What is the point of celebrities? Should humanists look for celebrities among their ranks?
There are different ways to see this.
Looking at the reality TV shows, the singing and dancing contests, designed to generate celebrities under our watchful eyes, it’s easy to become cynical. Celebrities exist to be famous. No real point there, except for the celebrities.
Try this alternative out, though. Celebrities are billboards for ideas. When people learn that intelligent, entertaining, and famous people like Joss Whedon, Isaac Asimov, Keanu Reeves, and Carrie Fisher are non-religious, it might make them think. It probably won’t make them become humanists, but it might make them think twice before painting us with too vile a brush. They’ve seen the billboard, and it’s given them the opportunity to think about the product being offered. And the more billboards there are out there advertising humanism, the more likely someone is to try out the product – learn a little more about these ideas that so many people share.
There is a third way to see it. If you are a humanist living in a community where nobody is openly non-religious, where the atmosphere is hostile to skepticism, celebrities seen on television or read about in books may be the only exposure you have to people who think like you. If you know (for example) that two of the cutest actors in show-biz are non-theists, then every time you see a movie with Keanu Reeves or David Duchovny in it you’ll feel a little less lonely. It may be somewhat escapist, but sometimes you do just need to escape for a bit.
I don’t read the celebrity magazines, but I do have some favorite celebrities. I am a fan, not just of people whose celebrity is based on their humanism (Julia Sweeney, Richard Dawkins, Hemant Mehta, Dale McGowan), but of actors.
And not all of them are humanists. Before I say something withering about believers, I have to consider whether I want to paint Christians such as Bishop Spong, Tom Hanks, Mr T, or Alice Cooper with the same brush.
And, moving beyond celebrities, I am lucky enough to have people in my own life who exemplify a wide variety of beliefs and positions. I have my own Russes for Christianity, for Islam, for conservative politics, even for people who enjoy eating that orange stuff.
It’s best to have such people among those we know personally. But failing that, celebrities are a good backup.