (1908) and edited An American Bible (1912). In the introduction of that book, Alice wrote: “This is the book we offer — a book written by Americans, for Americans. It is a book without myth, miracle, mystery, or metaphysics — a commonsense book for people who prize commonsense as a divine heritage. The book that will benefit most is the one that inspires men to think and to act for themselves.”

    Her chapters edit the writings of “the Prophets” (all of whom have biographical entries on this site): Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and her husband. The book is printed like a modern-day bible, in two-column script excerpting nuggets of wisdom from the selected American authors. The couple tragically went down on the Lusitania and lost their lives along with nearly 1,200 others. (D. 1915)

    “The world can only be redeemed through action — movement — motion. Uncoerced, unbribed and unbought, humanity will move toward the light.”

    —Alice Hubbard's introduction to "An American Bible" (1912)

    Sara Paretsky

    Sara Paretsky

    On this date in 1947, Sara Paretsky was born in Ames, Iowa. She earned her doctorate in history from the University of Chicago in 1968, later followed by an M.B.A. After graduating she began writing crime fiction. Paretsky is most famous for her series of 21 novels featuring female Chicago detective V.I. Warshawski. The series started with Indemnity Only (1982). The latest, as of this writing, is Shell Game (2019). Paretsky is passionate about social justice and women’s rights and worked as a community organizer in Chicago during the 1966 race riots.

    In 1986 she founded Sisters In Crime, an organization that supports female mystery writers. She was named 1987 Woman of the Year by Ms. Magazine. Her numerous other awards include the Gold Dagger from the British Crime Writers for the best novel of 2004. She married Courtenay Wright, a retired physics professor, in 1976.

    She was raised in a Jewish family and practices some Jewish traditions, such as Yom Kippur, but has otherwise lost her faith. Paretsky opposes religion’s intrusion into science. In her memoir, Writing in an Age of Silence (2007), she wrote about “the roadblocks put up by religion” to women’s access to birth control and abortion.

    Paretsky spoke on Freethought Radio on June 2, 2011, about her family’s protest of a mandatory Christian revival at her public high school. She said: “The local paper published their names and their phone number and urged people to call them and tell them to go back where they came from, which was southern Illinois for my father and Brooklyn, New York, for my mother. It is amazing to me how quickly people can be stirred to behave in really vile ways, even though they may most of the time be warm and loving and decent people.”

    Paretsky in 2009; photo by Mark Coggins under CC 2.0.

    “I’m at the atheist end of the agnostic spectrum.”

    —Paretsky blog post, saraparetsky.com (Sept. 26, 2009)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Maurice Sendak

    Maurice Sendak

    On this date in 1928, children’s book illustrator and author Maurice Sendak was born in New York City. Sendak graduated from The Art Students League of New York. His career spanned more than 50 years. He began to illustrate other authors’ books when he was in his 20s. Throughout his career he illustrated more than 75 books and wrote more than 20.

    Sendak is best remembered for writing and illustrating Where the Wild Things Are (1963). His other works include In the Night Kitchen (1970), Seven Little Monsters (1977) and Outside Over There (1981). His iconic books and illustrations have spawned movies, stuffed animals and other toys.

    He received numerous honors for his work, including the Caldecott Medal (1964, 1974), the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal (1983), the Hans Christian Andersen Award (1970) and the Astrid Lindgren Award (2003). Sendak’s lifelong partner of 50 years, psychoanalyst Dr. Eugene Glynn, died five years before he did. (D. 2012)

    “I’m not unhappy about becoming old. I’m not unhappy about what must be. It makes me cry only when I see my friends go before me and life is emptied. … It’s harder for us nonbelievers.”

    —Sendak, interview with Terry Gross, NPR (Sept. 20, 2011)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

    Saul Bellow

    Saul Bellow

    On this date in 1915, writer Saul Bellow was born in Lachine, Quebec, Canada, to Russian immigrants Lescha (née Gordin) and Abraham Bellows. He was raised in a strict Jewish household until age 15, when his mother died. She wanted him to become a rabbi, but he quickly drifted away from religion and began reading a wide variety of literature. Bellow spent most of his early life in Chicago, where he attended the University of Chicago before transferring to Northwestern University for his B.A. in sociology and anthropology.

    He later did graduate work in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’d become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1941 and served in the merchant marine during World War II. He published his first novel, Dangling Man, in 1944. He taught at the University of Minnesota, University of Puerto Rico and University of Chicago as he worked on his writing career.

    Bellow’s early novels include The Adventures of Augie March (1953), which won the National Book Award, Henderson the Rain King (1959) and Seize the Day (1965). He was the first American to receive the International Literacy Prize for his novel Herzog (1964), which spent 42 weeks on the best-seller list. The book is composed of (often unsent) letters of reflection from the protagonist Moses E. Herzog to figures ranging from Nietzsche to President Eisenhower and God. Herzog secured Bellow’s status as an acclaimed author. Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970) won a National Book Award and Humboldt’s Gift (1975) received the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

    After writing numerous works of fiction, Bellow wrote his first nonfiction book, To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account (1976), which details his experiences and impressions of visiting Israel for several months in 1975. He received the 1976 Nobel Prize in Literature “for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work.” His final novel, Ravelstein (2000), is a biographical portrait based on Allan Bloom, a political philosopher, author, education critic and personal friend.

    During his career he also wrote plays, critically received story collections like Mosby’s Memoirs and contributed fiction to many literary quarterlies. Bellow died at home at age 89 in Brookline, Mass. He was married five times and divorced four times and was survived by three sons and a daughter, the last born in 2000 when he was 84. (D. 2005)

    PHOTO: Bellow at Boston University, c. 1992.

    “If you asked me if I believed in life after death, I would say I was an agnostic. There are more things between heaven and earth, Horatio, etc.”

    —Bellow, New York Times obituary (April 6, 2005)
    Compiled by Tolulope Igun

    Robert Munsch

    Robert Munsch

    On this date in 1945, children’s author Robert Norman Munsch was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., the fourth of nine children. Munsch earned a bachelor’s in history from Fordham University (1969) and a master’s in anthropology from Boston University (1971). For seven years, he studied in Boston to become a Catholic priest but stopped, unable to “believe all the things he was expected to espouse.” (See quote for citation.) Instead he found himself drawn to work in orphanages and day care centers.

    In the 1970s he and his wife Ann Beeler, whom he met working in an orphanage, moved to Canada and found work at the University of Guelph in Ontario. One of his first children’s stories, Mud Puddle, was published in 1979. His U.S. popularity grew with his book Love You Forever (1986). More than 55 of his books have been published. Some of his stories were adapted for a cartoon series, “Bunch of Munsch” (1991-92). He regularly made surprise appearances at day cares, libraries and schools to tell stories to children. Munsch became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1999, in recognition of “a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.”

    One of his books, Giant; or Waiting for the Thursday Boat (1989), was banned in some places as offensive to religion, e.g., a character threatens to “pound God into applesauce.” Munsch is a Unitarian who attended the Unitarian Fellowship in Guelph “until the routine petered out when the kids got restless.” (Citation below.) Munsch and his wife have three adopted children.

    Munsch autograph session in 1997 in Guelph, Ontario; Markbellis photo under CC 4.0.

    “My brief answer is that I am an atheist. … I’m not saying there isn’t a God, but there isn’t a God who cares about people. And who wants a God who doesn’t give a shit?”

    —Munsch comment to Anglican priest and biblical scholar Tom Harpur, quoted in a sermon by Brian Kiely, Unitarian Church of Edmonton, "The Theology of Robert Munsch” (May 9, 2004)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Harriet Martineau

    Harriet Martineau

    On this date in 1802, Harriet Martineau was born in Norwich, England. The sixth of eight children of a textile manufacturer, she recoiled from her family’s Christian brand of Unitarianism, such as chapel admonitions for children and servants to obey their masters. She went through a devout teenage phase, but as an adult she wrote of Unitarianism: “I disclaim their theology in toto.” Martineau began losing her senses of taste and smell at a young age, becoming increasingly deaf. She turned to writing to help out her family and by 1830 had gained some renown. She blazed a path for women by supporting herself with her nonfiction, writing 50 books and more than 1,600 articles, signed in her own name.

    In her memoirs, she boasted of being “probably the happiest single woman in England.” (She never married.) Her two-volume Society in America, as acclaimed as de Tocqueville’s look at life in America, was a definitive work on the status of American women, whom she found unhealthily obsessed with religion. Because of her scrupulous methods of observation, she is credited by some with being the “first sociologist.” Still anthologized is her essay “The Hour and the Man,” a tribute to Haitian slave liberator Toussaint L’Ouverture. After visiting the Mideast with friends, Martineau wrote an examination of the genealogy of Egyptian, Hebrew, Christian and Islamic faiths, Eastern Life: Past and Present (1848). Critics pounced on the “mocking spirit of infidelity.”

    Her 1851 book, On the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development, featuring published letters between herself and H.G. Atkinson, made clear her freethought views (see quote below). Wanting to offer children an alternative to “pernicious superstition,” she wrote Household Education (1848) as a secular guide to parents. She translated and condensed the six volumes of French atheist and philosopher Auguste Comte into two volumes, with his approval, in 1853. An erroneous prognosis by a doctor telling her she had fatal heart disease in 1855 propelled her to write her autobiography. She recorded that believers, hearing of her (misdiagnosed) illness, swamped her with self-righteous religious propaganda, such as the New Testament (“as if I had never seen one before”).

    When Martineau died in 1876 at age 74, Florence Nightingale wrote that she “was born to be a destroyer of slavery, in whatever form, in whatever place, all over the world, wherever she saw or thought she saw it.”

    Photo: Martineau, c. 1834, cropped from an oil painting by Richard Evans.

    “There is no theory of a God, of an author of Nature, of an origin of the Universe, which is not utterly repugnant to my faculties.”

    Harriet Martineau, "On the Laws of Man's Nature and Development" (1851)

    Ann Druyan

    Ann Druyan

    On this date in 1949, multi-talented author, popular science promoter, writer/producer and activist Ann Druyan was born in Queens, N.Y. Druyan was the longtime collaborator and spouse of astronomer Carl Sagan (until his death in 1996). The two science enthusiasts had two children together and co-wrote the best-sellers Comet (1985) and Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992).

    Sagan credited her as a contributor to his books Contact (1997), Pale Blue Dot (1997), The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997) and Billions and Billions (posthumous, 1998), in which Druyan wrote the poignant epilogue addressing Sagan’s nonbelief and death.

    Druyan co-wrote the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning television series “Cosmos,” viewed by half a billion in over 60 countries. She also wrote and produced the two updated “Cosmos” series: “A Spacetime Odyssey” hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson that aired on Fox and ran on The National Geographic Channel in 2014 and won multiple awards, including a Peabody; and “Cosmos: Possible Worlds,” also hosted by Tyson that debuted in 2019 on the same channels.

    She served as creative director of the NASA Voyager Interstellar Record Project affixed to the Voyager I and II spacecrafts. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Parade, Discover and The Washington Post. She co-produced and co-created the hit film “Contact,” which starred an atheist-scientist heroine played by freethinker Jodie Foster.

    Druyan produced and wrote the screenplay for “Comet,” a 3-D IMAX motion picture. Druyan, who has organized for peace and against nuclear testing, is founder and CEO of Cosmos Studios, served as secretary of the Federation of American Scientists, on the board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and directed the Children’s Health Fund. She was named Harvard’s Humanist of the Year in 2017. 

    Druyan has always made time to advocate for science and speak out against the illusion of religion. “By disobeying god, we escape from his totalitarian prison where you cannot ask any questions, where you must never question authority. We become our human selves,” Druyan wrote in The Skeptical Inquirer (November/December 2003).

    She received FFRF’s 1997 Freethought Heroine AwardShe told Freethought Radio in October 2006: “The Universe revealed by science is one of far more awesome grandeur than any religion has ever posited.”

    “I don’t have any faith, but I have a lot of hope, and I have a lot of dreams of what we could do with our intelligence if we had the will and the leadership and the understanding of how we could take all of our intelligence and our resources and create a world for our kids that is hopeful.”

    —The Skeptical Inquirer, "Ann Druyan Talks About Science, Religion, Wonder, Awe ... and Carl Sagan" (November/December 2003)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch; 2008 NASA photo

    Joyce Carol Oates

    Joyce Carol Oates

    On this date in 1938, Joyce Carol Oates was born in Lockport, New York. She grew up in an economically disadvantaged Catholic household and was the first in her extended family to graduate from high school. She was valedictorian of her graduating class at Syracuse University and earned her master’s in 1961 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, when she married Raymond Smith. She published her first book in 1962 and has since written 58 novels as well as a number of plays and novellas and many volumes of short stories, poetry and nonfiction. Several of her novels have been made into movies.

    Oates, one of the most recognized contemporary authors, has won numerous awards, including the O’Henry Prize for Continued Achievement in the Short Story and the National Book Award. She has been a finalist five times for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, most recently in 2015. She was the American Humanist Association’s 2007 Humanist of the Year. In her acceptance speech, Oates said: “It has always been something of a mystery to me that intelligent, educated men and women, as well as the uneducated, can ‘have faith’ in an invisible and nonexistent God. Why, instead, is humanism not the preeminent belief of humankind? Why don’t humans place their faith in reason and in the strategies of skepticism and doubt, and refuse to concede to traditional customs, religious convictions and superstitions?”

    Oates taught at Princeton University from 1978 to 2014, then taught creative writing at UC-Berkeley, retiring in 2018. After her husband Raymond died in 2008, she married Charles Gross, who died in 2019.

    PHOTO: Oates at the 2014 Texas Book Festival in Austin; photo by Larry D. Moore under CC BY-SA 4.0

    “I’m not a person who feels very friendly toward organized religion. I think people have been brainwashed through the centuries. The churches, particularly the Catholic Church, are patriarchal organizations that have been invested with power for the sake of the people in power, who happen to be men. It breeds corruption. I found going to church every Sunday and on holy days an exercise in extreme boredom.”

    —Oates, interview, Playboy magazine (November 1993)

    Elbert Hubbard

    Elbert Hubbard

    On this date in 1874, Elbert Hubbard was born in Bloomington, Illinois, the son of a country doctor. During his youth, the family moved to Buffalo, New York. Hubbard joined one of the first successful mail order businesses, JP Larkin of Buffalo, selling his interest in it at 36. After a trip abroad, he established Roycroft Printing Shop in East Aurora, New York, producing what are considered some of the finest handmade books of the 19th century, serving clients such as Henry Ford, Teddy Roosevelt and Queen Victoria.

    Hubbard published several periodicals, including the monthly The Philistine (which printed his famous 1899 essay “A Message to Garcia”) and The Fra, also a monthly, with circulations that grew into the tens of thousands.

    Hubbard, a firm freethinker, wrote eight books himself and produced a series, Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great (1895-1909), including one little book about Robert Green Ingersoll, the 19th century’s most well-known “infidel.” Gradually, Hubbard created a Roycroft community, including factory, blacksmith shop, farms, bank and an inn that is still standing. East Aurora today houses many of his artifacts in an Elbert Hubbard Museum. Hubbard became a popular lecturer and was hired as a columnist by Hearst Newspapers. He and his freethinking wife Alice Hubbard went down on the Lusitania to a watery grave on May 7, 1915. (D. 1915)

    “When you once attribute effects to the will of a personal God, you have let in a lot of little gods and evils — then sprites, fairies, dryads, naiads, witches, ghosts and goblins, for your imagination is reeling, riotous, drunk, afloat on the flotsam of superstition. What you know then doesn’t count. You just believe, and the more you believe the more do you plume yourself that fear and faith are superior to science and seeing.”

    —Elbert Hubbard section, "An American Bible," edited by Alice Hubbard (1912)

    Salman Rushdie

    Salman Rushdie

    On this date in 1947, Salman Rushdie was born in Mumbai, India, into a middle-class Muslim family. At 14, Salman was sent to Rugby School in England. In 1964 his family moved to Karachi, Pakistan. Rushdie graduated in 1968 from King’s College, Cambridge. After a fling at acting, television and freelance copy writing, he saw his first book published in 1975, a sci-fi adventure called Grimus. Midnight’s Children, 1981, won the Booker Prize and catapulted Rushdie at age 33 to international attention. Shame followed in 1983.

    His novel Satanic Verses (1988), which was banned in India and South Africa, brought down the notorious death fatwa upon him by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on Feb. 14, 1989. As V.S. Naipaul understatedly put it, the fatwah was “an extreme form of literary criticism.” Rushdie was forced to go into hiding. A $1 million bounty was placed on his head. The reward for his death was doubled in 1997. The Iranian government officially rescinded the fatwah in September 1998, although at least one ayatollah later issued his own.

    Rushdie’s nonfiction essays from 1992 to 2002 appear in the book Step Across This Line. In one essay for The New York Times (Nov. 27, 2002), Rushdie wrote: “If the moderate voices of Islam cannot or will not insist on the modernization of their culture — and of their faith as well — then it may be these so-called ‘Rushdies’ who have to do it for them. For every such individual who is vilified and oppressed, two more, ten more, a thousand more will spring up. They will spring up because you can’t keep people’s minds, feelings and needs in jail forever, no matter how brutal your inquisitions.”

    In a column headlined “Slaughter in the Name of God” (Washington Post, March 8, 2002), Rushdie wrote: “In India, as elsewhere in our darkening world, religion is the poison in the blood. Where religion intervenes, mere innocence is no excuse. Yet we go on skating around this issue, speaking of religion in the fashionable language of ‘respect.’ What is there to respect in any of this, or in any of the crimes now being committed almost daily around the world in religion’s dreaded name?”

    He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2007 for his services to literature. Rushdie has married five times and has two sons, Zafar, born in 1979, and Milan, born in 1997. He became an American citizen in 2016. Rushdie spoke at FFRF’s national convention in San Francisco on Nov. 2, 2018, when he accepted the Emperor Has No Clothes Award. Quichotte, his 14th novel, was published in 2019 and was inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

    Rushdie was attacked onstage in August 2022 at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y., as he was preparing to start a lecture. His alleged assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar of Fairview, N.J., whose parents were Lebanese immigrants, stabbed him about a dozen times, which resulted in Rushdie being put on a ventilator and hospitalized for six weeks. Though he recovered, he lost the sight in his right eye and the use of his left hand. 

    PHOTO: Rushdie in 2014 at the PEN American Center in New York; © Ed Lederman under CC 2.0

    “I’m a hard-line atheist, I have to say.”

    —Rushdie, interviewed on "Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason" (PBS, June 23, 2006)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Ira Cardiff

    Ira Cardiff

    On this date in 1873, botanist and humanist author Ira Detrich Cardiff was born. He directed the agriculture experimental station from 1914-17 at Washington State University, where he also headed the botany and plant physiology department. He later founded the Washington Dehydrated Foods Company in Yakima. In addition to academic publications, Cardiff wrote freethought articles, pamphlets and books, including The Deification of Lincoln (1943), What Great Men Think of Religion (1945), which focused on skeptics, and, as editor, The Wisdom of George Santayana. (D. 1964)

    “What would Christ do about syphilis? Well, what should he do? Christ, being possessed of miraculous powers, why does he not obliterate syphilis from the face of the earth? Does Spirochaeta pallida, the organism causing syphilis, perform any useful function in the economy of nature? If not, why not obliterate it? Who is better equipped to do this than Jesus Christ?”

    —Cardiff, "If Christ Came to New York," (undated pamphlet published in The Truth Seeker, c. 1930s)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

    Ian McEwan

    Ian McEwan

    On this date in 1948, novelist Ian McEwan, son of a Scottish army officer, was born in Aldershot, England. McEwan spent most of his childhood in East Asia, Germany and North Africa, returning to England in his teens. He attended the University of Sussex and the University of East Anglia, becoming the first graduate of writer Malcolm Bradbury’s newly introduced creative writing course.

    McEwan’s novels, which have a dark edge, have earned him worldwide critical acclaim and numerous awards. He’s also written several screenplays, a stage play, children’s fiction and an oratorio. He’s a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the Royal Society of Arts and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as being a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association.

    McEwan speaks openly on his atheism and was featured on Richard Dawkins‘ series on religion, “The Root of All Evil?”(2006). His freethought views are also expressed by some of his characters. Henry Perowne, in Saturday, defines the supernatural as “the recourse of an insufficient imagination, a dereliction of duty, a childish evasion of the difficulties and wonders of the real, of the demanding reenactment of the plausible.”

    In an interview in The New York Times Magazine (Dec. 2, 2007), McEwan, musing about Atonement’s character, Briony, said: “Yes, I am an atheist, and probably Briony is, too. Atheists have as much conscience, possibly more, than people with deep religious conviction, and they still have the same problem of how they reconcile themselves to a bad deed in the past. It’s a little easier if you’ve got a god to forgive you.”

    He married Penny Allen in 1982. They had two sons and divorced in 1995. McEwan married author and journalist Annalena McAfee in 1997.

    “I find that life is rich, diverse, fabulous, and extraordinary, conceived without a god.”

    Interview, NPR affiliate KUSP (Feb. 16, 1998)

    Compiled by Jane Esbensen; photo by Thesupermat under CC 3.0

    Jean-Paul Sartre

    Jean-Paul Sartre

    On this date in 1905, Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris, an only child and the great-nephew of humanitarian Albert Schweitzer. He and his lifelong companion Simone de Beauvoir met at the Ecole Normale Superieure, where he graduated in 1929. After teaching and traveling for several years, Sartre headed a clique of Left Bank intellectuals. His first novel, La Nausee, came out in 1938, followed by the fictional Le Mur (1939), then a collection of short stories and several plays. Drafted during World War II, Sartre was imprisoned for a year in Germany and either escaped or was released, returning to work in the Resistance.

    After the war he founded the magazine Le Temps Modernes. Being and Nothingness was his existential masterpiece (1943). Sartre’s nonfiction also included Existentialism and Humanism (1946) and What Is Literature (1947). Sartre was twice the target of terrorist attacks by opponents of Algerian independence, who exploded bombs in his apartment in the early 1960s. He headed the International War Crimes Tribunal set up by Bertrand Russell to judge American conduct in Indochina. His last work was an unfinished biography of Gustave Flaubert.

    Atheism was an essential ingredient in Sartre’s existentialism: “Illusion has been smashed to bits; martyrdom, salvation and immortality are falling to pieces; the edifice is going to rack and ruin; I collared the Holy Ghost in the basement and threw him out.” (The Words, 1964). D. 1980.

    Public domain photo: Sartre in Beijing in 1955.

    “We have lost religion, but we have gained humanism.”

    Jean-Paul Sartre, Life magazine (Nov. 6, 1964)

    Julian Huxley

    Julian Huxley

    On this date in 1887, Julian Huxley, the brother of novelist Aldous Huxley and the grandson of agnostic biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, was born in Great Britain. Educated as a biologist at Oxford, he taught at Rice Institute, Houston (1912-16), Oxford (1919-25) and Kings College (1925-35). An ant specialist (he wrote a book called Ants in 1930), Huxley was secretary of the Zoological Society of London (1935-42) and UNESCO’s first general director (1946-48). A strong secular humanist, Huxley called himself “not merely agnostic. … I disbelieve in a personal God in any sense in which that phrase is ordinarily used.” (Religion Without Revelation, 1927, revised 1956)

    Huxley was an early evolutionary theorist with versatile academic interests. Some of his many other books include Essays of a Biologist (1923), Animal Biology (with J.B.S. Haldane, 1927), The Science of Life (with H.G. Wells, 1931), Thomas Huxley’s Diary of the Voyage of the HMS Rattlesnake (editor, 1935), The Living Thoughts of Darwin (1939), Heredity, East & West (1949), Biological Aspects of Cancer (1957), Towards a New Humanism (1957) and Memories, a two-volume autobiography in the early 1970s. Huxley was knighted in 1958 and was also a founder of the World Wildlife Fund. (D. 1975)

    PHOTO: Huxley in 1964. Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Creative Commons.

    “Operationally, God is beginning to resemble not a ruler, but the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire Cat.”

    Julian Huxley, "Religion Without Revelation" (1927)

    Erich Maria Remarque

    Erich Maria Remarque

    On this date in 1898, German author Erich Maria Remarque was born Erich Paul Remark in Osnabruck, Germany. Remarque is known for writing All Quiet on the Western Front, a novel published in 1928 that chronicled the challenges and reality of the life of a German soldier in World War I. He was drafted when he was 18 and stationed on the Western Front, where he received several shrapnel injuries and spent the rest of the war in a hospital. After the war he trained to become a teacher and held different teaching jobs, quitting one after he clashed with the school’s priest.

    Remarque sent a complaint in 1920 to the local education board about the priest that read in part, “He tells me off in the highest tones as if I were a schoolboy. ‘You must go to church more. … You are a bad model for the children. … You do nothing at all in religion.” (Quoted in Tims’ 2004 biography.) He then moved around to a variety of writing jobs, including technical writing and reporting.

    All Quiet on the Western Front was an immediate success, and he changed his middle name to honor his mother, Anna Maria, and changed his last name back to its former spelling. Remarque wrote over a dozen other books. In 1933 during the Nazi rise to power his books were banned and burned. The Nazis spread propaganda that he was Jewish and did not fight in WW I. He fled to the U.S. in 1939. His sister, Elfriede Scholz, was beheaded by the Nazis in 1943.

    Remarque was married three times. At the time of his death he was married to actress Paulette Goddard, whom he wed in 1958. (D. 1970)

    “Any incipient spirit of religion he may have acquired during his schooldays was to be tested and found wanting by his experiences on the western front, evolving instead into a brand of humanism he worked out for himself.”

    —Excerpt from “Erich Maria Remarque: The Last Romantic” by Hilton Tims (2004)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

    Dan Brown

    Dan Brown

    On this date in 1964, novelist Daniel Gerhard Brown was born in Exeter, N.H. His father was a math teacher and his mother was a professional musician primarily involved with religious music. He was raised Episcopalian and has described himself as a very pious child, singing in church and attending church camp. He graduated with a degree in English and Spanish in 1986 from Amherst College and then tried to establish himself as a singer-songwriter and pianist.

    In 1993 he secured a job at Beverly Hills Prep School in California, teaching English and creative writing. Brown’s first book, 187 Men to Avoid: A Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman (1995) was co-authored with his wife, Blythe Newlon, under the pseudonym Danielle Brown. Newlon and Brown married in 1997.

    Brown is best known for his Robert Langdon series, which centers around the adventures of a Harvard symbologist and explores the paradoxical philosophies of science and religion. The first book in the series, Angels & Demons, was published in 2000. It was the second book in the series, The Da Vinci Code, that launched Brown into the spotlight. The book sold 6,000 copies on the first day it was released and skyrocketed to the top of The New York Times’ best-seller list in the first week of publication.

    In 2005 he was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME magazine. Film adaptions of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons were made starring Tom Hanks. The series’ fifth book, Origin, (2017) focuses on aheism, religious extremism, scientific advancement and creationism. In the book he makes a reference to FFRF:

    “[A]cross the Western world, anti-religious organizations were sprouting up, pushing back against what they considered the dangers of religious dogma — American Atheists, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Americanhumanist.org, the Atheist Alliance International.
    “Langdon had never given these groups much thought until Edmond had told him about the Brights — a global organization that, despite its often misunderstood name, endorsed a naturalistic worldview with no supernatural or mystical elements. The Brights’ membership included powerhouse intellectuals like Richard Dawkins, Margaret Downey and Daniel Dennett. Apparently, the growing army of atheists was now packing some very big guns.”

    In an interview with NPR (Oct. 22, 2017) after the release of Origin, Brown told the host that his book made it clear that he doesn’t “have a soft spot in his heart for creationism.” Although Brown has said that he doesn’t quite consider himself an atheist, he’s moving toward a “more agnostic” viewpoint.

    “In eighth or ninth grade, I studied astronomy, cosmology, and the origins of the universe. I remember saying to a minister, ‘I don’t get it. I read a book that said there was an explosion known as the Big Bang, but here it says God created heaven and Earth and the animals in seven days. Which is right?’ Unfortunately, the response I got was, ‘Nice boys don’t ask that question.’ A light went off, and I said, ‘The Bible doesn’t make sense. Science makes much more sense to me.’ And I just gravitated away from religion.”

    —Brown, "Life After 'The Da Vinci Code,' " Parade magazine (Sept. 13, 2009)
    Compiled by Molly Hanson

    George Orwell

    George Orwell

    On this date in 1903, writer George Orwell (né Eric Arthur Blair) was born in India. Educated at Eton College, Blair joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma as a young man, later writing a novel, Burmese Days (1934), about it. Bumming around Europe for the experience, Blair wrote an autobiographical account, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933).

    Teaching for income, he continued to write novels, including A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935), with its unflattering look at the repression of religion, Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936), and Coming Up for Air (1939). He also wrote a sympathetic nonfiction account of miners, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937). His book, Homage to Catalonia (1938), was written after he was wounded by Francoists while fighting for Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War.

    When Stalinists came after Blair and his anarchist friends, his views on communism changed. While he supported a mild socialism, his masterpiece, Animal Farm (1945), skewered Stalinism: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Religion was satirized by the character “Moses,” a bird, who was a “spy and a tale-bearer,” who talked up “Sugarcandy Mountain, to which all animals went when they died.” Blair did commentary for the BBC during World War II.

    His second masterpiece, the cautionary tale Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), unforgettably put “Newspeak” and “Big Brother” into the political lexicon and conjured up a terrifying image of totalitarianism. His views of religion became increasingly skeptical. In 1968 the four-volume Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell was published. He married Eileen O’Shaughnessy in 1936. She died in 1945 during a hysterectomy. He married Sonia Brownell the year before he died at 46 of tuberculosis. (D. 1950)

    PHOTO: Orwell c. 1940

    “One must choose between God and Man, and all ‘radicals’ and ‘progressives,’ from the mildest liberal to the most extreme anarchist, have in effect chosen Man.”

    —Orwell, "Reflections on Gandhi," essay in the Partisan Review (1949)

    Dan Barker

    Dan Barker

    On this date in 1949, Dan Barker was born in California. His father, Norman Barker, a professional trombonist, played with Hoagy Carmichael and appeared in a cameo with Judy Garland in the movie “Easter Parade.” (See Norman with Garland starting at 12 seconds in this video clip.) More is here on his family background.

    His mother, Patricia, was a talented amateur singer and the family often used music in their volunteer evangelism. Barker, who became a piano player and songwriter, worked as a volunteer missionary as a teenager, going to Mexico with youth groups and becoming fluent in Spanish.

    He attended Asuza Pacific College, majoring in religion. Ordained by a Christian congregation, he worked as an assistant minister in several churches but mainly freelanced with a musical ministry, also writing secular children’s music. Many of his songs and two Christian children’s musicals were produced by Manna Music and other Christian publishing houses.

    In his early 30s he started a course of reading in science, liberal theology and rationalism that led to “an intense inner conflict.” Finally, “I just lost faith in faith.” In 1983, he publicly left religion. He joined the staff of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 1987, where he has served as public relations director, becoming co-president with his wife Annie Laurie Gaylor in 2004. FFRF published his book Losing Faith in Faith (1992), as well as three freethought/humanist books for children, including Just Pretend, and more than 70 freethought songs, including “You Can’t Win with Original Sin,” “None of the Above” and “Nothing Fails Like Prayer.” He collaborated with lyricist Charles Strouse on the song, “Poor Little Me.”

