The Inspirational Words of Famous Freethinkers
Don't fall in a faint to hear this, but you don't need religion for inspiration, you don't need the supernatural to be spiritual. Why should you? Inspiration and spirit come from the Anglo Saxon inspiren and old Latin inspīrāre, simply meaning, "to breathe." So right at the start these were just metaphors for life itself, the quality of being more than rocks and trees. We breathe, rocks don't. And what is more natural than that?
Even today the secular meaning lingers: team spirit, school spirit, the Spirit of '76. But over centuries religion has managed to co-opt or absorb the words until many assume they mean the supernatural by default, something magical, beyond the world, beyond life.
We say, not so. Because the world is everything. And everything can be inspiration enough for us all.
Here we highlight the inspiring, yes the spiritual thought and work of just a few great freethinkers. This barely grazes the surface. Freethought has an immensely rich spiritual history. Visit the links and sub-links, then to learn more, see the Celebrity Atheists List or Mark Gilbert's List of Famous Dead Nontheists. Happy exploring!
Robert Green Ingersoll was a prominent 19th century progressive, fearless agnostic, freethinker, prolific author, and the greatest American orator. [The Works of Ingersoll] [The Robert Ingersoll Museum] [Great Quotes] [Why he was an Agnostic] [His Facebook Page] [His Page on Myspace]
Clarence Darrow: How does one begin to explain this paradox, this sophisticated country lawyer, this hedonistic defender of the poor and downtrodden, this honest, devious man? [Clarence Darrow at the Sacred Texts Archive] [Quotes] [Admirers of Darrow on Facebook]
Thomas Paine, the "First American patriot," was a founding father, advocate for freedom and voice of the common man, who pledged his life to taking down political and religious idols. [Thomas Paine on Religion] [More Paine Quotes] [His great writings] [The Tom Paine Historical Association] [Audio Lectures on Paine]
Voltaire: His birth-name François-Marie Arouet, a French writer, satirist, deist, the embodiment of the 18th-century Enlightenment, and a crusader against tyranny and bigotry. [Voltaire Quotes] [His religion]
Albert Einstein did not call himself an atheist or even an agnostic, but rejected conventional religion and the idea of a personal God, and found a spirituality in the cosmos itself, the "God of Spinoza" as he said, a form of pantheism. [Einstein and Religion] [Einstein Quotes on God and Religion] [More on Einstein and Faith]
Isaac Asimov, a brilliant mind and Renaissance man, wrote over 500 books that enlightened, entertained, and spanned the realm of human knowledge, covering 9 of the 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal System. He was an atheist, but deeply proud of his Jewish heritage. [Asimov and Religion] [Asimov Quotes]
Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, logician, essayist and social critic, advocate for human rights and social justice, founder of modern analytical philosophy, and known for his work in mathematical logic. [Russell on Religion] [Russell: Why I am Not a Christian]
Carl Sagan, American astronomer and astrophysicist, science popularizer, skeptic and author, was an enthusiastic advocate for skeptical inquiry and the scientific method. [Sagan on Religion] [More Sagan Quotes]
Susan Brownell Anthony, the near-legendary American civil rights leader, abolitionist and suffragist, born a Quaker, internalized many Quaker ideals but joined the Unitarian church, finding it more progressive and open to "hard questions" on faith. [Susan Anthony Quotes] [Her Religion]
Butterfly McQueen: "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies!" Who can forget the words of maid Prissy from Gone With the Wind? The actress, Butterfly McQueen, was a confirmed atheist and a life member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. [Biography] [About Butterly McQueen]
Luther Burbank, famed botonist, horticulturist and philanthropist, was a spiritual unbeliever who revered nature. Clergy called him an "infidel." [Burbank the Infidel] [Luther Burbank Quotes] [Burbank Speaks]
Margaret Sanger, d. 1966, American educator and feminist, and still a hotbutton to many, believed that women with access to birth control will be more likely to produce fit children. She did not support active euthenasia or eugenics -- never mind the myths! [Quotes] [More Quotes] [Writings] ["Ebb and Flow of Misery"]
Thomas Jefferson needs no introduction, but less known is that he was a skeptical deist who amended the Gospels to omit all miracles. [Jefferson's Writings] [Jefferson on Religion] [Jefferson Quotes] [More Quotes on Liberty & Faith] [The Jefferson Bible]
Hypatia (Greek, Ὑπατία), born circa AD 360, a freethinking pagan woman, taught in ancient Alexandria, incurred a bishop's jealously, and met a bloody end. "Revered Hypatia, ornament of learning, stainless star of wise teaching, when I see thee and thy discourse I worship thee, looking on the starry house of Virgo; for thy business is in heaven." -- Palladas, the Greek Anthology. [Life and Legacy] [Hypatia on Facebook]