Freethought of the Day

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There are 3 entries for this date: John Quincy Adams , Mark Fisher and Pauline McLynn
John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

On this date in 1767, John Quincy Adams was born in Massachusetts. He witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill from above his family's farm and accompanied his father John Adams (U.S. president 1797-1801) on a mission to France at age 12. Adams studied in France and later at the University of Leyden in Holland. He graduated from Harvard at 26 and began a career as lawyer, professor, writer and diplomat.

He was elected to the Massachusetts Senate in 1802 and became a U.S. senator in 1803. He spent several years as minister to Russia under President James Madison. He was one of the negotiators of peace with England in 1814, then served as minister to England until President James Monroe appointed him secretary of state.

Adams authored the Monroe Doctrine and helped negotiate acquisition of important territories. During his candidacy for president, no candidate — Andrew Jackson, Adams, W.H. Crawford or Henry Clay — received a majority of votes. Although Adams was in second place, the House of Representatives with Clay's support elected Adams president. As president, he proposed a network of highways, the financing of scientific experiments and the building of an observatory.

He was defeated in 1828 but returned to Congress in 1830 and held his seat until his death in 1848. His distinguished career there, earning him the sobriquet of "Old Man Eloquent," included his advocacy for the right of petition of abolitionist societies. He battled for eight years and finally succeeded in ending a Southern-imposed gag rule automatically tabling petitions against slavery.

Like his father, he was a Unitarian. He was critical of Sabbatarians and preachers who "rave and rant and talk nonsense for an hour" during sermons. (Diary entry, The Religious Beliefs of our Presidents.) Adams collapsed from a stroke on the floor of the U.S. House in 1848 and died two days later.

“This young fellow, who was possessed of most violent passions, which he with great difficulty can command, and of unbounded ambition, which he conceals perhaps, even to himself, has been seduced into that bigoted, illiberal system of religion, which, by professing vainly to follow purely the dictates of the Testament, in vain contradicts the whole doctrine of the New Testament, and destroys all the boundaries between good and evil, between right and wrong."

—J.Q. Adams, diary entry, "Life in a New England Town," 1787-88, cited by Franklin Steiner in "The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents" (1936)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Mark Fisher

Mark Fisher

On this date in 1968, writer, theorist and critic Mark Fisher was born in the United Kingdom. Sometimes referred to by his online pseudonym “k-punk,” Fisher was initially known for his blog where he wrote about politics, music and culture. Fisher earned his B.A. in English and philosophy from Hull University in 1989 before completing his Ph.D. at the University of Warwick in 1999. His Ph.D. thesis, "Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory-Fiction" (1999), explored cybernetics and literature.

A co-founder of Zero Books and Repeater Books, Fisher worked as a philosophy and cultural theory lecturer before publishing his most well-known book, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (2009). For Fisher, “capitalist realism” is the sense that it is easier for the individual to imagine the end of the world than it would be for him/her to imagine the end of capitalism.

Fisher’s work expands on the work of other philosophers and theorists, including Jacques Derrida, Louis Althusser, Fredric Jameson and others. His book Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology, and Lost Futures (2014) popularized Derrida’s concept of “hauntology” — colloquially described as a “pining for a future that never arrived” — by exploring various potential but unachieved futures through cultural sources such as music and film.

Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie (2017) was published posthumously after his suicide. k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016) was published in 2018. D. 2017.

“The persistence of the fantasy that justice is guaranteed — a religious fantasy — wouldn’t have surprised the great thinkers of modernity. Theorists such as Spinoza, Kant, Nietzsche and Marx argued that atheism was extremely difficult to practice. It’s all very well professing a lack of belief in God, but it’s much harder to give up the habits of thought which assume providence, divine justice and a secure distinction between good and evil.”

—Fisher, New Humanist magazine (Winter 2013)

Compiled by Paul Epland

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Pauline McLynn

Pauline McLynn

On this date in 1962, actress and author Pauline McLynn was born in Sligo, Ireland, to Padraig and Sheila McLynn. Six months later they moved to Galway, where she grew up and was educated by the Sisters of Mercy (one of the orders operating the infamous Magdalene Laundries) before enrolling at Trinity College-Dublin to study modern English and the history of art.

McLynn pursued an acting career after graduating and performed with all of the major Irish theater companies. She got her television start on RTÉ, Ireland's public broadcaster, in the sitcom "Nothing to It?" She's perhaps best-known for playing the housekeeper Mrs. Doyle on the British comedy "Father Ted," which aired from 1995-98 and followed the misadventures of three Irish Catholic priests. She was featured in 24 episodes of the series "Shameless," on which the American Showtime series starring William H. Macy is based.

McLynn won the British Comedy Award for "Top TV Comedy Actress" in 1996 for "Father Ted" and the 2007 Irish Film and Television Award for "Best Actress in a Lead Role in a Feature Film" for the movie "Gypo." She's had numerous other TV series and movie roles, including Aunt Aggie in the 1999 film "Angela's Ashes." Most recently as of this writing, she played Bunni in 52 episodes of "Drop Dead Weird" on the Australian Seven Network.

Married to theatrical agent Richard Cook since 1997, she has written 10 novels, the first three featuring private detective Leo Street, several short stories and a chapter of Yeats Is Dead, the serial novel by 15 Irish writers, including Frank McCourt.

In the three-part BBC miniseries "Pilgrimage: The Road to Istanbul" (2020), seven celebrities travel from Serbia to Turkey to promote tolerance for all beliefs and cultures. "I was christened a Catholic but I’m a secular person,” McLynn explained on the show, rejecting the notion that religious people have a monopoly on kindness and decency just because of their belief in God. “All of the talking about ‘Well, I like to be kind and everything,’ yeah, I do as well, but I just think that’s being a decent human being.” 

“I was brought up an Irish Catholic at a time when the church and the state were so entwined in Ireland that you just didn’t get a choice. It was more a habit than a religion to the point where I realized I wasn’t practicing or anything anymore, it just meant so little that I didn’t even miss it. I’m an atheist.”

—McLynn, quoted in the Irish Mirror (March 22, 2020)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

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