For me, Robert G. Ingersoll takes the cake. His command of language and reason were impeccable, and his writings and recorded speeches never fail to inspire.
George H. Smith's "Atheism: The Case Against God" also agreed so well with my mind, that I'm reading it yet again for the sheer enjoyment of his crystal-clear logic and readability.
Who are some of yours?
Max More in 1990's for first helping me first learn of the dangers of religion ( I was agnostic and rather ambivalent at the time) and Paul Kurtz for introducing me to secular humanism.
Carl Sagan - definitely was amazing. A true hero.
Richard Feynman. Issac Asimov. And Thomas Paine, of course. "The Age of Reason" still resonates.
Richard Feyman...yes, yes! lol...and in regards to George Carlin as others have posted, I consider him a disgrace to the human race to be honest.
Carlin was great for ripping into religion but in his late sixties he became horribly cynical to the point of madness almost. He gave up on life. He said he divorced himself emotionally from humanity and campaigned for its demise. "I always hope it gets worse" was one of his disgusting quotes - referring to natural disasters, he wanted the destruction of the human race and was happy to see it. In my book, this cancels out all his years of truthful comedy as worthless.
He was a nut. He stated that he didn't care if the human race degenerated and vanished and was simply a miserable conspiracy nut. He was completely irrational, intolerable, and simply not a good person. He was anti-west, anti-American, and anti-democracy for oppressed people. He is someone who I would suspect suffered from personality or psychiatric disorders based on his demeanor, beliefs, and attitudes.
He suffered from addiction. That many drugs and that much alcohol will make anyone's personality paranoid, depressed, cynical...etc.
I think you guys may be conflating the man's personality with his on-stage persona -- his act. All Carlin's work was carefully scripted and meticulously rehearsed. He chose, like many artists, to push the boundaries of acceptability and to make people think.
I don't worship any gods, and Carlin was as flawed and mortal as the rest of us, but his talent and testimony was a gift that I will always cherish.
Carlin's black comedy had a philosophical bent to it. He took on the big issues which other comedians would rather leave alone - such as religion. abortion etc. His stage character and his real life persona were the same person. If you read some of his 'serious' type books - they were basically rehashes of his comedy routine, put into something a bit more intellectual. He has been on many interviews and panel type debates were his real life persona is indistinguishable from the comedy act - which leads me to believe he sincerely believed most of, or probably everything he said on stage. The man went all hateful and negative in his golden years - maybe it was the fame, who knows.
I agree with the first half of what you said. Yes, Carlin much denigrated humanity, but usually for good reason (people's credulity, this country becoming essentially a giant shopping mall, and general stupidity). He was a piercing social critic and directed people attention towards the odd, disturbing and altogether nutty things in our culture, while making them laugh. And that is the mark of a true comedian - pointing out the unfortunate truths and ills of society in a way that enables us to laugh about it. But everyone has their opinion. In my own humble opinion, the man was a comic genius. cheers
To me it is Brother Richard. I used to be a fundamentalist Christian, so I really relate to what he has to say and the funny way he does. I think he is one of the only ones who is actually building bridges and not burning them for us.