    Barker has recorded his songs and other traditional and contemporary freethought music on three CDs for FFRF: “Friendly Neighborhood Atheist,” “Beware of Dogma” and “Adrift on a Star.” He also freelances as a busy keyboardist and piano player in Madison, Wis., performing jazz and the Great American Songbook, much of which he has discovered was written by secular songwriters.

    He has participated in more than 100 public debates with Christian clergy, religious scholars and even an imam or two. His most recent books include Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists, foreword by Richard Dawkins (2008); The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God, foreword by Julia Sweeney (2011); Life Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning, foreword by Daniel C. Dennett (2015); GOD: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction, foreword by Dawkins (2016); Free Will Explained: How Science and Philosophy Converge to Create a Beautiful Illusion (2018); and Mere Morality (2018). Barker’s books are available here.

    He has appeared on many national television talk shows, including “The Daily Show,” “The Phil Donahue Show,” “Oprah,” national Fox TV, ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “Religion & Ethics News Weekly” and “60 Minutes Australia.” He has co-hosted FFRF’s radio and TV shows and is a frequent speaker on college campuses and freethought conferences. He has four children from his first marriage and a daughter with Gaylor.

    “I threw out the bath water, and there was no baby there.”

    —Dan Barker, "Losing Faith in Faith" (1992)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo by Tim Hughes

    Emma Goldman

    Emma Goldman

    On this date in 1869, Emma Goldman was born in Russia. “Since my earliest recollection of my youth in Russia I have rebelled against orthodoxy in every form,” she wrote in her 1934 article “Was My Life Worth Living?” Told by her father that “a Jewish daughter” needed only to prepare for marriage, the defiant 17-year-old emigrated with her sister to New York, taking factory work. After the 1887 Haymarket bombing and execution of arguably innocent anarchists in Chicago, Goldman threw herself into her “ecstatic song” of political oratory.

    She and Alexander “Sasha” Berkman dedicated themselves to a “supreme act” for which Berkman spent 14 years in prison — attacking Henry Clay Frick, chair of Carnegie Steel Corp. Goldman would later repudiate her youthful conviction that the ends justified the means. She was arrested numerous times as a famed orator and went underground when a self-professed anarchist madman in 1901 assassinated President William McKinley, saying he had once attended one of her lectures. 

    In 1906 she launched the journal Mother Earth. In 1916 she was sent to prison for advocating that “women need not always keep their mouths shut and their wombs open.” In 1917 she was arrested, convicted and served two years in prison for setting up the No Conscription League. A warden said women worshipped her like an idol because she nursed and fought for women prisoners.

    Goldman wrote in 1897: “I demand the independence of woman, her right to support herself; to live for herself; to love whomever she pleases, or as many as she pleases. I demand freedom for both sexes, freedom of action, freedom in love and freedom in motherhood.” 

    At age 50 in 1919, she and 247 other “Reds” were deported to the Soviet Union through the efforts of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Thoroughly disillusioned with Bolshevism, she became a British citizen in 1925. Maureen Stapleton portrayed her in the 1981 movie “Reds” that garnered her several Best Actress nominations and awards.

    Golman wrote her autobiography in 1931. Her two essays, “The Failure of Christianity” (1913) and “The Philosophy of Atheism” (1916) contain her freethought views. She died in Toronto after suffering a stroke at age 70. (D. 1940)

    PHOTO: Goldman, c. 1911, Library of Congress.

    “I do not believe in God, because I believe in man. Whatever his mistakes, man has for thousands of years been working to undo the botched job your god has made. There are … some potentates I would kill by any and all means at my disposal. They are Ignorance, Superstition, and Bigotry — the most sinister and tyrannical rulers on earth.”

    —Goldman, 1898 Detroit speech titled "Living My Life"

    Ashley Montagu

    Ashley Montagu

    On this date in 1905, Ashley Montagu (born Israel Ehrenberg) was born in East London. He adopted his new last name in homage of Lady Mary Montagu, a freethinking feminist from the 18th century. Montagu graduated from the University College- London and received a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University in 1937. He broke ground as an anthropologist in writing about race. His book Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race (1942) was his most influential work on that score.

    Some of his 60 other books included Coming Into Being of the Australian Aborigines (1937), Race and Kindred Delusions (1939) and The Natural Superiority of Women (1953). Montagu applied his work as a social biologist in writing on diverse topics, including gun control, peace, evolution, marriage, children, emotions and even a biography, The Elephant Man, about the Victorian John Merrick, which was made into a movie in 1980. His numerous articles, popular and scientific, included “Nothing Can Be Said in Favor of Smoking” (1942). The American Humanist Association named the humanitarian “Humanist of the Year” in 1995.

    A statement often attributed to him (primary source unknown): “The Good Book — one of the most remarkable euphemisms ever coined.” (D. 1999)

    PHOTO: Montagu at age 53 in 1958.

    “The scientist believes in proof without certainty, the bigot in certainty without proof. Let us never forget that tyranny most often springs from a fanatical faith in the absoluteness of one’s beliefs.”

    —Montagu, "Science and Creationism" (1984)

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

    On this date in 1712, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva, Switzerland, of French Huguenot parents. His mother died giving birth to him. As a young lad he was apprenticed to an engraver but ran away at age 16 and went into domestic service. His Catholic employer, Mme. De Warens, took him as her lover and allowed him to study literature and philosophy.

    In 1741 he moved to Paris and met freethinkers Diderot and D’Holbach, and was asked to write about music for the Dictionnaire Encyclopedique. Rousseau is known for promulgating the idea of the “noble savage” living in a “state of nature,” but intellectual historian Arthur Lovejoy wrote that that misrepresents Rosseau’s thinking.

    While living with wealthy patrons, Rousseau worked for eight years writing the novel Julie, ou la nouvelle New Heloise (1760), The Social Contract (1762) and Emile (1762), a treatise on education. The Social Contract introduced the motto “Liberte, egalite, fraternite.” As a Deist with kind words for the gospels, Rousseau was less radical about religion than his friends, perhaps more interested in pursuing his romantic vision of human nature: “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” He believed in a “religion of man.”

    Despite Emile’s sympathetic words for the rights of children, Rousseau gave the five illegitimate children he fathered with a hotel maid to foundling homes. His Letters Written to Montaigne (1762) promoted freedom from the church. His arrest was ordered in Paris after publication of Emile and he fled to Switzerland, where officials, in addition to condemning Emile, also condemned The Social Contract and expelled him. Rousseau took refuge in Neuchatel under the King of Prussia but was eventually driven out for his “irreligion.”

    He wrote Confessions in England and resettled in Paris in 1770. Freethought biographer Joseph McCabe wrote, “His character was far inferior to that of the ‘irreligious’ Deists of Paris. He was, in fact, the most religious and least virtuous of ‘the philosophers’; far inferior in nobility of character to the Agnostics Diderot and D’Alembert, and more faulty than Voltaire. We must, however, not forget his unhappy circumstances and temperament. He rendered monumental service to his fellows.” (A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists.) (D. 1778)

    PHOTO: Portrait of Rosseau by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1753.

    “Whoever dares to say: ‘Outside the Church is no salvation,’ ought to be driven from the State.

    But I am mistaken in speaking of a Christian republic; the terms are mutually exclusive. Christianity preaches only servitude and dependence. Its spirit is so favorable to tyranny that it always profits by such a regime. True Christians are made to be slaves, and they know it and do not much mind: this short life counts for too little in their eyes.”

    —Rousseau, "The Social Contract" (1762)

    Edward Clodd

    Edward Clodd

    On this date in 1840, Edward Clodd was born in England. Although his parents wanted him to become a Baptist minister, Clodd went into banking, working as secretary of the London Joint Stock Bank from 1872-1915. An early Darwin aficionado, the largely self-educated writer set about to make rationalism and science accessible to the masses. He identified as agnostic.

    In 1872 he wrote Childhood of the World. His influential manual, The Story of Creation: A Plain Account of Evolution, was reprinted many times. Clodd worked with the Rationalist Press Association and delivered the Conway Memorial Lecture in 1910 on “Gibbon and Christianity.” His other works include biographies of Darwin, Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer. He wrote The Question: If a Man Die, Shall he Live Again?” in 1917.

    He married Eliza Garman, a doctor’s daughter, in 1862 and had eight children with her. In his old age he married his secretary, Phyllis Maud Rope, who was 47 years younger. (D. 1930)

    PHOTO: Clodd at age 82.

    “ [T]he mysteries, on belief in which theology would hang the destinies of mankind, are cunningly devised fables whose origin and growth are traceable to the age of Ignorance, the mother of credulity.”

    —Clodd, cited in "A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists" by Joseph McCabe (1920)

    Barbara G. Walker

    Barbara G. Walker

    On this date in 1930, Barbara G. Walker was born in Philadelphia. In early childhood, she had her first disappointment with religion, when a minister told her that her deceased pet dog wouldn’t go to heaven. She threw an uncharacteristic tantrum, telling him: “I don’t want anything to do with your rotten old God and nasty old heaven.” First reading the King James bible as a young teenager, she decided: “It sounded cruel. A God who would not forgive the world until his son had been tortured to death — that did not strike me as the kind of father I would want to relate to.”

    She majored in journalism at the university of Pennsylvania, married research chemist Gordon Walker and moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked at the Washington Star. Relocating to Morristown, New Jersey, she taught the Martha Graham dance technique. She is a knitting expert, writing 10 volumes, including the classics Treasury of Knitting Patterns and A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns. In the mid-1970s she became part of the “new feminist wave,” writing the monumental feminist/freethought sourcebook, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (1983). Her many other books include The Skeptical Feminist (1987), Man Made God: A Collection of Essays (2010) and Belief and Unbelief (2014). An atheist, she has also specialized in debunking irresponsible, New Age assertions about crystals.

    “[T]he very fears and guilts imposed by religious training are responsible for some of history’s most brutal wars, crusades, pogroms, and persecutions, including five centuries of almost unimaginable terrorism under Europe’s Inquisition and the unthinkably sadistic legal murder of nearly nine million women. History doesn’t say much very good about God.”

    —Walker, acceptance speech for the 1993 Humanist Heroine award from the Feminist Caucus of the American Humanist Association
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo submitted

    Charlotte Perkins Gilman

    Charlotte Perkins Gilman

    On this date in 1860, Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in Hartford, Conn. A poet, author, editor and theorist, Gilman became one of the most celebrated feminists of her day. Her father, who virtually abandoned the family, was the grandson of evangelist Lyman Beecher. She educated herself, embracing daily exercises and eschewing corsets. She married artist Charles Walter Stetson when she was 23. She suffered paralyzing depression brought on after giving birth in 1885 to her daughter Katherine. It’s detailed in her 1890 classic story “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

    After separating from her husband, she launched a career as lecturer, journalist and author. Her collection of poems, In This Our World (1893), includes a poem “To the Preacher,” which jeers: “Preach about yesterday, Preacher! … Preach about the other man, Preacher!/Not about me!” When she attended her first National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in 1896, a sister feminist wrote that Gilman had “originality flashing from her at every turn like light from a diamond.” She defended Elizabeth Cady Stanton‘s Woman’s Bible when the delegation passed a resolution against it. Woman and Economics (1898) made her an international figure.

    Her thoughts on race were less than enlightened. In “A Suggestion on the Negro Problem” in the American Journal of Sociology in 1909, she wrote, “We have to consider the unavoidable presence of a large body of aliens, of a race widely dissimilar and in many respects inferior, whose present status is to us a social injury. If we had left them alone in their own country this dissimilarity and inferiority would be, so to speak, none of our business. There are other races, similarly distinguished, whose special standing in racial evolution does not embarrass us; but in this case it does.” According to biographer Cynthia Davis, Gilman once said on a trip to London, “I am an Anglo-Saxon before everything” and claimed that non-British immigrants to America were diluting the nation’s reproductive purity.

    Other nonfiction included Concerning Children (1901), Human Work (1904), The Man-Made World; or, Our Adrocentric Culture (1911), and His Religion and Hers: A Study of the Faith of Our Fathers and the Work of Our Mothers (1923). In that work, she called for a religion free of patriarchy and wrote, “One religion after another has accepted and perpetuated man’s original mistake in making a private servant of the mother of the race.” In one of her poems she wrote, “What you think may guide our acts / But it does not alter facts.” She once asked,”What glory was there in an omnipotent being torturing forever a puny little creature who could in no way defend himself?”

    She found happiness in her 35-year marriage to George Houghton Gilman and wrote her autobiography, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in 1935. That year Gilman, a firm believer in euthanasia, took her own life using chloroform when pain from inoperable breast cancer became unbearable. D. 1935.

    Preach about the other man, Preacher!
    The man we all can see!
    The man of oaths, the man of strife,
    The man who drinks and beats his wife,
    Who helps his mates to fret and shirk
    When all they need is to keep at work —
    Preach about the other man, Preacher!
    Not about me!

    —From Gilman's poem "To the Preacher" in the collection "In This Our World" (1893)

    Alexander Pushkin

    Alexander Pushkin

    On this date in 1799, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was born in Moscow. Born into a poor, aristocratic family, Pushkin saw his first poem published at age 14. He joined the foreign office in 1817 but was banished to South Russia as a young man for radical poetry that also satirized religion, such as “Ode to Liberty.” He was permitted to return to his mother’s estate and then to St. Peterburg after several years.

    Pushkin’s epics include “Ruslan and Ludmila” (1820), “Boris Gudenov” (1831), and “Evgenii Onegin” (1833). He returned to a government position in 1831, and founded a review publication in 1836. He died of peritonitis fighting a duel over his young wife in 1837. Pushkin’s complete works were published in 12 volumes. An admirer of the Enlightenment and Voltaire, the deistic writer is considered the founder of modern Russian literature. D. 1837.

    Benjamin Underwood

    Benjamin Underwood

    On this date in 1839, Benjamin Franklin Underwood was born in New York City, the second of seven children. Largely self-educated, he served in the Civil War and was imprisoned at Richmond after being wounded in the right leg. After being released through a prisoner exchange program, Underwood reinlisted and served through the war, receiving a commendation for bravery in action. After working as a reporter, lecturer and author, Underwood became a noted promoter of the theory of evolution.

    He was appointed co-editor, with William J. Potter, of The Index in 1881, a weekly newspaper founded by a Unitarian. In 1887 he founded The Open Court in Chicago, a journal which published the writings of many freethinkers. Underwood wrote, lectured and debated as a major 19th-century advocate for the freethought movement. His books include The Influence of Christianity on Civilization (1871) and The Crimes and Cruelties of Christianity (1877). Underwood chaired the Congress of Evolution at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. He was a supporter of feminism. His wife, Sara Underwood, wrote Heroines of Freethought (1876). D. 1914.

    “There is no argument worthy of the name that will justify the union of the Christian religion with the State. Every consideration of justice and equality forbids it. Every argument in favor of free Republican institutions is equally an argument in favor of a complete divorce of the State from the Church.”

    —Underwood, "The Practical Separation of Church & State," an address to the 1876 Centennial Congress of Liberals

    Peter Singer

    Peter Singer

    On this date in 1946, Peter Albert David Singer, philosopher, ethicist, animal rights activist and author was born in Melbourne, Australia. His Jewish parents fled Vienna in 1938 to escape the Nazi takeover. He earned his M.A. from the University of Melbourne in 1969 and got his B. Phil. at the University of Oxford in 1971. In 1977, Singer was appointed to a chair of philosophy at Monash University in Melbourne and subsequently was the founding director of that university’s Centre for Human Bioethics.

    Singer was the founding president of the International Association of Bioethics, and with Helga Kuhse, founding co-editor of the journal Bioethics. In 1999 he accepted a professorship at Princeton University and is the DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton. He became well-known internationally after the publication of Animal Liberation in 1975.

    His influential publications include Practical Ethics (1979), Hegel (1982), The Reproduction Revolution (1984, with Deane Wells), Should the Baby Live? (1985, with Helga Kuhse), How Are We to Live? (1993), Rethinking Life and Death (1994), A Darwinian Left (1999), One World (2000), The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush (2004), Stem Cell Research: The Ethical Issues (2007), The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty (2009), The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically (2015) and Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter (2016). 

    As a student at the University of Melbourne, Singer was president of the Rationalist Society and editor of its publication The Freethinker. Singer frequently asserts that morality and ethics have no correlation to religious belief. “Atheists and agnostics do not behave less morally than religious believers, even if their virtuous acts rest on different principles. Non-believers often have as strong and sound a sense of right and wrong as anyone, and have worked to abolish slavery and contributed to other efforts to alleviate human suffering.” (Project Syndicate, “Godless Morality,”January 2006.)

    He condemns religious intrusion into politics and scientific research. At  FFRF’s annual convention in 2004, Singer was a recipient of the Emperor Has No Clothes Award. During his acceptance speech, he said, “Having come to live in America five years ago, I can clearly see why an organization like FFRF is very much needed.”

    PHOTO: Singer at the Melbourne Effective Altruism conference in 2015; Mal Vickers photo under CC 4.0.

    “I don’t believe in the existence of God, so it makes no sense to me to say that a human being is a creature of God. It’s as simple as that.”

    —Singer, Religion & Ethics online magazine (Sept. 10, 1999)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Robert A. Heinlein

    Robert A. Heinlein

    On this date in 1907, Robert Anson Heinlein was born in Butler, Mo. The science fiction author is famous for his novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). Heinlein was one of seven children. He attended the University of Missouri and graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1929.

    Heinlein served in the Navy for five years until discharged after contracting tuberculosis. He studied at the University of California-Los Angeles and conducted research at the Navy Experimental Air Station in Philadelphia during World War II. The prolific author, who had many pseudonyms, won four Hugos for “best novel of the year” (Double Star, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress).

    He eventually published 32 novels, 59 short stories and 16 collections. Four films, two television series, several episodes of a radio series and a board game have been derived more or less directly from his work.

    Heinlein wrote, “The faith in which I was brought up assured me that I was better than other people; I was saved, they were damned. … Our hymns were loaded with arrogance — self-congratulation on how cozy we were with the Almighty and what a high opinion he had of us, what hell everybody else would catch come Judgment Day.” (Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time, ed. Laurence J. Peter, 1977.)

    In his 1973 novel Time Enough for Love, he wrote: “History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people.”

    He married Elinor Curry in 1929 and divorced in 1930, then was married to Leslyn MacDonald from 1932-47. He was married to Virginia Gerstenfeld from 1948 until his death in 1988.

    PHOTO: Midshipman Heinlein in the 1929 U.S. Naval Academy yearbook.

    “The great trouble with religion — any religion — is that a religionist, having accepted certain propositions by faith, cannot thereafter judge those propositions by evidence. One may bask at the warm fire of faith or choose to live in the bleak uncertainty of reason — but one cannot have both.”

    —from Heinlein's 1982 novel "Friday" (narrated by Friday Jones)

    Eleanor Clift

    Eleanor Clift

    On this date in 1940, Eleanor Clift was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. In the 1960s she became a secretary for Newsweek magazine and was one of the first women at Newsweek to be promoted to reporter. Clift became an accomplished political reporter, serving as deputy Washington bureau chief beginning in 1992, working as part of the 1992 election team covering Bill Clinton’s campaign and becoming a contributing editor for the magazine in 1994. Clift was Newsweek’s White House correspondent until 1985, when she briefly became White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.

    She was a panelist on the political talk show “The McLaughlin Group.” Clift is also a writer who authored Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment (2003), as well as co-authoring two books with her husband Tom Brazaitis. When Brazaitis died after a long battle with kidney cancer, Clift wrote the 2008 memoir Two Weeks of Life: A Memoir of Love, Death and Politics about the deaths of Brazaitis and Terry Schiavo. Clift has appeared as herself in the films “Dave” (1993), “Independence Day” (1996), “Getting Away with Murder” (1996) and “Follow the Leader” (2002).

    Clift was brought up Lutheran but in a 2008 interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, she said, “I’m closer to Tom’s [atheism] than to my early upbringing in the Lutheran church. I would probably label myself as an agnostic.” She gave a speech at the 31st annual Freedom From Religion Foundation convention in 2008 and was a guest on Freethought Radio on Sept. 27, 2008.

    Public domain photo: Clift in 1999.

    “Religion and politics are supposed to be separate.” 

    —Clift, "Two Weeks of Life: A Memoir of Love, Death and Politics" (2008)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Sherry Matulis

    Sherry Matulis

    On this date in 1931, Sherry Matulis was “born an atheist (aren’t we all?),” she mused, in the small town of Nevada, Iowa. “You couldn’t go out to play hopscotch or kick-the-can without tripping over a church or two. (Or a tavern. The churches had a reciprocal arrangement, I think),” she wrote in a column for The Feminist Connection. “But tripping over all those churches wasn’t the real problem. The real problem was all that time spent inside them — skipping over the facts of reality.” (Oct. 24, 1981, speech to the FFRF national convention in Louisville, Ky.)

    At age 20 she was surprised to find herself in the first Miss Universe contest, selected by photographs submitted by her husband. As the “village atheist” in Peoria, Ill., Matulis ran small businesses for many years and had five children. A poet and writer, she became a national spokesperson for abortion rights in the 1980s, when she wrote about her life-threatening experience in seeking an illegal abortion in Peoria in 1954. She was invited to speak about her experiences before a U.S. Senate subcommittee chaired by Orrin Hatch in 1981 and testified before several state legislatures.

    A firm atheist, she appeared on many radio and national TV programs. Her articles, stories and poetry have been published in such periodicals as Redbook, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Questar, Analog, Freethought Today and The Rationalist. She received many awards for her work to protect abortion rights, including from the American Humanist Association and the National Organization for Women. (D. 2014)

    Religion’s Child

    Aware of light and yet condemned to grope
    Through dark regression’s cave, told she must find
    Life’s purpose in that blackness, without hope,
    Denied the luminescence of her mind
    Until, at last, she finds the darkness kind,
    Religion’s child — a babe once bright and fair,
    Curls up, tucks in her tail, and says her prayer.

    —Matulis, "Women Without Superstition," ed. Annie Laurie Gaylor (1997)

    Oliver Sacks

    Oliver Sacks

    On this date in 1933, neurologist and author Oliver Sacks was born in London to a Jewish couple: Samuel Sacks, a medical general practitioner, and Muriel Elsie Landau, one of England’s first female surgeons. He earned his medical degree at Oxford University (Queen’s College) and did residencies and fellowship work at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco and at UCLA. He started practicing neurology in 1965 in New York, while maintaining his British citizenship. In July 2007 he was appointed professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center.

    In 1966 he had started working as a consulting neurologist for Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx, a chronic care hospital where he encountered an extraordinary group of patients, many of whom had spent decades in strange, frozen states, like human statues, unable to initiate movement. He recognized these patients as survivors of the pandemic of sleeping sickness (encephalitis lethargica) that swept the world from 1916-27 and treated them with a then-experimental drug, L-dopa. They became the subjects of his book Awakenings, which later inspired a play by Harold Pinter (“A Kind of Alaska”) and the Oscar-nominated feature film (“Awakenings”) with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.

    Sacks was perhaps best known for his collections of case histories from the far borderlands of neurological experience, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars, in which he describes patients struggling with conditions ranging from Tourette’s syndrome to autism, parkinsonism, musical hallucination, epilepsy, phantom limb syndrome, schizophrenia, retardation and Alzheimer’s disease. He investigated the world of deaf people and sign language in Seeing Voices and a rare community of people in The Island of the Colorblind. He wrote about his experiences as a doctor in Migraine and as a patient in A Leg to Stand On. His autobiographical Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood was published in 2001, followed by Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain in 2007.

    Sacks’ work regularly appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books and various medical journals. The New York Times referred to Sacks as “the poet laureate of medicine” and in 2002 he was awarded the Lewis Thomas Prize by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He is an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and holds honorary degrees from Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts and the Catholic University of Peru.

    In 2005 he received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award. His acceptance speech was titled “Invasion of Irrationalism.” He also began serving in 2009 on the Foundation’s Honorary Board. Not the least of his honors is 2-mile-wide Asteroid 84928 Oliversacks, discovered in 2003 and named for him. In a piece in The New York Times (“The Sabbath,”  Aug. 14, 2015, shortly before his death from cancer), Sacks revealed his mother’s response to learning that he, then a teen, was a (virginal) homosexual. His mother, one of 18 children in an Orthodox Jewish family, shrieked at him: “ ‘You are an abomination. I wish you had never been born.’ … The matter was never mentioned again, but her harsh words made me hate religion’s capacity for bigotry and cruelty.” (D. 2015)

    As I write, in New York in mid-December, the city is full of Christmas trees and menorahs. I would be inclined to say, as an old Jewish atheist, that these things mean nothing to me, but Hannukah songs are evoked in my mind whenever an image of a menorah impinges on my retina, even when I am not consciously aware of it.

    —Sacks, "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain" (2007)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn; photo by Brent Nicastro

    Henry David Thoreau

    Henry David Thoreau

    On this date in 1817, Henry David Thoreau was born in Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University in 1837, taught briefly, then turned to writing and lecturing. Becoming a Transcendentalist and good friend of Emerson, Thoreau lived the life of simplicity he advocated in his writings. His two-year experience in a hut in Walden, on land owned by Emerson, resulted in the classic Walden: Life in the Woods (1854). During his sojourn there, Thoreau refused to pay a poll tax in protest of slavery and the Mexican War, for which he was jailed overnight.

    His activist convictions were expressed in the groundbreaking On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849). Thoreau liked to quote Ennius: “I say there are gods, but they care not what men do.” In a diary he noted his disapproval of attempts to convert the Algonquins “from their own superstitions to new ones.”

    In a journal he noted wryly that it was appropriate for a church to be the ugliest building in a village, “because it is the one in which human nature stoops to the lowest and is the most disgraced.” (Cited by James A. Haught in 2000 Years of Disbelief.) When Parker Pillsbury sought to talk about religion as Thoreau was dying from tuberculosis, Thoreau replied: “One world at a time.” (D. 1862)

    “Your church is a baby-house made of blocks.”

    —Thoreau, "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience" (1849)

    Donald B. Ardell

    Donald B. Ardell

    On this date in 1938, humanist fitness authority Donald Bruce Ardell was born in Philadelphia. After 12 years of parochial school (which he now calls “miseducation in Catholic dogma and superstition”), he served for three years in the U.S. Air Force, then enrolled at George Washington University on a full basketball scholarship. He continued his education at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Stanford University to focus on urban planning and business before earning a doctorate in health and public policy at Union Institute & University in Cincinnati.

    Working initially in 1965 as an urban planner and then as a health planner, he started developing and promoting the wellness concept in 1973. Ardell modified the concept in 1998 to REAL wellness (Reason, Exuberance, Athleticism, Liberty), a science-based lifestyle approach to well-being focused on exercise and nutrition. Since 1984 and as of this writing, he’s published nearly 900 online editions of the Ardell Wellness Report.

    Practicing what he has preached, Ardell has won seven age-group world triathlon championships and a dozen titles in U.S. triathlon and duathlon nationals. He has two patents for a hands-free, fast-transition running shoe that speeds the switch during triathlons from the bike to the run.

    The first of his 15 books was High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease (1977). Planning for Wellness: A Guidebook for Achieving Optimal Health (1982) and The Book of Wellness: A Secular Approach to Spirituality, Meaning and Purpose (1996) followed, among others. Not Dead Yet: World Triathlon Champions 75 and Over Offer Tips for Successful Aging (co-author Jack Welber) came out in 2019. Freedom From Religion in 30 Days, available from FFRF and other sellers, followed in 2021. An excerpt is here.

    As an admirer of “The Great Agnostic” Robert Green Ingersoll, Ardell delivers verbatim Ingersoll lectures to audiences and says, “His speeches still dazzle, inform, inspire and motivate. His passions, themes and causes we, too, embrace and seek yet: secular democracy, emancipation of the oppressed, justice for all, reason as the best guide, joy the highest virtue, happiness the greatest good, science the truest source and natural wonders the only worship.” (Freethought Today, 2013)

    He and his wife Carol live in Gulfport, Fla., and Madison, Wis., where he volunteers for FFRF, judges student essays and contributes op-eds such as “Impositional religiosity added to DSM.” He has a daughter, Jeanne, and a son, Jon, from a previous marriage.

    “I choose to believe in common decencies, science, reason, love, kindness and hope as the consolation of the world.”

    —Ardell, quoted in Lifetime Running online (Jan. 17, 2019)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Anthony Collins

    Anthony Collins

    On this date in 1676, Anthony Collins, called the “Goliath of freethinking” by Thomas Huxley, was born in Heston, England. Collins studied at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, and was a close friend of John Locke. He moved in a circle of leading freethinkers, including John Toland and Matthew Tindal. “An Essay Concerning the Use of Reason” was published (anonymously) in 1707, along with a letter addressing immateriality and the soul. A debate in 1708 with Samuel Clarke resulted in the publication of four pamphlets by each participant.

    In 1710 Collins wrote “Vindication of the Divine Attributes, in Some Remarks on Archbishop (King’s) Sermon.” The 1713 book, A Discourse of Freethinking, was his most influential work, helping to popularize the term “freethought.” Philosophical Inquiry Concerning Human Liberty, published in 1717, won the praise of VoltaireThe Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion (1724) rejected the claim that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. Although Collins left England for a time when debate heated up after the publication of A Discourse of Freethinking, the courteous scholar was taken most seriously by leading religionists and Anglicans.

    Grounds, with its serious arguments against prophecy and its advancement of the scientific principle, provoked more than 30 books and essays by religionists trying to counter it. Collins is best described as a deist and materialist who opposed “priestcraft,” although he did differentiate between good and bad priests. He willed his unpublished manuscripts to Pierre Desmaizeaux, who sold them after Collins’ death in 1729 to his widow. It appears that she then destroyed them. Desmaizeaux quickly regretted his decision but it was too late. (D. 1729)

    “The Use of the Understanding, in endeavouring to find out the Meaning of any Proposition whatsoever, in considering the nature and Evidence for or against it, and in judging of it according to the seeming Force or Weakness of the Evidence.”

    —Collins' definition of freethought, "Discourse of Freethinking" (1713)

    Samuel Porter Putnam

    Samuel Porter Putnam

    On this date in 1838, Samuel Porter Putnam, the son of a Congregationalist minister, was born in New Hampshire. He became a student at Dartmouth in 1858 and enlisted as a private in the Civil War, where, after two years of service he was promoted to captain. He became a Congregationalist minister in 1868 after three years at the Chicago Theological Seminary. Three years later he broke with that denomination and joined the Unitarians. After serving in various congregations, he then “gave up all relations whatsoever with the Christian religion, and became an open and avowed Freethinker,” as he recorded in his 1894 opus Four Hundred Years of Freethought.

    During the Rutherford B. Hayes administration he was appointed to the Civil Service. He left that work in 1887 to head the American Secular Union. He was elected president of the California State Liberal Union in 1891 and the Freethought Federation of America in 1892. He noted that he visited all but four of the states and territories in his work for freethought, traveling more than 100,000 miles. His other writings include: Prometheus, Gottlieb: His Life, Golden Throne, Waifs and Wanderings, Ingersoll and Jesus, Why Don’t He Lend a Hand? Adami and Heva, The New God, The Problem of the Universe, My Religious Experience, Religion a Curse, Religion a Disease, Religion a Life, and Pen Pictures of the World’s Fair.

