July 7 in freethought history…

heinleinJuly 7, 1907Robert A. Heinlein is born in Butler, Missouri. One of the most influential science fiction writers of the 20th century, his books explored philosophy, religion, sexuality and taboos. He is best known for his novels Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Heinlein on religion: “The most ridiculous concept ever perpetrated by H.Sapiens is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of the Universes, wants the sacharrine adoration of his creations, that he can be persuaded by their prayers, and becomes petulant if he does not recieve this flattery. Yet this ridiculous notion, without one real shred of evidence to bolster it, has gone on to found one of the oldest, largest and least productive industries in history.” Heinlein died May 8, 1988.

July 7, 1930 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle dies in Crowborough, Sussex, England, aged 71. Despite having created Sherlock Holmes, the personification of logical reasoning and forensic science, Doyle was a firm believer in spiritualism; indeed, his friendship with magician Harry Houdini was destroyed during a botched seance in which the presiding medium made factually incorrect claims about Houdini’s deceased mother.

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July 6 in freethought history…

fridakahloJuly 6, 1907 – Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is born in Mexico City. Best known for her self-portraits (which highlight her signature unibrow), she was an atheist and a communist, and her artwork often included critical references to religion. She died in 1954, aged 47.

July 6, 1946 – Peter Singer, philosopher and animal rights advocate, is born in Melbourne, Australia. Singer is the author of several books, including the greatly influential Animal Liberation.

July 6, 2006 – The Alabama-based Atheist Law Center is dissolved by founder/leader Larry Darby, less than four years after it was formed. Darby, an attorney, was once active in the atheist movement, as a state coordinator for American Atheists and in opposing the massive Ten Commandments monument placed in the Alabama Supreme Court building by Chief Justice Roy Moore. Darby’s opposition to the Ten Commandments was that they represented “Jewish” law; he is a Holocaust denier, having hosted an appearance by famous denialist David Irving in 2005. He ran in the Democratic primary for Alabama Attorney General in 2006 as an outspoken white supremacist, Holocaust denying Christian, and garnered 43% of the vote. Darby has been denounced by the Alabama Democratic Party and is no longer associated with the freethought movement.

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July 5 in freethought history…

bobdobbsJuly 5, 1998 – X-Day, proclaimed by the Church of the Subgenius as the day the alien “Xists” from the Planet X would arrive to destroy the earth (but not before their UFOs whisked away the faithful for union with sex goddesses), comes and goes. No aliens. No sex goddesses. Decades before the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (PBUH), the Church of the Subgenius parodied cults and mainstream religions, with their Ward Cleaver-esque prophet Bob Dobbs, devivals, mass marriages (one couple, hundreds of ministers), and general embrace of “Slack.” Undeterred by the failure of X-Day, church members continue to celebrate annually, suggesting that 1998 was a mis-read of 8661.

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July 4 in freethought history…

declarationJuly 4, 1776 – The Continental Congress approves “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in General Congress Assembled,” more commonly known as the Declaration of Independence.

July 4, 1826 – Former president Thomas Jefferson, considered the author of the Declaration of Independence, dies, rather poetically, on the 50th anniversary of the approval of that document. As fate would have it, former president John Adams also died on the same day. Adams was once Jefferson’s bitterest political rivals, but the two reconciled in later years and exchanged many warm letters. The last words of Adams (who had not yet received news of Jefferson’s death) were reportedly, “Jefferson survives!”

July 4, 1978 – The Haldeman-Julius Publishing Company, which published the Little Blue Books titles, is destroyed by fire in Girard, Kansas. From 1919-1978, the 3 1/2 x 5 inch Little Blue Books  introduced millions of readers to works of philosophy, history, science and more for as little as five cents a copy. Editor and publisher Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (an atheist) printed or reprinted works–over 1,900 in all–by authors such as Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Robert Ingersoll, Clarence Darrow and many more. Notably, Will Durant’s classic The Story of Philosophy began as a series of Little Blue Books. The company began a slow and gradual decline after the death of Haldeman-Julius in 1951, and the destruction of the printing operation spelled the end of Little Blue Books.

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July 3 in freethought history…

herzlJuly 3, 1904 – Theodor Herzl, journalist and father of modern Zionism, dies in Austria-Hungary. Born in Budapest in 1860, raised by assimilated Jews, Herzl considered himself an atheist. Widespread persecution and anti-Semitism throughout Europe convinced Herzl that Jews should create a homeland, preferably in their historic homeland of Palestine. (The State of Israel would not be born for another 44 years after Herzl’s death.)

July 3, 1980 – British journalist Ariane Sherine, creator of the 2009 Atheist Bus Campaign and editor of The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, is born in London.

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Podcast #228 – Jiggery-Pokery with a Side of Applesauce

whitehouserainbowWe discuss the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, with special attention to the bitter dissents seemingly aimed at delegitimizing the Court itself. We also look at the more-or-less predictible reactions by conservative politicians and pundits. Events are unfolding in various states aimed at resisting or slowing implementation of the ruling, and it’s a sure bet this will be playing out until the election next fall.

Plus: Another victory! The Oklahoma Supreme Court rules that a Ten Commandments monument on the statehouse grounds is a violation of the state constitutions prohibition against the use of funds to benefit–either directly or indirectly–religion.

To listen to this episode click here.

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July 2 in freethought history…

rousseauJuly 2, 1778 – Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau dies in France, aged 66. Contrary to mainstream religious teaching of the time, Rousseau believed that man in his natural state was good and that all religions were equally valuable. He was a Deist who believed that the goodness of Nature reflected the goodness of God. His major works include Emile (which describes a comparatively progress view of childhood education), A Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract.

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July 1 in freethought history…

barreJuly 1, 1776Jean-Francois de la Barre is tortured and beheaded by French authorities in Abbeville, France for (among other things) failing to show proper respect to a Roman Catholic procession. His body was burned on a pyre along with a book by Voltaire found in his living quarters. The ashes were poured into the Somme River. La Barre was only 20 years old. Today Chevalier de la Barre is honored throughout France, with statues in Abbeville and Paris, and street names in dozens of towns.

July 1, 1840 – English agnostic and skeptic Edward Clodd is born in Margate. Though he earned a living as a banker, Clodd was an anthropologist and early proponent of Darwin’s theory of evolution. He was chairman of the Rationalist Press Associate and wrote numerous books on science, religion and spiritualism.

July 1, 1858 – Papers on natural selection by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace are read in a joint presentation to the Linnean Society of London.

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Listen tonight on WRFG

If all goes as planned tonight, I (John C. Snider) will be one of the guests (along with Skepticality’s Derek Colanduno) on the Fifth Tuesday Series on WRFG 89.3 FM in Atlanta, Georgia. We’ll be discussing “freethought and non-belief,” although I don’t know much beyond that.

Tune in (or live stream at WRFG.org). The show includes listener call-in. Should be fun.

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June 30 in freethought history…

oxforddebatepmonumentJune 30, 1860 – Biologist Thomas “Darwin’s Bulldog” Huxley and Bishop Samuel “Soapy Sam” Wilberforce exchange jibes during a discussion on evolution at the Oxford University Museum in Oxford, England. No direct transcript of the conversation exists, but it was noted by several diarists and has become the stuff of legend. Darwin himself was not present, but his Origin of Species had only recently been published, and had met with great pushback from the clergy. Accounts vary on exactly what was said, but the general thrust was that Wilberforce asked Huxley if he descended from apes on his mother’s or his father’s side, to which Huxley replied he would rather be descended from an ape than from a man who would use his gifts to obscure the truth. Oh, snap.

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