Jack Nicholson

April 22

Jack Nicholson (1937)

It was on this date, April 22, 1937, that John Joseph Nicholson was born in Neptune, New Jersey, to later become the three-time Oscar-winning actor Jack Nicholson. Nicholson has portrayed a variety of characters, from a drop-out lawyer in Easy Rider, a disaffected pianist in Five Easy Pieces, a sailor on MP duty in The Last Detail, a burned out detective in Chinatown, a rebellious psych patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a hotel caretaker slowly going insane in The Shining, playwright Eugene O'Neill in Reds, a dissipated astronaut in Terms of Endearment, a slow-witted hit man in Prizzi's Honor, just your average horny devil in The Witches of Eastwick, a scheming Marine general in A Few Good Men, and even a werewolf.

In an 1992 interview in Vanity Fair magazine, Nicholson said, "I don't believe in God now," but he added, "I can still work up an envy for someone who has a faith. I can see how that could be a deeply soothing experience." In his 2002 film About Schmidt, Nicholson plays a widower who tries to reconcile with his daughter, and along the way sponsors a poor Tanzanian boy through a relief agency. The aid agency is a real one, called Plan, and Ian Wishart, Plan Australia's executive director, says the film's producers had the idea of using an existing aid agency in the movie. "Possibly it was because we are not linked to religion or politics," he said.

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Immanuel Kant (1724)

Also born on this date, April 22, 1724, in Prussia — in what is now Kaliningrad, Russia, was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant had a highly religious education, but he fell under the influence of David Hume. In 1781 he published his most famous work, Critique of Pure Reason, which proposed that all intellectual knowledge is subjective. That thesis pretty much loosened the foundation of arguments for the existence of God. And, indeed, Kant had said in 1775, "Reason can never prove the existence of God."

Kant's unorthodox religious ideas, based in the rationalism expressed in his maxim, "Dare to know," made the government of Prussia suspicious. In 1792 King Frederick William II forbade Kant to teach or write on religious subjects. After Frederick William died, five years later, Kant felt he had honored the spirit of his obligation, so in 1798, he published a summary of his religious views. "Apart from moral conduct," Kant wrote, "all that man thinks himself able to do in order to become acceptable to God is mere superstition and religious folly."

Kant never exactly denies the existence of God, but admits, "The wish to talk to God is absurd. We cannot talk to one we cannot comprehend — and we cannot comprehend God; we can only believe in him. The uses of prayer are thus only subjective. ... He who has made great moral progress ceases to pray." Kant died, presumably without a prayer, on February 12, 1804.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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