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Starshine Comments on an Interesting Week for Infidels

Wednesday, June 5, 2013
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For a brief moment last week, I was saved — and as an atheist, that was new for me.

During morning mass at the Vatican, Pope Francis offered a sort of absolution for heathens. The Lord has redeemed all of us, he said. “Not just Catholics. Everyone! … Even the atheists.”

Well, the world gasped. After 2,000 years of astonishing rigidity and intolerance, the Catholic Church was suddenly handing out pardons?

But ole Franky didn’t stop there. The Vicar of Christ upon earth (for real, that’s what he’s called) went on to imply that our character is reflected as much by our actions as by any religious affiliation — maybe more. “‘But I don’t believe, Father; I am an atheist,’” the pontiff posited. “But do good. We will meet one another there.”

Starshine Roshell

Wait, did he just …? It sounded like he … What the heaven just happened?

It was an interesting week for infidels all around. The Boy Scouts finally voted to allow gay scouts to join their ranks — while godless lads remain unwelcome. But nonbelievers found a hero in Oklahoma tornado survivor Rebecca Vitsmun, who responded to CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer’s comment “You gotta thank the Lord” by giggling, “I’m actually an atheist.” As odd as it was for a journalist to suggest that she praise God while standing in the rubble of her former home, and as unlikely as it was for Blitzer to get stuck on camera with an “out” atheist in the middle of the farm belt, the woman’s admission inspired thousands of faithless folks to contribute to a relief fund to help Vitsmun and her toddler son. You can even buy “I’m actually an atheist” T-shirts to aid the cause.

Alas, the Pope’s handlers weren’t nearly so generous. The day after His Oldiness issued his inclusive homily, the Vatican issued a statement saying that dissenters like me will not, after all, be evading the Holy Hot Hereafter.

The Lord giveth, and the Lord retracteth for damage control.

You can’t be saved if you refuse to enter or remain in the Catholic Church, insisted Vatican spokesperson Fr. Thomas Rosica, adding in effect that the Pope talks purty but shouldn’t be … er, taken too seriously. He is “first and foremost a seasoned pastor and preacher who has much experience in reaching people. His words are not spoken in the context of a theological faculty …”

Which is a damned shame.

Look, I’m so staunch an atheist that I’m embarrassed and angered by our society’s willingness to even discuss the possibility of a magical entity who would lay waste to terrified children with His Divine Tornado while sparing the lives of sassy skeptics. It makes me want to howl in frustration.

And yet I’ll admit that I was delighted by the Pope’s message. I can’t claim to care what a pointy-hatted baby blesser decrees about the destination of my soul. I can’t summarily dismiss an entire belief system and then sigh with relief when said system announces a shift in its official measure of my worthlessness.

No, I welcomed Francis’s words not because I crave the approval of an organization I think is silly — but because it made them seem less silly. And I want that.

I want to believe that one-sixth of the world’s population is rational and tolerant—that they do value good work and good deeds over blind compliance to a musty and convoluted old canon. I want to believe that the Catholic Church wants more for its followers than fearful allegiance and that its figurehead and followers are both freethinking enough to consider meeting an atheist — or agnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, or freewheelin’ Episcopalian — halfway to salvation, just to see what happens.

But I guess we’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

Starshine Roshell is the author of Wife on the Edge.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Well don't lose hope, there's always my friend Doug Stanhope looking out for his peeps

KimmieDee (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 7:51 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Starshine, the new and present Pope is NOT a hardcore Catholic but a Franciscan, which has a belief system that doesn't conform to the rigidness of the Catholic doctrine. His is a more touchy-freely view of the human soul and thus all is forgiven if one just states so. The ones that delegate the operational day to day workings of the Catholic church have a view of just the anointed can enter, the ones who pay the coin to the church and obey through strict servitude and unwavering policy holders of the Bibles teachings. I wasn't a follower of the last Pope but I am taking a more relaxed approach to this new ones ideas.

dou4now (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 8:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Perhaps Pope Francis enjoyed "Cloud Atlas"?

