Humanist Freethinkers

Humanist Freethinker: Joe Hill

 

From FFRF

On this date in 1879, union organizer, itinerant laborer, poet and songwriter Joe Hill (né Joel Hagglund) was born in Gavle, Sweden, the fourth of six children. His parents, Olaf and Margareta Katarina Hagglund, were devout Lutherans who enjoyed music immensely, filling their home with song. Hill started composing songs when he was still relatively young, and played the piano in local cafes as he got older.

Only nine years old when his father died, Joe, along with his siblings, was forced to leave school and go to work in order to support his large family. Joe worked many hard labor jobs, from rope factory to crane operator. At age 20, Hill was diagnosed with skin and joint tuberculosis. He moved to Stockholm for treatment, undergoing a series of disfiguring operations on his face and neck, incurring scars which remained for the rest of his life.

His mother died of complications from a back operation when Hill was 22. Joe and his brother, Paul, went to America, and the other children stayed in Sweden. Working various laborer jobs over the years, from the east coast to the west, Hill started his life as a union organizer, writing songs about the experiences of the working class, bringing their plight to homes across America. Songs about immigrant factory workers, homeless migratory workers and railway shopcraft workers were common themes and became a part of the International Workers of the World’s (IWW, “Wobblies”) Little Red Song Book. Hill’s songs include: “The Tramp,” “There is Power in the Union,” “Rebel Girl,” and “Casey Jones – Union Scab.” Hill’s irreverent classic, “The Preacher and the Slave” parodies the hymn, “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” and lampoons the Salvation Army (“The Starvation Army”). (See song below.)

Humanist Freethinker: Ani DiFranco

 

 

From FFRF

On this date in 1970, punk folksinger Ani DiFranco was born in Buffalo, N.Y. Ani (pronounced AHH-nee) started singing Beatles’ songs 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 produced 13 albums. Sing Out calls her lyrics “jaw-dropping.” Spurning offers from indie and major labels alike, Ani started her own record company, Righteous Babe Records. Ani 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), in which she sings about growing up “surrounded by willful ignorance” and “the religions of men.”

She said in an 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” (May 2000).

“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
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Humanist Freethinker: Leo Tolstoy

 

From FFRF

On this date in 1828, the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy was born as a landed count and aristocrat. After serving in the Crimean War, his sense of social justice began to surface and he worked with peasant schools. Tolstoy had a religious crisis in his forties, which, although it moved him from outright skepticism, caused him to denounce the powerful and corrupt Orthodox Church of Russia. Tolstoy called the church an “impenetrable forest of stupidity” and a “conscious deception that serves as a means for one part of the people to govern the other,” according to biographer Tikhon Polner.

Tolstoy, in such books as Critique of Dogmatic Theology, wrote that Jesus Christ was human, not divine, rejected miracles and immortality. In My Confession (1882), Tolstoy wrote: “If there is no higher reason–and there is none–then my own reason must be the supreme judge of my life.” The books were banned by church censors, and Tolstoy was called an “impious infidel.”

Tolstoy determined that his artistry must also have a moral purpose. From 1885 to 1895, he worked to make literature accessible to the masses and organized relief during famine. In 1895, he gave up his property, living as a nature-worshipping peasant, like his main protagonist in War and Peace. In that novel, Tolstoy wrote: “Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges or beliefs.” As James A. Haught wrote in 2000 Years of Disbelief: “Many people who reject supernatural Christianity nonetheless embrace Christ’s message of compassion. Tolstoy carried this pattern to an extreme. He renounced organized religion and was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church–yet he became almost a monk, living in service to others.”

Tolstoy was excommunicated by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in 1901. He belonged to no sect, while espousing an ethical Christianity. In What Is Religion? (1902), Tolstoy wrote: “One may say with one’s lips: ‘I believe that God is one, and also three’–but no one can believe it, because the words have no sense.” He also wrote On Life and Essays on Religion (1887) that: “Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking…” D. 1910.

“. . . To regard Christ as God, and to pray to him, are to my mind the greatest possible sacrilege.”

