By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Funny thing. You can learn a lot about politics listening to religious leaders — especially the one’s who’ve suffered a precipitous decline in prestige and influence by marching out of step with the mainstream. In words as surprising as his election to the Throne of St. Peter, Pope Benedict has issued a game changer. Atheists can get into Heaven, too. Pope Francis is in the habit of saying daily Mass for the people at St. Martha’s House with invited guests, and when he does so he gives an off-the-cuff homily. Here’s his dialog with an imaginary questioner:
“‘But, Father, this [person] is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. . . .
“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! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good.”
“‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Wow! No club membership! No dues! The key to Heaven found in good works alone regardless of belief. This Pope is rubbing the Curia against its collective grain and positioning a church with declining influence into an outreach dynamo. The move ruffled feathers at the Vatican, of course. 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.” But Rosica had to offer due deference to the words of the leader of 1.2 billion souls, adding, “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.”
Bummer. Thanks for adding fallibility to that infallibility thingie. Then, of course, the National Catholic Register chimed in to parse every word to prove that, “Nope, the Pope wasn’t talking about Heaven. Just Peace.”
These naysayers notwithstanding, the cat was out of the bag. In short order, this Pope from South America is proving to be something special. First, a defense of Liberation Theology we discussed a couple of weeks ago (here). Then, a blue ribbon panel to implement church reform and a first ever call to root out and punish child abusing priests. Now, he’s plowing new ecumenical ground despite what those Hogwarts in Rome think. Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said that he welcomed the Pontiff’s comments. “I gather from this statement that his view of the world’s religious and philosophical diversity is expanding,” Speckhardt said. “While humanists have been saying for years that one can be good without a god, hearing this from the leader of the Catholic Church is quite heartening. If other religious leaders join him, it could do much to reduce the automatic distrust and discrimination that atheists, humanists, and other nontheists so regularly face. ” Amen to that.
In an age of fundamentalism, the successor to St. Peter is reaching out to the world — even to non believers. And running roughshod over those power brokers in the Vatican to do it. Talking about shaking the pillars of the church. Long overdue in a church more known for scandal than saving souls. It seems this Pope understands demographics and people. That’s an irresistible combination. Might even get me back into the aisles.
Now if the Republicans in the US could get the message.
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
60 thoughts on “Casting A Big Net: Pope Says Atheists Can Get Into Heaven Too”
Aren’t all Christians basically…. Jewish…..
You’re absolutely right about Edward the Duce….. But didn’t Stalin do the same thing….
“Aren’t all Christians basically…. Jewish…..”
Theologically basically they are not. I’m not advocating for either because I don’t do proselytizing and I think theologically there is enough blame to go around. However, Christian theology, aside from appropriating the Torah (sorry I don’t do “Old Testament”) believes strongly in an afterlife, in the concept of “original sin”, the Holy Trinity and of course the divinity of Jesus. In Jewish theology these ideas would be heretical although there is some play on an afterlife. The Christian interpretations of the Torah are quite different than the Jewish interpretations. Personally, I’m a philosophical Deist, so I don’t believe in any particular theology. I must admit though, that because of my boyhood and upbringing I enjoy going to Synagogue and find it a meditative experience, not that I go that often.
As for Edward vs. Stalin. I think for Edward it was “business” and not personal, whereas for Stalin it was personal and not “business”. Same difference though I guess.
nick, I was a good catholic girl until I went to college and became a hippie. 😉 I did substitute teaching at a catholic school that was attached to a parish that was staffed by Franciscans.
I too have some hope for this new Pope. I will be curious to see if he can continue his Christ-like ways!
I think casting out the bankers would be a great idea now! No matter what their religious beliefs are! 🙂
“She was sure that one Pope was killed by the Vatican bankers.”
From much that I’ve read about that particular Pope your mother was right.
Pope John Paul I only lasted 33 days and that is a shame because he seemed to be a righteous man.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_John_Paul_I
Mike, My dear mom was a conspiracy theorist, from Kennedy to Roswell. She was sure that one Pope was killed by the Vatican bankers. I never cared enough to read up on it. Mom was smart and even more so, wise. But, had that Oliver Stone in her. A lot of Irish do. For Stone it’s the coke!
SWM, There’s a great line in the book, The Last Catholic in America.” It’s a memoir of growing up in a “parish” in Chicago. La. has parishes instead of counties, which I’m sure you know. And, having fam in Chicago I’m sure you know you described where you lived by your parish. The quote is to the effect, “There were good girls and then there were the naught ones. The good girls called them skanks. The nuns called them fallen women. The boys called them often!” Were you a good Catholic girl? I’m betting yes.
