Freethought Almanac

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August 17: Sean Penn

Sean Penn (1960)

Sean Penn

It was on this date, August 17, 1960, that actor and director Sean Penn was born Sean Justin Penn in Santa Monica, California. As Penn himself put it, "I was brought up in a country that relished fear-based religion, corrupt government, and an entire white population living on stolen property that they murdered for and that is passed on from generation to generation." There is as little doubt about Penn's leftist politics as there is about his talent.

From quality acting work in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), The Falcon and the Snowman (1985), Casualties of War (1989), Dead Man Walking (1995), I Am Sam (2001), Mystic River (2003) and 21 Grams (2003), Milk (2008) and Fair Game (2010), to directing The Indian Runner (1991), The Crossing Guard (1995) and The Pledge (2001), Penn has distinguished himself in the film industry.

In The Indian Runner, about the duality of human nature, Penn noticeably examines his own personality as both an uncontrollable scrapper and a superb talent. In The Crossing Guard, starring actor friend Jack Nicholson, what could have been a revenge drama delves into the tortured psyche of a character who instead seeks to ease the pain of losing his daughter. The Pledge (also starring Nicholson) is the most nearly "religious" of Penn's films. But despite the crucifix symbolism and the Christian references, the only moral order in Penn's directorial universe is the morality his characters make for themselves – truly a godless view of the world.

In the December 1988 issue of the now-defunct George magazine, Penn admitted that he is an agnostic.*

* Nick Tosches, George, December 1988, quoted from the Celebrity Atheist List.

Originally published August 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

Our Fearless Leader.

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June 21: Jean-Paul Sartre (1905)

It was on this date, June 21, 1905, that French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was born in Paris. Through his mother, Anne-Marie Schweitzer, Sartre was a great nephew of medical missionary Albert Schweitzer. He grew up fatherless and was reared by his grandfather, who called him Poulou. Working as a teacher from 1931 to 1945 […]

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