Yesterday, Pope Francis made some remarks about atheists wich have shocked some and scandalized others.
An article in the Huffington Post, for example, read, “Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists.”
Er, okay. So far I’m not getting how this is mind rocking material, but let’s see what he said in context and whether or not it’s something to be shocked about.
The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil.All of us. “But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.” Yes, he can… 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.
Two things, it seems, need to be addressed here. 1. Did Christ die for all, and 2. can atheists be good.
Did Christ die for Atheists?
Um, obviously, YES! Christ died for all: Atheists, Hindu’s, Zoroastrians; even New Zealanders!
In his first letter to Timothy, St. Paul writes, “God . . . desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4). And in his second Letter, St. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (3:9).
When St. Paul and St. Peter say “all,” what they mean is . . . “all.” Shocking, I know.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: “There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer” (605).
Still not satisfied? Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium states:
Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.
Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel (16).
Notice the line, “through no fault of their own.” What this means is, that if one is, not just ignorant, but invincibly ignorant—not responsible for his ignorance—he may still be saved. It doesn’t mean he will be saved, only that salvation is a possibility.
If however, one knowingly and deliberately rejects the truth of God (something I imagine many atheists have done, but hey, I’m not omniscient so I’ll leave that to the big man), and dies unrepentant, he will not be saved but will go to Hell (this isn’t just true of atheists, but all people—including yours truly). The Catechism states:
To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.” (1033)
I think we need to make the distinction between redemption and salvation. While the death and resurrection of Christ redeemed the world, that redemption is not automatically applied to individuals. Faith, repentance and baptism do that. It’s analogous to me depositing a large sum in your bank account (redemption), a large sum which you will not benefit from until you draw upon it (initial salvation). I know, I know, it’s not perfect. No analogy is.
Can Atheists be good people?
Seriously? Does this even need to be addressed? The answer again, is obviously yes! You and I both know atheists who are virtuous people. We also both know people who claim to be Christian who are utter rotters!
When Pope Francis says, “do good: we will meet one another there.” It seems to me that he’s saying, let’s begin with what we agree with and go from there.
Bottom line, however, is that moral goodness doesn’t get you to Heaven, the blood of Christ alone does that.
So, in response to the Huffington Post, and everyone else who got bent out of shape, drink some herbal tea, read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and calm down.