May 18, 1872 -Â Philosopher and activist Bertrand Russell is born in Trellech, Wales. Aside from his career contributions to philosophy, mathematics, linguistics and computer science, he was a lifelong critic of war and an advocate for progressive social causes. He was, however, no idealist: his advocacy for socialism did not prevent him from recognizing the failed Soviet experiment, and his pacifism did not blind him to the necessity of armed opposition to the civilizational threat of Hitler and Nazi Germany. He was the author of dozens of books and hundreds of essays, possibly best known to the general public for the title essay in his collection Why I Am Not a Christian. Russell described himself as both an agnostic and an atheist, and was critical of religion, saying, “You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.” Russell died in 1970, aged 97.
May 18, 1896 -Â Canadian psychiatrist Brock Chisholm is born in Oakville, Ontario. He was the first Director-General of the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO). The outspoken Chisholm, a secularist, ruffled feathers by suggesting that children should not be encouraged to believe in Santa Claus or the Bible. He was named Humanist of the Year in 1959 by the American Humanist Association. Chisholm died in 1971, aged 74.