Freethought of the Day

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There are 3 entries for this date: Harvey Fierstein , Sam Simon and Maxine Kumin
Harvey Fierstein

Harvey Fierstein

On this date in 1952, actor, comedian, playwright and LGBT activist Harvey Forbes Fierstein was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. Fierstein debuted in the Andy Warhol play, "Pork," in 1971. He has since been in over 60 off-off-Broadway plays, including his own productions. One of his three-act plays, "The Torch Song Trilogy," in which he played a gay man, opened off-off-Broadway in 1980, transferred to Broadway, and won Fierstein two Tony Awards, an Obie Award, a Dramatist Guild Award, two Drama Desk Awards, and a nomination for the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award. The hugely successful play was made into a movie in 1988, with Fierstein writing the screenplay and co-starring with Matthew Broderick and Anne Bancroft. He earned his third Tony for his book of the musical "La Cage aux Folles." He picked up a fourth Tony for his portrayal of Edna Turnblad in the Broadway version of "Hairspray" (2003). In addition to his theater work, Fierstein is a popular face (and voice) in films, including such hits as "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993), Woody Allen's "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994), "Independence Day" (1996), "Death to Smoochy" (2002) and "Duplex" (2003), which starred Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore. His trademark voice has lent its popularity to television shows including "The Simpsons," "How I Met Your Mother" and "Family Guy," and animated movies such as Disney's "Mulan" (1998), "Kingdom Hearts II" (2005) and "Farce of the Penguins" (2006). Other television appearances include on the shows "Ellen" and "Common Ground," which he co-wrote, and an Emmy-nominated performance on "Cheers." He also earned an Emmy for narrating the documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" (1984).

A winner of the GLAAD Award for Visibility in 1994, Fierstein is known as a leading gay rights activist. He was openly gay when it was still highly controversial to be so. He often plays gay characters, occasionally dresses in drag, writes articles and publicly champions LGBT rights. He has consistently made his views on religion known. In an interview about playing Tevye in the Broadway revival of "Fiddler on the Roof," when asked if he was generally religious, Fierstein said: "No, but I am Jewish. . . . This [performance] has really brought out the Jew. I mean, I don't believe in God, I don't believe in heaven or hell, but I pray three or four times a day" (New York Times, by Jesse McKinley, Jan. 2, 2005). Fierstein started a segment called "Outtakes" on the Generation Q television program "In the Life" (2004): "I don't believe in heaven. In fact, I don't believe in any sort of conscious afterlife. More to the point, I don't believe in God. Or Gods. Or Goddesses. . . . More wars have been fought in the name of religion than any other cause. More people have been persecuted, reputations ruined, and fortunes plundered and murders committed in the name of religion than any other enterprise. And more everyday bigotry and prejudice is founded on what religion a person follows than any other factor." He continued: "Forget believing in God. How about thinking for yourself on any subject! Bottom line—I don't care what you believe, or what church you attend, or how religion-oriented your private life is. Keep it out of my government. Keep it out of my laws. Keep it out of my bedroom. And keep it out of the war rooms at the Pentagon!"

Photo by David Shinbone under CC 3.0

"We are lucky enough to be living in a country that not only guarantees the freedom to practice religion as we see fit, but also freedom FROM religious zealots who would persecute and prosecute and even physically harm those of us who do not believe as they do. . . . If you refuse to salute the flag and say God in your pledge, you're actually judged un-American. But that's not the way America is supposed to be. That's the way Iran is. . . . Predicating patriotism on a citizen's belief in God is as anti-American as judging him on the color of his skin. It is wrong. It is useless. It is unconstitutional." 

—Harvey Fierstein in the segment "Outtakes," from the program "In the Life," broadcast by Generation Q, Nov. 2004

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Sam Simon

Sam Simon

On this date in 1955, atheist philanthropist Samuel Michael "Sam" Simon, most noted as co-creator of the television series "The Simpsons," was born in Los Angeles. His father, of Estonian Jewish heritage, became wealthy manufacturing affordable clothing. After graduating from Stanford University, Simon worked as a newspaper cartoonist and storyboard artist before contributing in various roles to "The Drew Carey Show," "Taxi" and "Cheers." In 1989, Simon developed "The Simpsons" with Matt Groening and James L. Brooks. He left the show in 1993 but not before negotiating a deal in which he received millions from annual show revenues. (As of this writing in 2016, his name still rolls with the credits.)

After a 2012 diagnosis of advanced colorectal cancer, he announced he would donate nearly all his $100 million fortune to various charities, many of which he supported during his lifetime. Twice divorced, he was childless. His bequests included the Sam Simon Foundation (with programs for service dogs for veterans and the hearing impaired), PETA, Save the Children and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a global marine conservation organization. d. March 8, 2015

Photo by Matt Waldron under CC 2.0. Cropped from original version.

 

“I’m an atheist, but there’s a thing called tithing that a lot of religions do. Ten percent was the minimum you were supposed to give to charity every year. And I always outdid that."
“ 'People say I’m trying to buy my way into heaven, which I don’t believe in. So that can’t be true,' Sam says. He paid for those atheist billboards that make news from time to time. Like the one by the Lincoln Tunnel, in New York, that read, IT’S A MYTH, on a picture of the stars over Bethlehem."

—Vanity Fair, Sept. 30, 2014

Compiled by Bill Dunn

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin

On this date in 1925, American writer and poet Maxine Kumin was born in Germantown, Pa., to a Jewish immigrant family. Kumin was the only daughter and youngest of four children. Prior to attending secular Philadelphia schools, Kumin was enrolled at the Catholic covenant school run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Kumin had a passion for swimming that was subdued by her father; however, her interest in writing was praised. In 1946, she received her B.A. from Radcliffe College in history and literature. After graduation, she married Victor Montwid Kumin and they had three children together. Kumin returned to Radcliffe in 1948 to pursue her master’s degree. During this time, she took a workshop nearby at the Boston Center for Adult Education conducted by John Holmes. This workshop contributed to Kumin’s career development as a poet.

“Until the Women’s Movement,” Kumin says, “it was commonplace to be told by an editor that he’d like to publish more of my poems, but he’d already published one by a woman that month.” After much patience as a closet poet, her first book of poetry, Halfway, was published in 1961. She published 13 more poetry books after, along with numerous children’s books and other novels. “Mother Rosarine,” “The Spell,” “The Pawnbroker” and “The Chain” are some of her poems that are reflective of her Jewish past. Two of her other poems, “Living Alone with Jesus” and “For A Young Nun at Breadloaf,” allow Kumin to show how religious and cultural differences can be bridged in the realm of imagination. During an interview in 2010, Kumin said that she had been an atheist since age 16, but sometimes used God as a rhetorical device in her poetry.

Some of her later works included Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief (1982), Looking for Luck (1992) and Connecting the Dots (1996). Kumin won an extensive number of awards, such as the Pulitzer Prize in 1973, the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry in 1995 and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 1999. She was also elected a chancellor in the Academy of American Poets before she resigned in 1998 in protest of the lack of blacks and other minorities on the board. Kumin enjoyed being reclusive on her farm in New Hampshire, which became her safe haven after she and her husband discovered the abandoned farm in 1962. Pobiz Farm was a place of inspiration away from others and the muse of some of her poetry. D. 2014

“I don't see any wavering between agnosticism and atheism. I've been an atheist since the age of about 16.”

—Maxine Kumin, "An interview with Maxine Kumin," 2010, World Poetry, Inc.

Compiled by Tolulope Igun

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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