Faith and the Famous

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Are you swayed in any way when you learn about someone famous who admits they are believers in God? What about celebrities that describe themselves as atheists? I admit to being one of those people, even though I really do try not to sit in judgment of others. I asked a few friends whether this influences how they feel about someone and they agreed it does impact their opinions of people they admire.

It’s hard not to be influenced by the knowledge of religious beliefs, particularly if it’s someone we admire who happens to be famous and says they’re not believers in God. I need to clarify that it’s very important to respect people’s viewpoints on religion. I’m just being honest when I say that I feel a little sad when someone I admire makes a point of saying they don’t believe in God. As an example, I did a quick review and learned about a few famous people who declare themselves as “atheists” or non-believers. They include Hollywood stars such as Julianne Moore, Daniel Radcliffe, Joaquin Phoenix, Angelina Jolie-Pitt, Jodie Foster, Jack Nicholson, athlete Lance Armstrong, singer Billy Joel, and billionaire Warren Buffett, just to name a few.

A quote from Angelina Jolie-Pitt: “Hmm…For some people, I hope it’s true, for them. For the people who believe in it, I do hope there’s a God. There doesn’t need to be a God for me. There’s something in people that’s spiritual or that’s god-like. I don’t feel like doing things just because people say things but I also don’t really know if it’s better to just not believe in anything either.” It sounds a little bit like she is still searching for answers.

I know intellectually everyone, including the “rich and famous,” have a right to their beliefs about God and living their faith. Maybe it’s because their lives have been blessed with talent and financial security that it makes it seem they should be grateful to God for their many blessings.

Many self-proclaimed atheists are involved in charities and are giving back both financially and with their time, so they definitely feel there is a benefit in giving to others. Even though they are not believers, they feel they are “spiritual” people, and feel responsible in helping those less fortunate.

Looking at it from the other side of the coin, when I learn about someone I admire who does admit to having faith in God, I do admit to having a more positive feeling about that person. As an example, Gregory Peck was once quoted as saying, “I have read the entire Bible through and it has enriched my life.” I think this comment from the man who played Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” with so much grace, only adds to the high opinion I have of him. Is this a fair thing to do?

I learned through research about many famous people that are believers; some of whom are Catholic. The list includes converts such as Faye Dunaway; Andrea Bocelli; Tony Blair, who was the former Prime Minister and who became a convert after he stepped down; comedian Tim Conway; Gary Cooper, a good friend to Bing Crosby, a strong Catholic. Stephen Colbert, Mario Lopez, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg are all practicing Catholics. Mark Wahlberg was apparently in trouble his entire life as a kid and even went to jail, but he says it’s his Catholic faith that helped him cope with that troublesome part of his life.

One of the most famous examples of someone we admire who was religious is John F. Kennedy. He not only professed a belief in God but was very proud of his Catholic heritage. I’m old enough to remember when John Kennedy ran for President. He was criticized because many Americans believed that his Catholicism would lead to the Pope running the country if this Irish Catholic Senator from Massachusetts was successful in getting elected. They even thought the Pope would be influential in rewriting the Constitution. (An interesting note here: Pope John XXIII was the Pope at the time and he was very busy attempting to re-energize the Catholic Church with Vatican II.) During this time, I also remember, anti- Catholic prejudice was very much a part of mainstream American life.

Perhaps that is why many famous people tend to shy away from admitting their religious affiliations since they believe this part of their life should remain private. I imagine it feels invasive being famous and having your personal beliefs challenged publicly, so I guess I wouldn’t blame them for keeping this aspect of their lives personal.

In a time when the lives of the famous are so transparent due to the internet and other media sources displaying so much that is private, it surely must be difficult keeping any part of their lives private.

Jodie Foster was quoted as saying this: “I’m an atheist. But I absolutely love religions and their rituals. I don’t believe in God, but we celebrate every religion in our family with our kids. They love it. When they ask are we Jewish or Catholic I say, well I’m not but you can choose when your 18. Isn’t it fun that we do Seders and the advent calendar?”

As we are about to embark on another Presidential election, I truly feel we should remember to respect each person’s religious affiliations whether we agree or not. It’s important for every person to find their own pathway to God themselves. Most importantly, we need to examine whether we are being too judgmental because of religious beliefs. A quote from Boston University’s Religion Professor, Stephen Prothero: “One of the most common misconceptions about the world’s religions is that they plumb the same depths and ask the same questions. They don’t. Accepting this and still getting along is where true tolerance lies.”

Copyright 2015 Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh

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About Author

Catherine Mendenhall-Baugh (Cathy) completed her education in Special Education and English and now works as an Agent in the Insurance Industry. A mother and Grandmother, Cathy grew up in a large Catholic family and has spent the last 30 years as a caregiver for her husband, Jack. She is a cancer survivor which inspired her to begin writing six years ago.

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