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 9:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I wonder if Fr. Rosica violated his vow of obedience by contradicting the Pope? Catholic faith requires Catholics to believe and accept that the Pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals, which means the Pope cannot possibly commit an error when he speaks ex cathedra (which just means when he is speaking as Pope) in matters of faith and morals. At least that is what the nuns taught me lo those many years ago. I think Fr. Rosica needs to go back to 5th grade catechism.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 9:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"Starshine, the new and present Pope is NOT a hardcore Catholic but a Franciscan.."

Huh?? Actually, he's a Jesuit, not a Franciscan, such as it makes any difference in the theological hoo-hah and if the Pope isn't a "hard core Catholic," who is???

zappa (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 10:01 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Catholic Spit is a great band.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 10:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)

zappa's correct that Francis (an Italian by way of Argentina) is in the Society of Jesus, and of the 266 Popes he's the first Jesuit. And actually it does make some difference, and while Francis seems typically hard-core Catholic, he also has demonstrated concern for the poor, and he's reputed to be personally humble...not at all like the former Bishop of Munich, Joseph Ratzinger (Ben. XVI) who enjoyed the trappings, the regalia, lived grandly like a Renaissance Pope and penned highly intellectual books on theology and dogma. With Francis maybe there's a chance, perhaps he'll let priests marry and relax some of the Church's most idiotic strictures...

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 1:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Alienated ex-Catholics so bitter that they close their minds to any acceptance of God?...

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 3:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The way Starshine writes about and describes religious figures like the pope, ridiculing and being dismissive is the classic, pervasive narrow-mindedness we have all come to expect from lib-dem's. They are only open minded about their own narrow minded viewpoint and find personal satisfaction in writing flippant and rude comments about people who attempt to do good in the world. Disgusting.

willy88 (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 4:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I am delightfully surprised that only one cranky comment about Starshine's atheism was posted.

We devout atheists usually experience a far more vitriolic response.

RobEgenolf (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 4:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Starshine, I've got to go with Willy 88 on this - the only appropriate negative comment to your great humorous article is "Kill the Messenger.". Thanks

14noscams (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 7:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I am afraid that I have to come to Starshine's defense here. Atheists are one of the most maligned and discriminated against minorities in the world. If we use logic in our attempts to express our opinions we are accused of trying to destroy the faith of the religious. If we use humor to knock about the silliness of religious belief we are accused of being rude and narrow-minded. We are supposed to just shut up and walk to stake like repentant apostates. Well Willy 88 you may think that we are disgusting, but we are not going to shut up.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 8:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'll share a story--and do with it whatever you want. My dad was one of the most cultured, intellectual people I knew, and if anyone reading this ever met him, they'd agree. Raised a Catholic, one of his brothers died when my dad was 7. Believing what the church told him about being able to get what you want by praying for it, he of course prayed for Jack to return--which of course, he didn't. The life of a typical ex-Catholic ensued. Fast forward 72 years...

2008 my mom dies, we're all devestated. About a week and a half later my dad and sister sit me down and tell me they had a dream about my mom--an almost identical dream about her being in the shower--the night before. I matter-of-factly ask them "when were you discussing this" and they said about an earlier they were talking about it. I mention this because it was about 1:30 in the afternoon and I'd gotten up about a half hour earlier. I told them that when I woke up briefly at 10:30 I had already had a dream about myself being in the shower. (Hence their dream could not have been suggested to me subcounciously) At that point my dad's 72-year doubts about God disappeared on the spot. My sister and I just sort of looked at each other as if to say "uh-huh, so that's what it took".

You may say it's a coincidence, or that I'm a liar, or that they lied to me, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 5, 2013 at 8:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Checkmate, atheists.

typo (anonymous profile)
June 6, 2013 at 12:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I’m with Starshine on this one. As long as you don’t impose your god on me, we can live together.

BC’s story is interesting but irrelevant to the question of existence of a god. It’s yet another anecdotal example of how little we understand the human mind.

Religions are vestiges of our tribal past, the result of the human need to deal with the fear of death. While having positive social and personal support value, religions are based on myths whose details vary with locale of origin and thus have come to confuse more than help modern human relations, especially on the global scale. If religious leaders were truly interested in harmony amongst humans, wouldn't they advise the unsure to explore different faiths? How many wars and riots have been fundamentally due to differences between the religious tribes, that in the end masked the base goals of political leaders? At worst, religions are tools used to harness those of faith. At best, religions are akin to a blind men touching the elephant of reality, each proclaiming truth to be whatever they touched: ear, trunk, leg, etc.

