Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Good news for atheists

Perhaps you’ve heard the good news. According to Pope Francis, even atheists can go to heaven.  Of course, as an atheist, I don’t believe in any afterlife, let alone heaven. It’s a bit like being told I get to go to Middle-earth. Nevertheless, I think most atheists are pleased by the surprisingly favorable shout-out.

I don’t claim to know what prompted the Pope to make this rather extraordinary pronouncement. Perhaps he thought this news would entice the growing numbers of atheists to join the Catholic church. Though even if we did secretly believe in heaven, a common misconception about atheists, thanks to Francis’ homily, we don’t need to join the church to get there. We just have to do good deeds. If that's not a win-win situation, I don't know what is.

Whatever his motivation, the announcement did not sit well with church officials. The Vatican is busily walking back this statement from their infallible leader. Apparently, when he said atheists could get into heaven, what he really meant was that they could get into heaven after converting to Catholicism and accepting Jesus. 

To be honest, I don’t mind either way. I think it’s nice that the Pope acknowledged that we atheists exist and that it’s possible for us to be good people. That’s progress.


  1. LOL! My mom seemed relieved. I'm thinking that the walk back is financially motivated. Atheists don't put money in the basket. Growing up going to a Catholic school it was always clear that it was absolutely imperative that we go to church EVERY Sunday, and not forget to bring our little envelopes with us.

  2. You may be right. Also, if the Catholic church holds the keys to heaven then they can also dictate what sorts of deeds are 'good'. If you don't need the church, then you may not need their advice on how to behave either.

  3. Okay, I'll jump in!
    (1) Many protestant denominations, the mormons, and others also believe they hold the keys to heaven. In all fairness, you can't single out the Catholics there.
    (2) Many Christians believe it is not good works that get you into heaven. You do good works not because you will get something out of it (redemption), but because the love of God and man inspires you to do them. Only God's grace gets you into heaven.
    (3) I don't know enough about Catholicism to understand if Francis means all people go to heaven when he says all people are redeemed. Are salvation & redemption the same to Catholics? Any Catholics listening? If that is what he's saying, this is very interesting to Christians (even if not to atheists) because it's directly contrary to scripture. Not to discount the money factor, but there is some key theology behind the back-peddling.
    (4) Actually, I don't think he was saying atheists can be good. I think he was saying Jesus died for their sins as much as for anyone else's. This is not to say atheists aren't good, but that wasn't his point. Extremists and fanatics aside, I don't think most Christians believe atheists are bad people. Not that you need anyone's approval, but on the flip side, atheists tend to assume badly of Christians that we are all so judgmental of them. It's not true. Sadly, the judgmental ones are the most vocal. And the same can be true of atheists.

    1. I'm only singling out Catholics because it was the top Catholic who made the comments and the Catholic church that responded to them. After all, the Catholic church does think they are the only ones with the key to heaven even if other religions disagree.

      You're probably right that Francis just meant that Jesus died for everyone, including atheists. However, he clearly seems to be stressing the importance of good works. Did he mean, 'it's great that atheists can do good deeds, and I encourage that, but it's largely irrelevant as far as heaven is concerned'? Or did he really mean that good deeds are sufficient without belief? If so, as you said, that's quite a break with traditional theology.


What are your thoughts? I welcome civil disagreement and discussion.