    Putnam’s tragic death created a mild scandal. He and a young lecturer colleague, May Collins, had been touring in Boston. They returned after dinner to the home where Collins was staying and were found dead the next morning in her room, victims of leaking gas. Although they were fully clothed, and there was no “evidence of impropriety,” the religious press attacked Putnam, disclosing that he was a divorced man with two children. D. 1896.

    “The last superstition of the human mind is the superstition that religion in itself is a good thing, though it might be free from dogma. I believe, however, that the religious feeling, as feeling, is wrong, and the civilized man will have nothing to do with it”

    —Putnam, "My Religious Experience" (1891)

    Hendrik Hertzberg

    Hendrik Hertzberg

     On this date in 1943, journalist Hendrik Hertzberg was born in New York City to Hazel Manross (née Whitman), a professor of history and education at Columbia University, and Sidney Hertzberg, a journalist and political activist. His father was Jewish and had become an atheist; his mother was a Quaker with a Congregationalist background. He graduated from Harvard University in 1965, where he wrote for the Harvard Crimson and became managing editor.

    Shortly after graduation he started working as a reporter at the San Francisco bureau of Newsweek. During the Vietnam War he joined the U.S. Navy and was posted in New York City for two years. In 1969 he began writing for the New Yorker, a post he held until 1977. He worked as a speechwriter for Gov. Hugh Carey, then joined President Jimmy Carter’s speechwriting team and was made the head speechwriter in 1979.

    Hertzberg became the editor of The New Republic in 1981 and held positions at the Institute of Politics and the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy. Hertzberg joined The New Yorker in 1992 and worked as executive director, senior editor and was the main contributor to essays on politics and society in The Talk of the Town column until 2014.

    Hertzberg’s books include One Million (1970), which attempts to make large numbers less abstract, Politics: Observations and Arguments (2005), which includes discussions on the Religious Right and the importance of secularism and humanism; and ¡Obamanos! The Birth of a New Political Order (2010), which chronicles the 2008 election. Forbes named Hertzberg the seventeenth most influential liberal in the U.S. media in 2005. He is married to Virginia Cannon, a Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor. They have a son, Wolf.

    Hertzberg in 2014. Photo (cropped) by Ed Lederman/PEN American Center under CC 2.0

    “The atmosphere of piety in American public life has become stifling. Where is it written that if you don’t like religion you are somehow disqualified from being a legitimate American? I’m pretty sure there is no such thing as God.”

    —Hertzberg, "Politics: Observations and Arguments" (2004)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

    Vern Bullough

    Vern Bullough

    On this date in 1928, Vern Leroy Bullough was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. He earned a B.A. in history and languages from the University of Utah in 1951, an M.A. in history from the University of Chicago in 1951, a Ph.D. in the history of medicine and science from the University of Chicago in 1954 and a B.S. in nursing from California State University-Long Beach in 1981. Bullough was a sexologist and historian, as well as a professor of nursing, sociology and history. He was Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Social Sciences at State University of New York at Buffalo and was one of the founders of the Center for Sex Research at Cal State.

    Bullough received numerous awards for his work, including the prestigious Kinsey Award in 1995. He was a strong supporter of civil liberties who worked with the ACLU and the NAACP. Bullough has published and edited numerous books, many co-written with his first wife, Bonnie Uckerman Bullough, who was also a nurse and sexologist. Their collaborations include The Subordinate Sex: A History of Attitudes Toward Women (1973) and Sexual Attitudes: Myths and Realities (1995).

    Bullough was co-president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union from 1994-97 and its vice president in 1997-98. He received a Distinguished Humanist Service Award from the IHEU in 1992. Bullough was an honorary associate of the Indian Rationalist Association, and also worked with the Humanist Academy. He wrote the 1994 essay “Science, Humanism, and the New Enlightenment.”

    He had married Bonnie, his high school sweetheart, in 1947. They had two sons (David, 1954, and James, 1956). They expanded their family through the adoption of Steven (1958), Susan (1961) and Michael (1966). James died tragically when hit by a car in 1967 in Egypt during Bonnie’s year as a Fulbright Scholar. She died in 1996. Bullough later married Gwen Baker. He died of cancer at age 77 in 2006.

    Photo: Oviatt Library, CSU-Northridge 

    “[Vern Bullough] will be sorely missed as one of the leading secular humanists in North America and the world.” 

    Paul Kurtz, founder of the Center for Inquiry and Council for Secular Humanism, quoted on the IHEU website.

    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor and Bonnie Gutsch

    Eric Hoffer

    Eric Hoffer

    On this date in 1902, Eric Hoffer was born in New York City to German immigrants. By age 5 he was reading in both English and German. Struck by unexplained blindness at age 7, Hoffer regained his sight at 15. The experience of reading deprivation turned him into a nonstop, inveterate reader. He started working as a migrant in California at age 18 and spent most of his life as a dockworker, writing in his spare time, which won him the sobriquet of “the longshoreman philosopher.”

    His first book, The True Believer (1951), is a classic. Nine other books were published during his lifetime. His autobiography, Truth Imagined, was published posthumously. D. 1983.

    “The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ. … To rely on the evidence of the senses and of reason is heresy and treason.” 
     
    “Thus the effectiveness of a doctrine should not be judged by its profundity, sublimity or the validity of the truths it embodies, but by how thoroughly it insulates the individual from his self and the world as it is. What Pascal said of an effective religion is true of any effective doctrine: It must be ‘contrary to nature, to common sense and to pleasure.’ “

    —Hoffer, "The True Believer" (1951)

    Aldous Huxley

    Aldous Huxley

    On this date in 1894, Aldous Huxley, grandson of Thomas Henry Huxley and brother of Julian Huxley, was born in Surrey. An eye disease partially blinded him at age 16 for about a year and a half. He regained enough vision to study, read and become a successful novelist. Two volumes of his poetry were published while he was still a student at Oxford. He launched a successful career as a satiric writer of novels, which included: Crome Yellow (1921), Antic Hay (1923), Those Barren Leaves (1925), Point Counter Point (1928), Brief Candles (1930), Brave New World (1932) and Eyeless in Gaza (1936).

    His screenplays included “Pride and Prejudice” (MGM’s version of the Austen book), “Madame Curie” (1938, and “Jane Eyre” (1944). Huxley observed toward the end of his life, “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘Try to be a little kinder.’ ” (D. 1963)

    “If we must play the theological game, let us never forget that it is a game. Religion, it seems to me, can survive only as a consciously accepted system of make-believe.”

    “You never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion. … Asses do not bray a liturgy to cloudless skies. Nor do cats attempt, by abstinence from cat’s meat, to wheedle the feline spirits into benevolence. Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly. It is the price he has to pay for being intelligent but not, as yet, quite intelligent enough.”

    —Aldous Huxley, "Texts and Pretexts" (1932)

    Lucy Colman

    Lucy Colman

    On this date in 1817, abolitionist infidel Lucy N. Colman (née Danforth) was born in New England, a descendant of John and Priscilla Alden through her mother’s side. She was twice widowed. When her second husband was killed in a work-related accident, she was left to support her 7-year-old daughter. With workplace door after door slammed in her face because of her sex, she discovered “woman’s wrongs.” She wrote, “I had given up the church, more because of its complicity with slavery than from a full understanding of the foolishness of its creeds.”

    She turned to teaching in Rochester, earning less than half what a male teacher made. Susan B. Anthony discovered her and invited her to address a teachers’ association. She created a sensation by urging the abolition of corporal punishment in schools (see quote). She became an abolitionist lecturer, sacrificing security, comfort and wages to work against slavery. Often mobbed, she found that the racist ringleaders were nearly always clergymen. Frederick Douglass conducted the funeral for her daughter, who died suddenly at college. Colman later taught at a “colored school” in Georgetown and held many philanthropic positions. She wrote regular columns for the leading freethought publication, The Truth Seeker. D. 1906.

    “If your Bible is an argument for the degradation of woman, and the abuse by whipping of little children, I advise you to put it away, and use your common sense instead.”

    —Lucy Colman, paper delivered at New York teacher's convention (The Truth Seeker, March 5, 1887)

    Meg Bowman

    Meg Bowman

    On this date in 1929, Margaret “Meg” Bowman was born in Rugby, North Dakota, to Hazel Whiting and Albert Gunnerud, “pillars” of the Methodist Church. She found one other avid reader in her small town who became her best friend and an atheist like her. After graduating from high school in Illinois, she moved to Arizona, where she married Richard Turner and raised three sons, two of whom preceded her in death.

    Bowman became active with the Progressive Party in 1948, earned her B.A. from Colorado College in 1954, a master’s from Arizona State University in 1961 and was awarded a Ph.D. in 1985.

    She organized the Fremont, Calif., Human Rights Commission in the 1960s and regularly participated in civil rights and peace marches. She has been active in the Fremont Unitarian Fellowship, the area chapter of National Organization for Women, the San Jose Unitarian Church, the Older Women’s League and at one time co-chaired the Feminist Caucus of the American Humanist Association.

    Bowman took part in “burnt offerings” protests in the mid-’70s. A women’s group at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in New York City first came up with the idea. They rewrote the liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer, read sexist statements from the bible, brought them to the altar and set them on fire. In 1972 at the Democratic National Convention, women repeated the ritual on the streets of Miami Beach. “From Berkeley to Boston, Maine to Miami, we have burned,” Bowman wrote. “Omaha women drew the biggest audiences as they ignited the streets of Nebraska. And, yes, radical feminism has even ‘played in Peoria’ — pyromaniacally.”

    Starting in 1986, Bowman helped sponsor impoverished young women through school in Kenya and Romania. She retired from the San Jose State University sociology department. She has written many books through Hot Flash Press, including Memorial Services for Women and Feminist Classics: Women’s Words that Changed the World. An intrepid world traveler, she has organized many international tours with a feminist and freethought slant. In 2010 she accepted the Humanist Heroine award from the American Humanist Association.

    She died at age 91 in San Jose, Calif. (D. 2020)

    “Why burn? The answer is simple. Read the Bible — the Koran — the theologians and philosophers of the world. Look in your hymnals and then ask, ‘What better way to raise the religious consciousness of obtuse, callous, sexist societies?’ “

    —Bowman, explaining the 'burnt offerings" ceremonies organized by U.S. feminists in the 1970s. ("Why We Burn: Sexism Exorcised," 1988)

    Wil Wheaton

    Wil Wheaton

    On this date in 1972, Richard William Wheaton III was born in Burbank, Calif. He started acting in 1981, when he was only 8 and later appeared in movies such as “Stand By Me” (1986) and “Toy Soldiers” (1991). Wheaton’s most famous role was as Wesley Crusher on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” in which he was a regular cast member from 1987 to 1990, as well as returning occasionally as a guest star until 1994. Wheaton’s acting career continued with notable roles, including playing a recurring, fictionalized version of himself on ”The Big Bang Theory” sitcom, which aired from 2007-19.

    He also does voice acting for animated television shows and video games, including “Teen Titans” and multiple “Grand Theft Auto” titles. He founded Monolith Press in 2003 and is the author of Dancing Barefoot (2004), a collection of autobiographical stories, and Just A Geek: Unflinchingly Honest Tales of the Search for Life, Love, and Fulfillment Beyond the Starship Enterprise (2005).

    “I’m an atheist,” Wheaton proclaimed during an interview with the “Nerdist” podcast on Feb. 22, 2011. He described fan reaction to his personal ethical code, summed up as “Don’t Be A Dick,” saying, “People started calling it Wheaton’s Law, and I’m like, I’m an atheist, but that’s kind of like Jesus’ law. It’s a good law.” He elaborated on his views about religion on a 2006 blog post titled “The sins of the father,” in which he wrote, “I also have nothing but contempt for the so-called spiritual leaders who prey upon people for their own personal financial or political gain.”

    Wheaton also described himself on his website as supporting “freedom from religion.” He married Anne Prince in 1999 and adopted her two sons from a previous relationship.

    PHOTO: Wheaton in 2019 at GalaxyCon in Raleigh, N.C.; Super Festivals photo under CC 2.0.

    “I’m so fed up with being told that I’m a bad person because I don’t subscribe to the same exact narrow views [Christians] have.” 

    —Wheaton blog post titled “Seriously. What would Jesus do?” (2006)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor and Eleanor Wroblewski

    James Baldwin

    James Baldwin

    On this date in 1924, writer James Arthur Baldwin (né Jones) was born in New York City to Emma Berdis Jones and an unknown father. His mother later married David Baldwin, a minister and factory worker who adopted him. The family, which included Baldwin’s eight siblings, led a life of poverty in Harlem. Baldwin had a particularly troubled relationship with his abusive and religious stepfather. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School and was a preacher for a Pentecostal church during his early teenage years.

    At age 17 he left his family and traded Harlem for Greenwich Village to pursue a writing career. He eventually relinquished his religion and committed fully to his literary ambitions. He worked for a few years as a freelance writer, befriending novelist Richard Wright. After earning a scholarship in 1945 and publishing his first major essay, “The Harlem Ghetto,” Baldwin moved to Paris, where he spent most of his life. He published his best-known work, “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” in 1953 and wrote numerous novels, essays and poetry, including “Notes of a Native Son” (1955) and Giovanni’s Room (1956). He also wrote the plays The Amen Corner (1955) and Blues for Mister Charlie (1964), both well received.

    Much of his work was inspired by 20th century social movements as well as his experiences living as a poor, black and homosexual man in a country that largely shunned these characteristics. For a while Baldwin returned to the U.S. to assist with the civil rights movement, for which he became a voice. He received the George Polk Award in 1963 for his journalism and was inducted into La Légion D’Honneur, the prestigious French order, in 1986. He continued writing and maintained a professorship at Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts until his untimely death from stomach cancer at age 63. D. 1987. 

    Baldwin in London’s Hyde Park in 1969. Photo by Allan Warren. CC 3.0.

    “If the concept of God has any validity or use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of him.”

    —Baldwin, "The Fire Next Time" (1963)
    Compiled by Yuna Choi

    Robert Taylor

    Robert Taylor

    On this date in 1784, Robert Taylor (later dubbed “the Devil’s Chaplain”) was born in England and became a member of the College of Surgeons in 1807. Undergoing a religious conversion, he was ordained an Anglican priest in 1813. He lost his faith about five years later when a parishioner exposed him to rationalist writings. Resigning with a splash, he took out an advertisement seeking employment, which spelled out his loss of religion. Bowing to his mother’s pleadings, he briefly returned to the ministry but was expelled for giving deistic sermons.

    In 1826 Taylor opened a deistic chapel. He flouted church authority by wearing his episcopal garments when giving his deistic lectures. That year he was sentenced to a year in jail for one of his sermons. He and oft-jailed freethought publisher Richard Carlile paired up and distributed a handbill inviting Cambridge students to hear them “present their compliments as Infidel missionaries, to … most respectfully and earnestly invite discussion on the merits of the Christian religion.” This made a deep impression on student Charles Darwin, who, in later delaying the release of his theory of evolution, took into account their treatment at the hands of Cambridge authorities.

    Taylor and Carlile were thrown out of town and authorities even revoked the license of the landlord who had rented to them. After writing a pamphlet called “The Devil’s Pulpit” (1831), an energetic denunciation of New Testament dogma in which Taylor complained of “this tax-burthened and priest-ridden country,” he was nicknamed “The Devil’s Chaplain.” In 1831, he was again convicted of blasphemy, was sentenced to two years in prison and was fined £200. D. 1844.

    “[Christianity] is a system of the grossest hypocrisy, a fashionable villainy, a licensed swindle, cheat, and trick.” 

    “Go to church and chapel, you fools — listen to the parson, and shut your eyes, and open your mouths, and see what God will send you.”

    —Taylor, "The Devil's Pulpit" (1831)

    Lawrence Lader

    Lawrence Lader

    On this date in 1919, Lawrence Lader was born in New York City. He graduated from Harvard University in 1941 and later served during World War II. Lader was a writer and journalist who worked for Reader’s Digest and The New Republic and wrote many books about abortion rights. His 1966 book Abortion was among the first major works published about the then-taboo subject. It was influential in the Roe v. Wade decision: The Supreme Court cited Abortion numerous times in its decision.

    Lader co-founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now NARAL Pro-Choice America). Lader’s other titles include The Margaret Sanger Story and the Fight for Birth Control (1955) and Bold Brahmins: New England’s War Against Slavery, 1831-63 (1973). He and his wife, Joan Summers Lader, had a daughter, Wendy.

    According to Anne Nicol Gaylor, co-founder of FFRF who served with Lader on the NARAL board of directors, Lader was a freethinker. In 1987 he published Politics, Power, and the Church: The Catholic Crisis and Its Challenge to American Pluralism. Lader wrote, “The Catholic hierarchy still rejects pluralism when many of its moral beliefs and dogma are in dispute. Through legislation on divorce, school prayer, abortion, and a host of issues, it has sought to legalize its moral codes.”

    Lader was awarded FFRF’s Freethought Pioneer Award in 1989 for his 1988–89 lawsuit against the Catholic Church, which asked for the church’s tax-exempt status to be removed because of its political lobbying. The lawsuit was lost on standing. He died of colon cancer in 2006.

    “Catholic power, allied with Fundamentalism, has threatened the American tenet of church-state separation and shaken the fragile balance of our pluralistic society.”

    —Lader, "Politics, Power and the Church" (1987)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Janet Jeppson Asimov

    Janet Jeppson Asimov

    On this date in 1926, humanist Janet Opal Asimov (née Jeppson), was born into a Mormon family in Ashland, Pa. While known for her fiction writing, science columns and accomplishments in psychiatry and psychoanalysis, her marriage to Isaac Asimov in 1973 added further prominence. She enrolled at Wellesley College, where “I came to think of death as a disorganization of the patterns called living with nothing supernatural left over,” according to The Humanist (March 4, 2019).

    She earned a B.A. degree from Stanford University, an M.D. degree from New York University Medical School and in 1960 graduated from the William Alanson White Institute of Psychoanalysis, where she continued to work until 1986. After her marriage she practiced psychiatry as Janet O. Jeppson and published medical papers under that name.

    Her first story was published in The Saint Mystery Magazine in 1966. She would eventually publish 27 works, including six novels, and switched to her married name to co-write science fiction with Isaac. They released the young-adult novel Norby, the Mixed-Up Robot in 1983 and followed it with nine others in the Norby Chronicles series. He was later quoted that despite the joint byline, she did 90% of the work. After his death in 1992, she took over writing his syndicated Los Angeles Times science column. She died in New York in February 2019 at age 92.

    Chris Johnson © photo, cropped; used with permission.

    “I think one reason believers have hidden depression is that in the effort to ensure that they and their loved ones live forever, they don’t really live in the present. They worry about past sins and future punishments or rewards. They even louse up the environment because only heaven matters.”

    —Janet Asimov, quoted in "A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a World Without God" by Chris Johnson (2013)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    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

    Tom Brazaitis

    Tom Brazaitis

    On this date in 1940, Tom Brazaitis was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended John Carroll University on a basketball scholarship in 1962, where he became captain of the basketball team as well as sports editor of the student newspaper, The Carroll News. Brazaitis worked as a political journalist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer from 1971 until 2002, becoming senior editor in 1998. He was chief of the newspaper’s Washington bureau for 19 years, covering  President Nixon’s impeachment hearings.

    He wrote a syndicated column for over 20 years that was published in numerous papers. He married political journalist Eleanor Clift in 1989, and the couple collaborated on two books, War Without Bloodshed (1997) and Madam President: Shattering the Last Glass Ceiling (2000). Brazaitis died on March 30, 2005, of kidney cancer. His battle with cancer was detailed in Clift’s book Two Weeks of Life: A Memoir of Love, Death and Politics (2008).

    In a 2008 speech given by Clift at the 31st annual national FFRF convention, Clift described her late husband as “a card-carrying member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.”

    “Tom was a fallen-away Catholic who in the last years of his life proudly embraced atheism. And he did not flinch those last few months.” 

    Eleanor Clift, speech to the 31st annual FFRF convention in 2008

    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Robert G. Ingersoll

    Robert G. Ingersoll

    On this date in 1833, “The Great Agnostic” Robert Green Ingersoll, who became the best known U.S. advocate of freethought in the 19th century, was born in Dresden, N.Y. The son of an impoverished itinerant pastor, he later recalled his formative church experiences, “The minister asked us if we knew that we all deserved to go to hell, and we all answered ‘yes.’ Then we were asked if we would be willing to go to hell if it was God’s will, and every little liar shouted ‘Yes!’ “

    He became an attorney by apprenticeship and a colonel in the Civil War, fighting in the Battle of Shiloh. In 1867, he was appointed Illinois’ first attorney general. His political career was cut short by his refusal to halt his controversial lectures, but he achieved national political fame for his thrilling nomination speech for James G. Blaine for president at the  GOP national convention in 1876.

    Ingersoll was good friends with three U.S. presidents and was admired by leading progressives for sentiments like this: “Who can overestimate the progress of the world if all the money wasted in superstition could be used to enlighten, elevate and civilize mankind?” (Some Mistakes of Moses, 1879.) 

    Ingersoll traveled the continent for 30 years, speaking to capacity audiences, once attracting 50,000 people to a lecture in Chicago. His repertoire included three- to four-hour lectures, with the largest crowds turned out to hear him denounce the bible and religion. Ingersoll’s speaking fees ranged as high as $7,000 in an era of low wages and no income tax. In 1862 he married Eva Amelia Parker, a rationalist whom he deemed a “Woman Without Superstition” in dedicating his first freethought book to her. They raised two freethinking daughters, Eva Ingersoll-Brown and Maud Ingersoll.

    He initially settled in Peoria, Illinois, then in Washington, D.C., where he successfully defended falsely accused men in the “Star Route” scandal involving U.S. mail routes. The family later relocated to New York. Religious rumors against Ingersoll abounded. One had it that his son was a drunkard who more than once had to be carried away from the table. Ingersoll wrote, “It is not true that intoxicating beverages are served at my table. It is not true that my son ever was drunk. It is not true that he had to be carried away from the table. Besides, I have no son!”

    The 12-volume Dresden Edition of his lectures, poetry and interviews was collected after his death and has been reprinted many times. He has been credited for reviving Thomas Paine‘s reputation in American intellectual history, which had decreased after publication of The Age of Reason in 1794-95. Ingersoll died at age 65 from congestive heart failure in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. His ashes are interred in Arlington National Cemetery. (D. 1899)

    “All religions are inconsistent with mental freedom. Shakespeare is my bible, Burns my hymn-book.”

    “I do not borrow ideas. I have a factory of my own.”

    “I do not believe in putting out the sun to keep weeds from growing.”

    “With soap, baptism is a good thing.”

    —"American Infidel: Robert G. Ingersoll, a Biography" by Orvin Larson (1993)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Lillie Devereux Blake

    Lillie Devereux Blake

    On this date in 1833, Lillie Devereux Blake, née Elizabeth Johnson Devereux, was born into a wealthy family in Raleigh, North Carolina. The famous beauty came into money as a young woman and married a handsome attorney in 1855, who freely spent her fortune before shooting himself in 1858. Blake, as the young mother of two daughters, had to turn her “scribbling” into a way to support her family with her pen.

    In 1861, then living in New York City, she became a war correspondent. By 1882, 500 of her stories, articles, speeches and lectures, plus five novels, had been published. She earned about $3,600 over a lifetime of writing, often under the pen name Tiger Lily.

    At 35 she turned her energies almost exclusively toward working for women’s rights. Protesting Columbia University’s exclusion of women on behalf of her daughters, she could not budge the opposition of Dr. Morgan Dix, rector of Trinity Church in New York City. In 1883 she encountered her theological foe again when he embarked on an anti-suffrage lecture series. Blake responded immediately by scheduling her own lectures, including one on “Woman in Paganism and Christianity.” Dix, she said, was “a theological Rip Van Winkle, who has slept, not 20 but 200 years.”

    She campaigned for the rights of women prisoners (“Is it a crime to be a woman?”), and achieved many reforms. A good friend of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she served on The Woman’s Bible revising committee. For 11 years she ran the successful New York State Suffrage Association, defeating an anti-suffrage governor, winning the right to vote for rural women at elections of school trustees and getting women accepted as census takers. (D. 1913)

    “Every denial of education, every refusal of advantages to women, may be traced to this dogma [of original sin], which first began to spread its baleful influence with the rise of the power of the priesthood and the corruption of the early Church.”

    —Blake, "Woman's Place To-Day: Four Lectures in Reply to the Lenten Lectures on 'Woman' by the Rev. Morgan Dix, Rector of Trinity Church, New York" (1883)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Felix Adler

    Felix Adler

    On this date in 1851, Felix Adler, founder of the Society for Ethical Culture, was born in Germany, the son of a Reform rabbi. At 6 he emigrated with his family to New York City. Adler graduated from Columbia College and returned to Germany for advanced study, earning a Ph.D. at the University of Heidelberg. He accepted a position in 1874 at Cornell University as a professor of Hebrew and Oriental literature.

    In 1876 he was invited to give a lecture to a group interested in his ideas on a creedless ethical movement, a moral “universal religion” without a deity at its base. The next year the New York Society for Ethical Culture was incorporated and went on to initiate social reforms such as model tenements, the founding of a free kindergarten in 1878, free legal aid to the poor and child labor laws. Adler chaired the National Child Labor Committee from 1904-21.

    His published lectures included Creed and Deed (1880), The Moral Instruction of Children (1892), Life and Destiny (1903), The Essentials of Spirituality, Marriage and Divorce, (1905), The Religion of Duty (1905), The World Crisis and Its Meaning (1915) and An Ethical Philosophy of Life (1918).

    The International Journal of Ethics, founded by Adler in 1890, is still published by the University of Chicago Press as Ethics. Adler became professor of social and political ethics at Columbia, teaching from 1902 until his death. He also founded Ethical Culture schools, including the Fieldston High School in Riverdale, New York, endowed by John D. Rockefeller. D. 1933.

    “For more than three thousand years men have quarreled concerning the formulas of their faith. The earth has been drenched with blood shed in this cause, the face of day darkened with the blackness of the crimes perpetrated in its name. There have been no dirtier wars than religious wars, no bitterer hates than religious hates, no fiendish cruelty like religious cruelty, no baser baseness than religious baseness.”
    —Adler, founding address of New York Society for Ethical Culture (May 15, 1876)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Maria Deraismes

    Maria Deraismes

    On this date in 1828 or 1835,* Maria Deraismes was born in Paris into a prosperous, middle-class family. She was given more educational opportunities than most young women of her era. She wrote a collection of dramatic sketches that were published in 1861, then turned her hand to comedies. She became one of the founding members of the feminist movement in France. Deraismes welcomed participants to the first French Women’s Congress, held in 1878, and was president of the Society for the Improvement of the Condition of Women.

    She made a famous rebuttal to the misogynist labeling of women intellectuals as “bluestockings.” A rationalist, she was the first woman Freemason in France and directed several freethought societies. She was a co-presider of the Anti-Clerical Congress in Paris in 1881. The town square of St. Nazaire is reputedly named for her. D. 1894.

    * Sources disagree.

    V. S. Naipaul

    V. S. Naipaul

    On this date in 1932, British writer and Nobel Prize laureate Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born in Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago, to a family of Indian descent. Naipaul’s parents migrated there from India in the 1880s, working as indentured laborers on a sugar plantation. Naipaul noted that his father’s work as an English-language journalist in Trinidad spurred his interest in literature, politics and writing. Upon graduating from the Queen’s Royal College, Naipaul was awarded a scholarship from the Trinidadian government and enrolled at the University of Oxford.

    After graduating from Oxford in 1953 with a degree in English, Naipaul moved to London where he was featured on the BBC’s weekly “Caribbean Voices” program while writing the short-story collection Miguel Street (1959), which recounted stories from his childhood. Miguel Street and Naipaul’s first novel, The Mystic Massuer (1955), were widely praised.

    The success of his early writings encouraged Naipaul to write his next novel, A House for Mr Biswas (1961), inspired by the childhood memories of his father and the colonial society in which he was raised. Naipaul’s works of fiction and nonfiction comment on colonialism, religion and politics. He wrote 11 novels, two short-story collections and 16 nonfiction books, including two on belief and the Islamic faith, Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981) and Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Conquered Peoples (1998).

    Nobel Academy member Per Wastberg commented, on the occasion of Naipaul receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001: “If you follow the whole oeuvre of Naipaul, he is very critical of all religions. He considers religion as the scourge of humanity, which dampens down our fantasies and our lust to think and experiment.”

    Naipaul’s last work was The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief (2010). He was a prodigious traveler, and research for his books often required him to spend significant time in South America, Africa, India and elsewhere. He died at home in London in 2018 and was survived by his second wife, Pakistani journalist Nadira Khannum Alvi.

    Photo by Faizul Latif Chowdhury under CC BY-SA 4.0.

    “The only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell ourselves.”

    —Naipaul, "In a Free State" (1971)
    Compiled by Paul Epland

    Tom Flynn

    Tom Flynn

    On this date in 1955, author and editor Thomas W. Flynn was born to Sally (McCarty) and Richard Flynn in Erie, Pa. He was the only child of two only children who “kept a fairly strict Catholic household,” he later said. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Xavier University, a Jesuit school in Cincinnati, before renouncing Catholicism while living in Milwaukee and reading the Dresden Edition of “The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll” (“The Trouble With Christmas” by Tom Flynn)

    Flynn worked as a corporate and industrial filmmaker and as an advertising account executive. He volunteered with the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism (later the Council for Secular Humanism) in Buffalo, N.Y. He joined council staff in 1989, was named editor of Free Inquiry in 2000 and became executive director in 2009. He designed and directed the Robert Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, which opened in 1993 at Ingersoll’s home in Dresden, N.Y.

    In “The Trouble with Christmas” (1993), described as a “deep dive into Christian history,” Flynn said he “pulled the plug on Christmas” in 1984. One chapter is titled “The Babe and the Bathwater.” In a “Point of Inquiry” interview (Nov. 14, 2011), he said, “If you’re a serious atheist and you know, you no longer worship the babe, sooner or later you let go of the bathwater, and that’s what I did.”

    “What do you do on Christmas?” was one of the four recurring questions Flynn got from Christian challengers. The others: 1.) If there’s no god, how did you/living things/the universe get here? 2.) If there’s no hell, what keeps you from robbing/raping/killing to your heart’s content? 3.) Without a supernatural order, isn’t your life drab and meaningless? (Blog entry, “A Seasonal Reflection,” Dec. 16, 2016)

    Flynn blogged for the Center for Inquiry as “Advocatus Diaboli” from 2008 to 2017. He wrote two satirical science fiction novels: “Galactic Rapture” (2000), about the rise of a false messiah on a ruined, quarantined world, and its sequel four years later, “Nothing Sacred.” He edited “The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief” (897 pages, 2007).

    He died unexpectedly at age 66 while living with his wife Susan Gibbons in Williamsville, N.Y. (D. 2021)

    “Christmas agglomerates post-Christian ‘extras’ faster than a ball of rubber cement rolling down a hillside of loose scabs.”

    —from "Confessions of an Anti-Claus," in which Flynn argues against even pagan observances like the winter solstice. (The Secular Humanist Bulletin, Winter 1992)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Annie Proulx

    Annie Proulx

    On this date in 1935, novelist Edna Ann Proulx (rhymes with prew) was born in Norwich, Conn., to Lois (Gill) and George Proulx, parents of English and French-Canadian ancestry. Her maternal forebears came to America 15 years after the Mayflower in 1635.

    After living in North Carolina and elsewhere with her family, she graduated from high school in Maine and briefly attended Colby College, where she met her first husband, marrying in 1955 at age 20. She graduated with a B.A. degree in history in 1969 from the University of Vermont and an M.A. degree from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) in Montreal in 1973.

    Proulx worked as a freelance journalist in Vermont after abandoning a Ph.D. program. She had married twice more after divorces and had a daughter and three sons. She published her first novel, Postcards, when she was 56 in 1992. The next year she published The Shipping News, which brought her acclaim and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction. It was adapted as a film in 2001.

    She won the O. Henry Prize for the year’s best short story in 1998 for “Brokeback Mountain,” which had appeared in The New Yorker. It was adapted as a movie in 2005 and won several film industry awards, including the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, co-written by Larry McMurtry.

    She moved to Wyoming, the setting for “Brokeback Mountain,” in 1994 and continued to write. She’s the author of eight books, the latest as of this writing, Barkskins, in 2016 after moving to Washington state. In 2017 she received the Fitzgerald Award for Achievement in American Literature.

    In 2003 she told The Guardian newspaper that apart from “bouts” of Sunday school, religion really hasn’t been a factor in her life. She was not impressed by the worship services that had attracted her mother and sisters in North Carolina: “I was already ‘inoculated’ and too old to catch religious fervour. … I’m an admirer of self-reliance and the natural world and people who can get along in it.”

    In Wyoming she had no time for the evangelicals she encountered: “Very bigoted, extremely right-wing and full of hatred for people who are not like they are.”

    PHOTO: Proulx in 2018 at the National Book Festival; photo by Fuzheado under CC 4.0.

    “She says there has been ‘little religion’ in her life. Perhaps the closest expression of her belief system is the slogan ‘Take care of your own damn self.’ ”

    —Proulx, quoted in The Guardian (Jan. 3, 2003)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Howard Zinn

    Howard Zinn

    On this date in 1922, historian, author and peace activist Howard Zinn was born in New York City to Jewish immigrants. As a 17-year-old, Zinn attended a political rally in Times Square at the urging of neighborhood Communists and was knocked unconscious by police. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, received an Air Medal and, upon returning home, placed his medal and military papers in a folder on which he wrote “Never again.”

    Zinn attended New York University and received a doctorate in history from Columbia University. He became chair of the history and social sciences department of Spelman College, the historically black college for women in segregated Atlanta, in 1956. He participated in the civil rights movement, served on the executive committee for SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and inspired many of his students, including Alice Walker.

    Fired for “insubordination” from Spelman in 1963 (for his criticism of the school’s failure to participate in the civil rights movement), Zinn took a position teaching history at Boston University, which he held until retirement in 1988.

    An aggressive and early opponent of the Vietnam War (and war in general) and champion of liberal causes, Zinn’s 1967 Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, was the first book calling for immediate withdrawal from the war with no exceptions. His A People’s History of the United States, published in 1980 with a small printing and little promotion, was a best-seller, hitting 1 million in sales by 2003. In his 1994 autobiography You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Zinn wrote, “I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it.”

    While his publications were numerous, some of the highlights include the plays “Emma” (1976), about radical feminist and atheist Emma Goldman, “Daughter of Venus” (1985) and “Marx in Soho: A Play on History” (1999), and books such as Artists in Times of War (2003), History Matters: Conversations on History and Politics (2006), and Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian (1993).

    Zinn received the 1958 Albert J. Beveridge Prize from the American Historical Association for his book, LaGuardia in Congress; the 1998 Eugene V. Debs Award from the Debs Foundation; the Upton Sinclair Award in 1999; and the 1998 Lannan Literary Award. Zinn’s wife and lifetime collaborator, Roslyn, died in 2008. Zinn died of a heart attack while swimming at the age of 87 in 2010.

    Zinn at the Pathfinder Bookstore in Los Angeles in 2000. CC 4.0

    “If I was promised that we could sit with Marx in some great Deli Haus in the hereafter, I might believe in it! Sure, I find inspiration in Jewish stories of hope, also in the Christian pacifism of the Berrigans, also in Taoism and Buddhism. I identify as a Jew, but not on religious grounds. Yes, I believe, as Pascal said, ‘The heart has its reasons which reason cannot know.’ There are limits to reason. There is mystery, there is passion, there is something spiritual in the arts — but it is not connected to Judaism or any other religion.”

    —Tikkun magazine interview, "Howard Zinn on Fixing What's Wrong" (May 17, 2006)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Barbara Ehrenreich

    Barbara Ehrenreich

    On this date in 1941, author Barbara Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana. She graduated from Reed College in 1963 and earned her Ph.D. at Rockefeller University in 1968, working in the field of science, then turning to writing. Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers (1972), co-written with Deirdre English, was a widely acclaimed exposé of male domination of female health care. Her essays are regularly featured in mass-circulation periodicals such as The Nation, Ms., Mother Jones, Esquire, Vogue and The New York Times Magazine.

    For many years she was a regular columnist for Time. Other books include For Her Own Good: One Hundred Fifty Years of the Experts’ Advice to Women (with Deirdre English, 1978), The Hearts of Men (1983), The Worst Years of Our Lives (1990) and the classic exposé Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America, in which she went undercover as a waitress and member of the working-class poor. Her classic article, “U.S. Patriots: Without God on Their Side,” originally appeared in Mother Jones, February/March 1981, and is reprinted in the anthology Women Without Superstition.

    In an essay for The New York Times Magazine, Ehrenreich proudly described her family as “the race of ‘none,’ ” as being “the kind of people … who do not believe, who do not carry on traditions.” She was named a Freethought Heroine by FFRF in 1999. Her acceptance speech was titled “My Family Values Atheism.”

    She died of a stroke at age 81 at a hospice facility near her home in Alexandria, Va. (D. 2022)

    “In my parents’ general view, new things were better than old, and the very fact that some ritual had been performed in the past was a good reason for abandoning it now. Because what was the past, as our forebears knew it? Nothing but poverty, superstition and grief. ‘Think for yourself,’ Dad used to say. ‘Always ask why.’ ”
    —Ehrenreich, The New York Times Magazine (April 5, 1992)

    Zona Gale

    Zona Gale

    On this date in 1874, Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Zona Gale was born in Portage, Wisconsin. Following a siege of diphtheria, the once-stout child emerged with delicate health and a lifelong fragility and turned to imaginative play. Her mother was an ultra-religious Presbyterian but her father stopped attending church. A scoffer at an early age, Gale wrote in her unfinished autobiography that when her mother told her, at the age of 5, how Santa Claus comes down the chimney to deliver toys, she replied, “You can’t make me believe any such stuff as that.”

    She received a degree in literature from the University of Wisconsin in 1895, then worked for two daily newspapers. She earned her master of literature degree in 1899 while churning out gothic tales. In 1901 she became a reporter for the Evening World in New York City, then a freelance writer, subsisting on legendary birdlike meals while sending money home to her parents. Her first book, Romance Island, was published in 1906. Gale’s series of sentimental stories, “Friendship Village,” about small-town life, appeared in major periodicals and the stories were later published in four volumes (1908-19).

    She moved back to Wisconsin in 1911 and became an ardent supporter of progressive Sen. Robert M. La Follette, writing for his magazine. Her pacifism during World War I further radicalized her. She served as vice president of the Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association and the Wisconsin Peace Society, shifting her writing from the sentimental to realism. Her important tragedy, Birth, was published in 1918, and Miss Lulu Bett (1920), an ironic, feminist look at small-town life, was a best-seller. Her dramatization of that novel brought her the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In midlife, she married Will Breese. She continued working on progressive causes until her death at age 64 from pneumonia. (D. 1938)

    ‘Who made bed-time?’ I inquired irritably.
    ‘S-h-h!’ said Delia. ‘God did.’
    ‘I don’t believe it,’ I announced flatly.
    ‘Well,’ said Delia, ‘anyway, he makes us sleep.’
    This I also challenged. ‘Then why am I sleepier when I go to church evenings than when I play Hide-and-go-seek in the Brice’s barn evenings?’ I submitted.”
    —Zona Gale, "When I was a Little Girl" (1913)

    C. Wright Mills

    C. Wright Mills

    On this date in 1916, Charles Wright Mills was born in Waco, Texas. Mills grew up without friends, books or music and, at the behest of his insurance broker father, initially planned for a career in engineering. Enrolled at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College in the mid-1930s, Mills frequently wrote for the student newspaper, often about his anger at upperclassmen taunting freshman.

    When students criticized his writing for lacking “guts,” he wrote in response, “Just who are the men with guts? They are the men who have the ability and the brains to see this institution’s faults … the men who have the imagination and the intelligence to formulate their own codes; the men who have the courage and the stamina to live their own lives in spite of social pressure and isolation.”

    These were less the words of an engineer and more the early musings of one of the 20th century’s great sociologists. After one year at Texas A & M, Mills transferred to the University of Texas-Austin, where he excelled in philosophy, sociology, cultural anthropology, economics and social psychology. At UT-Austin, Mills received a bachelor’s in sociology and a master’s in philosophy, while developing interest in the theories and writings of Karl Marx, Thorstein Veblen and John Dewey.

    In 1939 he entered the doctoral program in sociology with a research fellowship at the University of Wisconsin. After completing his coursework in 1941, Mills joined the faculty at the University of Maryland, avoiding military service due to high blood pressure.

    Mills involved himself in public affairs in Washington, D.C., and began writing for progressive magazines like The New Republic. In 1945 he joined Columbia University’s Bureau of Applied Social Research, where he attempted to combine his progressive political passions with empirical research. Mills wrote some of the most radical books of the 20th century, including New Men of Power (1948), White Collar (1951) and The Power Elite (1956), all published when the FBI and the attorney general were compiling lists of “subversives,” which put Mills in great personal and professional danger. Interested in the Cuban revolution under Fidel Castro, he visited Cuba in 1960.

    Mills, who refused to identify with any political party, movement or religion, adamantly criticized what he called “cheerful robots,” or those who happily follow without questioning authority. He said, “If there is one safe prediction about religion in this society, it would seem to be that if tomorrow official spokesmen were to proclaim XYZism, next week 90 percent of religious declaration would be XYZist.” (“A Pagan Sermon to the Christian Clergy,” 1958.)

    The Sociological Imagination (1959), Mills’ most lasting legacy, helped found the subfields of public and critical sociology. It called on sociologists to communicate with the general public instead of just one another and to connect people to public issues. At age 45 he suffered a fatal heart attack. D. 1962.

    “[A]re not all the television Christians in reality armchair atheists? In value and in reality they live without the God they profess; despite ten million Bibles sold each year, they are religiously illiterate.”

    “According to your belief [Christian clergy], my kind of man — secular, prideful, agnostic and all the rest of it — is among the damned. I’m on my own. You’ve got your God.”

    —Mills, "A Pagan Sermon to the Christian Clergy," remarks to the Board of Evangelical and Social Service, United Church of Canada (Feb. 27, 1958)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    On this date in 1749, Germany’s most famous poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, was born in Frankfurt am Main, to a comfortable bourgeois family. He began studying law at Leipzig University at the age of 16 and practiced law briefly before devoting most of his life to writing poetry, plays and novels. In 1773, Goethe wrote the powerful poem “Prometheus,” which urged human beings to believe in themselves more than in gods.

    His first novel was The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), a semi-autobiographical tragedy about a doomed love affair. A line from that novel: “We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things: and, once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to erase them.” In his 1797 Hermann and Dorothea, Goethe observed: “The happy do not believe in miracles.” Goethe typified the Sturm und Drang romantic movement, celebrating the individual. The Grand Duke of Weimar appointed him an administrator in 1775, where, according to some historians, Goethe turned Weimar into “the Athens of Germany.”

    Goethe was keenly interested in the natural sciences and in his studies discovered the human intermaxillary bone (also known as the Goethe bone, adjacent to the incisors). After a sojourn in Italy from 1786 to 1788 he returned to his art, starting a journal inspired by Christopher Marlowe‘s play “Faust,” Goethe wrote part 1 of his most famous play, published in 1808. Part 2 was published in 1832. From Part 1, Scene 9: “The church alone beyond all question / Has for ill-gotten gains the right digestion.”

    Goethe’s religious beliefs were complicated and changed at various periods in his long life. He was raised Lutheran and was quite devout when young but grew to have problems with Christianity’s dogma, hierarchy and superstitious aspects. He revered Spinoza, whom Nietzsche often paired with Goethe. His later spiritual perspective incorporated pantheism (heavily influenced by Spinoza), humanism and elements of Western esotericism, as seen most vividly in part 2 of “Faust.”
     
    “Goethe was a freethinker who believed that one could be inwardly Christian without following any of the Christian churches, many of whose central teachings he firmly opposed, sharply distinguishing between Christ and the tenets of Christian theology, and criticizing its history as a ‘mishmash of fallacy and violence,’ ” states the 1982 German publication Goethe’s Poems in Chronological OrderD. 1832.

    In the wilderness a holy man
    To his surprise met a servant of Pan,
    A goat-footed faun, who spoke with grace;
    “Lord, pray for me and for my race,
    That we in heaven find a place:
    We thirst for God’s eternal bliss.”
    The holy man made answer to this:
    “How can I grant thy bold petition,
    For thou canst hardly gain admission
    In heaven yonder where angels salute:
    For lo! thou hast a cloven foot.”
    Undaunted the wild man made the plea
    “Why should my hoof offensive be?
    I’ve seen great numbers that went straight
    With asses’ heads through heaven’s gate.”

    —Goethe poking fun at pietists claiming his cloven-hoofed paganism would bar him from heaven. "Goethe: With Special Consideration of His Philosophy" by Paul Carus (1915)

    Mary Godwin Shelley

    Mary Godwin Shelley

    On this date in 1797, Mary Godwin (later Shelley) was born in London to Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. Her mother, the famed champion of reason and author of the seminal feminist treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Women, died 10 days after her birth. Her father, a well-known atheist and radical, had attracted the admiration of atheist and poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

    Shelley, also an admirer of Mary Wollstonecraft’s writings, met Mary in 1814. At 16 she ran away with the romantic poet, who was unhappily married to another woman and was the father of two children. His first wife’s suicide made it possible for the couple to marry in 1816. Their first two children died and their only surviving son, Percy, was born in 1819 upon their return to England. At age 19, while living in Switzerland, Mary wrote the classic horror story Frankenstein, published in 1818, in a contest between herself, Percy and Lord Byron to write a “ghost story.”

    The book was immediately successful and has inspired more than 50 film adaptations. After her husband tragically drowned in 1822 in Italy, Mary returned to England, where she courted respectability on behalf of their son. She worked as a professional writer, penning short stories, travel books, essays and several other novels, including The Last Man (1826) about the gradual demise of the human race during a plague.

    She died at age 53 from what her physician suspected was a brain tumor. (D. 1851)

    Chapman Cohen

    Chapman Cohen

    On this date in 1868, freethought advocate Chapman Cohen was born in Leicester, England, to Enoch Cohen, a confectioner, and his wife, Deborah (née Barnett). At the age of 21, he began a 50-year career as a popular and concise freethought writer and lecturer. When G.W. Foote died in 1915, Cohen succeeded him as president of the National Secular Society and editor of its publication The Freethinker. Cohen was an efficient manager who brought security to the National Secular Society. He married happily and had a daughter, who died at age 29, and a son, who became a physician.

    He gave up the NSS presidency in 1949 and handed The Freethinker over to F.A. Ridley in 1951. Cohen is considered the “last great Victorian freethinker.” (Victor E. Neuburg, The Encyclopedia of Unbelief.) He wrote many articles and pamphlets, as well as Almost an Autobiography (1940). D. 1954.

    “Gods are fragile things, they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense. They thrive on servility and shrink before independence. They feed upon worship as kings do upon flattery. That is why the cry of gods at all times is ‘Worship us or we perish.’ ”

    —Chapman Cohen, "The Devil," undated pamphlet

    Edgar Rice Burroughs

    Edgar Rice Burroughs

    On this date in 1875, Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago. He graduated from the Michigan Military Academy in 1895 and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1896 but was discharged after only a year due to a heart condition. He became a full-time writer of pulp fiction in 1912, the year he published his story “Tarzan of the Apes” in The All-Story Magazine. The story was an overwhelming success and Burroughs went on to publish 26 Tarzan novels, which became famous worldwide.

    The novels detail the life of Tarzan, an Englishman who was raised by apes in the African jungle. The books have been made into over 50 different movies, beginning with the silent film “Tarzan of the Apes” in 1918, which was one of the first films to make over a million dollars. Tarzan novels have also been adapted into a 1932 radio drama, the Broadway play “Tarzan of the Apes” (1921) and Broadway musical “Tarzan” (2006), the Disney animated movie “Tarzan” (1999) and five television series.

    Respect for his Tarzan stories has, despite their early popularity, diminished due to growing awareness of their implicit racist and imperialist prejudices that were rampant and rarely challenged in Western culture when he wrote them. Revised variations of the Tarzan theme in multiple genres since then have tackled the difficult task of reducing or removing the prejudices inherent in the core of the Tarzan concept, with varying degrees of success.

    Burroughs wrote 50 other books, many of which were science fiction, including A Princess of Mars (1912), At the Earth’s Core (1914) and The Cave Girl (1925). He married Emma Hulbert in 1900 and had three children: Joan, John and Hulbert. They lived in Tarzana, Calif., which Burroughs founded in 1928.

    On July 6, 1925, Burroughs published an article in New York America supporting evolution. He wrote, “If we are not religious, then we must accept evolution as an obvious fact. If we are religious, then we must either accept the theory of evolution or admit that there is a power greater than that of God.” Burroughs’ novel The Gods of Mars (1918) contained freethought themes, describing a deeply religious society where religion was a myth perpetuated as a way to cover up murder.

    He died of a heart attack at age 74 a home in Encino, Calif. He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2003. (D. 1950)

    “Men who had not progressed as far as we have tried to interpret [evolution] some two thousand years ago. It is not strange that they made mistakes. They were ignorant and superstitious.”

    Edgar Rice Burroughs, New York America, July 6, 1925 (quoted in "Tarzan Forever" by John Taliaferro, 1999)

    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Richard Wright

    Richard Wright

    On this date in 1908, Richard Wright was born in Natchez, Mississippi, to Nathaniel Wright, a sharecropper, and Ella Wilson, a schoolteacher. Wright was raised primarily by his mother after his father abandoned the family when he was 5. Although he left school after the ninth grade to help support the family, it was apparent fairly early that he had writing talent.

    He published his first short story, “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre,” in an African-American newspaper when he was 16. In 1927 he moved to Chicago and found work in the post office but had to resort to temporary jobs once the Great Depression descended on the U.S.

    Wright rejected American capitalism and joined the Communist Party in 1932. He began publishing essays, short stories and poems in various left-leaning journals. In 1937 he moved to New York City, where he eventually became an editor for the Daily Worker and New Challenge. In 1938 and 1940 respectively, he published Uncle Tom’s Children and Native Son, two of his most prominent works. Wright married Dhima Rose Meadman in 1939 but they soon divorced. In 1941 he married Ellen Poplar, with whom he had two daughters.

    He grew disillusioned with the Communist Party and left it in 1944. He continued to write, producing Black Boy, an account of his early experiences as an African-American, in 1945. Tired of the prevalence of blatant racism in the U.S., he and his family relocated to France in 1947. He remained there for the rest of his life and published several more works, though they did not achieve the same recognition as his earlier works. He died at age 52 of a heart attack in 1960.

    “I have no religion in the formal sense of the word. … I have no race except that which is forced upon me. I have no country except that to which I’m obliged to belong. I have no traditions. I’m free. I have only the future.” 

    —Wright, "Pagan Spain" (1957)
    Compiled by Yuna Choi

    Robert M. Pirsig

    Robert M. Pirsig

    On this date in 1928, Robert M. Pirsig was born in Minneapolis. He was tested with an IQ of 170 when he was only 9 years old. He enrolled in the University of Minnesota when he was 15, but left to join the army in 1946. Pirsig returned to the university and graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1950, as well as studying philosophy at Banaras Hindu University in India and earning his M.A. in journalism from the University of Minnesota in 1958.

    He later became a professor of English rhetoric and composition at the University of Montana, but stopped teaching after he was briefly diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression. He appeared to recover after some institutional care.

    In 1974, Pirsig wrote the wildly popular philosophical book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, in which he detailed a motorcycle trip he took with his son, Chris, while illustrating philosophical ideas. In the book, Pirsig wrote about his theory, “the metaphysics of quality,” which is still widely discussed today.

    He married his first wife, Nancy Ann James, in 1954, and they had two sons: Chris, who died in 1979, and Ted. Pirsig married Wendy Kimball in 1978 and the two had a daughter, Nell, born in 1980.

    In Pirsig’s novel, Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals (1991), Pirsig wrote, “A person isn’t considered insane if there are a number of people who believe the same way. Insanity isn’t supposed to be a communicable disease. If one other person starts to believe him, maybe two or three, then it’s a religion.” He was quoted in Richard Dawkins’ 2006 book, The God Delusion, as having said more succinctly, “When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.” D. 2017.

    “Religious mysticism is intellectual garbage. It’s a vestige of the old superstitious Dark Ages when nobody knew anything and the whole world was sinking deeper and deeper into filth and disease and poverty and ignorance. It is one of those delusions that isn’t called insane only because there are so many people involved.”

    —Pirsig, "Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals" (1991)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Malcolm Bradbury

    Malcolm Bradbury

    On this date in 1932, Malcolm Stanley Bradbury was born in Sheffield, England. He earned a degree in English from University College at Leicester in 1953, an M.A. in English literature from Queen Mary College in 1955 and a Ph.D. in American studies at the University of Manchester in 1962. He finished his first novel, Eating People is Wrong, while recovering from major heart surgery. The book was published in 1958. Bradbury has since published five more novels, including The History Man (1975), which was made into a BBC television series in 1981.

    Bradbury helped found the influential Creative Writing M.A. course at the University of East Anglia in 1970 — Ian McEwan was the first student — and was a professor of American studies. He wrote over 50 scripts for television shows, screenplays and radio dramas, including the crime series “A Touch of Frost” (1992–99) and television series “Anything More Would Be Greedy” (1989). Bradbury married Elizabeth Salt in 1959 and they had two children, Dominic and Matthew. Bradbury was knighted in 1991 for his services to literature. He died in 2000 at age 68.

    “Malcolm is an agnostic and didn’t want to be married in church.”

    Bradbury’s wife Elizabeth, interview with The Independent (April 9, 1995)

    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Leo Tolstoy

    Leo Tolstoy

    On this date in 1828, the great Russian novelist Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was born as a landed count on his family’s Yasnaya Polyana estate near Tula. After serving as an officer in the Crimean War, his sense of social justice began to surface and he founded 13 schools for peasants after serfdom was abolished in 1861. He had a religious crisis in his 40s that caused him to denounce the powerful and corrupt Orthodox Church. Tolstoy called the church an “impenetrable forest of stupidity” and a “conscious deception that serves as a means for one part of the people to govern the other,” according to biographer Tikhon Polner (Tolstoy and His Wife, 1945).

    Tolstoy, in such books as Critique of Dogmatic Theology, wrote that Jesus Christ was human, not divine, and rejected miracles and immortality. In My Confession (1882) he wrote, “If there is no higher reason —and there is none — then my own reason must be the supreme judge of my life.” The books were banned by church censors and Tolstoy was called an “impious infidel.” In 1895 he gave up his property, living as a nature-worshipping peasant, like his main protagonist in War and Peace.

    In that novel he wrote, “Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges or beliefs.” As James A. Haught wrote in 2000 Years of Disbelief, “Many people who reject supernatural Christianity nonetheless embrace Christ’s message of compassion. Tolstoy carried this pattern to an extreme. He renounced organized religion and was excommunicated in 1901 by the Russian Orthodox Church — yet he became almost a monk, living in service to others.”

    He espoused an ethical and ascetic Christianity. In What Is Religion? (1902), Tolstoy wrote, “One may say with one’s lips: ‘I believe that God is one, and also three’ — but no one can believe it, because the words have no sense.”

    In 1862 Tolstoy married Sofia Andreevna Behrs, daughter of a court physician and 16 years his junior. They had 13 children, eight of whom survived childhood. Their later life together has been described as one of the unhappiest in literary history. Sofia was upset about his attempts to reject his wealth, opposed to his teachings she saw as radical and had grown envious of the attention he gave to his Tolstoyan “disciples.”

    In 1910 he left home secretly in the dead of night in winter in an apparent attempt to escape her tirades and died of pneumonia a day’s journey from home after collapsing at the Astapovo railway station. “The Last Station,” a 2009 film about his final year, was based on a novel by Jay Parini. Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy and Helen Mirren as Sofia were both nominated for Oscars.

    Photo: Tolstoy in a 1901 portrait by Ilya Repin.

    “Religious superstition consists in the belief that the sacrifices, often of human lives, made to the imaginary being are essential, and that men may and should be brought to that state of mind by all methods, not excluding violence.”
    —Tolstoy, "The Slavery of Our Times" (1890)

    Avijit Roy

    Avijit Roy

    On this date in 1972, Avijit Roy, author, atheist/social activist and martyr to the secular cause, was born in Bangladesh to Ajoy and Shefali Roy. Ajoy, his father, was a physics professor at the University of Dhaka. Avijit Roy earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and a master’s and doctorate in biomedical engineering from the National University of Singapore. While working in his field, Roy in 2001 started a Yahoo group named Mukto-Mona (Free Mind) for Bangladeshi secularists, rationalists and atheists to discuss issues related to human rights, secularism, humanism and the impact of religious doctrines — especially Islam and Hinduism — on politics in South Asia. Mukto-Mona was born as an online platform in 2002 and expanded its reach worldwide.

    Roy moved from Singapore to the U.S. in 2006 to work as a software engineer. He’d met Atlanta resident and eventual wife Rafida Bonya Ahmed, known as Bonya, on Mukto-Mona. They settled in Alpharetta, Ga., with Bonya’s daughter Trisha, and Roy became a U.S. citizen. He wrote prolifically on many varied subjects, including religion, atheism, cosmology, homosexuality and Rabindranath Tagore. Seven of his books were published in Bangladesh.

    In a 2013 column in Free Inquiry magazine, he and Trisha Ahmed, then a high school senior, wrote an essay defending Bangladeshi atheists: “Nonbelievers are not only valuable contributors to society; they also constitute a large fraction of the world’s intellectual and academic community.” (Baltimore Sun, March 2, 2015.) As a free-speech advocate, Roy took an active role in protesting the arrests of atheist bloggers and the murder of others in Bangladesh. His writing and activism brought him the ire of fundamentalist Muslims, and on Feb. 26, 2015, he was hacked to death with machetes by militants at a book fair in Dhaka. Bonya was severely injured but survived.

    Trisha wrote on the day he died: “He and my mom started dating when I was six years old. In the twelve years that followed, he became my friend, my hero, my most trusted confidante, my dance partner (even though we’re both terrible dancers), and my father. Not once did he tell me to simmer down or be more polite; he taught me to be informed, bold, and unafraid.” (CNN column on the first anniversary of Roy’s death, Feb. 26, 2016.)

    In 2018, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Bonya announced the first recipient of the Avijit Roy Courage Award: Roopbaan, the first gay magazine published in Bangladesh. One of its founders was murdered by Muslim fundamentalists. FFRF established the $5,000 award in 2018 to recognize “a person who has been working toward the spread of rational and logical discourse, toward diminishing the influence of regressive fundamentalist religious thinking, toward building a society based on humane laws and without discrimination.” 

    “If one thing is certain, it is that the virus of faith is dangerously real.”

    —Avijit Roy, "The Virus of Faith," posthumously published in Free Inquiry magazine (April/May 2015)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Alain Locke

    Alain Locke

    On this date in 1885, philosopher and author Alain LeRoy Locke, an instrumental figure in the Harlem Renaissance, was born in Philadelphia, the only child of Pliny Ishmael Locke — a law school graduate and the first black employee of the U.S Postal Service — and Mary Hawkins Locke, a teacher. His father died when Locke was 6, when he became even closer to his mother, who was an adherent of Felix Adler.

    He was the first African-American Rhodes Scholar and went on to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University. It would be 56 years before another Black was awarded the Rhodes. The family’s religious background was Episcopalian, which Locke later disavowed when he became convinced the Baha’i faith with its “universalist” and humanist views and interracial meetings appealed more to him as a person of color. He would be reprimanded in 1920 while teaching at Howard University for his failure to attend chapel. He had received an assistant professorship there in 1912.

    In The Philosophy of Alain Locke: Harlem Renaissance and Beyond (1989), editor Leonard Harris wrote, “Contrary to a Christian doctrine that there exists only one route to salvation, Locke holds that true universality requires a different view of spiritual brotherhood — one compatible with world peace.” In that same book Locke is quoted, “The idea that there is only one true way of salvation with all other ways leading to damnation is a tragic limitation [of] Christianity, which professes the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. How foolish in the eyes of foreigners are our competitive blind, sectarian missionaries!”

    In a 2019 profile in The Humanist, Charles Murn wrote that Locke engaged in the culture wars of his time: “He attacked racism, color prejudice, discrimination against minorities, anti-Semitism, eugenics, and imperialism. While he was gay and mentored younger gay men, many of whom were artists, he did not seek to ease restrictions on homosexuality. He called for religious tolerance, yet confronted intolerance by religious leaders.”

    Locke possessed a towering intellect (while physically small in stature at 4-foot-11), and after he was fired as chair of Howard’s philosophy department in 1925 for demanding pay equity for Black faculty, focused on publishing The New Negro: An Interpretation. A landmark in Black literature, the anthology contained Locke’s title essay and four more he wrote, along with poetry, art and prose by others, including Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes.

    After being reinstated at Howard in 1928, he remained there until retiring in 1953. Leonard Harris notes that between 1912-53, most of the Black philosophy students at U.S. universities were either taught by Locke or by the philosophers he was instrumental in hiring at Howard. He also influenced students during visiting professorships in the mid-1940s at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the New School for Social Research in New York City. The philosophy department at UW-Madison was chaired at that time by Max Carl Otto, one of the earliest and most prominent scientific humanist philosophers.  

    He died of heart disease in New York City the year after retiring. Engraved on the tombstone under which lay his ashes is “Herald of the Harlem Renaissance” and “Exponent of Cultural Pluralism.” On the back are engraved a nine-pointed Baháʼí star, a bird that’s the national emblem of Zimbabwe, lambda gay rights and Phi Beta Sigma symbols and an African woman’s face set against the sun’s rays. Beneath the images are the Latin words “Teneo te, Africa” (I hold you, Africa). (D. 1954) 

    “The best argument against there being a God is the white man who says God made him.”

    —Locke, quoted in "Alain Locke: Faith and Philosophy" by Christopher Buck (2005)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Ted Gup

    Ted Gup

    On this date in 1950, journalist, author and professor Ted Gup was born in Canton, Ohio. Of Jewish heritage, after attending Trinity University in Ireland he earned a B.A. in classics from Brandeis University and a J.D. from Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He was a longtime Washington Post reporter and later worked for Time magazine. Gup has written for many national publications, including Smithsonian, National Geographic, New York Times, Boston Globe, The Village Voice, Sports Illustrated, Slate, GQ, Mother Jones, Audubon, the Columbia Journalism Review and NPR. Much of his work has championed more transparency in government.