But does the elephant of reality include a god? Interesting question, but impossible to answer without defining what we mean by “god.” And I doubt developing a widely accepted definition of “god” would be straight forward, or even possible without understanding reality a lot better than we do. We’re guessing in the end, and in this world, we’re demonstrably on our own. Logically, it’s simplest to conclude there is no universal god, agree on a set of practical rules that define what is and isn't allowed in our societies, and get on with life. If the big guy in the sky exists and cares what we think, we’ll damned well find out.

hodgmo (anonymous profile)
June 6, 2013 at 6:41 a.m. (Suggest removal)

1. I never called Starshine or atheists disgusting. I described the rude tone and use of certain words as being disgusting, especially against the head of a group that does so much charitable good in the world.

2. Atheists should not be maligned. Stop all of this blather. It's damaging and hateful - for everyone.

willy88 (anonymous profile)
June 6, 2013 at 1:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Hodgmo: In the 60's America decided to jettison it's past for a more enlightened view, and traditional society changed and view about sex and family changed yet we have more divorce, schoolyard shootings, road rage etc, then ever. Since the influence of religion is clearly much less then it was 50 years ago in our day-to-day lives, who can we scapegoat for this?

Communist countries were the scene of some of the worst oppression in history, one of the tenets of Communism is the eradication of religion--so much for that social experiment.

Scapegoating religion for all our problems doesn't cut it when stacked against the evidence, so maybe it's time to blame something else--such as human nature.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 6, 2013 at 3:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"ole Franky"
"an organization I think is silly"
"pointy-hatted baby blesser"


Disgusting is thinking that any individual can claim from us deference and respect based on what they claim to know about gods. And telling the vast majority of earth's humanity that they're going to the Holy Hot Hereafter because they don't buy a particular dogma? That's effing disgusting. And silly.

Rich (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2013 at 7:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Billclausen: Your comment generalized too much, introduced straw-man arguments, and recalled ‘good old days’ that didn’t really exist. (And the communism comment is too funny to touch!)

Certainly some things are worse than they used to be, but in many ways life is better for most US citizens than it was 50 years ago: longer life span, less hunger (in fact obesity is now one of the biggest causes of death), lower accidental death rate, and more social tolerance. Certainly if you are a person of color or gay, life is better in most ways. And despite lay public perception, the rate of mass killings (mainly using a gun) hasn’t changed much for more than a century ( and the rate of gun murders, though tragically high compared to other western nations, is actually going down ( Not everything is better, off-the-cuff: traffic is denser and slower, the separation between well-off and less well-off people has widened dramatically and is growing, retirement is more difficult and less certain for many, etc. Perhaps most dire in the long term is the human effect on our eco system, specifically, the negative impact we have on the atmosphere, ocean and forests. Our activity has resulted in apocalyptic extinction rates, reduced the protective ozone layer and contributed to climate change in general – the impact of these changes is not yet understood.

Religion played a positive role in earlier human history – before we ‘conquered’ the world it was an important part of the glue that helped small isolated tribes to survive. Religion is now a problem because it often guides or influences policies that would be better guided by secular, logical thought processes. But I don’t think religion is ‘the’ fundamental problem, it only is a contributor. I see the fundamental problems as those responsible for uncontrolled population growth in the poorest parts of the world, and a lack of intelligent coordination in global policies addressing use of resources and pollution. Has religion helped or hurt in these areas?

Human nature is of course the basic problem. The question whose answer will determine our fate as a species is: Can we survive our success? To do so will require our human nature to change, and I believe part of this change will be outgrowing our psychological dependence on myths such as religion. Atheism is a step in that direction.

hodgmo (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2013 at 7:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I don't think this pronouncement made this particular brand of religionists any less silly or convoluted. It made them appear exactly what they are----desperate.

This particular church is bleeding members due to the interminably slow rise in collective global IQ as rational thinking people realize that a superstitious belief in imaginary deities is indeed silly beyond faith or belief.

Religious faith is little more than wishful thinking. If it comforts you, great. But call it what it is. Google George Carlin on religion and learn that praying to Joe Pesci works exactly as well.

