Religion & Philosophy

UPDATED: Pope Francis says atheists can go to heaven: Sweet Jesus! The College of Cardinals done elected a hippie

CATEGORY: ReligionDid you hear what the Pope said? No, seriously. DID. YOU. HEAR?

In impromptu remarks made during yesterday’s Mass in his residence, Pope Francis shocked many by declaring that atheists can be just as good as Catholics if they “do good.”

Referencing a passage from the Gospel of Mark in his homily, the Pope recounted the story of a priest who told an inquiring Catholic that Jesus redeemed everyone, even atheists, and all he asks in return is that people “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!” the Pope quoted the priest as saying.

“Father, the atheists?,” the skeptical Catholic responded. “Even the atheists. Everyone!”

Catholic Online has already embraced the newly christened Pope’s message, taking it a step further by declaring that atheists can “go to heaven too.”

I’m…I’m stunned. This flies in the face of Catholic teaching since…well, since there were Catholics. Also, possibly the Bible.

You can read a fuller account of what His Holiness had to say here, but you won’t be any less surprised. The message isn’t terribly out of line with what I think most liberal Christians these days believe (the ones I know, anyway), but the Roman Catholics have never been as especially liberal institution in general. Yes, it has its progressive corners, but for the voice of the collective body, God’s spokesman here on Earth, to say, in essence, that you don’t need to believe in God so long as you do good works, that’s revolutionary. It may be the single most radical thing that any pope has said in my lifetime.

I now have a couple of follow-up questions to ask:

  • Your Holiness, is it okay to be a Jew? (I’m guessing yes on this one.)
  • How about a Muslim? (Again, yes.)
  • Buddhist? Hindu? (I see no reason why these wouldn’t be yeses as well.)
  • Holy Father, can a pagan go to heaven?

And that’s where it might get interesting. Pagans are rather explicitly putting other gods before Him, right, and we know how Yahweh felt about that back in the day. But if you take the whole of the pope’s comments into consideration, the primary criterion seems to have nothing to do with who or what you worship or believe. It’s all about the life you live here on Earth.

Sounds almost secular humanist to me. And aside from the question of whether or not heaven is actually real, it sounds a lot like what I believe.

Stay tuned. We’ll see if Francis survives the night…

UPDATE: In other news, while an atheist can go to heaven, he cannot be a Boy Scout leader.

UPDATE #2: Vatican spin machine leaps into action.

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15 replies »

  1. Where is the Italian text???? The whole thing hinges on the translation of the word that has become “redeemed.” For the pope to say, “hey, atheists can do good too, and we should join up on some charity work” is not the same as to say “atheists are redeemed to.” Its also possible that he mean “redeemed” in a limited sense, like “redeemed from inability to do good so that you can do good, but not redeemed enough to go to heaven.” But all we are getting is a crappy abridged English translation. So I’m a little skeptical that the interpretation the Interwebs have exploded with is what he really meant.

    • That’s what i say when people quote the Bible, since it wasn’t written in English or even Latin. It doesn’t even take all that much knowledge of the authorship languages (generally not the languages of the people who spoke the things purported to be said) to raise significant questions about the Latin/English Bible.

  2. I did find one video where you got to hear his first sentence in Italian and then the translator took over. Seems to me the media is just making him say whatever they want, like they often do with politicians as well.

  3. I think this all stems from the “pro multis” controversy. Seven years ago the church put out a new translation of the text used for consecration of bread and wine at communion. The old words were, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.” The new version is, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.” Then the church put out a slew of documents to explain that “Yes, event though it now seems more exclusive, we still mean that Jesus died for everyone.”

    So, if you take all of those papally-approved documents at their word, then this should not be a surprise. If you just take the church’s sense of supremacy at face value, then none of this makes sense. Add together that universal salvation and supremacy are promoted in the same documents and you get some real confusion.

    • I’m not really having problems with the “Jesus died for everyone” doctrine. That’s language I grew up with. The issue is that Jesus died for you, but ONLY IF YOU ACCEOT HIM. If not, hope you like warm weather. The concept that you can be redeemed without actively believing and accepting redemption, that’s COMPLETELY new to me.

      • That may be because the Reformationist sects that mostly populate the United States threw away pretty much everything that was moderately cool and interesting in Christianity. They only kept (and in many cases perverted) the worst of it.

        These are the kind of people who would probably launch a new Albigensian Crusade, the sort of thing that even the backwardness of Catholicism has mostly grown out of over the last few centuries.

        And they say that for the sake of temporal power (see below). The only way to accept Him is at church, right? Letting people accept Him and model behavior on his all by their lonesome doesn’t pay the pastor, build new churches, or keep the operation in the black. Those are the real concerns of Christianity’s earthly mission.

  4. I can tell you what my fellow Baptists will have to say about this: “This just goes to show you where Popery will lead! Works-based religion instead of grace-based.” Or something to that effect.

    Much as I would like for it to be true, that all you decent agnostics and atheists could have a shot at heaven, I’m not convinced that’s how it works.

  5. This is my favorite part of Christianity: the intersection of spiritual and temporal power, and it’s most pronounced with the Catholic Church since most other Christian sects haven’t had the kind of temporal power Catholicism has known.

    That is evidenced in how concerned with temporal power Catholicism is, and in the end, this whole issue (after the Pope said it) is about that. They’ll keep walking it back, even though Francis was using a Catholic text and it wouldn’t be hard to build a theological argument that Jesus wouldn’t have declared church membership necessary … especially since there was no Christian Church for Jr. to be a member of. Spiritually, the church isn’t necessary. Francis slipped and admitted it. He basically said, Jesus died for everyone and if you act in a manner that would please him, then you’ll be ok.

    That path, leads to loss of temporal power for the church, even if it would likely open the church up to more people who want to lead a good life without being harangued for donations and the like.

  6. My understanding (even from other Hindus) is that they are by definition Pagan. Am I wrong on that? (pagan, n., Adherent of a polytheistic religion in antiquity, especially when viewed in contrast to an adherent of a monotheistic religion.)