Apr 15

April 15: Emma Thompson (1959)

It was on this date, April 15, 1959, that British actor, screenwriter and author Emma Thompson was born in Paddington, London, England, into a family of actors. At Newnham College, Cambridge, Thompson she became the first female member of the Footlights troupe. She won her first film role in 1989 in The Tall Guy. That was the year she married fellow actor and director Kenneth Branagh. They performed Shakespeare together on stage—A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear—and on screen, with Branagh directing her in Henry V (1989) and Much Ado About Nothing (1993). Thompson would appear again with Branagh when he directed her in the 1991 mystery, Dead Again and the 1992 comedy Peter’s Friends. Thompson captured English reticence in the 1990s: in the Merchant-Ivory film Howard’s End (1992) and the E.M. Forster adaptation, The Remains of the Day (1993), as well as in the film she adapted from the Jane Austen novel, Sense and Sensibility (1995). Thompson went on to star as a campaigning lawyer alongside Daniel Day-Lewis in 1993’s In the Name of the Father, a goofy doctor alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in the 1994 comedy Junior and in her biggest commercial success, Love Actually (2003), alongside Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, and Colin Firth.

Thompson received high praise for the 2001 Mike Nichols-directed HBO TV-movie “Wit,” in which she played a Harvard University professor diagnosed with ovarian cancer, who finds her values challenged. Returning to HBO two years later, Thompson appeared in three small roles for the 2003 TV mini-series “Angels In America,” about the AIDS epidemic in Reagan-era America. She wrote and played the title role in the children’s films Nanny McPhee (2005) and Nanny McPhee Returns (2010), appearing as well, as professor Sybill Trelawney, in two Harry Potter films: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007). For her versatility and sensitivity, in a wide range of roles, Thompson has been cited as one of the greatest British actresses of her generation.

To her acting and writing credits should be added credit as activist: for being a supporter of Greenpeace, ambassador for the charity ActionAid, a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Refugee Council and for having been a member of the British-based ENOUGH! Coalition, seeking an end to the “Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.” As well as being outspoken on religion as well as politics, the environment and human rights, Thompson has been outspoken on religion, as well. Although she has said, “The guiding moral principles, the ethical principles, much of the philosophy [of the Christian tradition], if properly applied, is very good,” Thompson maintains that it is Christianity’s treatment of homosexuals that made her question religious faith, saying, “I was brought up, partially, by these remarkable, intelligent, wonderful men, and they made me consider and question all moral systems from a very young age,” she explained in an interview with The Advocate. “They were the reason I rejected Christianity outright, because it said that homosexuality wasn’t allowed. I thought, ‘That’s ridiculous! It’s perfectly normal, so what do you mean it isn’t allowed?’”

It was in a 15 October 2008 interview in The Australian, that Emma Thompson said, “I’m an atheist; I suppose you can call me a sort of libertarian anarchist. I regard religion with fear and suspicion. It’s not enough to say that I don’t believe in God. I actually regard the system as distressing: I am offended by some of the things said in the Bible and the Qu’ran, and I refute them.”

Permanent link to this article: http://freethoughtalmanac.com/?p=7830

Apr 08

April 8: Yip Harburg (1896)

It was on this date, April 8, 1896, that American popular song lyricist Edgar Yipsel “Yip” Harburg was born Isidore Hochberg (Yiddish איסידור הוכברג) on the Lower East Side of New York City—into a Yiddish-speaking, Orthodox Jewish family that had emigrated from Russia. Best known as Edgar “Yip” Harburg, he attended high school and became friends with another future lyricist and freethinker, Ira Gershwin. After going deeply into debt following the stock market crash of 1929, Harburg collaborated with new friend Jay Gorney for musical revues on Broadway. The most memorable lyric, from Americana in 1932, was for “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” which became a kind of anthem for the Great Depression. Other popular songs included “April in Paris” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” Hollywood called later in the 1930s and Harburg collaborated with composers such as Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Jerome Kern, Burton Lane and Jule Styne. His signature lyrical achievement was for The Wizard of Oz, released in 1939, which won him the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Over the Rainbow.” The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the American Film Institute (AFI) judged Judy Garland’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow” as the Number One recording of the 20th century.

While Hollywood was scared of Joseph McCarthy’s inquisition about liberal politics, Harburg could let his social conscience run free on Broadway. “The House of God never had much appeal for me,” Harburg once said. “Anyhow, I found a substitute temple—the theater.” Harburg believed people should be guaranteed basic human rights, political equality, education, economic opportunity and health care. His musicals included Bloomer Girl (1944), about temperance and women’s rights activist Amelia Bloomer and Finian’s Rainbow (1947), with its groundbreaking integrated chorus line and the songs “Old Devil Moon” and “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” The writer of the lyric for the 1937 song “God’s Country,” who never joined the Communist Party, was nevertheless blacklisted from Hollywood from 1950-1962. Harburg’s lyrics satirized the hysterically anti-communist sentiment in the U.S. in the short-running 1951 musical Flahooley.

