How to Elect a Pope *and* Get Higher Ratings

This is a guest post by Herb Silverman.


Tradition is important to the Catholic Church, but even the Church sometimes changes procedures when it becomes beneficial to do so. With that in mind, I propose blending the current method of choosing a pope with the method adopted by another venerable tradition that has been mostly scandal free. I speak, of course, of the Miss America Pageant.

Since the pageant began in 1945, there have been 92 Miss Americas chosen, but only 4 popes elected. The first Miss America, Bess Myerson, was a Jew as was Peter, considered by the Church to be the first Pope. And, of course, Jesus was also a Jew. Another interesting similarity is that throngs of adoring fans follow Miss America for as long as she reigns, just as adoring Catholics do the pope. There are Miss America protesters just as there are pope protestors, but both have learned to handle protesters by disarming them with a smile and a hand wave.

So here is my proposed procedure for electing future popes.

To maintain tradition, we allow the cardinals — to be explicit, I mean the Catholic prelates, not the baseball team — to narrow the pope vote down to ten candidates. Then we bring in a panel of non-cardinal and non-clerical judges for the real business of choosing the next pope.

Since papal attire is just as important and elaborate as Miss America attire, the ten finalist cardinals will parade in front of the judges wearing their traditional outrageous costumes. We absolutely want our next pope to look stylish in his uniform.

Then the ten finalists will display a papal talent. For example, one might perform an exorcism on stage. Another might bring out a bottle of wine and turn it into blood.

Of course, the judges will need to question the pope candidates on stage, just like Miss America candidates. I can think of a few relevant questions I’d like answered. For example, “How many penitential Hail Marys would you require for a priest who molests a child?” Or “How do you think you will feel the moment you are transformed from fallible to infallible?”

When the panel of judges retires to make its decision, the announcement procedure will be a bit different. We will abolish the racist tradition of white smoke emanating from the Sistine Chapel chimney to signify the traditional election of a white pope, or black smoke if the white pope is not yet elected. In this era of tweeting popes and diversity, we will instead display a big smiley face if a pope is chosen and a little frown face if he is not. Once a smiley face is shown, we will wait half an hour to let the outside cheers subside. We will then add to the anticipation by showing white smoke if a white pope is elected and black smoke if the chosen one is a pope of color. The very next day the new pope will go on all the morning TV shows around the world and take call-in questions from viewers, which he will answer infallibly.

I think this bit of 21st century modernity would add some delightful fun to the anachronisms of antiquated 1st century theology.


Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston. He is founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry and was founder and faculty advisor to the College of Charleston student group Atheist/Humanist Alliance.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Gordon Duffy

    I think they should pick a name at random from the baptismal registers and call it “God’s choice”

  • Baby_Raptor

    Is it bad that I really want to see this done, just once?

  • Glasofruix

    A pageant? I say a battle royale.

  • busterggi

    I just find it odd that the selection process indicates its results by air pollution when a press conference would do.

  • Raul Martinez

    I love it, Herb. The comedic possibilities are endless.

    Everyone would tune in to watch “The Pope of Fortune” where
    all the words are in Latin. Or “Pope Idol”, despite the many critics that call
    it idolatry. No one would miss an episode of “Popevivor” to see the candidates be
    voted out one by one. The conclave has spoken.

    BTW – In the interest of diversity I would like to suggest
    the inclusion of brown, yellow and red smoke. In the near future – as the
    church becomes more liberal, we could include rainbow smoke. In the not so near
    future – as we populate the galaxy, we can include green smoke.

  • GrahamD

    It could look a lot like that Ecclesiastical Fashion Show in “Roma”

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    AWESOME line: …the racist tradition of white smoke emanating from the Sistine Chapel chimney to signify the traditional election of a white pope, or black smoke if the white pope is not yet elected.

  • Rain

    They decide the pope with “musical pope chairs”.

    Pope trivia fact:The Sistine Chapel has naked people everywhere on the ceiling.

  • sam

    Why don’t we throw all potential popes into a river? The ones that float are not the pope; the one that drowns is the new pope.

    I’m told that this method of divine selection has succeeded in the past.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Caption: “Run for your lives. He’s a Level 256 Scleric with no powers and he’s trying to cast a spell.”

  • The Other Weirdo

    The Papal Mainframe? I hope we in our future reality don’t think that that would be a good idea.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Why isn’t there an announcement in every city on the planet, audible by everyone, no matter their faith: “Here is My Beloved Son who shall lead My Church in My name.” Now that would everything they say is valid.

  • MD

    Does that mean a pope weighs the same as a … duck?

  • CelticWhisper

    Vatican 2: Beyond Thunderpope.

    Two popes enter, one pope leaves!

    You just KNOW that Pepsi and Burger King would be falling over themselves to get advertising rights to that.

  • sam

    I’m not sure, though I believe they share comparable intellectual gravitas.

  • Paul Grimm

    Another atheist post bashing the Catholic Church. How refreshing. Keep bashing the Catholic Church and ignoring all the miracles I have posted that are unexplained by science linked to the catholic church

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Please God, not a bikini competition.

