May 28 in freethought history…

savarkarMay 28, 1883 – Indian independence activist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is born. An atheist who favored abolishing the caste system and dismissed cow-worship as superstition, he nonetheless promoted hindutva (“that Hindu identity is inseparable from Indian identity”) as a way to unite Indians in their struggle for independence. Savarkar’s advocacy of armed revolution clashed with Gandhi’s pacifism. Savarkar believed that Muslims and other minorities had conflicted loyalties, opposed the Partition of India in 1947, and was charged (but ultimately acquitted) in connection with Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Today’s resurgent Indian conservatives venerate Savarkar, threatening marginalization of minorities. Savarkar died in 1966.

shroudofturinMay 28, 1898 – Italian lawyer Secondo Pia becomes the first person to photograph the Shroud of Turin, alleged by the faithful to be the image of Jesus Christ embedded in his burial shroud. Pia discovered that the negative image was more clearly visible to the human eye, thereby launching decades of scientific investigation of the Shroud. Many still revere the Shroud as genuine, but radiocarbon dating places its origins around 1390, when the Shroud entered the historical record, thus pointing to what skeptic Joe Nickell would call a “pious fraud.”

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