"Truth does not demand belief. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing, 'Yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up must come down, down, down. Amen!' If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it." ~Dan Barker

Draxor (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2013 at 8:23 a.m. (Suggest removal)

hodgmo, if we include gun-suicides the rate of gun deaths in the USA, already tragically high as you note, continues to ascend.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2013 at 9 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Great column. Religion has really got a spectacular track record: The 'Christians' sponsored the 'Crusades', the Muslims eventually countered with Osama and the World Tower massacre; the Taliban faith approves the abuse and control of women, including opposing their education. These sixteenth century ideas persist: the preference of traditional faith to evidence based reality By the way, I have always wondered about the mental ability of the 9/11 plane highjackers who shouted "Allah Akbar" as they destroyed the equipment they would need to enjoy the company of the seventy seven virgins the Koran promised each martyr. Maybe the intent was spiritual togetherness, which would be about as good as it would get..

goletazeke (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2013 at 9:14 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@DrDan: Sad but true. The suicide rate in the US is going up, most suicides are done by gun (and gun suicides are about double gun homicides and gun homicides occur at about the same rate as deaths due to drunk driving)….

Go with dog.

hodgmo (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2013 at 9:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Loved your column and love the fact that The Independent gave you the venue to speak your mind. Hubby and I are still LOL'ing, especially regarding the "point hat baby blesser". Keep the humor coming.

pjnbarb (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2013 at 5:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thanks for another great column, Starshine! As a colleague and college instructor, I am seeing that more and more college students are questioning traditional religion. As people learn more, they start to question the things that our culture teaches kids, similar to questioning Santa Claus. Religion is based on human beings' attempts to answer the questions societies can't know, such as where did we come from and what happens to us when we die. Sure, it is comforting to think that we will reunite with dead family members we miss, but there is absolutely no proof of this or of any of the miracles we find hard to believe. Religion gives answers to all the hard to answer questions, but it is a comforting fairy tale. Most smart people have dropped such beliefs from their childhoods. More and more are coming out as Starshine just did. Those of us who don't believe that a loving or punative god is running the show, are called Humanists. We share a common belief in science and the environment and art and music. Our numbers are increasing, so if you're a humanist, atheist, freethinker, you are not alone!

Shira (anonymous profile)
June 9, 2013 at 12:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Hodgmo: If the gun killings are going down, then why do we need more gun-control laws? I'm not saying you are calling for these (since I don't know your stand on the issue) but it is an interesting contrast. (The argument you present and the call for more gun control)

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 9, 2013 at 12:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Just a though: We know California is beautiful and the weather is the best in the country, but take away the climate and the geography (and the fact that many of grew up here and this is home to us) how does one square the fact that this is probably the most religion-free state in the Union yet is all but impossible to afford? To put it another way, is the quality of life better here than in those Red States many people laugh at? (Once again, take away the climate and scenery)

So do we blame the horrible economic failures of California (and the fact that businesses are leaving in droves) on the religious folks?

The argument I'm making here is totally secular. The phrase "live and let live" and the term "tolerance" should apply to all sides, and not just those who aren't atheists or Left-wingers.

Once again, look to Communist countries as "enlightened" societies free of silly religious idolatry. Greed and corruption can be found in societies where atheism and religion flourish, and the problem is human nature itself. When human nature can be conquered, then we'll be a world at peace. So far, all the intellectualizing and psychology have failed to deal with this pesky bête noire which has dogged us throughout the annals of time.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 9, 2013 at 5:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

following Bill here, and very much appreciating Shira's thoughtful comment, how about the facts that the three greatest murderers of the 20th century were themselves atheists? Mao, Hitler, Stalin. No, I do not think atheism made them do these horrendous mass killings, but neither do I think "a common belief in science and the environment and art and music" restrains human ignorance or nastiness.
Let's use the term "spiritual" -- and my long acquaintance with college students shows they have MORE interest in deep spirituality accompanying Shira's "questioning of traditional religions." Try Ronald Dworkin's new book on "religious atheism" and Robt. N. Bellah's THE EVOLUTION OF RELIGION.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 9, 2013 at 6:08 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Certainly atheism did not make Stalin, Hitler, and Mao mass killers, in fact Hitler and Stalin were brutally abused by their fathers and that most likely pushed them over the edge.

