*Please note, this is the view of the author and is not particularly representative of the views of DAFT and its members***
So, it's Ash Wednesday. "Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” The common thing a minister says as they make a cross on your forehead. Allow me to explain the distinction between what is meant by dust in Ash Wednesday, and what an atheist means when they quote Sagan's "You are starstuff."
So, for what it's worth, there are 2 creation stories in the bible and they tend to contradict eachother. Anyway, in the 2nd- less popular one, man is formed by god breathing life into dust. When it is said "remember you are dust," it's meant to remind you are nothing without the breath of a god. It's there to remind you, if not for god, you are a pile of dirt. At least in Catholicism, This is passively rubbed into your head (all pun intended) since you're a baby. This entire mess implies you are worthless and your body and your -finite- existence on earth equates to dust. They try to redeem this dangerous and demeaning concept by claiming it's your soul, and your eternal existence that matters, but heaven is a fairy-tale promise told to you to provide incentive to give the church money.
When the secular crowd makes the assertion that you come from the dust cloud of exploded stars, "star stuff." We always mention how special that makes you. You are not dirt: you are the product of massive and powerful universal forces that have worked out in a way to give you consciousness. In a way, it's the Universe coming together in an attempt to understand itself; You are not BELOW the "great consciousnesses" of the universe, you ARE the great consciousnesses of the universe. This is a gift to be cherished and loved, and NOTHING matters more than our short, but potentially beautiful, existence ON EARTH. You will not be around after death, you will eventually return to the dust you were formed from after the explosion of a star, but that is the end for you. It's a harsh reality, but it teaches you to cherish and love life in a way no religion could ever dream of.
Just because you came from dust, and will return to dust, does not mean you are dust now. You are unique, you are thinking, you are Human and do not deserve to be insulted and demeaned by ancient mythology.