Freethought of the Day

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There are 3 entries for this date: Indira Gandhi , Jodie Foster and Myla Goldberg
Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi

On this date in 1917, Indira Gandhi (née Nehru) was born in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India, to a wealthy, upper-caste Brahmin Hindu family. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, was India's first prime minister and popular independence leader. Before completion of her education at Oxford University, Gandhi joined the Indian independence movement, which led to her imprisonment for 13 months on charges of subversion by British colonial authorities.

In 1942 she married a Congress Party militant, Feroze Gandhi, but her marriage suffered as her father took office as prime minister in 1947 and invitedher to be his official hostess. In this position she studied the world's most powerful political elites and in the 1950s began building her own political career. She was elected Congress Party president 1959 and helped oust the communist government from the southern state of Kerala. She served in the upper house of parliament in 1964 and in 1967 became the first woman leader of a major country in modern times.

As prime ministe she strengthened the authority of the federal government and strongly objected to religious sectarianism that, she believed, threatened Indian democracy. While some of her domestic policies were viewed as weak, she managed to keep relative social peace and silence radical opposition movements. She achieved great success in her foreign policy and, after winning reelection in 1971, led India to victory in a bitter war with Pakistan (that also resulted in the birth of Bangladesh).

While her popularity grew among Indians and especially the poor, Gandhi gained a reputation as an authoritarian within her own party. After an Indian court determined her 1971 election was illegitimate, Gandhi declared a state of emergency, suspending civil liberties and jailing thousands of her critics. Facing internal and international pressure, she returned to democratic government in 1977 but the people elected a former rival, Morarji Desai, to replace her.

Desai attempted to destroy Gandhi's reputation but she fought back by campaigning in rural villages and was elected as prime minister for the fourth time in 1980. Sikh terrorist factions in the Punjab state demanded an independent state, but Gandhi refused to negotiate and in June 1984 ordered an army assault on a militant Sikh temple, which resulted in the loss of over 1,000 lives. Over the next months, Gandhi remained undeterred by numerous death threats from Sikh militants. She told Newsweek, "In politics you simply can't hide from people. My life has been one with India, and it makes no difference to me if I die standing or in bed."

Gandhi was gunned down in 1984 in her garden in New Delhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Following her death was a period of extreme tension and bloodshed between Hindus and Sikhs across India. D. 1984.

“There exists no politician in India daring enough to attempt to explain to the masses that cows can be eaten.”

—Gandhi, quoted by Oriana Fallaci in "Indira's Coup," New York Review of Books, 1975

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster

On this date in 1962, actress Alicia Christian "Jodie" Foster was born in Los Angeles. Her parents divorced before she was born and she never established a relationship with her father. Her professional debut was at age 3 in a Coppertone Suntan lotion commercial. Foster made a series of TV appearances and movies as a child, the first on "Mayberry R.F.D., and was once mauled by a lion while making a Disney film. Her breakthrough role was as a preteen prostitute in "Taxi Driver" (1976).

She graduated from a French-language prep school, the Lycée Français de Los Angeles, in 1980. During her freshman year at Yale, John Hinckley Jr., obsessed with her in "Taxi Driver," started stalking her. Hinckley tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in a warped paean to Foster in 1981. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in literature in 1985.

She has earned two Academy Awards as best actress, for "The Accused" (1988) and for "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991). Her many movies include "Nell" (1994), and "Contact" (1997), in which she memorably portrayed the atheist astronomer protagonist based on Carl Sagan's novel. She has also directed movies, including "Little Man Tate" (1991) and "Home for the Holidays" (1995). Her latest role as of this writing in 2019 was in "Hotel Artemis" (2018).

Foster's sexual orientation became a subject in 1991 when activists protesting alleged homophobia in "The Silence of the Lambs" claimed she was a closeted lesbian. While she had long been in a relationship with Cydney Bernard, Foster first publicly acknowledged her orientation in 2007. She and Bernard split in 2008 after 15 years together, with joint custody of sons Charles and Kit (ages 20 and 17 in 2019). Foster married photographer Alexandra Hedison in 2014. She has said she would tell Charles who his biological father is when he turned 21. 

"People are always surprised when I say that I'm an atheist," Foster told Esquire magazine ("What I've Learned," Dec. 14, 2010). "In my home, we ritualize all of them. We do Christmas. We do Shabbat on Fridays. We love Kwanzaa. I take pains to give my family a real religious basis, a knowledge, because it's being well educated. You need to know why all those wars were fought."

Photo: Foster at the 1989 Academy Awards; photo by Alan Light.

“I absolutely believe what Ellie [the atheist astronomer in the movie 'Contact'] believes — that there is no direct evidence, so how could you ask me to believe in God when there's absolutely no evidence that I can see? I do believe in the beauty and the awe-inspiring mystery of the science that's out there that we haven't discovered yet, that there are scientific explanations for phenomena that we call mystical because we don't know any better.”

—Foster, interview with The Georgia Straight weekly (July 10, 1997)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Myla Goldberg

Myla Goldberg

On this date in 1971 author Myla Goldberg was born into a Jewish family, grew up in Laurel, Md., and graduated from Oberlin College in 1993. Her first book, Bee Season, a coming-of-age story about a girl who wins a spelling bee, was published in 2000 and was on The New York Times Notable Book List of 2000. Her other books include Wickett’s Remedy (2006), which chronicles the story of a woman during the 1918 flu pandemic and The False Friend (2010), about a woman returning to her hometown to confront her past. She has also written Time's Magpie: A Walk in Prague (2004), a compilation of her essays on Prague, and Catching the Moon (2007), a children's book, along with many other published short stories and writings.

Goldberg sings and plays banjo and accordion in a band called The Walking Hellos. Their first CD was released in 2006. Goldberg is married to Jason Little and has two daughters. 

Photo: Goldberg in 2007 at the Brooklyn Book Festival; photo by David Shankbone under CC 3.0.

“I’m a total atheist, and for me it’s just about trying to find something that rises above the banal day-to-day bullshit of living.”

—Goldberg, New York magazine, "In Print: Bee's Buzz" by Boris Kachka (Aug. 7, 2001)

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

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