My point is that religion itself does not cause the ills of society, what causes these ills is our own (every single one of us) human nature, and this can hide itself behind the guise of religious crusades, fatwas, or whatever, OR the idealism behind Utopian thinking. John Lennon's some Imagine (one of the all-time great songs in my opinion from a musical standpoint) said some really great things, but look at the man himself: While he talked about saving the world and lectured his fellow men about how to properly treat women, he dealt treacherously with his first wife, and their son Julian is still dealing with emotional issues caused by his father's abandonment of him and his mother.

At the end of the day, we are stuck on this Little Blue Marble in space until the Grim Reaper comes knocking, and no matter what ideas are presented, we will differ as to whether there is a God (and I believe there is) or how to interpret God, and I think that for all of their own faults of human nature, the Founding Fathers got it right about freedom of, and freedom from, religion.

The very fact that we can have this discussion without fear of being arrested as an enemy of the state--or as a heretic--shows a certain amount of enlightenment in our country.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 9, 2013 at 3:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

and yes, that is also my angle, Bill, "...that religion [or atheism] itself does not cause the ills of society,"

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 9, 2013 at 6:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

As a Devout Catholic I was deeply disturbed by Starshine's flippant essay about people of Faith and her proud espousal of atheism. The gift of Faith and belief in a Supreme Being is truly that...a Gift. This Gift can be given by birth parents to a child, from study, from example or countless other ways. I noticed that Starshine used the words "her soul" in the piece. Does not "soul" imply spirituality? Why be so proud of extreme negativity when the opposite can bring such joy?
As a soon to be 79 year old grandpa I do thank God for the countless gifts he has Blessed my life with.


JimS (anonymous profile)
June 10, 2013 at 10:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

As a former Catholic and current Agnostic I loved Starshine's "flippant essay about people of faith", keep'em coming- the more anti-clerical the better.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 10, 2013 at 11:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Where do people get the idea that Hitler was an atheist? Although he seems to have left the RC church as a practice, he sure didn't seem to lack a belief in a deity.

I agree there isn't a causal connection between religion (or lack thereof) and societal ills, but there are a number of inverse correlations between religiosity and societal well being. That doesn't mean religion is the cause, but does seem to indicate that religion doesn't prevent bad things the way it's supposed to.

tl;dr; places where people go to church a lot still have a lot of divorce and teenage pregnancy.

Rich (anonymous profile)
June 10, 2013 at 5:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

well, his "deity" sas a pseudo-scientific "belief" in an Aryan Race [sic], specifically the Germanic and Nordic elements, and extreme nationalism was his deadly practice.
My reading of Ian Kershaw and others is that Hitler did not like the Catholic Church, and certainly did reject all established forms/names of "God".

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 11, 2013 at 7:39 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Hitler was a paradox because he persecuted Catholics even though he considered himself Catholic. He also persecuted homosexual even though much evidence points toward Hitler and Hess being lovers. Some have even suggested he had some Jewish blood, and one of his closest associates--Karl Haushofer--was married to a Jewish woman and one of his most brutal henchmen--Reinhard Heydrich, was one quarter Jewish. There is no point trying to figure logic into Hitler's thinking.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 11, 2013 at 3:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Hitler was a baptized Catholic, but his only beliefs were in Nazism and German nationalist. This web ref finally concludes he was not a Christian, and really, by standard definitions, he wasn't religious. As a materialist, he's very close to atheism. The point still holds, the three greatest mass murderers of all time -- Mao, Stalin, and Hitler -- we materialists who rejected all forms of god and gods. Starshine should consider this. And of course intolerance of atheists is as ridiculous and nasty as intolerance of...[fill in blank]

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 11, 2013 at 6:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@DrDan / OT

"the three greatest mass murderers"

I think it is misleading, to apply that term directly to those who were named (Mao, Stalin, Hitler). While it is true, that their actions *led* to the killing of great numbers of people, they themselves did not do it "hands on", a la serial killers.

Aside, I think it's interesting to note, that if the three were truly atheists, then they could never claim that God was "on their side", while being responsible for so many deaths. This is in contrast to the Crusaders, some Muslims, Jews (Jewish-Roman Wars), and maybe any "God-fearing" immigrants to America who were responsible for killing Amerindians (Native Americans).

equus_posteriori (anonymous profile)
July 5, 2013 at 9:41 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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