April 26

Christopher Hitchens (1949)

It was on this date, April 26, 1949, that writer Christopher Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, England. Hitchens made his mark as a writer for Vanity Fair and The Nation magazines, and with his irascible personality. Free Inquiry magazine interviewed Hitchens in the Fall 1996 issue. In it, Hitchens says, "I'm an atheist. I'm not neutral about religion, I'm hostile to it. I think it is a positively bad idea, not just a false one. And I mean not just organized religion, but religious belief itself."

In a 1995 book called The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice Hitchens debunks the uncritical sanctification of Mother Theresa. Profiled in the Washington Post on February 12, 1999, in the context of what he characterizes as absurd airline security procedures — having to show your ID, as if terrorists wouldn't forge those first of all — Hitchens added, "In addition to being a socialist and an atheist, I'm a libertarian."

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Eugène Delacroix (1798)

Detail from Liberty
Leading the People to the Barricades

Also born on this day, April 26, 1798, at Charenton-Saint Maurice, was — "The last of the great artists of the Renaissance and the first modern," as Baudelaire described him — Eugène Delacroix. He supported the French Revolution against the Catholic monarchy and was an ardent rationalist. One of his greatest paintings was the resolutely republican 1830 work, Liberty Leading the People to the Barricades, featuring the bare-breasted but curiously nipple-less Liberty, with musket in one hand and tri-color in the other, leading ragtag citizens to victory. But this was only to be expected of an assiduous reader of Diderot (charged with atheism) and Voltaire (a Deist). Delacroix died a member of the French Academy on 13 August 1863.

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Marcus Aurelius (121)

And on this day, April 26, year 121, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was born. Marcus had the bad fortune to inherit the Empire during a dangerous age, when barbarians threatened the borders and the Pax Romana, defenses sapped the finances of the state, and a plague (brought back to Rome by returning soldiers) sparked a mass descent into superstition, and even human sacrifice, to win back the favor of the gods.

It was to Marcus that the Christian apologists Justin and Athenagoras defended Christianity. But he had no patience with any kind of superstition, saying, "I learned from Diognetus not to give credit to what was said by miracle-workers, and about the driving away of demons and such things."

Of the Stoic-Epicurean Emperors, he was the most characteristic of that philosophy. He didn't believe in immortality and, in his Meditations, he conspicuously neglects the idea of a supreme being. He died at Vindobona on 17 March 180, though probably not as depicted in the 2002 film Gladiator. Marcus did, however, leave the Empire to the disastrously immoral Emperor Commodus.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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