August 27 in freethought history…

webduboisAugust 27, 1963 – Author, academic and African-American activist W. E. B. du Bois dies in Ghana, aged 95. He was a co-founder of the NAACP and the author of such highly regarded works as The Souls of Black Folk and Black Reconstruction in America. Unlike most prominent civil rights leaders of the 20th century, du Bois was not closely associated with organized religion. A freethinker since early adulthood, du Bois rubbed his Atlanta University colleagues the wrong way when he refused requests to lead public prayers.

August 27, 1987 – At a news conference in Chicago, then Vice President George H. W. Bush, when asked by a reporter if he supported “the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists,” responded, “I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.” To a follow-up question Bush attempted to clarify, saying, “I support separation of church and state.  I’m just not very high on atheists.” The comment went largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, and no audio or video from that portion of the press conference exists. Bush became President on January 20, 1989. Bush has never conclusively affirmed or denied the comment; nonetheless, in a February 21, 1989 letter, presidential counsel C. Boyden Gray, responding to then-president of American Atheists Jon Garth Murray’s concerns about the Bush administration’s stance regarding the rights of atheists,  that “you may rest assured that this Administration will proceed at all times with due regard for the legal rights of atheists, as well as others with whom the President disagrees.”

August 27, 1995 – Madalyn Murray O’Hair, son Jon Garth Murray and granddaughter (through estranged son William J. Murray III) Robin Murray O’Hair are kidnapped at gunpoint in San Antonio, Texas by David Roland Waters, a disgruntled ex-employee of American Atheists, the activist organization founded by O’Hair. Waters and his accomplices would murder the three atheists about a month later, after forcing them to empty the accounts of American Atheists, and would bury their remains on a ranch. The bodies would not be recovered until 2001, after Waters was convicted of extortion in association with the case and sentenced to life in prison.

August 27, 2008 – Lesbian activist Del Martin dies, aged 87. With longtime partner Phyllis Lyon, she co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis (America’s first lesbian organization) in 1955, and in 2008, she and Lyon became the first same-sex couple married in California. In 1964, Martin and Lyon co-founded the San Francisco-based Council on Religion and the Homosexual, which included Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, and United Church of Christ representatives.

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August 26 in freethought history…

declarationofrightsofmanAugust 26, 1798 – France’s revolutionary National Constituent Assembly issues its Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Inspired by Enlightenment philosophy and earlier documents such as the American Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Rights of Man in turn became an inspiration of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

August 26, 1941 – American author and social activist Barbara Ehrenreich is born Barbara Alexander in Butte, Montana. Her books include Nickel and Dimed (an exposé on America’s working poor) and Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything (an exploration of mystical experiences, including her own). She has received numerous awards, including Humanist of the Year in 1998 from the American Humanist Association.

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August 25 in freethought history…

niceaAugust 25, 325 – Council of Nicea concludes in what is now Turkey. Convened by Roman Emperor Constantine I, the most notable product of this council of bishops was the formulation of Nicene Creed and the concept of the (not really Biblically supported) Holy Trinity. One could hardly find a worse example of committee work in the subsequent 1,690 years.

August 25, 1776 – Scottish philosopher David Hume dies in Edinburgh, aged 65. A proponent of empiricism and skepticism, his works include A Treatise of Human Nature, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (which contains his famous skeptical essay “Of Miracles”), An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals and (published posthumously) Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

August 25, 1900 – German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche dies in Saxony, aged 55. Nietzsche was the author of the dubious adages”That which does not kill us makes us stronger” and “God is dead.”  Elaborating on the latter, Nietzsche wrote: God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

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August 24 in freethought history…

stephenfryAugust 24, 1957 – Actor and comedian Stephen Fry is born in Hampstead, United Kingdom. During his (thus far) 34-year career, Fry has shown himself to be an accomplished entertainer in theatre, movies, television, radio and more. He is also an outspoken activist for atheism, humanism and gay rights. In 2009, he participated in a televised debate (with Christopher Hitchens at his side), arguing that the Catholic Church did more harm than good. (They won.) In 2015, Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne asked Fry what he would say if he found himself face-to-face with God, and was taken aback when Fry responded, “Bone cancer in children, what’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world where there is such misery that’s not our fault? It’s utterly, utterly evil.” Fry is a “Distinguished Supporter” of the British Humanist Association, and was presented Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism by Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University.

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August 23 in freethought history…

motherteresaAugust 23, 2007Letters written by the late Roman Catholic nun Mother Teresa (1910-1997) are made public, revealing that, despite her public proclamations, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning nun admitted to friends that she did not feel the presence of God. “Even deep down,” she wrote, “there is nothing but emptiness and darkness… If there be God — please forgive me.” In another letter she said “As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” These revelations caused considerable controversy: the devoted saw her struggle with faith and belief as just another admirable aspect of the woman who would be beatified in 2003; to her critics, including atheist Christopher Hitchens, it simply confirmed that “she was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself.” To add insult to injury, she had requested the letters be destroyed; instead, they were not only made public ten years after her death, but were published in a book titled Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.