    Gup has worked in multiple academic positions, including a professor of journalism at Case Western Reserve and as chair of the journalism department at Emerson College in Boston. He has received more than 20 awards for his writing, including the George Polk Award, the Worth Bingham Prize, the Gerald Loeb Award, the Investigative Reporters and Editors Book-of-the-Year Award for his best-seller The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA (2000) and the Goldsmith Book Prize for Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life (2007).

    Gup has been a Pulitzer finalist, Fulbright Scholar, MacArthur Fellow and Guggenheim Fellow. Gup is also the author of A Secret Gift (2010), a frequent contributor to news programs on CNN, PBS and NPR and a public speaker in high demand. In the wake of his 21-year-old son’s 2011 death from a heroin and alcohol overdose, he said he had become a nonbeliever. 

    “I had nearly forgotten how death plays out over time — not the biological episode that collapses it all into a nanosecond of being and nonbeing, but the slower arc of our leaving — sorting through the mail, paying the bills, stumbling upon notes. … Have I no more than these solicitations, the invitations, these letters delivered late? I do. I have memories. I have places where I feel both his closeness and his distance. And I have the all-too-brief visitations allowed in dreams. For the nonbeliever I’ve become, it is what passes for an afterlife.”

    —Gup, “The Afterlife,” New York Times op-ed on getting mail addressed to his son over two years after his death (July 12, 2014)
    Compiled by Noah Bunnell

    James Fenimore Cooper

    James Fenimore Cooper

    On this date in 1789, James Cooper (later known as James Fenimore Cooper) was born in Burlington, N.J. He briefly attended Yale College and in 1808 joined the U.S. Navy. Cooper is best known for writing The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 (1826), an extremely popular novel focusing on the involvement of the Mohicans, a Native American tribe, in the French and Indian War. The novel was made into films in 1920, 1932, 1936, 1963 and 1992, as well as TV series in 1977, 1975 and 1987. It was also adapted into a BBC radio series in 1995 and an opera in 1976.

    The Last of the Mohicans was the second book in Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales series, which included four other novels. Cooper wrote over 50 more books in various genres, including The Pilot: A Tale of the Sea (1824), the nonfiction The Chronicles of Cooperstown (1838) and American war novel The Spy (1821). He married Susan Augusta DeLancey in 1811 and the couple had seven children. D. 1851.

    “Ignorance and superstition ever bear a close and mathematical relation to each other.”

    —Cooper, quoted in "Closures: Webster’s Quotations, Facts and Phrases" (2008)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Jerry DeWitt

    Jerry DeWitt

    On this date in 1969, Jerry DeWitt was born in DeRidder, La., the progeny of a long line of Pentecostal preachers. DeWitt was an evangelical pastor of two churches in DeRidder for 25 years. His journey to atheism was gradual, doubts beginning to form when he contemplated the idea of hell. He secretly joined the Clergy Project, a confidential online community for active and former preachers who no longer hold supernatural beliefs. When a photo of DeWitt and Richard Dawkins circulated, unintentionally outing DeWitt, he embraced his status as the first “graduate” of the Clergy Project, though not without cost.

    After coming out publicly as an atheist in 2011, DeWitt lost his wife, his job and many friends and relatives. Soon after he became the volunteer executive director of Recovering From Religion, serving until 2012. Speaking to Oklahoma freethinkers in 2012, he said, “Pretending has an adult word that we call faith. What religion calls faith is really pretending to believe.”

    In 2013 he wrote a book about his experiences, Hope After Faith and hosted the first meeting of the Community Mission Chapel, a so-called “atheist church” in his home state. DeWitt travels to freethought gatherings around the country, deploying the oratory skills he acquired from preaching to share his story and his thoughts on “the five stages of disbelief.” “I loved God for 25 years, but yet in my search was not able to find any true evidence or proof of his existence or intervention,” he told CNN (July 22, 2013).

    “Skepticism is my nature, freethought is my methodology, agnosticism is my conclusion after 25 years of being in the ministry, and atheism is my opinion.”

    —DeWitt, CNN interview (July 22, 2013)
    Compiled by Noah Bunnell

    Simon Singh

    Simon Singh

    On this date in 1964, Simon Singh was born in Somerset, England, after his parents immigrated to Britain from the Punjab region of India. He majored in physics at the Imperial College in London and received his Ph.D. in 1991 in particle physics from Cambridge University and at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva. He eventually became a writer with a focus on math and science. The BBC science department hired Singh in 1990.

    He directed the 1996 BAFTA award-winning documentary on a math theorem titled, “Fermat’s Last Theorem.” NOVA showed the documentary in the U.S. under the title “The Proof,” which received an Emmy nomination. Singh turned the documentary into his first book, called Fermat’s Last Theorem in Britain and Fermat’s Enigma in the U.S. In 1999 he published his second book, The Code Book: The Evolution of Secrecy From Mary, Queen Of Scots to Quantum Cryptography. He wrote Big Bang: The Most Important Scientific Discovery of All Time and Why You Need To Know About It in 2004.

    His article in April 2008 criticizing chiropractic, an alternative medicine that uses manual therapy, resulted in the British Chiropractic Association suing for libel in a case that Singh won after two years. He became an advocate for fairer libel laws via the Libel Reform Campaign in Britain and co-wrote Trick Or Treatment?: Alternative Medicine on Trial in 2008. Singh is active in the skeptic community. He married journalist Anita Anand in 2007. They live in London with their two sons.

    Photo by Richardc39 under CC 3.0.

    “For tens of thousands of years, humans have stared up into the heavens and wondered about the origin of the universe. Up until now every culture, society, and religion has had nothing else to turn to except its creation myths, fables, or religious scriptures. Today, by contrast, we have the extraordinary privilege of being the first generation of our species to have access to a scientific theory of the universe that explains its origin and evolution.”

    —Singh, CNN.com op-ed, "Why I'm dreaming of a white-noise Christmas” (Dec. 24, 2010)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

    George R.R. Martin

    George R.R. Martin

    On this date in 1948, novelist, screenwriter and producer George Raymond Richard Martin was born in Bayonne, New Jersey. Martin, the son of longshoreman Raymond Collins Martin and his wife Margaret Brady Martin, grew up watching the boats come in and out of the docks. Feeling isolated, Martin turned to literature for inspiration, devouring fantasy and science fiction novels. He even began writing monster stories, selling them for pennies. Later selling his fiction to comic fanzines, Martin was first published in 1970. He earned his B. S. in journalism, graduating summa cum laude, and a master’s from Northwestern University.

    During the 1970s, Martin wrote part time, working also as a VISTA volunteer and as a chess director for the Continental Chess Association. In 1976 he became an English and journalism instructor at Clarke College in Iowa. Martin moved to Santa Fe in 1979 to pursue his writing passion, receiving Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards for his short fiction. Venturing into Hollywood, Martin took a position in 1986 as a story editor for “The Twilight Zone” at CBS and as executive story consultant for “Beauty and the Beast” in 1998, quickly moving up to co-supervising producer. During this period, Martin served as vice president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

    In 1996, A Game of Thrones was published, Martin’s first installment of the epic fantasy series that would launch him to celebrity and become his magnum opus. A Feast for Crows (2005), the fourth novel in the series called A Song of Ice and Fire, became a New York Times No. 1 best-seller. The next installment, A Dance With Dragons (2011), stayed on the best-seller list for 88 weeks. That same year, the first book was adapted by HBO into the Emmy-winning hit series “Game of Thrones,” of which Martin is the co-executive producer. 

    Exploring the inner turmoil of the human condition, and blurring the borders between right and wrong and good and evil, Martin’s novels are as stirring as they are thrilling. A man with a firm moral compass — he was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War — Martin persuades readers to confront their beliefs, to question bedrock assumptions, often killing his darlings to the dismay of his fans. Martin was married to Gale Burnick (1975 to 1979) and in 2011 married Parris McBride.

    “You would consider me an atheist or agnostic. I find religion and spirituality fascinating. I would like to believe this isn’t the end and there’s something more, but I can’t convince the rational part of me that that makes any sense whatsoever.”

    —Martin, Entertainment Weekly interview (July 12, 2011)
    Compiled by Noah Bunnell; photo by Helga Esteb, Shutterstock.com

    H.G. Wells

    H.G. Wells

    On this date in 1866, (Herbert George) H.G. Wells was born to a working-class family in Kent, England. He received a spotty education, interrupted by several illnesses and family difficulties, and became a draper’s apprentice as a teen. Wells earned a government scholarship in 1884 to study biology under Thomas Henry Huxley at the Normal School of Science. Wells earned his bachelor of science and doctor of science degrees at the University of London.

    After marrying his cousin Isabel, Wells began to supplement his teaching salary with short stories and freelance articles, then books, including The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897) and The War of the Worlds (1898). Wells created a mild scandal when he divorced Isabel to marry one of his best students, Amy Catherine Robbins. Although his second marriage was lasting and produced two sons, Wells was an unabashed advocate of free (as opposed to “indiscriminate”) love. He continued to openly have extramarital liaisons, most famously with Margaret Sanger, and a 10-year relationship with the author Rebecca West, who had one of his two out-of-wedlock children.

    As a member of the socialist Fabian Society, Wells sought active change. His 100 books included nonfiction such as A Modern Utopia (1905), The Outline of History (1920), A Short History of the World (1922), The Shape of Things to Come (1933) and The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1932). One of his booklets was Crux Ansata, An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church. Although Wells toyed briefly with the idea of a “divine will” in his book God the Invisible King (1917), it was a temporary aberration.

    Wells used his international fame to promote his favorite causes, including the prevention of war, and was received by government officials around the world. He is best remembered as an early writer of science fiction and futurism. D. 1946.

    “Indeed Christianity passes. Passes — it has gone! It has littered the beaches of life with churches, cathedrals, shrines and crucifixes, prejudices and intolerances, like the sea urchin and starfish and empty shells and lumps of stinging jelly upon the sands here after a tide. A tidal wave out of Egypt. And it has left a multitude of little wriggling theologians and confessors and apologists hopping and burrowing in the warm nutritious sand. But in the hearts of living men, what remains of it now? Doubtful scraps of Arianism. Phrases. Sentiments. Habits.”

    H.G. Wells, "Experiment in Autobiography" (1934), cited by Ira D. Cardiff, "What Great Men Think of Religion" (1945)

    Stephen King

    Stephen King

    On this date in 1947, best-selling suspense novelist Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine. King’s parents split when he was a toddler, and he and his older brother were raised by their mother, who struggled financially. Though he grew up attending a Methodist church, his doubts about organized religion began at an early age. In a 2013 interview with National Public Radio on whether he believed in God, King said “the jury’s out on that,” adding that while at the moment he chose to believe, he reserved the right to change his mind. 

    He sold “The Glass Floor,” his first professional short story, to Startling Mystery Stories in 1967. He attended the University of Maine at Orono and wrote a weekly column for the school paper, served as a member of the Student Senate, opposed the Vietnam War and graduated in 1970 with a B.A. in English. In 1971 he married Tabitha Spruce, whom he met while working at a library. King taught English at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine, and pursued his writing in the evenings and on the weekends. King’s first novel, Carrie, was accepted by Doubleday & Co. in 1973. Due to its success, he was able to leave his teaching job and write full time.

    King has published 60 novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman, and five nonfiction works. He has written over 200 short stories, most of which have been compiled in book collections. His books have sold more than 350 million copies, and many of them have been adapted into feature films, TV movies and comic books. Many of his books contain overt religious themes, which prompted America’s Dark Theologian: The Religious Imagination of Stephen King (2018), by Douglas E. Cowan.

    King and his wife, also a novelist and philanthropist, annually give away about $4 million to libraries, fire departments, schools and organizations supporting the arts. They have a daughter, Naomi, who is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Florida, as is her domestic partner Thandeka, whose name means “beloved” and was given her by Bishop Desmond Tutu. Their sons, Owen and Joseph, are both writers.

    King in 2007. Pinguino Kolb photo, Creative Commons.

    “But as far as God and church and religion … I kind of always felt that organized religion was just basically a theological insurance scam where they’re saying if you spend time with us, guess what, you’re going to live forever, you’re going to go to some other plain where you’re going to be so happy, you’ll just be happy all the time, which is also kind of a scary idea to me.”

    —Stephen King, interview, NPR's "Fresh Air" (May 28, 2013)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Walter Lippmann

    Walter Lippmann

    On this date in 1889, Walter Lippmann was born in New York City. He graduated from Harvard University in 1909 and went on to become a prominent journalist, editor and author. He became co-founder and editor of The New Republic in 1913, editor of the New York World in 1923 and a columnist for the New York Herald Tribune in 1931. At the Herald Tribune, Lippmann wrote the nationally syndicated column “Today and Tomorrow,” which ran in 250 newspapers for more than 30 years.

    Lippmann was also a prolific author whose works include A Preface to Politics (1913), Public Opinion (1922) and The Cold War (1947), which popularized the term “cold war.” He was a U.S. delegate to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 at the close of World War I, where he helped to write the Covenant of the League of Nations. Lippmann was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes in 1958 and 1962 for his column “Today and Tomorrow,” as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. He married Faye Albertson in 1917. After their divorce in 1937, he married Helen Armstrong in 1938.

    In his popular book A Preface to Morals (1929), Lippmann writes about having morality without religion and explains that religion should not be a modern source of morality. “When men can no longer be theists, they must, if they are civilized, become humanists,” he wrote. “Once you weaken the belief that the central facts taught by the churches are facts in the most literal and absolute sense, the disintegration of the popular religion begins.” D. 1974

    “The radical novelty of modern science lies precisely in the rejection of the belief, which is at the heart of all popular religion, that the forces which move the stars and atoms are contingent upon the preferences of the human heart.”

    —Lippmann, quoted in "2000 Years of Disbelief" (1996), by James A. Haught.

    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Albert Ellis

    Albert Ellis

    On this date in 1913, Albert Ellis was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. He graduated from the City University of New York with a degree in business and later decided to earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Columbia University. He worked as a psychotherapist, marriage and family counselor and sex therapist. He became chief psychologist of New Jersey in 1950.

    Ellis initially practiced psychoanalysis but in 1953 he declared it unscientific and became what he called a “rational therapist.” In 1955 he formulated Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a type of short-term cognitive behavioral therapy that counseled patients to take action to improve their lives in the present instead of focusing on past experiences. He founded the nonprofit Albert Ellis Institute in 1964, which worked to promote REBT and make it accessible. REBT was considered a revolutionary change in psychotherapy. A 1982 study found that Ellis was considered more influential than such famous psychologists as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

    Ellis became a “firm atheist and anti-mystic” at age 12, according to his 2007 book Are Capitalism, Objectivism, and Libertarianism Religions? Yes!. In the book, he also called himself a “probabilistic atheist,” meaning that he believed the probability of a god existing was very low. “We can have no certainty that God does or does not exist [but] we have an exceptionally high degree of probability that he or she doesn’t,” Ellis explained in his 2004 book, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: It Works For Me – It Can Work For You.

    Ellis wrote “Case Against Religion: A Psychotherapist’s View and the Case Against Religiosity,” which was first published in The Independent in 1980 and later published as a pamphlet. He wrote that religion’s “absolutistic, perfectionistic thinking is the prime creator of the two most corroding of human emotions: anxiety and hostility.” D. 2007.

    “For a man to be a true believer and to be strong and independent is impossible; religion and self-sufficiency are contradictory terms.” 

    —Ellis, “Case Against Religion: A Psychotherapist’s View and the Case Against Religiosity,” 1980.

    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Prosper Merimee

    Prosper Merimee

    On this date in 1803, writer and dramatist Prosper Mérimée was born in Paris. The son of an artist, he initially studied law, then switched to the humanities. His first play, “Cromwell,” was published in 1822, followed by several famed literary “hoaxes,” more plays and a travel book. A student of language, Mérimée made the first translations into French of many Russian classics.

    In the 1830s he was appointed chief of cabinet to two ministers, then inspector-general of historical monuments, where his archaeological interests could be explored. His most famous novella, Carmen, was published in 1845 and later made into an opera by fellow rationalist Georges Bizet in 1869. Mérimée was made a senator in 1853 by Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III.

    Merimée’s cultural legacy includes the system of classification of historic monuments that he established and the major sites that he saved, such as the walled citadel of Carcasonne, and his part in the foundation of the National Museum of Medieval History in Paris. The French national list of heritage monuments is called the Base Mérimée in his honor. (D. 1870)

    “Atheist like his parents, Prosper Mérimée does not give an important place to anti-clericalism in his works, but he distills it often in short passages. Among the topics covered, we can find the villainous behavior of priests, the hypocrisy, venality, chastity and celibacy imposed that break the life of the men of the Church, superstitions [and] devotion to the Virgin Mary.”

    —"Atheism, the Standing Man" (a French website at http://atheisme.free.fr)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Graham Greene

    Graham Greene

    On this date in 1904, Graham Greene was born in Hertfordshire, England. He graduated with a B.A. in history from Balliol College in 1925, where he worked as an editor for The Oxford Outlook. After graduating, he became an editor for The Times of London. He left in 1930 to become a film critic for The Spectator.

    Greene’s 24 novels included The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948) and The Quiet American (1956). He gained inspiration for them partially from his travels in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mexico, Vietnam and other countries. He also published short stories and screenplays, including “The Third Man” (1949). Greene worked for the British Secret Intelligence Service during World War II.

    Greene was an agnostic who converted to Catholicism in 1926 after becoming engaged to Vivien Dayrell-Browning. In his autobiography A Sort of Life (1971), he wrote that his conversion was difficult: “I disbelieved in God. If I were ever to be convinced in even the remote possibility of a supreme, omnipotent and omniscient power, I realized that nothing afterwards could seem impossible. It was on the ground of dogmatic atheism that I fought and fought hard.”

    After his conversion, many of his novels and stories included Catholic themes. However, in a 1987 interview, Greene said, “I’ve always found it difficult to believe in God. I suppose I’d now call myself a Catholic atheist” (quoted in The New York Times, 1991). Robin Turton, a politician and friend of Greene, said: “I think in my life I’ve never heard atheism put forward better than by Graham.” (Graham Green: Fictions, Faith and Authorship, 2010.) (D. 1991)

    PHOTO: Greene at age 35.

    “I prefer to be an agnostic and think that the body itself produces its own miracle.”

    —Green 1977 letter to his publicist Ragnar Svanström, quoted in "Graham Greene: A Life in Letters" by Richard Greene (2007)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Gore Vidal

    Gore Vidal

    On this date in 1925, writer Eugene Louis Vidal was born at West Point, N.Y., where his father was the first aeronautics instructor at the U.S. Military Academy. (He dropped his first and middle names when he was 14, exchanging them for Gore.) He largely grew up in the home of his grandfather, Sen. Thomas P. Gore, D-Okla. He graduated from Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps.

    His first novel, Williwaw, was published when he was only 19. It was followed by the wave-making The City and the Pillar (1948), which featured a sympathetic gay protagonist. Vidal was the prolific author of many other novels and plays, many based on history and politics, and worked in TV and the movies. His novels include Julian (1964), Myra Breckenridge (1968), Burr (1974) and Live from Golgotha (1992), an irreverent satire imagining New Testament events if reported on TV.

    A cousin of former Vice President Al Gore, he made some political runs, including a try for the U.S. Senate seat in California in which he came in second out of nine in the 1982 race. Vidal was perhaps best-known as a public intellectual and for his refreshing and acerbic interviews and one-liners, such as his famous remark about Ronald Reagan: “A triumph of the embalmer’s art.” “Probably no American writer since Franklin has derided, ridiculed, and mocked Americans more skillfully and more often than Vidal,” wrote Gordon S. Wood. (The New York Times, Dec. 14, 2003.)

    Vidal’s essays, such as “Pink Triangle and Yellow Star” (1981), are collected in Armageddon (1987). Palimpsest (1995) was his well-received autobiography. He rarely missed a chance to diss religion or monotheism: “I regard monotheism as the greatest disaster ever to befall the human race. I see no good in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.” (Letter to Warren Allen Smith, 1954, Who’s Who in Hell.D. July 31, 2012. 

    Carl Van Vechten public domain photo: Vidal at 23 in 1948.

    “Christianity is such a silly religion.”

    —Vidal, Time magazine (Sept. 28, 1992)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Carl Brandes

    On this date in 1847, Danish writer and politician Carl Edvard Cohen Brandes was born in Copenhagen. He received a Ph.D. from Copenhagen University in Oriental languages and edited several radical political publications. His novels and plays propounded rationalist and progressive ideals.

    Brandes notably refused as a freethinker to take the oath when elected to the Folketing (the unicameral parliament) in 1880. Despite attempts to unseat him, he won the right to affirm. Even with his openly atheist views, he was appointed minister to France. His brothers, Georg and Ernst, were also freethinkers. D. 1931.

    “He published translations from Sanskrit and also Danish versions of Isaiah (1902), Psalms (1905), Job, and Ecclesiastes (1907). However, he openly professed atheism and had no connection with Jewish affairs.”

    —Encyclopedia Judaica entry on Brandes (1971)

    Denis Diderot

    Denis Diderot

    On this date in 1713, philosopher Denis Diderot was born in Langres, France, and was destined by his lower-class family for the priesthood. At 13 he was tonsured and titled “abbe.” Continuing his studies in Paris, Diderot abandoned his faith when exposed to science and freethought views, evolving gradually from deist to atheist. In his Essay on the Merits of Virtue (1745), Diderot noted: “From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step.”

    Diderot anonymously wrote Pensees philosophiques (Philosopical thoughts) in 1746, which was ordered burned in public. In it he wrote, “Skepticism is the first step toward truth.” After An Essay on Blindness was published in 1749, Diderot spent three months in jail for atheism, which taught him to only circulate his rationalist writings privately. His Interpretation of Nature (1753) sets out the scientific method. His treatises on aesthetics led him to be called the first art critic. His novels include La Religieuse (published posthumously in 1796), which took an unstinting look at the sexually corrupting forces of monasticism and fanaticism.

    Diderot was the commissioned editor of the first major encyclopedia. He worked with rationalist contributors, including Voltaire, on this monument to the Age of Enlightenment, compiling human achievements in knowledge for nearly 30 years, while facing Catholic opposition. The 17 volumes of text and 11 of illustrations were published between 1751-72. The publisher at one time was imprisoned. Catherine the Great offered Diderot refuge, which he declined, but he accepted her grand gesture of purchasing his library and bequeathing it to him for life in 1766.

    In 1773 he made the arduous journey to Russia to thank her, with hopes of setting up a Russian university. The trip disappointed him in her reign and broke his health. D. 1784.

    “The religion of Jesus Christ, announced by the ignorant, made the first Christians. The same religion, preached by savants and doctors, only makes unbelievers today.”

    —Diderot, "Addition to Pensees philosophiques" (1770)

    Neil deGrasse Tyson

    Neil deGrasse Tyson

    On this date in 1958, Neil deGrasse Tyson was born in the Bronx, N.Y. His mother was a gerontologist for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare and  his father was a sociologist and human resource commissioner for New York City Mayor John Lindsay. He earned his bachelor’s in physics from Harvard University in 1980, his master’s in astronomy from the University of Texas in 1983 and his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia in 1991.

    After graduation he worked as a research associate at Princeton University (1991–94) and a staff scientist for the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History (1994–95). Tyson has served on NASA’s advisory council (2005-08) and founded the American Museum of Natural History’s astrophysics department in 2007, where he heads the Hayden Planetarium. He married Alice Young in 1988 and they have two children.

    He wrote “The Universe” essays for Natural History (1995–2005) and hosted PBS’ “NOVA scienceNOW” from 2006-11. In 2014 he hosted the television series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” a successor to Carl Sagan’s 1980 series. His nine books include Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution (2005), Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (2007) and his memoir, The Sky is Not The Limit: Adventure of an Urban Astrophysicist (2000). In 2009 he wrote The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet

    In his essay “Holy Wars,” published in Natural History magazine in October 1999, Tyson wrote, “Let there be no doubt that as they are currently practiced, there is no common ground between science and religion.” On their intersection he added, “I have yet to see a successful prediction about the physical world that was inferred or extrapolated from the content of any religion’s document.” He is also a strong opponent of intelligent design, calling it in 2005 “a philosophy of ignorance. You cannot build a program of discovery on the assumption that nobody is smart enough to figure out the answer to a problem.”

    In a September/October 2008 essay in The Humanist, Tyson wrote, “I think, based on all the folks who are agnostic historically, I come closer to the behavior of an agnostic than the behavior of an atheist.”

    He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2004 and NASA’s Exceptional Public Service Medal in 2007. He was the recipient of the American Humanist Association’s Isaac Asimov Science Award in 2009. On a lighter note, he was People magazine’s Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive in 2000.

    PHOTO: Tyson at the 2017 Starmus IV in Trondheim, Norway, where he received a Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication; photo by Thor Nielsen/NTNU under CC 2.0.

    “People cited violation of the First Amendment when a New Jersey schoolteacher asserted that evolution and the Big Bang are not scientific and that Noah’s ark carried dinosaurs. This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it’s about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.”

    —Tyson letter to the editor, New York Times (Dec. 21, 2006)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    John McWhorter

    John McWhorter

    On this date in 1965, linguist and author John Hamilton McWhorter V was born in Philadelphia to Schelysture (Gordon) and John McWhorter IV. His mother was a social work professor at Temple University and an active Quaker. His father was a college administrator. He and his sister Holly grew up “in a house full of books” in Philadelphia and attended Friends Select School. He earned a B.A. in French in 1985 from Rutgers University, an M.A. in American studies from New York University and a Ph.D. in linguistics in 1993 from Stanford University.

    He held associate professor of linguistics positions at Cornell University from 1993 to 1995 and at the University of California-Berkeley from 1995 until 2003, when he joined the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank. He started teaching contemporary civilization at Columbia University in 2008 as an adjunct professor in the department of English and comparative literature, where much of his academic work concerned creole languages and the effects of second language acquisition on a language.

    He is fluent in English, French and Russian and can read seven languages. He’s written over 20 books on race and language, including “The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language,” “Losing the Race: Self Sabotage in Black America” and “Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English.” He also contributes regularly to various periodicals and other media and writes a New York Times newsletter.

    In his book “Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America” (2021), he argues  forging identity around victimhood is wrong and infantilizes people. He believes affirmative action should be based on class, not race, and that their attitudes hold Blacks back as much if not more than white racism. He’s faced stiff criticism outside conservative circles for his insistence that so-called critical race theory and cancel culture are a problem in academia and in public schools.

    He also teaches music history and has written extensively about music’s various forms, including opera, blues, rap and hip-hop culture. “But always, and forever, Sondheim has been my favorite. His work centers the genre for me — everything is either before or after him — and is one of my favorite things on Earth.”(New York Times, Nov. 30, 2021) McWhorter, who plays piano, says, “Classical music has no significant place in modern American culture today. Nobody is going to come out and play a cello solo on Jimmy Fallon, so students don’t know what the joy of classical can be,” (Columbia College Today, Summer 2017)

    While he is not religious, he doesn’t dismiss “the reams of profound, cosmopolitan close reasoning that theology has produced over the millennia, nor is to dismiss devout people as unintelligent. Rather, it would seem to me that religious belief requires a person to sequester a part of their cognition for a kind of belief that is not based on logic.” (“It Bears Mentioning” blog, June 25, 2021)

    Asked to list which three scholars, dead or alive, he would invite to a dinner party, he named Stephen J. Gould, W.E.B. Dubois and Camille Paglia. (Columbia News, Jan. 20, 2022).

    McWhorter and his former wife have two daughters. He has called his home in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens “one of the most linguistically diverse places on earth.”

    “I am, indeed, an atheist. Not an agnostic, but an atheist. And I openly admit that religious commitment perplexes and sometimes even irritates me. It’s partly a matter of personal history.”

    —From McWhorter's blog "It Bears Mentioning" (June 25, 2021)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Dan Savage

    Dan Savage

    On this date in 1964, gay rights activist and writer Daniel Keenan Savage was born in Chicago. Savage is famous for his sex advice column “Savage Love,” which is syndicated in more than 70 publications. He is also known and respected for his longtime advocacy for LGBT rights. He drew media attention in 2012 when he gave a talk to a conference of high school students and encouraged them to “ignore the bullshit in the bible about gay people.”

    Savage earned degrees in theater and history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He later moved to Madison, Wis., where he met Tim Keck, the co-founder of the popular satirical newspaper The Onion in 1991. Keck asked Savage to write an advice column for the paper. Savage agreed and the column eventually became “Savage Love.”  

    In 2010 he and his husband Terry Miller started the “It Gets Better” project in response to a series of teens who committed suicide because they were bullied about their sexual orientation. Over 150,000 people submitted videos encouraging LGBT teens that their lives will improve and they will find acceptance. The videos have received over 50 million views, and many prominent people such as President Barack Obama, Ellen DeGeneres and the singer Kesha submitted one.

    Savage and Miller married in 2005 in British Columbia and renewed their vows in 2012 when Washington state legalized same-sex unions. They have a son, D.J., adopting him as an infant in 1998. D.J.’s homeless birth mother chose them from a group of 80 prospective parents profiled by a Washington-based agency.

    Savage was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association in 2013, the same year he attended FFRF’s national convention to accept an Emperor Has No Clothes Award. (Read his acceptance speech, “The Day My Catholic Family Fell Apart Fast.”)

    “My father was a Catholic deacon, my mother was a lay minister and I thought about becoming a priest. I was in church every Sunday for the first 15 years of my life. Now I spend my Sundays on my bike, on my snowboard or on my husband. I haven’t spent my post-Catholic decades in a sulk, wishing the church would come around on the issue of homosexuality so that I could start attending Mass again. I didn’t abandon my faith. I saw through it. The conflict between my faith and my sexuality set that process in motion, but the conclusions I reached at the end of that process — there are no gods, religion is man-made, faith can be a force for good or evil — improved my life. I’m grateful that my sexuality prompted me to think critically about faith. Pushed out? No. I walked out.”

    —Savage, quoted in "What God Wants," The New York Times (April 14, 2013)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano; photo by Ingrid Laas

    Eleanor Roosevelt

    Eleanor Roosevelt

    On this date in 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt was born in New York City. At 15 she had the privilege of becoming a student at Allenwood, a progressive prep school in Wimbledon, England, run by French headmistress Marie Souvestre, an avowed agnostic. Roosevelt kept a portrait of her mentor on her desk throughout her life.

    She married Franklin Roosevelt, her fifth cousin once removed, in 1905 and bore him six children, one of whom died in infancy. She settled into her role as a political helpmeet as he pursued his political career. After he was struck by polio in 1921, she became his “eyes and ears.” As first lady from 1933-45, she threw herself into reforms, including the championing of social justice. She sat in the “black section” at an auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1938 and resigned from the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1939 after it barred singer Marian Anderson from its hall.

    Roosevelt insisted her husband ensure that African-Americans were not shut out of New Deal projects. She broke tradition by holding press conferences, traveling, lecturing, giving radio broadcasts and writing “My Day,” a six-day-a-week syndicated column that ran until 1962. After FDR’s death in 1945, she continued her activism.