  • Ubi Dubium

    If they do a pageant, I am NOT watching the swimsuit competition. Just sayin’.
    I like the idea of Papal Idol. Each contestant could do his pope thing, Simon Cowell can critique them, we have a phone-in vote and kick one off each week.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Have you added the “Jesus in a glob of birdshit” miracle to your list yet?

  • C Peterson

    On my small phone screen, this article showed as “How to Elect a Pope and Get High”. I was expecting something along the lines of what they were burning inside their conclave to produce smoke in the chimney.

    If any of the local cartoonists want to run with that one, consider it a gift!

  • C Peterson

    Intellectually, maybe. But lets not insult the moral standards of ducks, which are clearly much higher than any popes.

  • Lagerbaer

    Each and every religion can point to a long list of miracles. Go talk to a devout Muslim and ask for miracles that prove Islam, and you won’t be disappointed. Go talk to a devout Hindu, and you’ll get the same.

    My answer is contained in the song “Thank you God” by Tim Minchin. Let me quote an excerpt:

    “This story of Sam’s has but a single explanation:
    A surgical God who digs on magic operations
    No, it couldn’t be mistaken attribution of causation
    Born of a coincidental temporal correlation
    Exacerbated by a general lack of education
    Vis-a-vis physics in Sam’s parish congregation

    And it couldn’t be that all these pious people are liars
    It couldn’t be an artefact of confirmation bias
    A product of groupthink,
    A mass delusion,
    An Emperor’s New Clothes-style fear of exclusion
    No, it’s more likely to be an all-powerful magician
    Than the misdiagnosis of the initial condition,
    Or one of many cases of spontaneous remission,
    Or a record-keeping glitch by the local physician”

  • Paul Grimm
  • Myra Rubinstein

    Can Catholics vote online like on American Idol or Dancing with The Stars? Or can they elect cardinals to leave the Vatican like on Survivor and the last one left is pope?

  • maxg

    Two main concerns of the Catholic church remain the Pope election and the priests’ erection

  • Kathryn Sanderson

    Bess Myerson was not the first Miss American, although she was the first Jewish Miss America and did win the 1945 pageant. The Miss America Pageant was first held in 1921, not in 1945.

  • liu

    If I could like this a thousand times I would.

  • busterggi

    Steel cage!

  • refuteist

    Odd isn’t it that they should chose to specify that the new Pope should be like the Disciples in only one respect:: that he is a man. Surely they should look for other similarities: i.e. they should be also looking for an uneducated Jewish Fisherman!

  • Baby_Raptor

    You worship a god who sits around and does nothing while his followers rape children. Your god isn’t worth anything but bashing. And neither are you, as you’re clearly more interested in people being converted than you are justice.

    Also, your list of miracles? Not evidence. Science probably can explain them, you just refuse to acknowledge it.

  • MrMotoMike

    So, thank you for clearing that up: I couldn’t understand why an American baseball team was deciding who the next Pope would be. And why the Cards? …and not the Angels.
    But would also second the suggestion below: Please God, not a bikini costume. But for different reasons: it would divert attention from the evening gown display.

  • Bill

    What, not the baseball team? I like the idea of my home team choosing a pope. Yadi could kiss his magic necklace and everything would be right with the world.

  • sam

    Yes, to equate the moral standards of ducks with mere elevated cardinals would be fowl.

  • Lagerbaer

    The fact that priests have to be men has an even weirder justification. Since “symbolically” Jesus is the bridegroom and we are his bridesmaid, and since the priest stands during the mass in Jesus’ place, he must be a man.

    Silly, I know, but that’s their argument.

  • Lagerbaer

    I looked at your link. Is that your best shot? I won’t even deny that whatever the scientists investigated was real flesh and real blood. But how can you prove that the flesh and blood haven’t always been flesh and blood, from a poor bugger? Can you prove the surrounding narrative that they were bread and wine before?

  • Lagerbaer

    It’s sad that you obviously fail to see the big flaw in this “miracle”. Can you prove that they didn’t just make the whole story up, got some poor bugger’s heart tissue and claimed that it totally was bread and wine before it miraculously got transformed? Especially since that all happened in 800 AD?

  • atheisticallyyours

    Its how they determined a WITCH in 17th century Salem, MA!

  • atheisticallyyours

    I think the one performing the exorcism would win! Especially if its of a fellow priest, and there is a lot of blood, and screaming!

  • Dom

    I find it interesting that when Paul Grimm posted a link relating to a miracle, people responded, essentially, that if he cannot personally offer proof beyond what he’s read then he is a fool for believing it: how many of you are equipped with the knowledge to interpret and explain intricate scientific processes? Probably some of you (I’m sure there are a few PhD’s in the room), yet the rest of you simply accept that the scientific assertions you are presented with are accurate: why? How is that different? You have faith that the scientist is correct. Someone wrote something down, and you read it and now you believe it. People tell you “it has been proven by science” and that is good enough for you to settle back, slip on your best cocked-to-the-side grin, and talk as if you have it all figured out. Your argument against Paul has no logical grounding–you simply figure it does because other snide people assured you. I believe raising these questions is important for getting at the truth, but I don’t understand the condescension when we’re all faced with the same mystery. Why are you so sure of yourself?