Hello, all. Sastra here doing a guest post for PZ, who is toiling hard, very hard, in Romania. Or sleeping. Either; both. Please bear with me then as I try to figure out how to work this thing. Trial and error…
My title echoes an old one from the Onion. The Cracker People are at it again.
Are traditional religions all moving closer to humanism? Is Catholicism? Perhaps.
Two days ago the new pope appeared to come very close to saying that “it doesn’t matter what you believe – as long as you’re a good person.” While giving a short sermon ( a “homily”) during Wednesday’s mass, Pope Francis suddenly began to address the status of the non-Catholic – yea, even the atheist – regarding salvation … and he pronounced it good.
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Really? Just “do good?” Does that include intellectual integrity? Say, something along the lines of approaching the existence of God as a hypothesis whilst taking all our scientific evidence regarding cosmology, evolution, and neurology into account? Does that include objectively applying Occam’s razor to God? We atheists are very good at that. It’s a fine form of virtue. One of our finest.
It’s odd, though, if he really does mean that. I suspect not — given that he is the Catholic Pope.
The relationship between Catholicism and humanism is a strange one. While the roots of humanism — with its emphasis on reason and science and its focus on human rights and virtues – go back to classical Greece, the gradual infusion of ancient philosophy into a Church concerned with both scholarship and apologetic lead to contending views regarding the role of nature in theology. “Catholic humanism” may sound like a contradiction, but it seems there is a thin thread of Renaissance liberalism feeding into what is a far more varied religion than its proponents usually say it is. This thread sometimes weaves itself into a culture which is increasingly humanist in sentiment.
Most of my relatives are Catholic. They mostly know I am an atheist, too. But “Don’t worry,” I’m reassured. God is large. God knows my heart. Christ died that all might be saved and surely the virtue in the life that I live will speak for me at the end. And so they calmly rationalize and dismiss what is undoubtedly a very contentious issue within their church. How much of religion is specifically religious? One would think doctrine matters. It can’t all be some sort of literary effort and performance art.
Like most Catholic pronouncements, however, the interpretation of the homily is a bit open. A Father Martin clarified the pope’s position thus:
“Pope Francis is saying, more clearly than ever before, that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for everyone. That’s always been a Christian belief. You can find St. Paul saying in the First Letter to Timothy that Jesus gave himself as a “ransom for all.” But rarely do you hear it said by Catholics so forcefully, and with such evident joy. And in this era of religious controversies, it’s a timely reminder that God cannot be confined to our narrow categories.”
Uh huh. This clears up nothing. Of course we all know that Christ died “for everybody.” Say it with as much joy as you want and you still won’t match the current general hysteria on this point, an excitement shared by fundamentalist Protestants.
Clarify the terms, padre. The question is whether those who are said to “reject” this bizarre human sacrifice and thus end up damned include everyone who is not Catholic or everyone who is not Christian or everyone who doesn’t believe in God … or just the “bad” people (who are…?) When Francis says that “we will meet one another there” is the “there” supposed to be heaven – or the Holy Mother Church, where the newly converted atheist has been led by his or her good works to finally adopt the religion of the One True God?
My guess is that some will take it one way, others will take it another way .. and each side will think the other side lacks Understanding. Because the pope was “more clear than ever before.”
Perhaps that is not a high bar.
The day after the pope’s apparent inclusion of the nonbelieving damned into salvation, the Vatican went into damage control.
On Thursday, the Vatican issued an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation.'”
The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who are aware of the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”
At the same time, Rosica writes, “every man or woman, whatever their situation, can be saved. Even non-Christians can respond to this saving action of the Spirit. No person is excluded from salvation simply because of so-called original sin.”
Rosica also said that Francis had “no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation,” during his homily on Wednesday.
I’ll bet he didn’t. But no fear: the Vatican easily spins it as business as usual. You must still enter into the Church. So no big deal.
Except that this is not how the pronouncement is being spun in the media, is it? From what I can tell one and all seem to be treating it much more along the lines of “it doesn’t matter what you believe … as long as you’re a good person.” Even Dave Silverman is displaying a cautious approval. Well then.
So let us hope this impression is augmented by various Protestants furiously protesting the wickedness of the Papists and their false god.
Works vs. faith. The world moves on. Eventually “works” like saying the rosary and taking communion are going to give way to being charitable and refraining from serial killings. Humanism triumphs and Catholicism turns into a quaint ceremonial term used mostly by history buffs and its rituals are adopted by the goths. Amen.