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Podcast #231 – Arian Foster: NFL Star, Atheist

arianfosterAn ESPN profile of National Football League’s Arian Foster (a running back with the Houston Texans) highlights the fact of his atheism in a sport (and a state) that’s notoriously religious. Meanwhile, evangelical poster-boy Tim Tebow (well known for his history of pious displays on the field) has been given a fourth chance in the NFL, this time as a quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Plus:

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has refused a request by the state attorney general to reconsider their ruling that Ten Commandments monument installed on the state capitol grounds is unconstitutional. It’s not clear when the monument will be removed, but conservative legislators are already plotting to set in motion an amendment that will revoke the state’s separation of church and state. Meanwhile, the Satanic Temple will be looking for a new home for their recently unveiled statue of Baphomet (which they had planned to donate to Oklahoma as a counterbalance to the Ten Commandments).

There’s been a sudden outbreak across the South and Midwest of sheriffs and police chiefs who want to spend taxpayer money to put IN GOD WE TRUST decals on their offical vehicles. Sure, it’s officially the national motto, but inevitably the bureaucrats behind it can’t help blathering on about the rights of the majority, America is a Christian nation, yadda yadda yadda.

Yet another secularist blogger (the fourth this year!) has been hacked to death in Bangladesh by Islamic extremists. Niloy Neel was murdered in his own apartment while his wife was held in another room. While the vast majority of Bangladeshis are understandably outraged, the police and courts seem slow to show progress in preventing the violence and bringing those responsible to justice.

To listen to this podcast click here.

 

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August 22 in freethought history…

jacobbronowski

August 22, 1974 – British mathematician and science historian Jacob Bronowski dies in East Hampton, New York, aged 66. Born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1908, Bronowski came to England in 1920. He earned a PhD in Mathematics from Cambridge and applied his skills to such varied applications as bombing strategies in WWII to statistical analysis of hominid remains. His greatest fame came with 1973’s The Ascent of Man, a 13-part BBC documentary series that explored humanity’s biological and technological evolution. The Ascent of Man influenced subsequent television projects, most notably Carl Sagan’s 13-part COSMOS.

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August 21 in freethought history…

bluegrassbladeAugust 21, 1909 – The last issue of freethought newspaper the Blue Grass Blade is published in Lexington, Kentucky. The Blade was founded in 1884 by former minister-turned-atheist Charles Chilton Moore, and was widely distributed throughout the United States. Editor James Edward Hughes tried to keep the newspaper going after Moore’s death in 1906, sprucing it up with expensive illustrations, but increased expenses and dwindling popularity spelled its doom.

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August 20 in freethought history…

hplovecraftAugust 20, 1890 – Howard Phillips Lovecraft is born in Providence, Rhode Island. As “H. P.” Lovecraft, he published some of the most enduring and influential horror fiction in the English language. His stories include “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Colour out of Space,” and “At the Mountains of Madness.” Sadly, Lovecraft’s fame came only after his untimely death in 1937. Despite the cosmic and mystical aspects of his fiction, Lovecraft was steadfastly skeptical. In a 1918 letter to a friend he wrote: So far I have seen nothing which could possibly give me the notion that cosmic force is the manifestation of a mind and will like my own infinitely magnified; a potent and purposeful consciousness which deals individually and directly with the miserable denizens of a wretched little fly speck on the back door of a microscopic universe, and which singles this putrid excrescence out as the one spot whereto to send an only-begotten Son, whose mission is to redeem those accursed fly speck-inhabiting lice which we call human beings—bah!! Pardon the “bah!” I feel several “bahs!,” but out of courtesy I only say one. But it is all so very childish. I cannot help taking exception to a philosophy that would force this rubbish down my throat. “What have I against religion?” That is what I have against it!…

vashtimccollumAugust 20, 2006 – Humanist activist and leader Vashti McCollum dies in Champaign, Illinois, aged 93. She was the plaintiff (on behalf of her son) in McCollum v Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down religious education in public schools. She went on to serve as president of the American Humanist Association and was a signatory of Humanist Manifesto II and Humanist Manifesto III.

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August 19 in freethought history…

generoddenberryAugust 19, 1921 – Television screenwriter and producer Gene Roddenberry is born in El Paso, Texas. Roddenberry’s Star Trek (which aired from 1966 to 1969) presented a near-utopian 23rd century Earth: enlightened, progressive, free of racial hatred and almost devoid of religion. Star Trek has gone on to become one of the most successful entertainment franchises in history, thus far spawning six television series, thirteen feature films, and countless comics, books, toys and other merchandise. In a 1991 interview Roddenberry said that from a fairly early age “it was clear to me that religion was largely nonsense, largely magical, superstitious things.” His advice on dealing with religious people: “If people need religion, ignore them and maybe they will ignore you and you can go on with your life.” Roddenberry died in 1991, aged 70.

August 19, 1994 – Chemist and peace activist Linus Pauling dies in Big Sur, California, aged 93. He is widely considered one of the greatest scientists in history, making contributions in quantum chemistry, organic and inorganic chemistry, and molecular biology. After World War II he became concerned about the destructive potential of nuclear weapons, urging against nuclear testing and against war itself. Pauling won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1954 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961, making him the only person in history to have won two unshared Nobel Prizes. In his later years he promoted questionable alternative medical practices and vitamin therapies. Pauling was a longtime Unitarian and was named Humanist of the Year in 1961 by the American Humanist Association.

August 19, 2006 – Indian atheist Saraswathi Gora dies, aged 93. At the age of ten (in accordance with brahmin tradition) she was married to Goparaju Ramachandra Rao (“Gora”). They would go on to be two of India’s most influential atheist and social activists, campaigning against superstition and the caste system, and founding the Atheist Centre in 1940.

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