Freethought of the Day

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There are 4 entries for this date: Nuala O'Faolain , Robert Lowell , Queen Caroline and Javier Bardem
Nuala O'Faolain

Nuala O'Faolain

On this date in 1940, Irish journalist, memoirist and feminist Nuala O’Faolain (pronounced oh-FWAY-lawn) was born in Dublin, the second of nine children. Her unhappy childhood, lacking in love, inspired much of her later writing. Her father wrote a newspaper column for the Dublin Evening Press and, according to O’Faolain, spent many nights out in Dublin, with little regard for his family. Her mother “sank into despair and alcoholism” as a result (in O’Faolain’s New York Times obituary by William Grimes, May 11, 2008). O’Faolain attended a Catholic convent school in the north of Ireland but was expelled for unruly behavior. She studied English at the University College in Dublin and Medieval English Literature at the University of Hull in England. She earned a BPhil in English from Oxford in the 1960s. After her studies, she lectured in the English department at University College and then moved to London where she established a broadcasting producer career with BBC. In 1977, she returned to Ireland to produce television programs, often with feminist content and regarding Irish women. In 1986, she began writing a weekly column for the Irish Times, for which she became well-known. Her first memoir, Are You Somebody? (1996), won her international recognition. Following were successful novels, My Dream of You (2001) and The Story of Chicago May (2006). In 2003, Almost There, a sequel to her first memoir, was published. Her obituary in The Telegraph (U.K.) said that O’Faolain learned to drive at age 40 and to swim at age 50 (May 11, 2008). O’Faolain had a 15-year relationship with the feminist journalist and playwright Nell McCafferty. She died in Dublin from lung cancer at age 68. In a final interview after her terminal diagnosis, she stated she did not believe in an afterlife (The Independent, interview with Marian Finucane, April 13, 2008). Her obituary in The Guardian states: “The very pure strain of patriarchy that evolved in post-independence Ireland, where church and state were often indistinguishable, produced a noble tradition of female dissent. The long and illustrious list of women who challenged the status quo - and changed Irish society in the process — had no more eloquent an exponent than Nuala O'Faolain . . .” (by Luke Dodd, May 11, 2008). D. 2008.

Nuala O’Faolain: I have done that for years, looked up at it (the stars) and given it a wink and thought 'I don't know what's going on' and I still don't know what's going on, but I can't be consoled by mention of god. I can't.

Marian Finucane: Would you like it?

NO'F: No. Oh no I wouldn't. If I start doing that something really bad is happening to my brain . . . And though I respect and adore the art that arises from the love of god and though nearly everybody I love and respect themselves believe in god, it is meaningless to me, really meaningless.

MF: The reason I asked you is because it is a source of comfort for many people?

NO'F: Well, I wish them every comfort, but it is not even bothering me. I don't even think about it. I have never believed in the Christian version of the individual creator . . .

—Nuala O’Faolain interview with Marian Finucane in “Nuala O' Faolain interview: ‘I don’t want more time. As soon as I heard I was going to die, the goodness went from life,’ ” April 13, 2008

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robert Lowell

Robert Lowell

On this date in 1917, poet Robert Lowell, the great-grand nephew of James Russell Lowell, was born in Boston. At an early age, he knew he wanted to be a poet. He attended Harvard for two years, and eventually graduated from Kenyon in 1940. He converted to Roman Catholicism when he married novelist Jean Stafford, his first wife. During World War II, he volunteered, but was rejected due to poor vision. However, in 1943, he was conscripted. Horrified by this time at the Allied bombing of civilians in Germany, Lowell became a conscientious objector, for which he was jailed as part of his sentence. At this time he completed his first book, Land of Unlikeness, which was published as Lord Weary's Castle (1946), and received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. After divorcing (despite his conversion), Lowell married Elizabeth Hardwick, another writer, in 1949. The Mills of the Kavanaughs, Lowell's next book, came out in 1951 to less acclaim. He suffered from manic depression in the 1950s, living much of the time in Europe. His career rebounded with Life Studies (1959), containing what one critic dubbed as "confessional" poetry. Lowell became a Democratic activist in the 1960s, campaigning for Sen. Eugene McCarthy, and against nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam War. His second marriage broke up and he married Caroline Blackwood in 1972. The Dolphin won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. According to David Tribe in 100 Years of Freethought, Lowell became a freethinker. He translated the humanistic Prometheus Bound in 1969 (see quote below). D. 1977.

“[Prometheus to the chorus]: I have little faith now, but I still look for truth, some momentary crumbling foothold.”

—Robert Lowell, translation of Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound (1969)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Queen Caroline

Queen Caroline

On this date in 1683, Caroline of Ansbach, daughter of the Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach, who later became Queen of England, was born. An arranged marriage with the Austrian Archduke was cancelled when she refused to convert to Catholicism. Marrying the Prince of Hanover in 1705, she became Princess of Wales in 1714. Freethought historian Joseph McCabe reported that correspondence with Leibnitz caused her to reject Christianity, and that her Richmond house "was more or less a Deistic center." Caroline ascended the British throne in 1727. When officiating as Regent several times in the King's absence, Acts of Parliament excused her from taking the oath. Horace Walpole, in his Reminiscences, recorded that Caroline was "at least not orthodox." Chesterfield, in Characters, reported that Caroline was "a Deist, believing in a future state." Queen Caroline is the acknowledged patron of English landscape gardening, developing the Richmond and early Kew Gardens. Her gardening philosophy was "helping Nature, not losing it in art." D. 1737.

-- Source on Caroline's religious beliefs: Joseph McCabe's A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists (1920)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Javier Bardem

Javier Bardem

On this date in 1969, Javier Ángel Encinas Bardem was born in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, Spain. The youngest of two older siblings, Bardem grew up in a family of actors (except his father, who was a businessman). His mother, Pilar, has acted in 123 different film and television roles, according to IMDB.com (as of January 2012). He began acting at age six in the Spanish television series, “El Pícaro" (1974). As a teen, Bardem acted in television and played rugby for Spain’s national team. The breakthrough role that launched him to international fame was his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas in “Before Night Falls” (2000). Exceptional performances followed in “The Dancer Upstairs” (2002), directed by John Malkovich, “Collateral” (2004), “Goya’s Ghosts” (2006), also starring Natalie Portman, “No Country for Old Men” (2007), “Love in the Time of Cholera” (2007), Woody Allen’s “Vicky Christina Barcelona” (2008), “Biutiful” (2010) and “Eat Pray Love” (2010). He won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “No Country for Old Men” and was nominated in 2011 in the Best Actor category for “Biutiful.”

An article in The Independent (U.K.) refers to Bardem’s turning point with religion: “Now an atheist, he experienced the loss of his father when he was 25. ‘I wasn't a very committed Catholic before, but when that happened it suddenly all felt so obvious: I now believe religion is our attempt to find an explanation; to feel more protected’ “ (“People watch me. I feel absurd,” Jan. 16, 2011). After the 2005 legalization of same sex marriage in Spain, Bardem stated if he were a homosexual he would “get married tomorrow just to fuck with the church,” (translated from mañana mismo, sólo para joder a la Iglesia)( "Sólo para joder a la Iglesia," Univision.com, date unknown). The extraordinarily talented actor has been married to actress Penelope Cruz since 2010, and they have one son together.

“I always say, ‘I don't believe in God, I believe in Al Pacino’ - and that's true.”

—Javier Bardem in Time Magazine, “10 questions for Javier Bardem,” Aug. 14, 2008

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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