Yip Harburg was not shy about satirizing popular religious beliefs, as well. Here are some selections from a collection called Rhymes for the Irreverent

“Atheist”
Poems are made by fools like me, 

But only God can make a tree;
And only God who makes the tree 

Also makes the fools like me.
But only fools like me, you see, 

Can make a God, who makes a tree.

“Agnostic”
No matter how much I probe and prod,

I cannot quite believe in God;

But oh, I hope to God that He

Unswervingly believes in me.

“A Nose Is A Nose Is A Nose
”
Mother, Mother,
 tell me please,

Did God who gave us flowers and trees,

Also provide the allergies?

“Federal Reserve”

In ’29 when the banks went bust,

Our coins still read “In God We Trust.”

And in a lyric for Cabin in the Sky (1943), but performed by Lena Horne on Broadway in Jamaica (1957), Harburg wrote—

Life is short, short, brother!

Ain’ it de truth?

An’ dere is no other

Ain’ it de truth?

You gotta rock that rainbow while you still got your youth

Oh! Ain’ it de solid truth?

As if there were any doubt about Yip Harburg’s opinion of religion, he gave a radio interview with Jack O’Brian on 21 May 1977, heard on WOR, New York City. O’Brian asked him, “In the abstract, what is your religion?” Harburg replied, “Well, that’s a tough question, but I would say—quickie—that my religion is to make people laugh, and in return, to give me love and I want them to make me laugh and I want to give them love.”

Edgar “Yip” Harburg died of heart failure in Hollywood, while his car was stopped at a traffic light, on 5 March 1981. It would seem his feelings about a life beyond death were influenced by similar words from Mark Twain when Yip Harburg wrote “Small Comforts”—

Before I was born, I seemed to be
Contented with being non-be-able;
So after I’m gone, it seems to me
My lot should be not less agreeable.

Permanent link to this article: http://freethoughtalmanac.com/?p=7816

Apr 07

April 7: Francis Xavier (1506): Saint and Failure

Francis Xavier and a convert

It was on this date, April 7, 1506, that the co-founder of the Jesuits or “Society of Jesus,” Francis Xavier was born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta in the Kingdom of Navarre (currently Spain). Xavier was discovered by Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), who was 15 years his elder, while Xavier was studying at the Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris. Ignatius admired the younger man’s learning, physical beauty and athletic ability as a runner. Xavier was soon seduced into the Company and was there with Ignatius at the founding, on 15 August 1534, becoming one of the first seven Jesuits. Thereafter, Xavier was ordained.

Apparently thinking his skill at running was vanity, Xavier tied cords around his legs to damage himself for God. His first commission was significant, considering the vanity evident in trying to convert non-Christians in Asian lands: he was sent in 1541 to the Portuguese colony in India to re-convert the Christians there! As a measure of his success there, it should be noted that the majority-Hindu India is only 2.9 % Christian in our time (only a quarter of the Muslim population). In 1546, Xavier attempted to convert the inhabitants of the Portuguese colony of Malacca and the Maluku Islands. Malacca today is 3% Christian and 66% Muslim. From 1549-1551 he spent 2½ years failing to convert the Japanese—the Christian population in Japan is 1% in our time, as 70% profess no religion whatsoever. Xavier set out for China in 1552, but died off the coast, on 2 December, having failed to set foot on the Chinese mainland. The life of Francis is proof, as the early Christians learned, that conversion is easier under threat of death; and, as Muslims to this day know, reconversion is not necessary when apostasy carries the same penalty!

Christian missionary and failure Francis Xavier was canonized a saint, along with his Jesuit leader, Ignatius, in 1662. However, 48 years earlier (1614), by order of Claudius Acquaviva, General of the Society of Jesus, Xavier’s right arm was severed at the elbow and transported to Rome. The arm rests now in the Church of the Gesù; the rest of the maimed corpse is in a church which formerly belonged to the Jesuits, the Bom Jesus Basilica at Goa, India.

The Jesuit maxim, “Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards,” is attributed to Xavier—and it shows the psychological truth that capturing minds before they have reached the age of reason yields good soldiers for any sort of indoctrination. Before he died, Xavier had initiated the Goa Inquisition, via a 1545 letter to John III of Portugal, to kill the apostates in that Portuguese colony with the love of Christ. It should be noted that, like the Taliban and the 2001 dynamiting of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, Xavier rejoiced in the destruction of elements of indigenous cultures, saying, “I order everywhere the temples pulled down and all idols broken. I know not how to describe in words the joy I feel before the spectacle of pulling down and destroying the idols.”

Originally published April 2012 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

Permanent link to this article: http://freethoughtalmanac.com/?p=4980

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