—Leo Tolstoy, response to excommunication in letter to Holy Synod, April 4, 1901 (All citations from 2,000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught)

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Freethinker: Gene Roddenberry

 

From FFRF

On this date in 1921, writer/producer Eugene Wesley Roddenberry, creator of “Star Trek,” was born in El Paso, Texas. He left for “Space, the final frontier,” at age 70 from a cardiopulmonary blood clot. In college he studied pre-law and engineering and got his pilot’s license. He flew B-17s in World War II and was a commercial pilot for Pan Am. He joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1949 and became speechwriter for Chief William H. Parker. He began writing scripts for TV shows like “The U.S. Steel Hour,” “Goodyear Theater,” “The Kaiser Aluminum Hour,” “Four Star Theater,” “Dragnet,” “The Jane Wyman Theater” and “Naked City.” He won his first Emmy for “Have Gun, Will Travel.” “Star Trek” debuted on NBC in 1966 and ran until 1969 (79 episodes). A sequel series, “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” premiered in 1987 and ended in 1994 (176 episodes). Paramount Pictures produced 11 “Star Trek” feature films through 2013. D. 1991

“I have always been reasonably leery of religion because there are so many edicts in religion, ‘thou shalt not,’ or ‘thou shalt.’ I wanted my world of the future to be clear of that.”

——Gene Roddenberry, cited by Susan Sackett (http://www.InsideTrek.com)
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Freethinker: Proud to be an American…

 

From  Andrew Seidel
Staff Attorney and Constitutional Consultant
Freedom From Religion Foundation

I’m proud to be an American. This is not some blind, jingoistic, nationalist pride—it’s not my country right or wrong (I only adopt that attitude during the World Cup and the Olympics). I’m proud because this nation, despite its faults and missteps, was the first to separate state and church. That “wall of separation” as Jefferson put it, is an American original.

This is not to say the idea is necessarily an American invention, but it was first implemented in the “American Experiment,” as Madison put it. Until then, no other nation had sought to so full protect the ability of its citizens to think freely. No people had sought to divorce the terrible power religion holds over the supposed afterlife, from the power government has in everyday life. Until then, the freedom of thought and even the freedom of religion, could never have truly existed.


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Freethinker: Hugh Laurie

 

From FFRF

On this date in 1959, James Hugh Calum Laurie was born in Oxford, England. Laurie attended Eton College, where he competed in rowing, and later attended Cambridge University, where he studied anthropology. At Cambridge, Laurie joined the Footlights, Cambridge’s student comedy society, where he met future collaborators Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry. He graduated in 1981 from Selwyn College, with a degree in anthropology and archaeology.

After graduation, he worked on a variety of comic television projects in Britain. He had a recurring role in the third and fourth seasons of the popular UK sitcom “Blackadder” (1983-1989), and with Stephen Fry wrote and starred in the sketch comedy series “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” (1987-1995). During that time, Laurie also starred opposite Fry in the series “Jeeves and Wooster” (1990-1993), adapted from P.G. Wodehouse‘s novels. (Laurie played the bumbling Bertie Wooster and Fry played the butler, Jeeves.)

Notable screen roles have included “Sense and Sensibility,” screenplay by Emma Thompson (who also starred in it), paired opposite Imogen Stubbs, a frequent co-star (1995). Laurie, whose father was a medical doctor, is perhaps best known for his starring role on the U.S. drama series “House, M.D.” (2004-2012). On “House,” Laurie plays an infectious disease specialist and brilliant diagnostician. In a significant departure from the upper-class British characters Laurie has played throughout most of his career, Dr. House has an American accent.

Laurie and his wife, theater administrator Jo Green, have been married since 1989. They have three children. Laurie lived in Los Angeles for much of the year filming “House,” but his family has remained in London. In 2011, Laurie released an album of Blues music recorded in New Orleans, entitled “Let Them Talk.” Laurie does vocals and piano for the album, collaborating with many famous Blues musicians. Laurie was raised Scottish Presbyterian, and continues to express an affinity for this background, despite now identifying as an atheist. He once told The Times [U.K.], “I admire the music, buildings and ethics of religion, but I come unstuck on the God thing” (March 29, 2008).

James Lipton: Do you share House’s skepticism?

Hugh Laurie: [laughing] I do. Big chunks of it, yes. I’m not a religious man. Again, I think this is connected to my father. My father was religious oddly enough, but I nonetheless I suppose was impressed by [and] enamored of his devotion to medical science. I find I am a fan of science. I believe in science. A humility before the facts. I find that a moving and beautiful thing. And belief in the unknown I find less interesting. I find the known and the knowable interesting enough.

—Hugh Laurie in an interview on “Inside the Actors Studio,” July 31, 2006

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Freethinker: Francis Crick

 

From FFRF

On this date in 1916, Francis Crick was born in Northampton, England. He studied physics at University College, London, earned a B.Sc. in 1937, and began research for a Ph.D., which was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. He served as a scientist for the British Admiralty, which he left in 1947 to study biology. He joined the Medical Research Council Unit in Cavendish Laboratory Cambridge, and obtained a Ph.D. in 1954.

