Freethought of the Day

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There are 3 entries for this date: Oksana Shachko , Rupert Hughes and John Lydon (Johnny Rotten)
Oksana Shachko

Oksana Shachko

On this date in 1987, artist and activist Oksana Shachko was born in Khmelnytski, Ukraine. In 2008 she helped found FEMEN, a women’s rights group that garnered international notoriety for bare-breasted political protests. Along with the punk group Pussy Riot, FEMEN was part of the post-Soviet protest movement against corruption, wealth inequality, civil rights violations and the oppression of women and minorities.

According to the New York Times in 2018, “FEMEN members protested in Ukraine against sexual exploitation; in Davos, Switzerland — the scene of an annual conference of world political and business leaders — against income inequality; and, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, against policies of the Roman Catholic Church, among other targets.”

In 2013 Shachko and other members of FEMEN were granted political asylum in France following persecution by Russian special services. Shachko claimed that due to FEMEN’s protests against President Vladimir Putin, pro-Putin agents had planted a grenade in front of her Kiev office along with a photo of Putin.

Shachko, who was interested in religious iconography from a young age, almost became a nun but was dissuaded from joining the nunnery by her parents. At the time of her death, she was working on an art installation entitled “Iconoclast,” wherein she painted traditional Orthodox icons, superimposing transgressive details and feminist messaging onto the icons in order to confront Orthodox religious dogma.

She was found dead at age 31 in her apartment in Paris after apparently hanging herself.

“From this moment on, I began to reflect on what religion and faith mean to a human being. I found an answer, and it was atheism.”

—Shachko, profile in 032c, an English-language magazine published in Germany (2016)

Compiled by Paul Epland

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Rupert Hughes

Rupert Hughes

On this day in 1872, writer Rupert Hughes was born in Lancaster, Mo. The family moved when he was 7 to Keokuk, Iowa. He earned a B.A. from Adelbert College in Cleveland and a master's from Yale, 1893. He served in the Spanish-American War and in the infantry in World War I. His biographical subjects included George Washington and Samuel Gompers. More than 50 movies were written, directed or based on Hughes' stories and novels. He founded and served for decades as president of the Hollywood Screenwriters Club. 

Hughes, the uncle of future billionaire Howard Hughes, had his greatest Hollywood success in 1928 when he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for "The Patent Leather Kid."

Raised in the Congregational Church, Hughes began to lose his faith in college after reading the entire bible. In 1924 he wrote Why I Quit Going to Church, published by the Freethought Press Association, a forthright and thorough analysis of what is wrong with religion. In it Hughes recounted the uproar provoked by a shortened version of the 158-page book in Cosmopolitan magazine about the harm of Christianity. He wrote, "I quit because I came to believe that what is preached in the churches is mainly untrue and unimportant, tiresome, hostile to genuine progress, and in general not worthwhile. ... As for the God who is preached in the churches, I ceased to worship him because I could no longer believe in him or respect what is alleged of him."

He married Agnes Wheeler Hedge in 1893. They had a daughter, Elspeth, before divorcing in 1903. He married actress Adelaide Bissell in 1908. She took her own life in 1923 while on tour in Haiphong, French Indochina. Hughes' final marriage, to Elizabeth Patterson Dial, took place the next year. She died from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills in 1945. Elspeth died a few months later from cerebral apoplexy.

Hughes' health began to fail in the late 1940s, leading to a  stroke in 1953. He suffered a fatal heart attack while working at his desk on Sept. 9, 1956.

"I do not believe in a Santa Claus for grown-ups, and I do not believe that the vast number of church-people are doing the world any good by promulgating false ideas and false ideals."

—Hughes, "Why I Quit Going to Church" (1924)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

John Lydon (Johnny Rotten)

John Lydon (Johnny Rotten)

On this date in 1956, singer-songwriter John Joseph Lydon (stage name Johnny Rotten) was born in London to Eileen (née Barry) and John Lydon, working-class emigrants from Ireland. The eldest of four brothers, he contracted spinal meningitis at age 7 and was hospitalized for a year. It caused what he calls the "Lydon stare" and was "the first step that put me on the road to Rotten."

He struggled in Catholic secondary school and was expelled at age 15. He became friends with John Simon Ritchie (stage name Sid Vicious) and joined the punk rock Sex Pistols as frontman. Their 1977 single "God Save the Queen" was a hit and was included on the band's only studio album, "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols."

The band, now including Vicious, soon disintegrated, and Lydon formed a post-punk group called Public Image Ltd (PiL). PiL released eight studio albums between 1978 and 1992 and reconvened for albums in 2012 and 2015. Lydon co-wrote a track titled "Religion" for PiL's first album in 1979: "There's a liar on the altar / The sermon never falter / This is religion / Your religion."

A Clash online profile of Lydon (May 21, 2010) reviewed his "epic rendering" of the song, to which he added, "I hate all religion! All religion! All institutionalized religion! I need no institution between me and my god/maker! I hate all religion!"

He was particularly bitter about one specific religion in a July 2010 interview about his mother with the BBC: "They treated 'er very badly; they wouldn't give 'er [the] last rites when she died of cancer in the hospital, so we 'ave a really bad, negative view, our family, of the Catholic Church."

“I ain’t seen no evidence of God. Nowhere. Have you? God is probably Barry Manilow,” Lydon told The Guardian (Jan. 27, 2016).

He has published four books: Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs (1993), Punk: Chaos to Couture (2013, co-written with three others), Anger Is an Energy: My Life Uncensored (2014) and Mr Rotten’s Songbook (2017), a limited edition of 1,000 copies with all of his lyrics.

He holds British, Irish and American citizenship. He says he became an American citizen in 2013 because he "believed in Barack Obama" and laments how a "crazy, loony monster party" is trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. He says he has many problems with Donald Trump "as a human being" but defended how Trump has gotten people involved in politics: "I've been struggling for years to get people to wake up and do that." (Pitchfork interview, March 10, 2017.) In October 2020, he told The Guardian newspaper that Trump "is the only sensible choice" and calling Joe Biden "incapable of being the man at the helm."

In 1979 he married Nora Forster, a German publishing heiress. They are raising the three sons of Nora's daughter Ariane, who died of breast cancer at age 48. As of this writing in 2019, they live primarily in Venice, Calif., and have a home in London. Lydon revealed in 2018 that Nora has mid-stage Alzheimer's. 

" ‘Hark the herald angels sing’ is not a concept I can believe in. It’s a foolishness and therefore I think the only people who truly really do respect life and want themselves and others to live as long as possible are atheists."

—Lydon interview, Huck magazine (March 29, 2017)

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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