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May 25 2013

Pope Francis and atheists

The new pope seems to be struggling to find a way to be inclusive and tolerant while being the head of one of the most intolerant of religions and this is taking him down contradictory paths. Take for example his recent homily that seemed to include even atheists as being among the ‘saved’.

Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”

“Instead,” the Pope continued, “the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil”:

“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!

Ok, the pope is saying that good atheists are saved by Jesus too, along with all the other good non-Catholics. Not that atheists care, since there is no heaven and so his opinion is worthless. But some Catholics think that this view may border on heresy.

Good Catholic Stephen Colbert is disappointed at the pope’s seeming acceptance of atheists.

(This clip aired on May 23, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)

But before non-Catholics start packing their bags for heaven, note that on March 14 he told a gathering of cardinals that “he who doesn’t pray to the Lord prays to the devil.” Apparently Francis takes the idea of the devil very seriously and combating the work of Satan has long been a preoccupation with him and he thinks that everyone who is not a Christian is a devil-worshipper, which would seem to be a serious obstacle to salvation.

The pope is still enjoying a media honeymoon so people are not questioning these contradictions but at some point he will have to decide what exactly his doctrinal position is.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    Kevin

    I read the homily…

    What he basically said was “atheists can do ‘good works’ alongside of good Catholics — and we totally won’t burn them at the stake anymore!”

    It was more of an exhortation to Catholics to work alongside with non-Catholics so that they can be converted to Catholicism. Anyone “outside” the church is still going to hell — as the Vatican made very clear in a later statement.

    FWIW: “Good works” is a Catholic requirement for getting into heaven (with a LOT of caveats). Funny thing is, the whole “works” or “no works” (grace) thing was originally about circumcision for Gentiles who wanted to join this Jewish cult. So the exhortation of “faith without works is dead” should really be translated into “belief in Jesus without getting the trim job is useless.” But the issue quickly got transmogrified into other types of “works” that were deemed necessary to get into heaven. Belief was not enough — you had to put faith into action.

    It’s the main dividing point between Catholicism and Protestant-ism. Luther was “faith alone” — you couldn’t buy your way into heaven.

  2. 2
    Matt G

    Sorry, Catholics, the Pope is infallible, so accusing him of blasphemy is…. blasphemy!

  3. 3
    grignon

    ” But some Catholics think that this view may border on heresy. ”

    Why wouldn’t they be pissed.
    “We wept nights of sleepless terror over our sins, got ruler racked by nuns in school and sent our sons to be diddled by the priest and the effin’ atheists get a free pass? NO WAY!”

  4. 4
    MNb

    “he will have to decide”
    That’s still his problem, not mine.

  5. 5
    pauline

    I could not believe Pope Benedicts statements about atheists shocked me. That is his opinion, not an “infallible” statement.I was shocked and dismayed me. Sometimes the rules of the Catholic church have burdened Catholics and now the head of this
    church.seems to say a belief in God doesnt matter….just good

    works????

  6. 6
    invivoMark

    The “non-Catholics all go to hell” thing hasn’t been widely accepted for a long, long time.

    See, Catholic con-men theologians invented this thing called Purgatory, where non-believers go and are given a chance to accept Jesus. Then, if they accept Jesus, they are allowed to put in their time for all their unrepented sins, and on up to heaven they go.

    This lets Catholics pretend to be a more inclusive religion, and it lets priests tell little old ladies that their non-Catholic cousins and siblings aren’t going to burn for eternity.

    So Mr. Bergoglio’s pronouncements about atheists are entirely boring, run-of-the-mill Catholicism.

  7. 7
    Corvus illustris

    The “non-Catholics all go to hell” thing hasn’t been widely accepted for a long, long time.

    Oh, they’ve found a way to have their cake and eat it too in this matter. See the sad case of Father Feeney. I’m slightly surprised that Dr X hasn’t weighed in on this subject, since his distinguishing “for all” and “for many” in papal pronouncements marks him as another survivor of a good Catholic ed.

    See, Catholic con-men theologians invented this thing called Purgatory, where non-believers go and are given a chance to accept Jesus. Then, if they accept Jesus, they are allowed to put in their time for all their unrepented sins, and on up to heaven they go.

    Wha? Here’s a novel heresy! The standard theory is that the already-saved go to purgatory to get the “temporal punishment” due to their sins burned off. It isn’t a post-mortem conversion site for nonbelievers. Sorry ;).

  8. 8
    invivoMark

    You underestimate the mental gymnastics of Catholic theologians! Allow me to quote from the Catechism:

    “Who belongs to the Catholic Church?

    836 “All men are called to this catholic unity of the People of God. . . . And to it, in different ways, belong or are ordered: the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ, and finally all mankind, called by God’s grace to salvation.”"

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p3.htm

    See? All people are Catholic. Some just don’t know it yet. See also the paragraphs following the above for specific mentions of Jews and Muslims (spoiler: Jesus likes them).

    And while the Catechism says that “[o]utside the Church there is no salvation”, it makes exceptions:

    “847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

    Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.

    848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”"

    This is reaffirmed elsewhere, with more loopholes:

    “1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.”

    And also consider the somewhat vague:

    “1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;618 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.”

    So salvation is available to those who haven’t heard of Catholicism, at least. And it’s also available to Jews and Muslims, and anyone who is “seeking God”. And theologians just love to be vague about exactly what constitutes “seeking God”, and imply that a nonbeliever could do it in their own way.

    What makes you go to hell is to know that there is a God, and then to turn away from Him. So if you were to die as an atheist, it is at least arguable that you’d figure out that the Catholic God is real, and then be given a chance to accept or turn away from Him. After all, there are numerous reasons that an atheist would be excused for not accepting God’s existence, and God won’t send you to hell for something that’s excusable.

  9. 9
    Corvus illustris

    You underestimate the mental gymnastics of Catholic theologians!

    No one whose B.A. comes from a Dominican institution with a 30-sem-hr theology requirement can make such an underestimation. Your quotes from the catechism* illustrate my point about consumption/retention of cake: they have cleverly defined outside/inside the church in such a way as to include exactly the saved who are non-members. Nonetheless, if you can find an entry in the catechism admitting post-mortem conversions in purgatory, a reference would be appreciated. “For it is appointed to all men once to die, and after that the judgment” seems to stand in the way.

    *The species “Catholic theologian” has been rendered extinct by catechism. From the middle ages up to JP_2 it was possible to argue theology. Even Aquinas had the right to be wrong. Now they parrot a catechism. All the problems have been solved.

  10. 10
    invivoMark

    It won’t surprise you that I don’t have such a quote. I’m not exactly a regular reader of the Catechism.

    However, I would likewise appreciate a reference in the Catechism that unambiguously states that all atheists will go to hell. I’ve searched far and wide for such a reference, and I’ve even spoken with a few Catholics who were adamant that that was not a canonical tenet of Catholicism.

  11. 11
    Corvus illustris

    It won’t surprise you that I don’t have such a quote. I’m not exactly a regular reader of the Catechism.

    I’ve never looked at it except for pericopes like the ones you posted, and in things the Google dragged in. In due course this catechism will probably go the way of the Tridentine Catechism of Paul_4/Pius_5 and be only of historical interest.

    However, I would likewise appreciate a reference in the Catechism that unambiguously states that all atheists will go to hell.

    Can’t help (and did not assert that this was RC doctrine), and in view of St Augustine’s “sheep outside the fold” dictum I doubt that such a reference exists.

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