September 23

    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

    Ani DiFranco

    Ani DiFranco

    On this date in 1970, punk folksinger Ani DiFranco was born in Buffalo, N.Y. Ani (pronounced AH-nee) started singing Beatles covers in local bars as a youngster. By 15 she had begun writing her own material and was living on her own. She graduated at age 16 from the Visual and Performing Arts High School in Buffalo and moved to New York City at 18.

    She has released over 20 albums as of this writing. Sing Out calls her lyrics “jaw-dropping.” Spurning offers from indie and major labels alike, DiFranco started her own record company, Righteous Babe Records. She not only writes and publishes her own songs and produces her own recordings, but even creates the artwork. An in-demand artist, she tours acoustic, college and rock club circuits, winning over a diverse audience.

    Her freethought views are revealed in such songs as “Animal” from “Educated Guess” (2004), in which she sings about growing up “surrounded by willful ignorance” and “the religions of men.” She said in a May 2000 interview with The Progressive: “I’m not a religious person myself. I’m an atheist. I think religion serves a lot of different purposes in people’s lives … but then, of course, institutional religions are so problematic.”

    DiFranco in 2017 in Napa Valley, Calif. Photo via Shutterstock by Sterling Munksgard. 

    “I’m an atheist. … How unfortunate it is to assign responsibility to the higher up for justice amongst people.”

    Ani DiFranco, interview by Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive (May 2000)

    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Victoria Woodhull

    Victoria Woodhull

    On this date in 1838, Victoria Woodhull was born in Ohio, the sixth of 10 children in an itinerant family. She and her sister Tennessee Claflin first became notorious as “clairvoyants” in a family money-making scheme. She married at 14 or 15 to an alcoholic and gave birth to the first of two children in her mid-teens, an experience that turned her into a challenger of the sexual double standard. Shaking off her marriage and her old life, she and her sister took on Wall Street. Known as “The Bewitching Brokers,” the sisters became the first women to open a bank, with the backing of admirer and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt.

    At the national suffrage association in 1869, Victoria took feminists by storm with her impassioned argument that the 14th and 15th amendments already enfranchised women. She became the second woman in the nation, following Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to address the House Judiciary Committee. In 1872, Woodhull became the first woman to run for president, with Frederick Douglass as her vice president. The Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, a lively, muckraking, feminist newspaper that she and her sister published for six years, specialized in iconoclasm, publishing the first English translation of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

    In 1872 Woodhull exposed a “black collar crime,” reporting the common knowledge of the extramarital affair of the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher with Elizabeth Tilton, the wife of his friend Theodore Tilton. Beecher, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe and the most influential preacher in the land, got the sisters arrested under the Comstock Act for publishing obscenity. They were jailed for several weeks and forced to post a huge bond. After a long ordeal they were found innocent of obscenity in 1873 and of libel the following year. Stanton stood by Woodhull and condemned the religious hypocrisy but most feminists dropped her.

    The sisters moved to England and married well. Although living a quieter life, Woodhull remained a suffragist and published a humanitarian periodical. Although she was a fearless critic of religious hypocrisy, she appeared to be deistic and never fully outgrew her early spiritualism. (D. 1927)

    “No legal ceremony — no election of the woman — no penalty for the perfidy of the man — no law to compel him to do his duty, no compensation for the poor woman who is turned adrift like the girl of the street, penniless, to sell herself on the best possible terms. This is Divine marriage, or Moses and the Bible lie; and this is Bible divorce — putting away!”

    —Woodhull's response to Thomas Nast's cartoon depicting her as "Mrs. Satan." Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly (Feb. 24, 1872)

    Michelle Goldberg

    Michelle Goldberg

    On this date in 1975, columnist and author Michelle Goldberg was born to Carolyn and Gerald Goldberg in Buffalo, N.Y. Her mother was a community college math professor and her father was assistant managing editor of the Buffalo News.

    From her early teens she was active in the abortion rights cause, accompanying her pregnant 13-year-old friend to a clinic when Goldberg was also 13. At the time, she later said, it was a given among her classmates that “If you became pregnant, you either had an abortion or you killed yourself.” Classmates chipped in their lunch money to help pay for the abortion. (Buffalo News, March 17, 1996)

    She continued her activism at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “I had never been political before this issue, but I was so enraged that they wanted to push their fundamentalist Christianity on women’s and girls’ lives that I couldn’t not stand up.” (Ibid.) She received a B.A. from SUNY, then earned an M.S. from the University of California-Berkeley School of Journalism.

    She started writing for San Francisco’s alt weeklies and Salon.com, moving to New York City to work full-time for Salon. She followed that with freelancing and as a correspondent or contributor to The American Prospect, The Daily Beast, The Nation and Slate. The New York Times hired her as an opinion columnist in 2017.

    She also wrote “The Diasporist” column in Tablet Magazine, an online outlet about Jewish life and identity. She wrote in her introductory column that she would not be writing about Judaism but strongly identified as a Jew, “not politically, but the Jewish culture that I like to claim as my heritage.” (Tablet, Nov. 11, 2010)

    Goldberg is the author of “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism” (2006), “The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World” (2009) and “The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West” (2015). Devi, born in 1899, lived to be 102. Goldberg described Devi’s book “Yoga for Americans” as having “a chipper, secular practicality perfectly calibrated for Eisenhower’s America.”

    In “Kingdom Coming” she wrote: “I’m a secular Jew and an ardent urbanite … terrified by America’s increasing hostility to the cosmopolitan values I cherish. Traveling the country and talking to people about their beliefs, I was quiet about my own [lack of belief], but I told the truth when asked.”

    Goldberg spoke about Christian nationalism at FFRF’s national conventions in 2006 and 2017 and has been a guest on its TV talk show “Freethought Matters” and on Freethought Radio. Video of her 2017 convention speech is here.

    She has written that she was militantly atheist when younger but came to see how faith can at times make people better — people like Bill Moyers and some in the Catholic Worker movement. “To me the problem is not faith; it’s fundamentalism, and certainty, and this arrogance that you have some kind of hotline to the divine.” (Undated interview in Artvoice, an alternative publication in Buffalo)

    There’s still plenty for her not to like: “Viewed through a contemporary, secular lens, a community built around a charismatic founder and dedicated to the lionization of suffering and the annihilation of female selfhood doesn’t seem blessed and ethereal. It seems sinister.” (“Was Mother Teresa a cult leader?” The New York Times, May 21, 2021)

    She recalled attending a homeschooling textbook fair in Denver, “filled with every kind of instruction manual or graduate course textbook on topics ranging from creationism to astrophysics. I felt like I was a character in a Kafka novel who wandered into an entire library of lies.” (The Humanist, Aug. 22, 2007)

    In a January 2024 New York Times column headlined “Trumpism Is Devouring the Evangelical Movement,” she wrote it would take a miracle like former President Trump losing in the Iowa caucuses to “make me reconsider my own lifelong atheism.”

    She and her husband Matthew Ipcar live as of this writing in Brooklyn, N.Y., and have a son and daughter born two years apart when she was in her late 30s.

    “[I]f you care about secularism, if you care about religious freedom, you need to care very, very deeply about voting.”

    —"The (further) rise of Christian nationalism" (FFRF convention speech, Sept. 15, 2017)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation