On this date in 1928, Murad Kevorkian, later known as Jack, was born to Armenian immigrants in Pontiac, Mich. "My parents never foisted religion on me. My father never was religious much. My mother was — the old country religion. But not fanatic. But I never believed in god. I never believed in Santa Claus" (interview with Neil Cavuto on FOX News, Sept. 2, 2009). He earned his M.D. from the University of Michigan in 1952, and later specialized in pathology. He wrote a series of articles in the 1980s for the German journal, Medicine and Law, detailing his reasoning on the ethics of euthanasia. His first known assisted suicide occurred in 1990, and the state of Michigan revoked his medical license a year later as a result. Believing that the right to die is not a crime, Kevorkian assisted in the pain-free suicides of more than 130 people with terminal illnesses. He spent eight years in prison (out of a 10- to 25-year sentence) after being convicted of second-degree murder for one of these suicides. He was released on parole in 2007, on the condition he would not help anyone else commit suicide.
Kevorkian maintains that his harshest critics are "religious fanatics or nuts" ("Kevorkian Speaks After His Release From Prison," by Monica Davey, New York Times, June 4, 2007). In his keynote address at the Freedom From Religion Foundation annual convention in 1990, Kevorkian told convention-goers: "Religion is telling law what to do, and law is telling doctors what to do. Religion dictates to law, and law dictates to ethics. No wonder we have problems. That's insanity!" He described the history of euthanasia and abortion as standard procedures in the secular medical world until Christianity injected its influence on the profession several centuries later. He described this shift as "the origin of all the crises we're having." In an interview on FOX News, Dr. Kevorkian called our mythologies "silly." When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Kevorkian responded: "Doesn't matter. Doesn't matter at all. When I'm dead, nothing matters" (FOX News, Sept. 2, 2009). He told the Jackson Citizen in 1990: "My aim is to establish a rational policy of planned death. . . . We have no planned death. We have no policy, and it's not rational. I want to fight suffering and eliminate it." D. 2011.
"If a doctor has a certain philosophic principle, religion or otherwise, that limits what he or she can do or say for the benefit of the patient, then he's not a full doctor. . . . A real doctor could divorce professional life from spiritual life."
—Jack Kevorkian, M.D., delivering the keynote address to the Freedom From Religion Foundation annual convention, Oct. 6, 1990
Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch, with help from Scott Grinstead
© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.
On this date in 1971, Matthew Richard Stone was born in Houston, Texas. Stone was raised in the Denver area before moving to Littleton, Colo., where he graduated from high school. Stone attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he earned a degree in mathematics and studied film. While in film school at Boulder, he met Trey Parker, his long-time collaborator. After leaving school, Stone and Parker collaborated on various projects, including an animated short entitled "The Spirit of Christmas" (1996), in which Santa Claus and Jesus fight about the true meaning of Christmas (the answer, by the way, is that the true meaning of Christmas is presents, not fighting). This short led to a deal with Comedy Central to make the show “South Park,” (1997-present), an animated show, starring four third-grade kids: Kyle, Stan, Cartman, and Kenny (characters first explored in the short), which is frequently satirical and often employs crude humor. Stone and Parker do most of the male characters' voices themselves. The show is set in the fictional town of South Park, Colorado. Parker and Stone made a South Park movie in 1999, entitled "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut." A song from the movie, “Blame Canada,” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. South Park has been nominated for several Emmys, and has won Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour) three times, for 2005's “Best Friends Forever,” the 2006's "Make Love, Not Warcraft,” and 2009's “Margaritaville.” The three-parter “Imaginationland” won 2008's Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour Or More). In December of 2008, Stone married Angela Howard, a Comedy Central production executive. They have one son.
Through South Park and other projects, Stone and Parker have frequently satirized religion. For example, the "South Park" episode “Trapped in the Closet” (link is US only) (2005) satirizes Scientology and reveals some of its secret beliefs. A more frequent subject for their humor, though, is Mormonism. Stone and Parker both grew up in Colorado, where they knew a lot of Mormons, and have often stated in interviews that they have largely positive feelings about Mormonism. This did not stop them from poking holes in the story of Joseph Smith's founding of Mormonism in the "South Park" episode “All about the Mormons?” (US only link) (2003), in which a Mormon family comes to town. The new Mormon kid, Gary, confronts the main characters at the end of the episode, saying, “Maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up. But I have a great life and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that.” In 2011, the musical "The Book of Mormon," created by Stone and Parker in collaboration with composer and lyricist Robert Lopez, opened on Broadway. "The Book of Mormon" tells the irreverent story of two Mormon missionaries in Uganda. Nominated for 14 Tony awards, it won nine, including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical. ("The Book of Mormon" was discussed on Freethought Radio on April 16, 2011.)
For more on the treatment of Islam on "South Park," see Trey Parker's Freethought of the Day entry.
“We’re essentially atheists — I mean, I am; Trey I don't want to speak for. But coming from that point of view, we’re atheists who don’t hate religion, who are kind of fascinated by it and kind of admire it. [We thought], What would that look like? What would an atheist love letter to religion look like?”
Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski
© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.