Birth and death dates of significant individuals should next be considered. On the matter of birthdays, one can think of many. In ancient times there were Euripides, Socrates, Epicurus, and Seneca. (Epicurus, in his Will, directed his followers to celebrate his birth on the twentieth day of every month.) The Renaissance brought us, Petrarch and Erasmus. The Age of Enlightenment gave us Spinoza, Diderot, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and Paine. The nineteenth-century gave us Ingersoll, Twain, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Darwin. Our own century provides Albert Einstein, John Dewey, Margaret Sanger, and Bertrand Russell. Among the living, we can name the AHA Humanists of the Year, in particular, one whom we all hope is still living, Dr. Andrei Sakharov. It is with these people that we begin to develop a Humanist “calendar of saints”.
Of particular interest to me is the forthcoming 300th birthday of Voltaire. This will occur November 21, 1994, nine years from now. This gives all Humanist groups plenty of time to plan a worldwide celebration, work within their individual countries to secure the issuance of Voltaire commemorative postage stamps, arrange for the reprinting of the complete works of Voltaire, arrange for articles on Voltaire to appear in publications worldwide to renew interest in the enlightenment, and many other things. We can begin now to celebrate his birth annually as part of the buildup effort. What a vehicle this could be for the wide dissemination of Humanist ideas. It would be the ultimate in the celebration of the life of a Humanist “saint. “
Of course, what calendar of saints would be complete without martyrs? And Humanism has its share. Socrates immediately comes to mind, as well as Bruno and Servetus. We can think of the victims of the Nazi Holocaust and so many others. The dates of the martyrdom of many humanistic individuals are known and can be duly noted and appropriately observed.
Relevant historical events form another class of calendar dates. I have divided these into the following four categories:
1. Anniversary dates of important events resulting from the lives of significant humanistic individuals
2. Anniversary dates when anti-humanistic individuals met a deserved fate
3. Anniversaries of positive and negative historical events of importance to Humanists or Humanism
4. Anniversaries of events or mythical non-events that Humanists might find amusing and useful for edifying the public.
To start with the first, it is easy to find events that derive from the lives of humanistic individuals. In one of my calendars I have put down the date Darwin set sail on the HMS Beagle and the date Salk announced his polio vaccine. This gives one an idea of the sorts of things to look for. Events significant to Humanism that involved many people include things like the founding of the IHEU (which some Humanists regard as a more appropriate date for World Humanist Day and which closely coincides with the time of year that NACH normally holds its conference) and the issuance of the first Humanist Manifesto.