    In a “My Day” column (June 23, 1949), she wrote that private and denominational schools “should not receive federal funds; in fact, no tax funds of any kind. The separation of Church and State is extremely important to any of us who hold to the original traditions of our nation. To change these traditions by changing out traditional attitude toward public education would be harmful, I think to our whole attitude of tolerance in the religious area.” (Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, George Washington University, 2017)

    Whatever her personal beliefs, as author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she championed freedom of conscience: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.” The declaration was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. (D. 1962)

    PHOTO: Roosevelt in 1898; National Archives photo.

    “The Bible illustrated by Dore occupied many of my hours — and I think probably gave me many nightmares.”

    Eleanor Roosevelt, "This Is My Story" (1937)

    Katha Pollitt

    Katha Pollitt

    On this date in 1949, writer and atheist Katha Pollitt was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her father was a Protestant lawyer and her Jewish mother worked in real estate. Pollitt earned a bachelor of arts degree from Radcliffe and a master of fine arts from Columbia University. The Washington Post called her “Subject to Debate” column, which The Nation started publishing in 1994, “the best place to go for original thinking on the left.” Pollitt has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship for her poetry. Her 1982 book, Antarctic Traveller, won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

    Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Yale Review, Poetry and Antaeus. A collection of her writings, Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism, was published by Knopf in 1994. The title was an ode to Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote, “I wish to see women neither heroines nor brutes, but reasonable creatures.” Her second book of essays, Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture, was published in 2001.

    After she was named FFRF’s Freethought Heroine of the Year in 1995, she wrote about FFRF’s annual convention in a column called “No God, No Master.” Katha forthrightly volunteers her atheism and defends rationalism and the separation of church and state in her columns, during interviews and on national TV programs. Her outspoken, official dissent from the “official American civic religion” brought her an FFRF “Emperor Has No Clothes Award” in 2001. She’s also an FFRF honorary director. She was 2013’s Humanist Heroine for the American Humanist Association and received Planned Parenthood’s Maggie Award in 1993.

    In 1987 she married Randy Cohen, author of The New York Times Magazine column “The Ethicist.” Before divorcing, they had a daughter, Sophie Pollitt-Cohen, born in 1987. In 2006 she married political theorist Steven Lukes.

    Her book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights was published in 2014 and was written to respond to the “feeling among many pro-choice people that we need to be more assertive, less defensive.” In the book she argues that the decision should not be looked at as the action of a woman thinking independently because abortion requires the “cooperation of many people beyond the woman herself.”

    In 2017 she was the recipient of FFRF’s new Forward Award, which recognizes individuals who have moved society forward. Her acceptance speech, “Right-wing Christianity in the Age of Trump,” is here.

    I’m going to close with the thought that nothing good will happen if people don’t fight for it. And that’s where you all come in — the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the ACLU, a whole bunch of other wonderful civil liberties and civil rights organizations.
    —Pollitt, FFRF Forward Award acceptance speech (Sept. 15, 2017)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo by Christina Pabst

    Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

    Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

    On this date in 1917, Arthur Meier Schlesinger Jr., was born in Columbus, Ohio. He graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude in 1938 at age 20. He was a historian who was interested in liberal politics and the American presidency and who wrote more than 20 books, including The Age of Jackson (1945), The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom (1949) and The Cycles of American History (1986). He became an associate professor at Harvard in 1946, but resigned to serve as a special assistant to John F. Kennedy until Kennedy’s death in 1963.

    In 1965, he published a book about his time at the White House: A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, which received the 1966 Pulitzer Prize and the 1965 National Book Award. He also won the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Jackson (1946). He married Marian Cannon in 1940 and they had four children: Stephen, Katharine, Christina and Andrew. After their divorce in 1970, Schlesinger married Alexandra Emmet in 1971 and they had a son, Robert.

    Schlesinger described himself as “agnostic” in Robert Kennedy and His Times (1978). In a blurb for Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (2004) by Susan Jacoby, Schlesinger gave his support for freethought and the separation of state and church. He wrote, “In view of the tide of religiosity engulfing a once secular republic, it is refreshing to be reminded by Freethinkers that free thought and skepticism are robustly in the American tradition. After all, the Founding Fathers began by omitting God from the American Constitution.” (D. 2007)

    “As a historian, I confess to a certain amusement when I hear the Judeo-Christian tradition praised as the source of our concern for human rights. In fact, the great religious ages were notable for their indifference to human rights in the contemporary sense. They were notorious not only for acquiescence in poverty, inequality, exploitation and oppression but for enthusiastic justifications of slavery, persecution, abandonment of small children, torture, genocide.”

    —Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., "The Opening of the American Mind" (New York Times, 1989)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Michael Lewis

    Michael Lewis

    On this date in 1960, author and financial journalist Michael Monroe Lewis was born in New Orleans to community activist Diana (Monroe) and corporate attorney J. Thomas Lewis. He attended Isidore Newman School, described in 2016 by The New York Times as elite. It was founded by a philanthropist as a school for Jewish orphans.

    Lewis later described being on the receiving end of anti-Semitic taunts. Even though he was not Jewish, more than half his classmates were. Other alumni included NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning, children’s author Mo Willems and Walter Isaacson, historian and Time magazine editor.

    He earned a B.A. in art history from Princeton University and a master’s in economics from the London School of Economics in 1985, the year he married Diane deCordova in an Episcopal ceremony in the Princeton chapel. She had earned a master’s in comparative government from the London school. Lewis was working then as an investments associate at Salomon Brothers in New York, later transferring to London as a bond salesman.

    The Salomon experience provided grist for the mill that became his first book. In addition to books, Lewis wrote prolifically for The Spectator, New York Times Magazine,  Bloomberg, The New Republic, Slate and others. He joined Vanity Fair as a contributing editor in 2009.

    His nonfiction books like “Liar’s Poker: Rising through the Wreckage on Wall Street” (1989), “The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story” (1999), “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” (2003), “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” (2006) and “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” (2010) built and cemented his reputation as a financial analyst/muckracker.

    Several others followed, including “The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds” (2017). It explored the Nobel Prize-winning collaboration of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky on how the human mind works. “The Premonition: A Pandemic Story” was published in 2021.

    Critic Tom Bernard called him “the best satirist writing in English” and “the reincarnation in the United States of Evelyn Waugh.” (New York magazine, Sept. 30, 2011) “The Blind Side” (2009), “Moneyball” (2011) and “The Big Short” (2015) were adapted as major feature films.

    “The Blind Side” details how Isidore Newman classmate Sean Tuohy and his family of evangelical Christians adopted Michael Oher, a troubled, illiterate and rebellious African-American, and transformed him into a National Football League star with a college degree. 

    “[Lewis] basically had a key to our house,” said Leigh Anne Tuohy. “Whenever he came to town, we made him go to church. We said, ‘If you want to talk to us, you’re coming to church.’ ” To their dismay, Lewis, an atheist, resisted conversion. “Lord knows we tried,” said Sean Tuohy. “We had people praying for him.” (Ibid.)

    A gentile, Lewis could ladle on the sarcasm when he felt like it, as an article headlined “Toy Goy” showed. “Most years I commemorate the flight of the Jews through the Sinai to the Promised Land by witnessing a far more hectic flight of the Jews through the traffic jam to the airport, then looking around to see what they have neglected to finish. Each of these annual occasions revives my sympathies for the much maligned Pharaoh.” (The New Republic, April 26, 1993)

    After his marriage to deCordova ended, he wed Kate Bohner, a journalist and financial executive, in 1994. A third marriage followed in 1997 to Tabitha Soren, a fine art photographer and entertainment journalist. They had two daughters, Dixie and Quinn, and a son, Walker. Tragically, Dixie died in 2021 at age 19 when a car driven by her boyfriend hit a semi tractor-trailer head-on near Truckee, Calif.

    PHOTO: Lewis at a 2015 screening in Hollywood of “The Big Short” at the TCL Chinese Theater (formerly Grauman’s); Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock photo. 

    CESAR [a Romanian priest]: But they are used to having visitors, so it shouldn’t be a problem. But what is your religion?
    LEWIS: I don’t have one.
    CESAR: But you believe in God?
    LEWIS: No.
    CESAR: Then I’m pretty sure they can’t let you in.

    —Lewis, detailing his attempt to enter a monastery in Greece (Vanity Fair, Sept. 6, 2010)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Oscar Wilde

    Oscar Wilde

    On this date in 1854, writer Oscar Wilde was born in Ireland. He studied at Trinity College on a scholarship. In 1874 he was awarded a scholarship to Oxford. His first book of poems was published in 1881 and he spent a year lecturing on aesthetics in the United States. Wilde married in 1884 and fathered two sons, working for a magazine and writing children’s stories. His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published in 1890. This was followed by his successful plays: “Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), “A Woman of No Importance” (1893), “Salome” (1894), “An Ideal Husband” (1895) and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895).

    In 1895 he sued the father of his male lover for libel after Wilde was accused of homosexuality. Wilde dropped the ill-advised lawsuit but was then charged criminally and convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years’ hard labor. His health was broken by the ordeal. He wrote “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” about it in 1898. Penniless, he moved to the continent, where he died of meningitis at age 46. On his deathbed, the lifelong skeptic, who had written “it is better for the artist not to live with popes,” (“The Soul of Man Under Socialism”) converted to Catholicism, a gesture perhaps imputed to his brain condition. 

    A master of the epigram, Wilde is known for such one-liners as “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.” “I think that God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.” “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” “He hasn’t a single redeeming vice.” “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” He reputedly said on his deathbed, “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.”

    In his review of “Oscar Wilde: A Life” by Matthew Sturgis, David Hare wrote: “Those of us who love him are most moved by his generosity. He really did give extravagant sums of money to every beggar he passed, and was bewildered when, in his last years, acquaintances did not show him the same largess he had once extended to strangers. The act of exercising practical, daily kindness was at the heart both of his beliefs and of his way of life.” (New York Times, Oct. 13, 2021)

    Hare added, “He brought to literature a liberating philosophy that struck hard at Victorian society, but also at our own. He did not believe that morality consisted of judging other people’s faults. He believed it consisted in judging your own.”

    Of religion he wrote in “The Critic as Artist” in 1891: “A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.” “Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.” “There is no sin except stupidity.” D. 1900.

    “Science is the record of dead religions.”

    —Wilde, "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young" (1894)

    Mary Daly

    Mary Daly

    On this date in 1928, Mary Daly was born in Schenectady, N.Y. She graduated from the College of Saint Rose in Albany in 1950 with a degree in English and Latin. She obtained her M.A. in English from the Catholic University of America in 1952, her Ph.D. in theology from Saint Mary’s College in 1953, and Ph.D.s in theology and philosophy from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland in 1963 and 1965. She was one of the first American women to earn a degree in theology from a Catholic college. Daly was a radical feminist and theologian who taught feminist theology and ethics at Boston College from 1966 to 1999. She published eight books, including Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978) and Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (1984).

    In 1968, Daly wrote The Church and the Second Sex, a book examining the harm of the Catholic Church on women. “A woman’s asking for equality in the church would be comparable to a black person’s demanding equality in the Ku Klux Klan,” Daly wrote. She later called the book “a celebration/cerebration of my departure from the catholic church in particular and christianity in general” in her introduction to the 1985 edition of The Church and the Second Sex. She was briefly denied tenure from the Jesuit Boston College due to the book’s content. “If God is male, then male is God. The divine patriarch castrates women as long as he is allowed to live on in the human imagination,” Daly is quoted as saying in Castrates: Webster’s Quotations, Facts and Phrases (2009). D. 2010.

    “ ‘God’s plan’ is often a front for men’s plans and a cover for inadequacy, ignorance, and evil.”

    —Daly, "Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation" (1973)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Philip Pullman

    Philip Pullman

    On this date in 1946, acclaimed author Philip Pullman was born in Norwich, England, into a Protestant family. Although his beloved grandfather was an Anglican priest, Pullman became an atheist in his teenage years. He graduated from Exeter College in Oxford with a degree in English and spent 23 years as a teacher while working on publishing 13 books and numerous short stories. Pullman has received many awards for his literature, including the prestigious Carnegie Medal for exceptional children’s literature in 1996, and the Carnegie of Carnegies in 2006.

    He is most famous for the His Dark Materials trilogy, a series of young adult fantasy novels which feature freethought themes. The novels cast organized religion as the series’ villain and were written as a secular alternative to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Pullman told The New York Times in 2000: “When you look at what C.S. Lewis is saying, his message is so anti-life, so cruel, so unjust. The view that the Narnia books have for the material world is one of almost undisguised contempt. At one point, the old professor says, ‘It’s all in Plato’ — meaning that the physical world we see around us is the crude, shabby, imperfect, second-rate copy of something much better. I want to emphasize the simple physical truth of things, the absolute primacy of the material life, rather than the spiritual or the afterlife.”

    In 2007 the first novel of His Dark Materials trilogy was adapted for the motion picture “The Golden Compass” by New Line Cinema. Many churches and Christian organizations, including the Catholic League, called for a boycott of the film due to the books’ atheist themes. While the film was successful in Europe and moderately received in the U.S., the other two books in the trilogy were not adapted, possibly due to pressure from the Catholic Church.

    When questioned about the anti-church views in His Dark Materials, Pullman explained in a February 2002 interview for the Third Way (UK): “Every single religion that has a monotheistic god ends up by persecuting other people and killing them because they don’t accept him. Wherever you look in history, you find that. It’s still going on.”

    “I don’t profess any religion; I don’t think it’s possible that there is a God; I have the greatest difficulty in understanding what is meant by the words ‘spiritual’ or ‘spirituality.’ “

    —Pullman interview, The New Yorker (Dec. 26, 2005)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor; photo by Entertainment Press, Shutterstock.com

    Lewis Wolpert

    Lewis Wolpert

    On this date in 1929, Lewis Wolpert was born into a Jewish family in Johannesburg, South Africa. He earned a degree in engineering from the University of Witwatersrand in 1950 and graduated from King’s College at the University of London with a Ph.D. in cell biology in 1961. He was a lecturer in zoology at King’s College from 1960-64 and became a professor of biology as applied to medicine at Middlesex Hospital Medical School 1966.

    In 2010 he accepted emeritus status as a biology professor at University College London. He has several popular science books, including The Unnatural Nature of Science (1992), Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression (1999), Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief (2006) and How We Live And Why We Die: The Secret Lives of Cells (2009). Wolpert was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1990. His wife, writer Jill Neville, died of breast cancer in 1997.

    After growing up Jewish, he became “a reductionist, materialist atheist,” according to an article in The Guardian (April 11, 2006). He wrote about his deconversion in Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: “I was quite a religious child, saying my prayers each night and asking God for help on various occasions. It did not seem to help and I gave it all up around 16 and have been an atheist ever since.” In the book he states that religion arose from humans’ evolutionary predisposition to look for cause and effect relationships.

    A vice president of the British Humanist Association, Wolpert has debated Christian apologist William Lane Craig about the existence of God, Christian astrophysicist Hugh Ross on whether there is a case for a creator and William Dembski on the topic of intelligent design. 

    Photo (cropped): Wolpert in 1994. CC 4.0.

    “I am committed to science and believe it to be the best way to understand the world. … I know of no good evidence for the existence of God.”

    —Wolpert, "Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast" (2006)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Ursula K. Le Guin

    Ursula K. Le Guin

    On this date in 1929, author and iconoclast Ursula K. Le Guin (née Kroeber) was born in Berkeley, Calif. Her parents were the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and the writer Theodora Kroeber.  She graduated from Radcliffe College Phi Beta Kappa in 1951, earned her master’s at Columbia University in 1952 and became a Fulbright Scholar in 1953, the year she met historian Charles Le Guin aboard the Queen Mary. They had three children and lived in Oregon.

    Le Guin was a lecturer or writer-in-residence at a number of universities and colleges. She wrote 20 novels and was best known for her pioneering science fiction and fantasy. She also wrote six volumes of poetry, 13 books for children, four collections of essays and many short stories. Her many literary honors and awards included the Hugo for her 1969 gender-bending book The Left Hand of Darkness and another Hugo in 1975 for The Dispossessed, a utopian fiction. Le Guin, who said in the 1969 introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, “I am an atheist,” accepted an Emperor Has No Clothes Award from FFRF in 2009. Read her speech here. She died at age 88 in 2018.

    Hajor photo (cropped) CC 1.0: Le Guin at a book signing in Albuquerque in 2013.

    “Let the tailors of the garments of God sit in their tailor shops and stitch away, but let them stay there in their temples, out of government, out of the schools. And we who live among real people — real, badly dressed people, people wearing rags, people wearing army uniforms, people sleeping on our streets without a blanket to cover them — let us have true charity: Let us look to our people, and work to clothe them better.” 

    —Le Guin, acceptance speech after receiving FFRF’s Emperor Award in Seattle (Nov. 7, 2009)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Tariq Ali

    Tariq Ali

    On this date in 1943, scholar and author Tariq Ali was born in Lahore, a city then part of British India, and now in Pakistan. A self-described lifelong atheist, Ali was raised in an intellectually activist family where independent thought was encouraged. His parents were Mazhar Ali Khan, a journalist, and Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, activist and daughter of Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan, who in 1937 became chief minister of the Punjab, a region bordering India and Pakistan.

    Ali became politically involved at a young age, organizing demonstrations against Pakistan’s military dictatorship, while studying at the Punjab University. “We grew up in Lahore, which had been one of the most cosmopolitan towns in India. Then you had the partition of India, and you had massive killlings. This is not much talked about these days, but nearly two million people died, as Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs slaughtered each other to create this state.,” he said in 2003.

    Finishing his university education at Exeter College at Oxford, Ali studied philosophy, politics and economics. Elected president of the Oxford Union debating club during the Vietnam War, he debated Henry Kissinger. More and more critical of American/Israeli foreign policies, Ali eventually became the voice of criticism against American foreign policy around the world, not the least of which has been his criticism of American policy in Pakistan.

    An active voice for the New Left Review for the past 40 years, Ali is a vocal and prolific personage, writing political satires as well as political historical works, historical fiction, nonfiction and political essays. He owned his own independent television production company and has been a regular broadcaster for BBC Radio. His lengthy bibliography, spanning from 1970 to the present, includes Conversations With Edward Said (2005), which he edited, Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, London, Terror (2005), Speaking of Empire and Resistance (2005), and a previously censored screenplay about the last days of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, titled “The Leopard and The Fox,” originally written in 1985, which, in October 2007, was adapted and staged as a play.

    Ali lives in London with his longtime partner Susan Watkins, editor of the New Left Review. He has three children.

    Ali in 2010. CC 2.0 photo. 

    “How often in our house had I heard talk of superstitious idiots, often relatives, who hated a Satan they never knew and worshipped a God they didn’t have the brains to doubt?” (Ali, “Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity,” 2002)

    “I grew up an atheist. I make no secret of it. It was acceptable. In fact, when I think back, none of my friends were believers. None of them were religious. Maybe a few were believers but very few were religious in temperament.” (“Islam, Empire, and the Left: Conversation With Tariq Ali,” UC-Berkeley, May 8, 2003)

    Compiled by Jane Esbensen

    Max Stirner

    Max Stirner

    On this date in 1806, Johann Kaspar Schmidt (known by his pseudonym Max Stirner), was born in Bayreuth, Bavaria. He entered the University of Berlin in 1826, the University of Erlangen in 1828 and then the University of Königsberg in Prussia, where he completed an undergraduate degree. He worked as a teacher of history and literature from 1839-44. Stirner quit his job after writing his philosophical book The Ego and Its Own (1844). He was an anarchist, nihilist and egoist and his views were reflected in The Ego and Its Own. Stirner married Agnes Butz, who died in childbirth in 1838. He later married Marie Dähnhardt.

    Born to a Lutheran family, Stirner became critical of religion. In The Ego and Its Own, he wrote, “We are perfect altogether, and on the whole earth there is not one man who is a sinner! There are crazy people who imagine that they are God the Father, God the Son, or the man in the moon, and so too the world swarms with fools who seem to themselves to be sinners; but, as the former are not the man in the moon, so the latter are not sinners. Their sin is imaginary.”

    In June 1842 he published an article titled “Art and Religion” in the Rheinische Zeitung, in which he strongly critiqued the religious: “The religious spirit is not inspired. Inspired piety is as great an inanity as inspired linen-weaving. Religion is always accessible to the impotent, and every uncreative dolt can and will always have religion, for uncreativeness does not impede his life of dependency.” He died in 1856 of an infected insect bite. No photos of him are known to exist. (The accompanying drawing of him, c. 1892, is by the philosopher Friedrich Engels.)

    “Religion itself is without genius. There is no religious genius, and no one would be permitted to distinguish between the talented and the untalented in religion.”

    Max Stirner, article “Art and Religion,” Rheinische Zeitung (June 1842)

    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Anne Tyler

    Anne Tyler

    On this date in 1941, American novelist and critic Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis. Both parents were Quakers and social activists. The family lived in a Quaker commune in North Carolina while Tyler was young. After graduating from high school at age 16, she enrolled at Duke University on a full scholarship. She majored in Russian literature and was involved in Duke’s drama society and the visual arts and graduated in 1961. She received a fellowship from Columbia University in Slavic studies but left graduate school after a year.

    Tyler has published 22 novels as of this writing in 2019. The best-known are “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant”(1982), “The Accidental Tourist” (1985) and “Breathing Lessons” (1988). All three were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, with “Breathing Lessons” winning the prize in 1989.

    Tyler has worked as a literary critic and journalist and has written short stories, many published in The New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post, Redbook, McCall’s and Harper’s. Her work escapes classification, although she is often labeled a “Southern author” or a “modern American author.” Tyler’s works are known for their depictions of family life and their intensely real characters and detailed descriptions.

    She married Iranian psychiatrist and novelist Taghi Mohammad Modarressi in 1963. Living in Baltimore, they raised two daughters, Tezh and Mitra. Modarressi, 10 years Tyler’s senior, died of lymphoma in 1997 at the age of 65.

    “I remember when I was 7, making crucial decisions about the kind of person I was going to be. That’s also the age when I figured out that, oh, someday I’m going to die, and the age when I decided I couldn’t believe in God.”

    —Anne Tyler, The New York Times (July 6, 2018)
    Compiled by Paul Epland

    Warren Allen Smith

    Warren Allen Smith

    On this date in 1921, Warren Allen Smith was born in Minburn, Iowa. He graduated from Iowa State Teachers College with a B.A. in English in 1948 and received his M.A. in American literature from Columbia University in 1949. During his time in the U.S. Army from 1942-46, Smith was known as “the atheist in a foxhole,” according to his website. He worked as a high school English teacher from 1949-86. In 1961 Smith co-founded the Variety Recording Studio. He lived with his partner of 40 years, Fernando Vargas, an atheist, until Vargas’ death from AIDS in 1989.

    Smith’s fame stemmed from his journalism, which often touched on humanist issues. He was book review editor for The Humanist from 1953-58 and wrote the column “Humanist Potpourri” for Free Inquiry from 1997-98, as well as writing columns for Gay and Lesbian Humanist, The Freethinker, The American Rationalist and Skeptical Inquirer. He wrote the books Who’s Who in Hell: A Handbook and International Directory for Freethinkers, Humanists, Naturalists, Rationalists, and Non-Theists (2000) and Celebrities in Hell (2002), which are extensive compilations of famous freethinkers. Smith’s other books include Gossip from Across the Pond (2005) and In the Heart of Showbiz (2011).

    Smith rejected his Methodist upbringing during college. In a 2000 article for The New York Observer, he wrote, “If you’re the member of an organized church group, you really have to have a guilt complex. You have to feel guilty about not loving God enough or not contributing enough money or not contributing enough to society.” He described himself as a “humanistic naturalist” in his book Who’s Who in Hell. Smith’s other accomplishments include serving as as vice president of the Bertrand Russell Society from 1977-80, treasurer of the Secular Humanist Society of New York from 1988-93 and co-founding Agnostics, Atheists, and Secular Humanists Who Are Infected/Affected with AIDS/HIV Illness in 1992 (although Smith himself is not HIV-positive). He created Philosopedia, an online reference for philosophers and atheists. D. 2017.

    “Were there atheists in foxholes during World War II? Of course, as can be verified by my dogtags. … A veteran of Omaha Beach in 1944, I insisted upon including ‘None’ instead of P, C, or J as my religious affiliation.”

    —W.A. Smith, Freethought Today (November 1997)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Sylvia Plath

    Sylvia Plath

    On this date in 1932, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sylvia Plath was born in Boston to Otto and Aurelia Plath. A writer at the forefront of the 1950s movement known as “confessional poetry,” Plath’s published collections include The Colossus and Other Poems (1960), Ariel (1965) and The Collected Poems (1974), along with the semi-autobiographical and widely read novel The Bell Jar (1963), published shortly before her death at 30.

    Ariel and The Collected Poems were published posthumously, the latter edited by Plath’s husband, the English poet Ted Hughes. The Collected Poems was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1982. Plath’s poetry — often cited for its violence, precision, preoccupation with death and autobiographical nature — also explored the elemental forces of nature, religion, mental illness and the struggles surrounding femininity. The writer Joyce Carol Oates once described Plath as “one of the most celebrated and controversial of post-war poets writing in English.”

    In The Bell Jar, Plath describes her father as “a bitter atheist.” He had been ostracized by his German family for his refusal to become a Lutheran minister. Likewise, Plath’s mother left the Catholic Church in college, citing its “repressive and controlling ideology.” (Sylvia Plath: A Biography, 1987.) Plath herself attended a Unitarian church, where she led the youth group. In college she often wrote about her struggles with religion. In a paper written for Introduction to the Study of Religion, she denied the existence of God and of an innate human consciousness.

    After marrying Hughes in 1956, the couple moved to the U.S. and Smith taught at Smith College, her alma mater. Because she wanted more time to write, she left Smith after a year and took a job as a receptionist in the psychiatric unit of Massachusetts General Hospital. She sat in on evening creative writing seminars given by poet Robert Lowell. Her daughter Frieda was born in 1960, followed by a son, Nicholas, in 1962.

    As far back as 1953 she had attempted suicide with pills. In 1962 she drove her car off the road into a river. That same year she discovered Hughes had been having an affair with Assia Wevill and they separated. Plath was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning with her head in the oven on Feb. 11, 1963. She had sealed the rooms between her and her sleeping children with tape, towels and cloths. Nicholas Hughes hanged himself at age 47 in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he had earned a Ph.D. in biology and was working at the University of Alaska. (D. 1963)

    “I don’t believe in God as a kind father in the sky. I don’t believe that the meek will inherit the earth: The meek get ignored and trampled.”

    —"The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath: 1950-1962"
    Compiled by Paul Epland

    Malcolm Margolin

    Malcolm Margolin

    On this date in 1940, author and publisher Malcolm Margolin was born in Boston to a Lithuania-born homemaker and an American father and was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home. He attended the Boston Latin School and Harvard College, majoring in English.

    After graduation, two years in Puerto Rico and a trip to San Francisco during the 1967 Summer of Love, he and his wife Rina moved to the West Coast for good. They eventually settled in Berkeley, Calif., and Margolin wrote for such publications as Science Digest and The Nation.

    He was working for the park district on trail maintenance when he started to get book contracts for volumes on parks, ecology and Native Americans. He founded Heyday Books, an independent nonprofit publisher, in 1974. Where did the name come from? 

    They had named their son Reuben Heyday “because that’s just what hippies did,” Margolin said. He liked “Reuben” for its old Jewish sense and “Heyday” because it had a sense of celebration and wonderment. (San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 18, 2015) When it came time to name his small company, he picked Heyday as a placeholder, a name still in place. (The Margolins named their daughter Sadie Cash and their other son Jacob Orion.)

    In 1978 he published The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area, now a classic. “Before the coming of the Spaniards, Central California had the densest Indian population anywhere north of Mexico,” according to its introduction.

    Margolin retired in 2016 as publisher, and the company by 2020 was publishing about 20 books a year. “Heyday promotes civic engagement and social justice, celebrates nature’s beauty, supports California Indian cultural renewal, and explores the state’s rich history, culture, and influence,” said its website. Heyday has published Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Gary Snyder and Wallace Stegner, Rebecca Solnit, former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass and Ursula Le Guin, the fantasy and science fiction writer.

    In a 2016 interview with The Jewish News of Northern California, Margolin said his Orthodox upbringing gave him a sense of scholarship and entrepreneurialism along with a distrust of institutions. “Today, I have no religious beliefs whatsoever, but I don’t eat pork.” 

    “I’m not religious. I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe in any of this stuff.”

    —Interview, Oral History Center, Bancroft Library, University of California-Berkeley (March 22, 2013)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn; National Endowment for the Humanities photo.

    Fran Lebowitz

    Fran Lebowitz

    On this date in 1950, author and humorist Frances Ann Lebowitz was born in Morristown, N.J., to Ruth and Harold Lebowitz, who owned a furniture store and upholstery shop and attended a Conservative Jewish synagogue. She was expelled from an Episcopalian high school at age 17 for what she later called “non-specific surliness” and completed her GED.

    She moved to New York City in 1969 and worked as a cleaning lady, chauffeur, taxi driver and freelance writer. Andy Warhol hired her as a columnist for Interview magazine. She also wrote for Mademoiselle. Her first book, a collection of comedic essays titled Metropolitan Life, was published in 1978.

    “All God’s children are not beautiful. Most of God’s children are, in fact, barely presentable,” Lebowitz wrote in Social Studies (1981), another essay collection. The Fran Lebowitz Reader and the children’s book Mr. Chas and Lisa Sue Meet the Pandas followed in 1994.

    Since then she has worked on uncompleted book projects like Exterior Signs of Wealth — a novel about rich people who want to be artists and artists who want to be rich — and her book Progress, excerpted in Vanity Fair starting in 2004 but still unfinished as of 2021. “For every mandatory moment of silence before classes at a public school, during which students are free to pray or not, there will be a mandatory moment of noise before services at a religious institution, during which congregants are free to listen or not.” (Vanity Fair, Oct. 17, 2006)

    Lebowitz later largely supported herself with TV appearances, speaking engagements and as a contributing editor and occasional columnist for Vanity Fair. She is a political liberal and a lesbian who is uncomfortable in long-term relationships. “I’m the world’s greatest daughter. I’m a great relative. I believe I’m a great friend. I’m a horrible girlfriend. I always was. I’m great at the beginning, because I can be very romantic.” (Interview magazine, March 11, 2016)

    She was the subject of film director Martin Scorsese’s 82-minute documentary “Public Speaking” on HBO in 2010 before a limited theatrical release the next year. She collaborated again with Scorsese on “Pretend It’s a City,” a seven-part documentary series featuring her interviews and conversations with Scorsese. It was released on Netflix in January 2021.

    “I got in trouble when I was 12 or 13, because I told the Sunday school teacher I don’t believe in God. I have not changed my mind on that,” Lebowitz once told an interviewer. “My Jewish identity is ethnic or cultural or whatever people call it now. But it’s not religious.” (New Jersey Jewish News, Jan. 27, 2016)

    PHOTO: Lebowitz at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City; Ovidiu Hrubaru / Shutterstock.com

    “I’ve been an atheist since I was about 7 years old.”