He met James Watson in 1951 and together they proposed the double-helix structure for DNA by 1953. In 1962, he, Watson and Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their long-awaited breakthrough in determining the structure and replication scheme of DNA. Crick taught at various universities, including Harvard, Cambridge and University College, London, and became a non-resident Fellow of Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. In a book recapping his career, What a Mad Pursuit, Crick writes candidly of his rejection of religion. As a school boy, “I was a skeptic, an agnostic, with a strong inclination toward atheism.” D. 2004.

“I realized early on that it is detailed scientific knowledge which makes certain religious beliefs untenable. A knowledge of the true age of the earth and of the fossil record makes it impossible for any balanced intellect to believe in the literal truth of every part of the Bible in the way that fundamentalists do. And if some of the Bible is manifestly wrong, why should any of the rest of it be accepted automatically? . . . What could be more foolish than to base one’s entire view of life on ideas that, however plausible at the time, now appear to be quite erroneous? And what would be more important than to find our true place in the universe by removing one by one these unfortunate vestiges of earlier beliefs?”

—-Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery, 1988

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FREETHINKER: Morgan Freeman

 

 

From FFRF

On this date in 1937, Morgan Freeman was born in Memphis, Tenn. The now-famous actor got his start in drama at age 12, when, as a punishment for teasing a girl in class, he was forced to participate in a drama competition. He was a natural and continued to be involved in theater throughout middle school and high school. Although he loved acting and was very talented, he initially chose to enter the Air Force after school. But after a few years, he realized it wasn’t a good fit and began to pursue acting professionally, first in Los Angeles and then in New York City.

Freethinker: Ron Reagan

 

 

From FFRF

On this day in 1958, Ronald Prescott Reagan (Secret Service code name “Reliant”) was born in Los Angeles to Ronald Wilson Reagan and Nancy Reagan, the future U.S. president and first lady. As liberal as his famous father was conservative, Reagan stopped going to church when he was 12 and has publicly stated he’s an atheist numerous times.

In 2004, he accepted the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award and spoke at the Foundation’s 2009 convention in Seattle. Reagan grew up in Los Angeles and Sacramento, went to Yale University for a semester and then joined the Joffrey Ballet Company as a corps de ballet dancer. He married Dori Palmieri, a clinical psychologist, in 1980. He left Joffrey in 1983 and has since worked as a broadcast and print journalist and television and radio host.

He co-hosted “Connected: Coast to Coast with Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley” on MSNBC, was a special correspondent for ABC’s “20/20” and “Good Morning America” and FOX News’ “Front Page,” as well as hosting the syndicated “Ron Reagan Show” starting in 1991. He’s also done work for E! Entertainment Television, Animal Planet and American Movie Classics and has contributed to Newsweek, The New Yorker, Playboy, Los Angeles Times, Esquire and Interview. “The Ron Reagan Show,” syndicated by Air America Media, went on the air in 2008.

Reagan serves on the Advisory Board of the Creative Coalition, a nonpartisan group founded in 1989 to mobilize entertainers and artists for causes such as First Amendment rights, arts advocacy and public education. Reagan, along with his mother, has been a strong supporter of embryonic stem cell research. “When you’re depriving people, potentially, of lifesaving or life-improving cures or treatments purely for political reasons, I find that to be really shameful.”

In a 2008 interview with The Hill newspaper, he was asked when he started questioning his father’s political beliefs: “Oh, puberty. Probably by age 12. That was when I told [my parents] I would no longer go to church with them because I was an atheist. One thing leads to another. It wasn’t a great leap to then disagree on politics.” Was he upset? “Yeah, but he wasn’t angry. He was a Christian and took it fairly seriously. He was worried that my life would be diminished if I didn’t accept Christ as my savior. We’d argue at the dinner table all the time, but I don’t think he was losing sleep over it.”

During a speech about stem cell research at the Democratic National Convention on July 27, 2004, Reagan voiced his opinion on church/state separation: “. . . It does not follow that the theology of a few should be allowed to forestall the health and well-being of the many.” The New York Times asked him in 2004, in an interview that ran three weeks after his father died, if he’d like to be president. “I would be unelectable,” Reagan said. “I’m an atheist. As we all know, that is something people won’t accept.”

“I’m sure there are all sorts of higher powers like electromagnetism and gravity, and things like that. But I don’t believe in a deity, no. I see no evidence for that in my life or anywhere else in the universe. Personally, people can believe what they will and they will believe what they want. I find that most deism, and certainly most theisms take a fairly narrow view of the universe, and most people’s views of God or gods seem to be rather impoverished. The universe itself, the physical world that we can perceive with our senses and grasp with our minds, seems to be far more wondrous than most people’s conceptions of a deity.”

—— Ron Reagan, PR.com interview, April 13, 2009

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