Jodie Foster (1962)
It was on this date, November 19, 1962, that American film actress and director Jodie Foster was born Alicia Christian Foster in Los Angeles, California. One of the brighter intellectual lights in Hollywood, Foster graduated magna cum laude from Yale University with a BA in Literature in 1985.
Since before her first notable film appearance, as a twelve-year-old, playing a prostitute opposite Robert DeNiro, in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actress, 1976), and afterward, Foster has appeared over 50 times in film and television roles. These include The Accused (Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Actress, 1988) and The Silence of the Lambs (New York Film Critics Circle and Academy Award for Best Actress, 1991). And that doesn't include her two notable directing turns, Little Man Tate (1991) and Home for the Holidays (1995).
Actors are not often like the characters they play (that's why they call it acting), but Foster found a kindred spirit in Dr. Eleanor Arroway, the astronomer in the 1997 film based on Carl Sagan's novel, Contact. In the film, Foster's character says: "What is more likely? That an all-powerful mysterious God created the Universe and then decided not to give any proof of His existence, or that He simply does not exist at all?" In real life, Foster says:
I absolutely believe what Ellie believes that there is no direct evidence, so how could you ask me to believe in God when there's absolutely no evidence that I can see? I do believe in the beauty and the awe-inspiring mystery of the science that's out there that we haven't discovered yet, that there are scientific explanations for phenomena that we call mystical because we don't know any better.*Asked in another interview if she ever prayed, Foster replied:
No, absolutely never. It's only as I got older that I really got interested in religion. ... The only service I've ever attended was at the cathedral at the Vatican. ... I don't follow any kind of traditional religion, but I have great respect for all religions. I spend a lot of time studying divine texts, whether it's Eastern religion or Western religion. I only have questions so far and no answers.**
* The Georgia Straight, "Interview with Jodie Foster" by Dan McLeod, July 10-17, 1997; page 43. (As reported from the Celebrity Atheist Web site)
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Ted Turner (1938)
It was also on this date, November 19, 1938, that American media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner was born Robert Edward Turner III in Cincinnati, Ohio. Turner grew up in Savannah, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee. He started building his media empire at age 24, after his father Ed put a gun to his head and left him a billboard business.
Turner eventually founded the Cable News Network, CNN, the groundbreaker for 24-hour news programming brought to preeminence during the 1991 Iraq War. He is also well known as the "hands-on" owner of the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks, purchased in 1976, for his $1 billion pledge to support the United Nations and for creating the Goodwill Games in 1986. He was named "Humanist of the Year" in 1989.
But perhaps, after being forced out of broadcasting in a merger reorganization, Turner is best known for his failed marriage to Academy Award-winning actress Jane Fonda. It is generally agreed that the reason was Fonda's conversion to born-again Christianity. "She just came home and said 'I've become a Christian,' " Turner said. "Before that, she was not a religious person. That's a pretty big change for your wife of many years to tell you. That's a shock."
Turner says he gave up religion after his teenage sister Mary Jane died of lupus and his father killed himself. Consequently, he rarely misses an opportunity to say something scandalous about religion, for which he later apologizes, only to say something controversial again! For example, at a 1997 baseball news conference, in the wake of the Heaven's Gate mass suicide in California, Turner called this "a good way to get rid of a few nuts."*
It's hard to doubt his sincerity, even if Turner can't be counted on for consistency. "Christianity is a religion for losers," Turner once famously said in a 1990 speech to the American Humanist Association. But when he produced the 2003 TV movie Gods and Generals, about the religious influences on two famous Civil War generals, Turner denied his Atheism, saying that he's read the Bible from cover to cover more than once, and that he "was born again seven times, so one of them is bound to take."**
He sponsored a world religion conference at the United Nations in 2000, but then took that opportunity to denounce the Christian faith of his childhood as false and intolerant. One Christian observer described the speech as "the most blasphemous thing I have ever heard in my life." Turner ridicules the idea of "hell," believes "nature is god" and rejects the biblical concept of creation, saying, "basically we are chimpanzees with about two percent more intelligence and a little less hair..." Though somewhat uncomfortable with Atheism, Ted Turner can hardly be called a Christian.
* News conference on 29 March 1997. (As reported from the Celebrity Atheist Web site)
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