    —Haaretz interview (Oct. 6, 2011)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Alfred Jules Ayer

    Alfred Jules Ayer

    On this date in 1910, philosopher Alfred Jules Ayer was born in London into a wealthy family. His father was a Swiss Calvinist and his mother was Reine Citroën from the Dutch-Jewish family that founded the Citroën car company in France. Ayer attended Eton preparatory school and studied philosophy and Greek at Oxford University. From 1946 to 1959 he taught philosophy at University College London. He then became Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford. Ayer was knighted in 1970.

    Among his many works are The Foundations of Empirical Knowledge (1940), The Problem of Knowledge (1956), The Origins of Pragmatism (1968), Metaphysics and Common Sense (1969), Bertrand Russell (1972) and Hume (1980), about philosopher David Hume. In his still-popular book Language, Truth and Logic (1936), Ayer rejected the term “atheism” on the grounds that the existence of God as a hypothesis could never be proven. To argue that no god exists, to Ayer, was as meaningless as saying that one did exist.

    Later in life he frequently identified himself as an atheist and became active in humanist causes. He was the first vice president of the British Humanist Association and served as its president from 1965-70. He was an honorary associate of the Rationalist Press Association from 1947 until his death. He was also an honorary member of the Bertrand Russell Society. In 1988, Ayer had a near-death experience in the United States after choking on salmon and losing consciousness. He wrote of his experience in the New Humanist (May 1989): “My recent experiences have slightly weakened my conviction that my genuine death, which is due fairly soon, will be the end of me, though I continue to hope that it will be. They have not weakened my conviction that there is no god. I trust that my remaining an atheist will allay the anxieties of my fellow supporters of the British Humanist Association, the Rationalist Press Association and the South Place Ethical Society.”

    Ayer was married four times to three women and had a son with his wife Alberta Wells. He also had a daughter out of wedlock with Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham Westbrook. He died at age 78 in London in 1989.

    “I do not believe in God. It seems to me that theists of all kinds have very largely failed to make their concept of a deity intelligible; and to the extent that they have made it intelligible, they have given us no reason to think that anything answers to it.” 

    —Ayer in "What I Believe," The Humanist (August 1966)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Lee Child

    Lee Child

    On this date in 1954, best-selling author Lee Child, né James Dover Grant, was born in Coventry, England. Best known for his Jack Reacher series of novels, Child attended the same high school as JRR Tolkien before enrolling in law school (with no intention of practicing law).

    He then joined Granada Television in Manchester. It turned out to be an 18-year career as a presentation director during British TV’s “golden age.” During his tenure, Granada made “Brideshead Revisited,” “The Jewel in the Crown,” “Prime Suspect” and “Cracker” before he lost his job in 1995 at age 40 during corporate restructuring.

    “Always a voracious reader, he decided to see an opportunity where others might have seen a crisis and bought six dollars’ worth of paper and pencils and sat down to write a book, Killing Floor, the first in the Jack Reacher series,” says the bio on Child’s website. Killing Floor won the 1997 Anthony Award and the Barry Award for Best First Novel.

    As of 2020, 48 Reacher titles have been published, with over 100 million books sold. Forbes magazine called it the “The Strongest Brand In Publishing” in 2014. Two of the titles were adapted for movies starring Tom Cruise. Some Reacher fans cried foul because their hero is a strapping 6-foot-5 while Cruise is 5-foot-7.

    Child was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America in 2009. He had moved to New York in 1998 with his American wife, Jane, and their daughter, Ruth, while maintaining British citizenship and other homes outside the U.S. After accepting a visiting professorship in 2008 at the University of Sheffield, where he attended law school, he funded 52 Jack Reacher scholarships. In 2019 it was announced he  would host a new TV show called “Lee Child: True Crime.” Child announced in 2020 he would be turning over the Reacher series to his brother Andrew Grant, who would write them under the surname Child.

    Child identifies as an atheist and has made Reacher, an ex-military cop vigilante, one also. “Anyone who writes will use a good deal of autobiography in a protagonist,” Child said in a 2016 interview. “You can insert your own enthusiasm, jokes and opinions.” In Nothing to Lose (2008), Reacher tells a Christian preacher, “We’re all atheists. You don’t believe in Zeus or Thor or Neptune or Augustus Caesar or Mars or Venus or Sun Ra. You reject a thousand gods. Why should it bother you if someone else rejects a thousand and one?”

    In Bad Luck and Trouble (2007), Reacher pays a higher fare for another airline because “Reacher hated Alaska Airlines. They put a scripture card on their meal trays. Ruined his appetite.” 

    Child in 2010 at Bouchercon XLI in San Francisco; Mark Coggins photo under CC 2.0.

    “I’ve no sympathy for any religion. I’m an atheist; I think they’re all nuts.”

    —Interview, Saga Magazine (Oct. 24, 2016)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    André Malraux

    André Malraux

    On this date in 1901, writer and freedom fighter Georges André Malraux was born in Paris. His formal education was brief and he traveled to Asia as a young man, becoming a noted critic of French colonial rule in Indochina. He co-founded the Young Annam League and started a newspaper called Indochina in Chains. Malraux was an avowed religious agnostic, although he was once described as obsessed with the divine.

    His first novel, The Temptation of the West (1926), was followed by The Conquerors (1928), The Royal Way (1930), Man’s Fate (1934), Days of Hope (1937) and The Walnut Trees of Altenburg (1943). After joining archeological expeditions to Iran and Afghanistan in the 1930s, Malraux co-founded the International Association of Writers for the Defense of Culture. During the Spanish Civil War,he flew on missions for the Republicans and was wounded twice.

    During World War II he joined the French Army and was captured in 1940 during the Western offensive, then escaped and joined the French Resistance. In 1944 he was captured by the Gestapo and, following a mock execution, was rescued by the Resistance. He then joined the Free French and fought at Strasbourg and during the takeover of Stuttgart. He was awarded the Medal of the Resistance, the Croix de Guerre and the British Distinguished Service Order.

    Gen. Charles De Gaulle appointed Malraux his minister of information in 1945-46. During the 1950s, Malraux wrote about aesthetics and art. After de Gaulle was returned to the presidency in 1958, Malraux served as France’s first minister of cultural affairs until 1968. He survived a 1962 assassination attempt by a right-wing group opposed to Algerian independence. His autobiography, Anti-Memoirs, was published in 1967. 

    Malraux married twice and had four children. He died of cancer in 1976 and was cremated.

    Malraux in 1974. Public domain photo by Roger Pic.

    “The attempt to force human beings to despise themselves is what I call hell.”

    —Malraux, "La Condition Humaine" (Man's Fate), 1933
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Ludovic Kennedy

    Ludovic Kennedy

    On this day in 1919, Ludovic Henry Coverly Kennedy, atheist journalist and author, was born to upper-class parents in Edinburgh, Scotland. At age 80, Kennedy (an honorary associate of the National Secular Society) wrote All in the Mind: A Farewell to God, in which he dismissed beliefs on which Christianity was founded as “preposterous.” He was knighted in 1994 by John Major’s government for his services to journalism. Major’s predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, had vetoed Kennedy’s knighthood.

    For Kennedy, the “playing fields” of Eton College included a stint in a jazz band. After serving in the Royal Navy in World War II, he attended Christ Church-Oxford before starting work as an investigative reporter. In 1950 he married ballet dancer Moira Shearer, who died in 2006. They had a son and three daughters.

    He was known for reexamining cases such as the Lindbergh kidnapping and the murder convictions of Timothy Evans and Derek Bentley and for his role in the abolition of the death penalty in the United Kingdom. Starting in 1953 he edited and introduced the “First Reading” radio series on the BBC. Later he became a news anchor on the public network ITV. He did work for BBC’s “Panorama,” the longest-running current affairs documentary series in the world. It launched in 1953. 

    He was president and co-founder of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and in 1990 published Euthanasia: The Case for the Good Death. He died at age 89 in 2009 of pneumonia in a Salisbury nursing home.

    “In the spring and with the coming of Easter, an old man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of gods. I am now 83 pushing 84 and the closer I come to shuffling off this mortal coil, the more mystified I am by Christian belief in the deity they call by the not very original name of God (as if there had never been others).

    “All gods from time immemorial are fantasies, created by humans for the welfare of humans and to attempt to explain the seemingly inexplicable. But do we, in the third year of the 21st century of the Common Era and on the springboard of colonising the universe, need such palliatives?

    “Wherever one looks there is conflict: Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland; Jews, Christians and Muslims in Palestine; Muslims and Hindus in the Indian subcontinent; Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Is not the case for atheism made?”

    Kennedy in a column titled "Put away childish things," The Guardian (April 17, 2003)

    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Scott Galloway

    Scott Galloway

    On this date in 1964, marketing professor and entrepreneur Scott Galloway was born in New York City. He grew up in California. In a post on his blog No Mercy / No Malice (June 11, 2018), he wrote: “Religion has played almost no role in my life. My parents weren’t religious, and I had no exposure to God until, at age seven, a babysitter told me I had to stand in the corner with my arms raised (like Jesus?) whenever I said “God” in a blasphemous manner (i.e., ever).”

    After his parents divorced, he occasionally attended a synagogue with his mother and felt like he “fit in” with westernized Judaism. He accompanied his stepmother to Presbyterian services on some weekend visits to his father’s. 

    Galloway earned a B.A. in economics in 1987 from the University of California-Berkeley and an M.A. in economics from UCLA in 1992. He worked as a Morgan Stanley fixed income analyst from 1987-89. In 1997 he founded Red Envelope, an early e-commerce site. He started the digital intelligence firm L2, Inc. in 2009. It was acquired in 2017 by the tech research firm Gartner for $155 million.

    From 2002 until this writing in 2022, Galloway has been a clinical professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, teaching brand strategy, digital marketing and luxury marketing to second-year MBA students and researching emerging technology platforms.  He and his wife Beata, a property developer from Germany, have two sons.

    He made a $4.4 million gift to UC-Berkeley’s business school in 2017 to fund fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students who come from immigrant families. It was the school’s second-largest gift ever from an MBA alumni. 

    He has served on the board of directors of Eddie Bauer, The New York Times Company, Gateway Computer, Urban Outfitters and Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Galloway’s public presentations and TED-style talks called “Winners & Losers” draw wide audiences. His 2019 book “The Algebra of Happiness: Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love, and Meaning” puts in print some of those ideas.

    He has repeatedly called for antitrust intervention to break up Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google, endorsed Michael Bloomberg’s presidential 2020 candidacy and sought the removal of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. At the time, Galloway owned over 330,000 shares of Twitter stock.

    “Most agnostics are closeted atheists,” declared Galloway in a 2018 blog. “I don’t know when exactly I turned off religion. My belief, similar to Ricky Gervais’s, is that good people do good things, bad people do bad things, and when you find good people doing really bad things, religion is usually involved. Finding atheism for me was significant, as I learned the core of atheism is not a denial of God, but an acceptance and tolerance of others’ beliefs, including those of us who don’t believe.”

    “Similar to 44% of Americans who at some point change their religious status, I pinged from Jewish to agnostic to atheist. Truth is I was never an agnostic, but an atheist, and didn’t have confidence to admit it.”

    —No Mercy / No Malice blog, "What Is Heaven?" (June 11, 2018)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Will Durant

    Will Durant

    On this date in 1885, William James “Will” Durant was born in North Adams, Mass., one of 11 children born to French-Canadian parents. Durant earned his B.A. from St. Peter’s College in New Jersey in 1907 and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1917. He was an accomplished historian and philosopher who wrote numerous books, including The Story of Philosophy (1926), but his fame was achieved mainly through the comprehensive 11-volume The Story of Civilization (1927–75), co-written with his wife, Ariel Durant.

    The books document the entire history of Western civilization. The Durants were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1968 for Rosseau and Revolution (volume 10 of The Story of Civilization) and the 1963 Huntington Hartford Foundation Award for Literature for The Age of Louis XIV.  Durant wrote numerous other historical and analytical works and three were published posthumously, including Heroes of History (2001) and Fallen Leaves (2014).

    Durant was born into a Catholic family and spent seven years at Jesuit schools, including St. Peter’s College and Seminary. Then he lost his faith to the point that he could “no longer think of becoming a priest.” (Quoted in A Dual Autobiography, 1977.) Durant wrote: “By the end of my sophomore year, I had discovered, through Darwin and other infidels, that the difference between man and the gorilla is largely a matter of trousers and words; that Christianity was only one of a hundred religions claiming special access to truth and salvation; and that myths of virgin births, mother goddesses, dying and resurrected deities, had appeared in many pre-Christian faiths, and had helped to transform a lovable Hebrew mystic into the Son of God.”

    Before getting his doctorate, he taught at Seton Hall University and at the Ferrer Modern School, where one of his pupils was Chaya (Ida) Kaufman. They married in 1913 when she was 15 and he was 28. He nicknamed her Ariel after the imp in Shakepeare’s “The Tempest” and she later legally changed her name. They had a daughter, Ethel, and raised a foster son, Louis, whose mother was Flora — Ariel’s sister.

    The Durants died within two weeks of each other in 1981 and are buried in Los Angeles.

    “Does history support a belief in God? If by God we mean not the creative vitality of nature but a supreme being intelligent and benevolent, the answer must be a reluctant negative.”

    Will and Ariel Durant, "The Lessons of History" (1968)

    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor and Eleanor Wroblewski

    Albert Camus

    Albert Camus

    On this date in 1913, Nobel Prize-winning writer Albert Camus was born in Mondovi, Algeria, to immigrant parents: a French father and a Spanish mother. After his father died during World War I in 1914, his family was left in extreme poverty. He excelled in athletics and academics and entered the University of Algiers to study, although a serious bout of tuberculosis cut short his studies. He joined the anti-fascist movement in 1934 but was soon expelled from the Algerian Communist Party as a “Trotskyist.”

    Camus wrote for a socialist paper in the late 1930s, chronicling the plight of the poor. In 1940 he went to Paris, fled after the German invasion, returned to Algeria, was advised to leave and at age 25 found himself back in Paris. Camus joined the Resistance and after liberation was a columnist for the newspaper Combat. Major writings include the essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” 1942, L’Etranger (The Stranger) 1942, La Peste (The Plague) 1947, which includes a priest character who insists a plague was sent as punishment from God, La Chute (The Fall) 1956 and L’Exile et le Royaume (Exile and the Kingdom) 1957, the year he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

    Camus was a pioneer of absurdist philosophy and literature and became a nonbeliever after being raised Catholic. He married Simone Hié in 1934. Soon after they divorced in 1940, he married  pianist and mathematician Francine Faure, who gave birth to twins Catherine and Jean in 1945. Camus died at age 46 in 1960 in an auto accident.

    “[Camus’] anti-Christianity is one of the most absolute of modern times.”

    Martin Seymour-Smith, "Who's Who in Twentieth-Century Literature" (1976)

    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Carl Sagan

    Carl Sagan

    On this date in 1934, scientist Carl Edward Sagan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Samuel and Rachel (Gruber) Sagan. Samuel was born in what is now Ukraine and Rachel in New York City. Sagan had his bar mitzvah at age 13 in a Reform synagogue. After earning bachelor and master’s degrees at Cornell University, he earned a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1960. After teaching and being denied tenure at Harvard, he became a professor of astronomy and space science and director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell, where he worked until his death.

    A great popularizer of science, Sagan produced the PBS series “Cosmos,” which won Emmy and Peabody awards and was watched by 500 million people in 60 countries. A book of the same title came out in 1980. Sagan was author, co-author or editor of 20 books, including The Dragons of Eden (1977), which won a Pulitzer, Pale Blue Dot (1995) and The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995), his hardest-hitting on religion. With his third wife, Ann Druyan, he was co-producer of the popular motion picture “Contact” (1997), which featured a feminist, atheist protagonist played by Jodie Foster. He played a leading role in NASA’s Mariner, Viking, Voyager and Galileo expeditions to other planets.

    Druyan, in the epilogue to Sagan’s last book, Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium (published posthumously in 1997), gives a moving account of his last days: “Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last-minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife. For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at this moment when anyone would be forgiven for turning away from the reality of our situation, Carl was unflinching.”

    After suffering from bone marrow cancer and receiving three marrow transplants from his sister Carol, his sole sibling, he died from pneumonia at age 62. (D.1996)

    PHOTO: Sagan in 1951 as a high school senior in Rahway, N.J.

    “If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I’d be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote. As with the face on Mars and alien abductions, better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy.”

    —Sagan, "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" (1995)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

    Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

    On this date in 1922, author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Clemens Vonnegut Sr., his German immigrant great-grandfather, helped found the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis in the 1870s. He enrolled at Cornell University and wrote for the student newspaper before leaving after three years when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943.

    His books and short stories, including social satire, black comedy and science fiction, often take a tragicomic turn. Life-altering experiences included his mother’s suicide on Mother’s Day 1944 while he was home on leave and surviving as a prisoner of war the Allied incendiary bombing that destroyed Dresden, Germany.

    His first novel, Player Piano, was published in 1954, followed by The Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat’s Cradle (1963), God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; or, Pearls Before Swine (1965), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Breakfast of Champions (1973), Slapstick (1976), Jailbird (1979), Galápagos (1985) Bluebeard (1987) Hocus Pocus (1990) and Timequake (1997). Several collections of his short stories and essays have also been published, such as God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (1999).

    While admitting that churches did some good, he was mostly dismissive of religion. In Issue 82 of the literary journal Image, he’s quoted as saying, “I am not, nor have I ever been a Christian, so I should not be given a funeral or memorial service under any sort of Christian supervision or in any Christian space.” In a 1991 letter to Billie Lyon he wrote, “When I, an atheist (there’s money in it), hear from a man about to get out of prison who has no family waiting for him, who wants to know what to do with freedom, I tell him, ‘Join a church.’ The risk in that, of course, is that he might join the wrong one, and wind up back in the cooler for blowing up an abortion clinic.” (“Kurt Vonnegut: Letters,” ed. Dan Wakefield, 2012.)

    He was married to Jane Marie Cox from 1945 to 1971. He married photographer and children’s author Jill Krementz in 1979. He had three biological children and adopted four others. Vonnegut was named 1992 Humanist of the Year of the American Humanist Association and later became its honorary president. He died at age 84 from brain injuries suffered several weeks earlier in a fall at his home in New York. D. 2007.

    Public domain photo: Pvt. Kurt Vonnegut between 1943-45.

    “I am an atheist (or at best a Unitarian who winds up in churches quite a lot).”

    —Vonnegut, "Fates Worse Than Death: An Autobiographical Collage of the 1980s" (1991)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Joseph McCabe

    Joseph McCabe

    On this date in 1867, former priest and freethought scholar Joseph McCabe was born in Macclesfield, England, to a Catholic father and Protestant mother who converted to Catholicism. As the second son in the large and poor family, he was sent at age 16 to a preparatory college at the Gorton Franciscan monastery. He was ordained a priest at age 23. As a teacher of philosophy at a Catholic school, McCabe began to doubt religion. In 1895 his moment of “no faith” came on Christmas Eve after weighing a list of pro and con arguments for belief in God  (see quote).

    McCabe wrote Twelve Years in a Monastery (1897), which sold 100,000 copies. Among his 200 published books were many biographies. He also translated about 50 works, including Ernest Haeckel’s Riddle of the Universe (1902), and popularized science and history. His critiques of religion include The Rise and the Fall of the Gods (1930). Toward the end of his life, he wrote primarily about the unholy alliance between fascism and other governments with religion in such books as The Papacy in Politics Today (1937) and A History of the Second World War (1946).

    Although his acquaintances were a “who’s who” of freethinkers and reformers, McCabe’s testy personality got him expelled from the British Rationalist Association. He maintained a long-term relationship with American paperback magnate E. Haldeman-Julius, who published 121 “Little Blue Books” by McCabe and 122 larger books, earning McCabe $100,000 in royalties. McCabe requested that his epitaph read “He was a rebel to his last breath.” D. 1955.

    PHOTO: McCabe in 1910.

    “I took a sheet of paper, divided it into debt and credit columns on the arguments for and against God and immortality. On Christmas Eve I wrote ‘bankrupt’ at the foot. And it was on Christmas morning 1895, after I had celebrated three Masses, while the bells of the parish church were ringing out the Christmas message of peace, that, with great pain, I found myself far out from the familiar land — homeless, aimlessly drifting. But the bells were right after all; from that hour on I have been wholly free from the nightmare of doubt that had lain on me for ten years.”

    —Joseph McCabe, "Twelve Years in a Monastery" (1897)

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali

    On this date in 1969, author and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her family moved often during her childhood, seeking political asylum because her father Hirsi Magan Isse was a revolutionary opposition leader. Raised as a devout Muslim, she endured a traumatic genital mutilation when she was about 5. Her grandmother had secretly arranged the religious rite to take place while her parents were out of town.

    In her early 20s she was told by her father that a marriage to a cousin in Canada had been arranged and that she had no choice in the matter. Fleeing the marriage and seeking political asylum, Ali went to the Netherlands in 1992. There she earned a master’s degree in political science and became a fellow at the Wiardi Beckman Foundation. She was first elected to the Dutch parliament in 2003. A prominent critic of Islam, Ali spoke out publicly against the abuses of women. She was also active in seeking to reform the handling of asylum seekers.

    Two books she wrote were controversial, The Son Factory: About Women, Islam and Integration (2002) and The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam (2003).  She was named by Time magazine in 2005 as “one of the 100 most influential people in the world.”

    Ali considered herself a Muslim until May 28, 2002, when she said she became an atheist while sitting in an Italian restaurant drinking a glass of wine: “I asked myself: Why should I burn in hell just because I’m drinking this? But what prompted me even more was the fact that the killers of 9/11 all believed in the same God I believed in.” (Interview, “Das Magazin,” September 2006.) Ali wrote the script for the 2004 film “Submission,” which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic society, bringing her to international notice.

    Two months after its release, the film’s producer, Theo van Gogh (great-grandnephew of Vincent van Gogh), was murdered as he bicycled in Amsterdam by a Moroccan member of a Dutch Islamist terrorist organization. The assailant had pinned a death threat to Ali on van Gogh’s body and she was forced to go into hiding. She resigned from the parliament and moved to the U.S., working for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

    Ali’s autobiography Infidel was published in English in 2007. She received FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2010, the same year her book Nomad was published. In 2015, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now was released. She founded the AHA Foundation, a nonprofit working to end “honor” violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. She is married to the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson. They have two sons.

    Reason, not obedience, should guide our lives. Though it took centuries to crumble, the entire ossified cage of European social hierarchy — from kings to serfs, and between men and women, all of it shored up by the Catholic Church — was destroyed by this thought.”

    —Hirsi Ali, "Infidel" (2007)

    Compiled by Jane Esbensen; photo by Brent Nicastro.

    José Saramago

    José Saramago

    On this date in 1922, José Saramago was born in Azinhaga, Santarém, Portugal. He dropped out of school when he was 12 to become a mechanic and later worked as a journalist and production manager of the publishing company Estúdios Cor (1958-71). After being fired from his position as editor of the newspaper Diário de Lisboa (1971–75), Saramago devoted his time to writing fiction.

    He became an innovative and prolific novelist, essayist and poet whose works often contained political and philosophical themes. His novels include The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (1984), The Stone Raft (1986), All the Names (1997) and Blindness (1995), which was adapted into a film in 2008. Saramago became the first Portuguese-language writer to win a Nobel Prize when he was awarded the prize for literature in 1998. He married Ilda Reis in 1944. They divorced in 1970 and had one daughter, Violante. Saramago later married journalist Pilar del Río.

    According to a New York Times Topics post (June 18, 2010), Saramago was “an outspoken atheist, one who maintained that religion is to blame for much of the world’s violence.” In an interview with Inter Press Service on Oct. 21, 2009, Saramago said, “God only exists in our minds.” He wrote the irreverent Cain (2009) and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (1991), which describes Christ as an average young man with vices, in contrast to his pious depiction in the bible. In 1992, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ was deemed heretical by the Portuguese government and Saramago chose to go into exile in the Canary Islands. D. 2010.

    “All religions, without exception, have done humanity more bad than good.”

    —Saramago, Inter Press Service (Oct. 21, 2009)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Margaret Atwood

    Margaret Atwood

    On this date in 1939, novelist and poet Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Canada. As a youngster, she spent many months of each year in the wilderness with her parents, due to her father’s job as a forest entomologist. Atwood, fittingly, was descended from Mary Webster, accused of witchcraft in Salem, Mass., and sentenced to be hanged in 1685 but allowed to live after the rope broke. Atwood made her ancestor the subject of her poem “Half-Hanged Mary.”

    Atwood earned a B.A. from the University of Toronto in 1961, her M.A. from Radcliffe College and attended Harvard for two years of postgraduate study. She held a variety of positions at various colleges and has been published in 14 volumes of poetry, including Margaret Atwood Poems (1965-1975), published in 1991.

    Her novels include Edible Woman (1969), Surfacing (1972), Lady Oracle (1976), Life Before Man (1979), Bodily Harm (1981), The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), Cat’s Eye (1988), The Robber Bride (1993), Alias Grace (1996), The Blind Assassin (2000), Oryx and Crake (2003), the first novel in a series that also includes The Year of The Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013), which would collectively come to be known as the MaddAddam Trilogy. 

    The Handmaid’s Tale, about a theocratic takeover of the United States, inspired the 1990 movie adapted by Harold Pinter. Atwood published Hag-Seed, a modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” in 2016Her 2019 novel The Testaments, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, was a Booker Prize finalist. 

    She has called herself an agnostic: “A doctrinaire agnostic is different from someone who doesn’t know what they believe. A doctrinaire agnostic believes quite passionately that there are certain things that you cannot know, and therefore ought not to make pronouncements about. In other words, the only things you can call knowledge are things that can be scientifically tested.” (Quoted in Humanism as the Next Step by Lloyd and Mary Morain, 1954.)

    She was named Canadian Humanist of the Year in 1987 and the American Humanist Association’s 1987 Humanist of the Year. She married American writer Jim Polk in 1968. They divorced in 1973 and she formed a relationship with novelist Graeme Gibson. They moved to a farm near Alliston, Ontario, where their daughter Eleanor Jess Atwood Gibson was born in 1976.

    Photo by Larry D. Moore under CC BY 4.0.

    “This is not an attack on Christianity, but the fact is Christians have long persecuted other sects and each other, as they are in Northern Ireland today. People were saying things like, ‘A woman’s place is in the home.’ And I got to thinking, well, how would someone enforce thoughts like that?”

    —Atwood, on writing "The Handmaid's Tale," New York Times interview (April 14, 1990)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Chalmers Roberts

    Chalmers Roberts

    On this date in 1910, Chalmers Roberts was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. He earned a degree from Amherst College in 1933 and later became a journalist for seven newspapers, including the Japan Times in Tokyo in 1938 and the Washington Post in 1949. Roberts was chief diplomatic correspondent of the Post from 1953-71, often with front-page bylines.

    He wrote influential articles about the Pentagon Papers, the secret government documents detailing deceptions during the Vietnam War, and was named as a defendant in the case that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court for publishing the documents.

    Roberts continued to write columns for the Post until 2004. He wrote five books, including Washington Past and Present (1950), The Nuclear Years: The Arms Race and Arms Control (1970) and his autobiography, First Rough Draft: A Journalist’s Journal of Our Times (1973). In 1941 he married Lois Roberts, who died in 2001. They had three children: David, Patricia and Christopher. Roberts died in 2005.

    After being diagnosed with congestive heart failure, Roberts chose to refuse potentially lifesaving open-heart surgery. He wrote about his decision in the Post on Aug. 28, 2004, explaining his views on religion and the afterlife: “I agree with Francis Crick, the eminent Cambridge don, the winner of the Nobel Prize for his co-discovery of the double helix, the blueprint of life, who wrote: ‘In the fullness of time, educated people will believe there is no soul independent of the body, and hence no life after death.’ ”

    “I do want to add a final word about the hereafter. I do not believe in it. I think that the religions which promise various after-life scenarios basically invented them to meet the longing for an answer to life’s mysteries.”

    —Roberts, the Washington Post (Aug. 28, 2004)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

    Ben Winter

    Ben Winter

    On this date in 1927, author and cowboy Bennie Nyles “Ben” Winter was born in Fox, Okla., second child of Charles and Hazel Winter. Growing up on a farm, he enjoyed roping cows and horseback riding. A quote above his rural elementary school entryway stuck with him, a catalyst for a lifetime love of learning and friendly debate: “Knowledge Once Gained Casts a Light Beyond its Own Immediate Boundaries.” Winter joined the Air Force in his late teens and worked in a print shop on Okinawa during the Korean War.

    In 1949 he “stole” an Air Force buddy’s photo of a beautiful woman, Joyce Lynn Sadler, from Homer, Okla., whom he married that year. They had five children: Schahara Suzanne, Scheryl Sharisse, Scharmagne Suzette, Christopher Thomas and Schaunon Simone.

    An entrepreneur at heart, even while employed in the oilfield, Winter was a successful horse breeder, trainer and racehorse owner with many visits to the winner’s circle. A self-taught artist and musician, he wrote many poems and stories, including the nonfiction The Great Deception: Symbols & Numbers Clarified. Over 13 years, he researched Josephus, the Christian bible, Strong’s Concordance and hundreds of other works.

    He had been exposed to conventional biblical teachings, raised mostly in the Church of Christ: “What I was reading in the bible and what I was hearing from the pulpit did not coincide. When contemplating meaning, modern clergy and bible students subscribe to emotion rather than scholarly endeavor of which these ancient symbols resisted first century as well as modern interpretation.”

    Winter died at the Ardmore Veterans Home on Sept. 5, 2018. Joyce, his wife of nearly 70 years, died in April 2019.

    “Belief is an anomaly of the mind.”

    —Ben Winter
    Compiled by Schaunon Winter Gilman and Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Myla Goldberg

    Myla Goldberg

    On this date in 1971 author Myla Goldberg was born into a Jewish family, grew up in Laurel, Md., and graduated from Oberlin College in 1993. Her first book, Bee Season, a coming-of-age story about a girl who wins a spelling bee, was published in 2000 and was on The New York Times Notable Book List of 2000. Her other books include Wickett’s Remedy (2006), which chronicles the story of a woman during the 1918 flu pandemic and The False Friend (2010), about a woman returning to her hometown to confront her past. She has also written Time’s Magpie: A Walk in Prague (2004), a compilation of her essays on Prague, and Catching the Moon (2007), a children’s book, along with many other published short stories and writings.

    Goldberg sings and plays banjo and accordion in a band called The Walking Hellos. Their first CD was released in 2006. Goldberg is married to Jason Little and has two daughters. 

    Photo: Goldberg in 2007 at the Brooklyn Book Festival; photo by David Shankbone under CC 3.0.

    “I’m a total atheist, and for me it’s just about trying to find something that rises above the banal day-to-day bullshit of living.”

    —Goldberg, New York magazine, "In Print: Bee's Buzz" by Boris Kachka (Aug. 7, 2001)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

    Marie Bashkirtseff

    Marie Bashkirtseff

    On this date in 1858, artist Marie Bashkirtseff was born in what is now Ukraine to a wealthy noble family. She grew up in France and Italy and studied painting in Paris. Although a number of her paintings were destroyed by the Nazis during World War II, she is still well-known for two canvasses: “The Meeting,” depicting Parisian slum children, and “In the Studio,” depicting fellow artists at work.

