Hemant Mehta already mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating. We’ve been getting a lot of email asking us if we heard the exciting (?) news that Pope Francis said atheists don’t necessarily go to hell. A few days later, the Vatican hastened to assure us that — yes, ha ha, that infallible pope, he’s a kidder all right.
Vatican spokesman Thomas Rosica has now issued an “explanatory note” stating:
…they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her.
Got that? Atheists can do good, but they still can’t be saved (from hell) except by becoming Catholic.
So wait a sec, is the Pope infallible, or isn’t he? Well you see, says Rosica, it’s like this:
Always keep in mind the audience and context of Pope Francis’ daily homilies. 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 or academy nor in interreligious dialogue or debate.
I mean, yeah… surrrrre he’s… kind of infallible. But let’s not overlook the context, because he was really just speaking to make the masses happy, and not trying to be accurate or anything.
Before the Vatican issued this correction, I was wondering why I should be interested in Pope Francis’ claim. I mean, after all it’s not like we were previously worried about hell and can now stop worrying — hell is a ridiculous idea. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, it would be nice to have a friendly, accepting, multicultural pope instead of a jerk (like the last Pope).
Then again, one benefit to having a pope who said such a thing is, it eliminates Pascal’s Wager for Catholics. “What if you’re wrong?” they’d ask, and we’d say “Then I’ll go to heaven anyway if I’m good, according to the pope. Don’t you believe the pope?”
Of course, if that’s what you want to say, then… there are all kinds of religions and religious people out there in the world. With 33,000 divisions of Christianity, I’m sure some of them still preach salvation without conversion. So if you want to pick a religion that says you can go to heaven just for being good… take your pick! That’s what people already do anyway! Since there’s no objective standard against which to decide which religion has it right, you’re free to make up your own version. Where do you think those 33,000 sects came from, anyway?
So no, you still can’t go to Catholic heaven without turning Catholic. Then again, in reality, you probably can’t go to Catholic heaven if you are Catholic either.