    From the age of 13, she kept a journal that included her correspondence with writer Guy de Maupassant. The first volume of her diary was published in 1890 and is titled I Am the Most Interesting Book of All. She wrote several articles for Hubertine Auclert’s feminist newspaper La Citoyenne in 1881 under the nom de plume “Pauline Orrel.” One of her most-quoted sayings: “Let us love dogs, let us love only dogs! Men and cats are unworthy creatures.”

    Her later journal entries, first published posthumously in the journal Revue des Revues in 1900, reveal her skepticism. Her religious beliefs were complicated and shifted during her short life. In 1881 she wrote about “having been a Deist, with days of absolute atheism,” while adding she was “praying to Christ and the Virgin” and commenting that established religion had very little to do with Christ’s teaching.

    She died of tuberculosis at age 25 in Paris. (D. 1884)

    PHOTO: Bashkirtseff at age 20.

    “The Church has lowered God, disfigured religion, or, rather, has created, instead of the worship we owe to God, a complicated religion, full of charlatanism, which must be destroyed.”

    —"The Journal of Marie Bashkirtsef," translated with an Introduction by Mathilde Blind (1890)

    Jennifer Michael Hecht

    Jennifer Michael Hecht

    On this date in 1965, poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht was born in New York City. She earned a B.A. in history from Adelphi University in New York in 1987 and a Ph.D. in the history of science and European cultural history in 1995 from Columbia University. Her works include The Next Ancient World (2001), for which she was awarded the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award.

    Hecht is known primarily for her historical and philosophical books: Doubt: A History (2003); The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism, and Anthropology in France (2003), The Happiness Myth: Why What We Think Is Right Is Wrong (2007) and Stay: A History of Suicide and the Arguments Against It (2013).

    Hecht has written for The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Politico, Vox, Poetry and The New Yorker. She holds a Ph.D. in the history of science/European cultural history from Columbia University (1995) and has taught in the MFA program at Columbia University and the New School in New York City. She and her husband, John Chaneski, have two children.

    “I’m sort of what I’ll now call a Reagan atheist — came in real early. I was still a pretty young person,” Hecht said during her speech at FFRF’s 32nd annual convention. In her book Doubt: A History (2003), Hecht detailed the extensive history of atheism and religious skepticism, writing, “Doubters have been remarkably productive, for the obvious reason that they have a tendency toward investigation and, also, are often drawn to invest their own days with meaning.” Hecht is a member of FFRF’s Honorary Board and received its 2009 Freethought Heroine Award.

    “Almost all the great poets have conversations in their poetry about doubting God, and even go all the way to dismissing. It’s such a strong tradition that it’s almost amazing that we’ve missed it.”

    —Hecht speech at FFRF’s 32nd annual convention (Nov. 7, 2009)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor; public domain photo.

    Edwin Kagin

    Edwin Kagin

    On this date in 1940, Edwin Frederick Kagin was born in Greenville, South Carolina. In 1996 he and his wife Helen founded Camp Quest, a summer camp for the children of atheists, humanists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers. The Kagins suggested Camp Quest as a way to counter the exclusion of nontheists from the Boy Scouts. Over 16 locations of Camp Quest have spread across the U.S., with branches in Europe and Canada. Campers participate in traditional activities such as swimming, camp fires, crafts, hiking, along with participating in educational activities.

    Those activities include science experiments, learning about famous freethinkers, evolution and world religions. Campers also participate in a logical exercise in which they attempt to prove an invisible unicorn does not exist. Camp Quest’s vision is “a world in which children grow up exploring, thinking for themselves, connecting with their communities, and acting to make the most of life for themselves and others.”

    The son of a Presbyterian minister, Kagin earned his law degree from the University of Louisville in 1972. In addition to practicing civil rights and constitutional law, he was the national legal director for American Atheists. He served in the U.S. Air Force as a medic in 1961-62. Kagin was the author of Baubles of Blasphemy (2005) and a contributing author of The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America (2003). He was married to Helen from 1984 until her death in 2010. He was a longtime FFRF member. (D. 2014)

    PHOTO: Helen and Edwin Kagin in 2005. CC 4.0

    Atheists Are Everywhere

    There are Atheists in foxholes
    Atheists in hurricanes
    There are Atheists in all the roles
    Denied by your refrains.

    Atheists are your fellow citizens
    People who love and laugh and cry
    Atheists are your relatives and friends
    Don’t insult them with a lie.

    Atheists in many foxholes served
    And some have had to die
    Give Atheists the thanks deserved
    Don’t dismiss them with a lie.

    Atheists are all around you
    They work, they help, they care
    And no matter what you think is true
    Atheists are everywhere
    And no matter what you think is true
    They do not want your prayer.

    —Kagin poem, “Atheists Are Everywhere” (Sept. 12, 2005)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

    John Toland

    John Toland

    On this date in 1670, John Toland was born in Ireland, where he was rumored to be the son of a Catholic priest. He was “Educated from the cradle in the grossest superstition and idolatry,” he later wrote in Apology (1697). By age 15 he had rejected Catholicism by “his own reason.” He studied at Glasgow College from 1687-90, aligning himself with Presbyterianism and earning a master’s degree. He then studied at Leyden, Holland.

    The Encyclopedia of Unbelief terms Toland “perhaps the first professional freethinker.” He directed the bulk of his writing, more than 100 works, against established religion while shrewdly qualifying his statements to avoid prosecution. Toland was perhaps the first to be called a “freethinker” (by Bishop Berkeley). At Oxford, Toland wrote the deistic Christianity not Mysterious (1696), in which he credited “cunning priests” with the promotion of irrationality. He returned to Ireland for a visit, where his book was castigated from the pulpits and by the Irish House of Commons, which ordered the book burnt and the author arrested.

    One member of the House even moved “that Mr. Toland himself should be burnt.” By 1704, Toland, who had translated the work of Giordano Bruno, called himself “a Pantheist” and is believed to be the first to use the term, defining it as the belief that only the material universe and nature are divine. In History of the Soul’s Immortality, Toland asserted that this doctrine was a self-serving invention by Egyptian priests. He also wrote Life of Milton (1698) and political tracts. His pamphlet “Nazarenus” (1718) contained early samples of biblical criticism. His Pantheisticon (1720) rejected supernaturalism. His essay “Tetradymas” contains bible criticism and a description of the murder of Hypatia. D. 1722.

    “Virtue alone is enough to live happily and brings its own reward.”

    —Toland, "Pantheisticon" (1720)

    T.C. Boyle

    T.C. Boyle

    On this date in 1948, writer Thomas John Boyle was born in Peekskill, N.Y., to working-class parents, both of whom died relatively young from alcohol-related conditions but were loving, supportive parents. He changed his middle name to Coraghessan when he was 17 after an ancestor. He started playing in a rock band and using heroin until a friend’s overdose helped convince him to stop. He earned his B.A. from the State University of New York-Potsdam in English and history in 1968 and taught high school at his alma mater. He received his M.F.A and Ph.D. in 19th-century British literature from the University of Iowa, also serving as fiction editor of the Iowa Review.

    He joined the faculty of the University of Southern California in 1978 as an assistant professor of creative writing. A year later, his first collection of short stories, The Descent of Man, appeared in print, followed by the novel Water Music in 1981. The novel Budding Prospects: A Pastoral was published in 1984, followed by a volume of short fiction, Greasy Lake and Other Stories in 1985 and World’s End, which received the PEN/Faulkner Award for best novel of 1987. Another collection, If the River Was Whiskey, appeared in 1990, followed a year later by the novel East Is East and The Road to Wellville in 1993.

    The Road to Wellville is a fictional portrait of two real-life brothers, the Kelloggs of Battle Creek, Michigan. It was a movie with the same name in 1994. Some of his other novels are The Tortilla Curtain (1995), A Friend of the Earth (2000), The Inner Circle (2004), which presented a fictional portrayal of sexual-behavior scientist Dr. Alfred Kinsey, and The Harder They Come (2015). 

    Common themes of life and death arise in Boyle’s work. He writes a lot about the conflict between scientific and spiritual points of view. His novel, When The Killing’s Done (2011), opens with an excerpt from the Book of Genesis which suggests that humans have sovereignty over all other animals. The story follows a couple who both consider themselves vegetarians but disagree on whether all life is sacred and why.

    In the preface to T.C. Boyle Stories II (2013), he wrote: “Darwin and earth science came tumbling into my consciousness around then [8th grade], and I told my mother that I could no longer believe in the Roman Catholic doctrine that had propelled us to church for as long as I could remember. To her credit, patient woman, she set me free from all that, and I suppose I’ve been looking for something to replace it ever since.” What he eventually found? “Art and nature, the twin deities that sustained Wordsworth and Whitman and all the others whose experience became too complicated for received faith to contain it.”

    Boyle married Karen Kvashay in 1974. They have a daughter, Kerrie, and two sons, Milo and Spencer. 

    PHOTO: Boyle at the 2009 Leipzig Book Fair; Amrei-Marie photo under CC. 3.0.

    “Many people in our society — and I’m one of them — have given up religion for science, because science is demonstrable. I can drop that grape on the ground and know damn well it will adhere to the law of gravity. But we don’t know what we’re doing here, and it’s utterly depressing.”

    —Boyle interview, Pacific Standard magazine (March 25, 2011)
    Compiled by Tolulope Igun

    Samuel Butler

    Samuel Butler

    On this date in 1835, novelist Samuel Butler (not to be confused with 17th century poet Samuel Butler) was born in England and educated at Cambridge. His father and his grandfather were clergy, and Butler was likewise expected to enter the ministry. While preparing for it, he worked at a school for the poor, where he observed that boys who had been baptized did not differ from those who had not been. He infuriated his father by sharing his growing doubts, and suggesting an alternate career in painting. Butler escaped family ire by emigrating to New Zealand.

    On the long voyage, he read Gibbon‘s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which cemented Butler’s rejection of Christianity. He started breeding sheep, read Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species and enthusiastically corresponded with him. When Butler returned to London in 1864, he eventually settled down to a literary career, writing Erewhon (1872), The Fair Haven (1873), Life and Habit (1877), Erewhon Revisited (1901), and The Way of All Flesh (posthumously published,1903). Butler happened upon Lamarck’s work on inheritance and unaccountably turned on Darwin in the late 1870s. Butler’s novels, for the most part not financial successes, were replete with satire of Christianity. The Way of All Flesh salvaged Butler from literary obscurity. D. 1902.

    “Prayers are to men as dolls are to children. They are not without use and comfort, but it is not easy to take them very seriously.”

    —Butler, "Unprofessional Sermons," "The Note-books of Samuel Butler, Vol. 2" (1912)

    Heywood C. Broun

    Heywood C. Broun

    On this date in 1888, journalist Heywood Campbell Broun Jr. was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. He attended Harvard University from 1906-10, where he befriended Walter Lippmann and John Reed. Broun left Harvard 10 credits short of a degree to become a sportswriter for the New York Morning Telegraph. He joined the New York Tribune and covered World War II as its correspondent in France. In 1921 he joined the New York World and debuted his column “It Seems to Me.”

    He married feminist writer Ruth Hale in 1917, who a few years later co-founded the Lucy Stone League that advocated letting women keep their maiden names after marriage. They had one son, sportswriter Heywood Hale Broun. After Hale filed for divorce in 1933, he married a widowed chorus girl named Maria Incoronata Fruscella Dooley (stage name Connie Madison) in 1935.

    Broun campaigned for the underdog, against censorship and racism and for women’s rights. He supported Eugene V. Debs, Margaret Sanger, D.H. Lawrence and Tom Mooney, a labor leader he believed was framed in a 1916 San Francisco bombing case. Broun resigned when the World refused to run his coverage of the Sacco and Vanzetti case. In 1930 he ran unsuccessfully as a Socialist for Congress. Several years later, the Socialists expelled him for appearing on the platform with members of the Communist Party in support of Mooney and the Scottsboro Nine.

    He wrote for The Nation and the New Republic and helped establish the American Newspaper Guild in 1933, which still gives out the Heywood Broun Award for news organizations showing an abiding concern for the underdog. In 1938 he co-founded the weekly tabloid Connecticut Nutmeg, soon renamed Broun’s Nutmeg.

    Broun, one of the wits of the Algonquin Round Table, was said to have whispered to Tallulah Bankhead during a Broadway show in which she was starring: “Don’t look now, Tallulah, but your show’s slipping.” He wrote several books and novels, including The A.E.F. (1918), The Boy Grew Older (1922) and a biography, Anthony Comstock: Roundsman of the Lord (1927, with Margaret Leech). Christians Only: A Study in Prejudice (1931, with George Britt), showed how all-encompassing anti-Semitism was in the 1920s, with some Jews even discriminating against other Jews.

    Broun played it close to the vest when publicly discussing or writing about his own religious beliefs, but among contemporaries he was widely seen as agnostic. He generally opposed stridency, even from what he called “hard-shelled” atheists: “Nobody talks so constantly about God as those who insist that there is no God.” (“A New Preface to an Old Story,” Broun’s Nutmeg, Aug. 19, 1939.) Toward the end of his life, influenced by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, he converted to Catholicism, although the sincerity of his conversion was questioned by some. He died of pneumonia at age 51 in 1939 in New York City.

    ” ‘Virtue is a polite word for fear,’  that is the sort of thing we were writing when we were not empowering some character to say, ‘Honesty is a bedtime fairy story invented for the proletariat,’ or ‘The prodigal gets drunk; the Puritan gets religion.’ “

    —Broun, on his Harvard English class for playwrights, "Pieces of Hate and Other Enthusiasms" (1922)

    Baron d’Holbach

    Baron d’Holbach

    On this date in 1723, Paul Henri Baron von Holbach, one of the Enlightenment’s most passionate atheists, was born in Edesheim, Germany, into a Catholic family. An uncle who became a wealthy nobleman brought Holbach to Paris when he was 12, educated him and left him his fortune. Holbach studied law in Holland, returned to Paris and inherited more wealth. Holbach befriended the Encyclopedists, including Denis Diderot, and his Parisian home became a hub of the Enlightenment.

    Holbach wrote several articles for the Encyclopedia and also translated German scholars, then began writing his philosophical pieces in secret. He did not sign his name to these atheistic works, so, although some were ordered to be burned in France, he was spared prosecution. He eventually inspired a “Holbachian” movement of anticlericalism and philosophical materialism.

    Holbach’s writings include a series of works published in 1770 inquiring into the historicity of Jesus, the saints and other freethought subjects. Christianity Unveiled was published in 1766, The Holy Disease in 1768, System of Nature in 1770 and Le Bon sens (Common Sense) in 1772, followed by several political and moral treatises. In Common Sense, Holbach wrote that “Religion is a mere castle in the air. Theology is ignorance of natural causes; a tissue of fallacies and contradictions.”

    He believed “Knowledge, Reason, and Liberty, can alone reform and make men happier.” He optimistically predicted “If the ignorance of nature gave birth to the gods, knowledge of nature is destined to destroy them.” Holbach translated and adapted many major deistic English writings. He particularly criticized Catholicism as an obstacle to freedom and the common good. D. 1789.

    “Savage and furious nations, perpetually at war, adore, under divers names, some God, conformable to their ideas, that is to say, cruel, carnivorous, selfish, blood-thirsty. We find, in all the religions, ‘a God of armies,’ a ‘jealous God,’ an ‘avenging God,’ a ‘destroying God,’ a ‘God,’ who is pleased with carnage, and whom his worshippers consider it a duty to serve. Lambs, bulls, children, men, and women, are sacrificed to him. Zealous servants of this barbarous God think themselves obliged even to offer up themselves as a sacrifice to him.”

    —Baron d'Holbach, "Common Sense" (1772)

    James Thurber

    James Thurber

    On this date in 1894, humorist and cartoonist James Grover Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio. He called his mother — who once impersonated a cripple at a faith-healing rally in order to leap up and call herself cured — a “born comedienne.” Thurber was partially blinded as a young boy when his brother accidentally shot an arrow into his eye. He could not serve in World War I but attended Ohio State University from 1913-18. He was a code clerk in Washington, D.C., and at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, then became a newspaperman.

    He wrote for the Chicago Tribune from Paris and joined the Evening Post staff in New York in 1927, then The New Yorker. He wrote a satire of psychoanalysis, Is Sex Necessary (1929) with E.B. White, featuring his drawings, which immediately became popular. Thurber’s eyesight worsened in the 1930s and 1940s. His books included My Life and Hard Times (1933), Fables for Our Time (“Early to rise and early to bed makes a male healthy and wealthy and dead”) and two modern fairy tales for children in the 1950s.

    His most famous story was “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” about a meek husband with an absurdly rich inner fantasy life, which spawned a 1947 movie starring Danny Kaye. Thurber once said, “The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people — that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.”

    His biographer Harrison Kinney wrote, “Thurber had never allowed his probing, restless mind to settle on any single theological insurance policy concerning the possibilities of the hereafter. He remained an agnostic.” (Cited in Final Chapters: How Famous Authors Died by Jim Bernhard, 2015.)

    He was married to Althea Addams Thurber from 1925–35. Their daughter Rosemary was born in 1931. He was married to Helen Wismer Thurber from 1935 until his death at age 66 in 1961 from pneumonia several weeks after being stricken with a cerebral blood clot.

    “If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons.”

    —Attributed to Thurber but unsourced

    Bill Bryson

    Bill Bryson

    On this date in 1951, author William McGuire Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, to Bill and Mary (née McGuire) Bryson, who were both journalists. He attended Drake University for two years before dropping out in 1972 and backpacking abroad, which he would write about in Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe (1992).

    While working at a British psychiatric hospital, he met a nurse named Cynthia Billen, whom he married in 1975. After moving back to Des Moines so he could finish his college degree, they returned to England. They have four children: David, Felicity, Catherine and Samuel.

    Bryson worked as a journalist for the Bournemouth Evening Echo, the Times of London and The Independent. In 2005 he was appointed Durham University chancellor, succeeding the late Sir Peter Ustinov and serving until 2012. He holds dual U.S. and British citizenship. 

    Bryson’s freethinking and often humorous A Short History of Practically Everything (2003) explored the sciences, past and present. It won the 2004 Aventis Prize for best general science book and the 2005 EU Descartes Prize for science communication.

    In A Walk in the Woods (1997), he told about reading a Tennessee newspaper about how the legislature was in the process of passing a bill forbidding schools from teaching evolution. He recalled the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial” and wrote: “And now the state was about to bring the law back, proving conclusively that the danger for Tennesseans isn’t so much that they may be descended from apes as overtaken by them.”

    “I’m not a spiritual person, and the things I’ve done haven’t made me one,” he told The Guardian in March 2005, while allowing that “conventional science and a belief in god are absolutely not incompatible.”

    He was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society in 2013, becoming the first non-Briton upon whom the honor was bestowed. His latest book as of this writing, The Body: A Guide for Occupants (2019) aims to foster an understanding of the physical and neurological processes that make up Homo sapiens.

    “I don’t know why religious zealots have this compulsion to try to convert everyone who passes before them – I don’t go around trying to make them into St. Louis Cardinals fans, for Christ’s sake – and yet they never fail to try.”

    —Bryson, "Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe" (1991)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Arthur C. Clarke

    Arthur C. Clarke

    On this date in 1917, science fiction writer and inventor Arthur C. Clarke was born in Minehead, Somerset, England. A stargazer as a boy, he could not afford to attend university. He became a radar specialist for the Royal Air Force during World War II. A lifelong nonbeliever, he refused to accept the “Church of England” affiliation put on his dogtag by the RAF and insisted they change it to “pantheist.” Clarke earned a degree in math and physics in 1948 at King’s College, London. He was the first to propose, in a technical paper in 1945, that geostationary satellites could make telecommunication relays, which later won him the 1982 Marconi International Fellowship and many other honors.

    After selling science fiction throughout the 1940s, Clarke was writing full-time by 1951. In 1954 he suggested satellite applications for weather forecasting to the U.S. Weather Bureau. He turned from the stars to underwater exploration, concentrating on the coast of Sri Lanka, where he moved in 1956.

    When Clarke was 36 he married Marilyn Mayfield, a 22-year-old American divorcee with a young son. They separated after six months, although the divorce was not finalized until 1964. He never remarried but was intimate with a Sri Lankan man, Leslie Ekanayake, who died in 1977. They were eventually buried together. Clarke’s New York Times obituary noted that journalists who asked if Clarke was gay were told, “No, merely mildly cheerful.”

    His most famous work was the screenplay, co-written with Stanley Kubrick, for the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The script was nominated for an Oscar. Clarke served as chair of the British Interplanetary Society. His TV programs included “Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World” (1981) and “Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers” (1984). He co-broadcast Apollo 11, 12 and 15 missions with Walter Cronkite and CBS News. He was wheelchair-bound starting in 1988 with post-polio syndrome. 

    In 2000 Clarke was knighted. Before his death at age 90 in 2008, he left instructions about his funeral: “Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral.” He told the London Times in August 1992 that he was “an aggressive agnostic.” In 1999 he told Free Inquiry magazine, “One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion.”

    “Religion is the most malevolent of all mind viruses. We should get rid of it as quick as we can.”

    —Clarke interview with Popular Science magazine (Aug. 1, 2004)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Frances Hamerstrom

    Frances Hamerstrom

    On this date in 1907, biologist Frances “Fran” Hamerstrom, née Frances Carnes Flint, was born into a wealthy family in Needham, Mass. After her tutoring, horseback-riding and lacemaking lessons, she sought refuge with wild animals, usually injured animals neighborhood kids brought her. Rebellious and a bit of a tomboy, she dropped out of Smith College and embarked on a short career as a fashion model in the late 1920s. After meeting Frederick Hamerstrom at a Dartmouth prom and marrying him, she returned to college. Frederick, known as “Hammy,” was a nephew of Clarence Darrow.

    Hamerstrom earned a biology degree from Iowa State College in 1935. Then she and her husband worked on advanced degrees under Aldo Leopold in Wisconsin. She was the only woman to earn a graduate degree under Leopold and the first woman to train a golden eagle. The state of Montana offered the pair a job as biologists but told her she would be called a secretary — “and they’d pay me like a secretary,” she said. Instead they accepted an offer to research the near-extinct prairie chicken in Wisconsin.

    While raising two children, they developed a management system of land patterning. To reach out to the public, she wrote Strictly for the Chickens. Her other books included An Eagle to the Sky and the children’s books Walk When the Moon Is Full and Adventure of the Stone Man. She also wrote Birding With a Purpose and My Double Life: Memoirs of a Naturalist (1994).

    As parents, they had two rules: “No chewing gum, and no church.” Speaking of their 55-year marriage, she quipped, “You’ll notice that our ‘pair bond’ has lasted fairly well and I think it’s because we’re both remarkably tolerant people. He’s an agnostic and I’m an atheist, and we’ve put up with each other all this time!”

    Hamerstrom was critical of “the Christian mentality … that one isn’t supposed to learn from animals. One is more or less supposed to look down on them, manage them, use them, but not learn from them.”

    Following Frederick’s death in 1990, she visited Saudi Arabia, Africa and South America. On an expedition in Peru at age 86, she broke her hip and was evacuated by helicopter. She  died in 1998 at a nursing home in Port Edwards, Wis. Both the Hamerstroms were inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in 1996. 

    “When I was 8 years old, I tried prayer. And it didn’t work!”

    —Hamerstrom comment during her address to FFRF's 1986 national convention

    Elmina D. Slenker

    Elmina D. Slenker

    On this date in 1827, Elmina Drake, the daughter of a Shaker preacher expelled for becoming a “Liberal,” was born in La Grange, New York. She wrote for nearly all of the freethinking journals of her era and knew many of the reformers. She advertised successfully for an egalitarian husband in the Water-Cure Journal and married Isaac Slenker, Quaker-style.

    She preached alcoholic and sexual temperance, adopting a philosophy called “Dianaism,” which taught sexual sublimation and practices to avoid unwanted pregnancies in a manner too plain-spoken for the guardians of the Comstock Act. At the age of 60 in April 1887, Slenker was arrested for mailing sealed letters of advice on sex and marriage to private correspondents.

    With bail set at $2,000, she was shown into a cold cell with a blanket on the floor. The New York Times critically reported in its coverage of her newsworthy arrest that she refused to swear on a bible and testified at a preliminary hearing that she did not believe in god, ghosts, heaven, hell, the bible or Christianity.

    The pleasant, ordinary-looking woman was vilified as “homely” for sporting a short haircut. Unable to raise bail she spent six months in jail and was indicted on July 12, 1887. Freethinking attorney Edward W. Chamberlain represented her during her October trial, where a jury found her guilty. She was set free on a technicality by the judge on Nov. 4, 1887. Truth Seeker readers paid her legal expenses.

    She wrote Studying the Bible in 1870, edited Little Freethinker and wrote several novels, including The Clergyman’s Victims, The Infidel School-Teacher and The Darwins. She died in Virginia in her early 80s in 1908.

    “I became a sceptic, doubter, and unbeliever, long ere the ‘Good Book’ was ended.”

    —Slenker, "Studying the Bible" (1870)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Quentin Crisp

    Quentin Crisp

    On this date in 1908, writer and critic Quentin Crisp was born in suburban London. He attended a school in Derbyshire in his teens, which he later described as a cross between a monastery and a prison. He worked as an illustrator and designer of book covers, writing books such as Lettering for Brush and Pen (1936) and Colour in Display (1938).

    He happened onto his 35-year stint of posing as an art school model, then wrote The Naked Civil Servant (1968) about his career. An award-winning film version, starring John Hurt, brought Crisp to public attention.

    “An Evening with Quentin Crisp” debuted off-Broadway in 1978 and played off and on for two decades. His later books include How to Have a Life-Style (1976), Love Made Easy (1977), The Wit and Wisdom of Quentin Crisp (1998) and Quentin Crisp’s Book of Quotations (1989).

    Openly gay and famed for his aphorisms, he is sometimes called a “20th-century Oscar Wilde.” Once asked if he were a “practicing homosexual,” Crisp replied, “I didn’t practice. I was already perfect.” D. 1999.

    “When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, ‘Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don’t believe?’ “

    —Crisperanto: The Quentin Crisp Archives (www.crisperanto.org)

    Sarah Vowell

    Sarah Vowell

    On this date in 1969, Sarah Jane Vowell was born in Muskogee, Okla., and moved with her family, which has Cherokee heritage, to Montana when she was 11. She has a fraternal twin sister, Amy. She majored in modern languages and literatures at Montana State University, where she received her B.A. in 1993 and went on to earn an M.A. in art history at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Vowell is the author of seven nonfiction books (as of this writing in 2019) as well as an essayist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Esquire, McSweeney’s and elsewhere.

    Vowell has been a frequent contributor to public radio’s “This American Life” since 1996, the show’s first year. She voiced the character Violet in the film “The Incredibles” (2004).

    Her books examine American history and the history of religion in America through a combination of road-trip memoir and insightful historical content. Assassination Vacation (2005) detailed presidential assassinations and 19th-century American history, including cults and quasi-religious themes. The Wordy Shipmates (2008) told the story of the Puritan settlement of Massachusetts and touched on the true origins of the idea of religious freedom in America as propounded by Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island exiled from Massachusetts Bay for his refusal to adhere to church doctrine.

    Unfamiliar Fishes (2011) told the story of the loss of the traditional Hawaiian religion and inhabitants’ conversion to Christianity by missionaries from New England, along with the eventual U.S. conquest instigated by the first missionaries’ descendants in 1895. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (2015) is an account of the Marquis de Lafayette, the young French aristocrat who became George Washington’s trusted officer and friend and an American celebrity.

    She was asked in 2002 by The Onion AV Club “Is There a God?” She answered, “Absolutely not.” In a 2008 New York Times op-ed, she wrote, “I have become just another citizen whose only religion is the freedom of religion and as such I patrol the wall of separation between church and state like some jumpy East German guarding Checkpoint Charlie back before Ronald Reagan single-handedly tore it down.”

    Vowell has never married or had children. She is on the advisory board of 826NYC, a nonprofit tutoring and writing center for students aged 6–18 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

    Photo: Bennett Miller

    “Because I am a culturally Christian atheist the same way my atheist Reform friends are culturally Jewish, I look forward to Martin Luther King’s Birthday — when the news momentarily replaces the rants of the faith-based spitfires with clips of what an actually Christlike Christian sounds like.”

    —Vowell op-ed, New York Times (Jan. 21, 2008)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

    Wendy Kaminer

    Wendy Kaminer

    On this date in 1949, Wendy Kaminer was born. She earned her undergraduate degree from Smith College in 1971 and went on to graduate from Boston University Law School in 1975. Kaminer worked as a criminal defense attorney for the New York Legal Aid Society (1977-78), as a staff attorney for the New York City Mayor’s Office and as a professor at Tufts University (1988-90).

    In 1991 she switched her focus from law to journalism when she became a contributing editor for The Atlantic, although she often writes about legal issues. She is also a senior correspondent for The American Prospect.

    She is the author of eight books, including I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions (1992), Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety (1999) and Free For All: Defending Liberty in America Today (2002). Kaminer was awarded the Extraordinary Merit Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1993 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993.

    Kaminer is an outspoken agnostic who uses her journalism platform to speak up about atheism and state/church issues. Many of her articles discuss the harm of religion’s influence on politics, civil liberties, psychology and the law. In “The Last Taboo: Why America Needs Atheism,” published in The New Republic in 1996, Kaminer wrote: “Atheists generate about as much sympathy as pedophiles. But, while pedophilia may at least be characterized as a disease, atheism is a choice, a willful rejection of beliefs to which vast majorities of people cling.”

    Kaminer was the recipient in 2000 of FFRF’s Freethought Heroine Award. She married Woody Kaplan, a civil liberties activist and chairman of the advisory board of the Secular Coaltion for America in 2001. He died of cancer in 2023.

    “I don’t care if religious people consider me amoral because I lack their beliefs in God. I do, however, care deeply about efforts to turn religious beliefs into law, and those efforts benefit greatly from the conviction that individually and collectively, we cannot be good without God.”

    —Kaminer, “No Atheists Need Apply,” The Atlantic (Jan. 13, 2010)
    Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor; photo by Brent Nicastro

    Jerry Coyne

    Jerry Coyne

    On this date in 1949, Jerry Allen Coyne was born. He received his B.S. in biology from the College of William and Mary in 1971 and his Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from Harvard University in 1978. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California-Davis, then became an assistant professor at the University of Maryland. Since 1996 to 2015, when he retired, he was a professor in the department of evolution and ecology at the University of Chicago.

    Coyne taught classes on evolution, including the evidence for it. Coyne has written over 100 scholarly papers and a 2004 book, Speciation (with H. Allen Orr). His 2009 book Why Evolution is True was widely praised as a clear, concise and convincing explanation of the theory of evolution. His book Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible was published in 2015.

    Coyne also regularly writes for popular periodicals, including The New Republic. His blog Why Evolution is True is frequently updated with posts on science, daily life and freethought issues. He was the 2011 recipient of FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award. Coyne has been a guest on Freethought Radio several times and in 2013 worked with FFRF to stop a Ball State University professor from teaching creationism.

    “As the years went on I gradually transmogrified from being an evolutionary biologist to an evolutionary biologist atheist and now I’m more of an atheist than an evolutionary biologist. I realized that creationism, the opposition to evolution, is the least of our worries that religion promulgates, compared to someone throwing acid in the face of a schoolgirl in Afghanistan.”

    —Coyne, Emperor Has No Clothes Award acceptance speech (October 2011)
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski; photo courtesy of Jerry Coyne

Freedom From Religion Foundation