I taught @ a Catholic middle school for a year. I was teaching there on 9/11, the ultimate teachable moment. The principal was a former nun and she was great. She was about the only positive, however. Having to go to church every week was a real task for me. I otherwise only attend any church or synagogue for weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations and bat mitzvahs[sp?]. My daughter had a good friend who had a bat mitzvah, DAMN are they long and boring! I always look for positives. And, I found one St. Francis of Assisi Day. All the kids got to bring in their pets and the priest blessed them. And, I loved it when the current Pope picked St. Francis as his papal name.
“I hope he’s got a food taster!”
That was funny and ironically apt given the rumors that often swirl around about Popes.
Mark, this is not about some membership drive of casting a big net. His theology is a principled one, based in passages like Mat. 7:21 and Mat. 25:33 ff. Those who work closely with the poor and social justice issues like this new pope are more keenly aware of the reality of these passages.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:21-23)
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:31-46)
“Those who work closely with the poor and social justice issues like this new pope are more keenly aware of the reality of these passages.”
Those passages certainly have some merit. Why is it though that the concept of helping poverty and social justice is limited to the private sector, excluding government, by some Christians?
Mike wrote: “Why is it though that the concept of helping poverty and social justice is limited to the private sector, excluding government, by some Christians?”
Because giving is a virtue, and when money is taken by force and given to the poor, it really is not giving by the individual whose money was taken.
Basically they think that those who want government to handle all the social justice issues do so because they want to hold onto their own personal wealth. By taking heavier taxes from the wealthy, they will be able to keep more of their own money rather than sharing it directly with the poor themselves. This approach of using government requires less individual sacrifice.
One of the teachings in the New Testament is that if you have two coats and your neighbor has only one, you give your extra coat to that person. That is giving… it requires sacrifice, so it is a virtue. In Judaism I guess you prefer to call it a mitzvah, which has a slightly different connotation.
I personally believe that government should provide safety nets, and I think the old Jewish system in the Torah with a cyclical tax of 10% for the poor taken every 3 years and releasing debts and slaves every 7 years would be great. I just don’t know any society who actually put that into practice. I also do not favor government taking care of the bulk of the poverty problem. I think the priority should be on individuals being caring toward their neighbor. For example, every family should have the ability to take in strangers and do so. Every person should be taught the importance of giving to panhandlers and people in need. People should get involved in helping those in need. This is much better than government doing it. We need a safety net for when people fail to do their proper duty toward their neighbor, but if we let government do too much, then nobody will sacrifice and give when it is needed. They won’t know how to, nor will there be compassion in their heart to do it.
“Because giving is a virtue, and when money is taken by force and given to the poor, it really is not giving by the individual whose money was taken.”
As discussed on the thread about French taxation and as rebutted excellently in my opinion by Tony C., I don’t agree with your take on taxation.
“One of the teachings in the New Testament is that if you have two coats and your neighbor has only one, you give your extra coat to that person. That is giving… it requires sacrifice, so it is a virtue. In Judaism I guess you prefer to call it a mitzvah, which has a slightly different connotation.”
Actually that teaching in the Gospel is in line with the teaching tradition of the Torah as expounded by the Pharisees, of which Jesus was likely a member. But this is not the time to debate the whole issue of who the Pharisees really were.The concept of Mitzvot (plural of Mitzvah) is basically the same. The difference is as I understand it is that in Christianity so much is devoted to making oneself worthy of a good afterlife. In Judaism such giving is seen as making the current world a better place and yourself a better person, with little expectation of an afterlife.
Mike wrote: “as I understand it is that in Christianity so much is devoted to making oneself worthy of a good afterlife.”
That is not really my perspective. Unfortunately, most of Christianity overemphasizes grace and forgiveness. That results in the idea that it doesn’t really matter how you live, because nobody is better than the next person.. we are all sinners. A common mantra they have which I despise is, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” So while they certainly emphasize the afterlife, most of them teach that there is nothing you can do to deserve the afterlife. It is not of works, but of faith. Believe only (which translates into “join our club”) and you have eternal life. This is a sad error by emphasis, IMO.
The Jews have a better perspective than the one that I just outlined, because as you point out, the Jewish concept of Mitzvot is that it makes the present world a better place and the person doing it becomes a better person by it. My experience and observations agree with this kind of teaching.
To be fair, though, there are a significant number of Christians who do not teach the “greasy grace” doctrine that I outlined above. Historically, a big debate waged about the book of James in the New Testament who taught men are justified by works and not by faith alone. James was the actual brother of Jesus, so part of his family growing up, and he taught that true faith results in a holy life and good works.
The reformer Martin Luther who had anti-semitic feelings at one time in his life, did not believe the book of James should even be in the Bible. James kept the temple sacrifices and all the commandments of the Torah, ceremonial and civil. James was highly respected by other observant Jews, so much so that at one time the Jews appealed to him to try to silence the Christians from preaching their gospel. Unfortunately, this led to them becoming enraged at James when he gave a speech in support of Christianity, the very opposite of what they asked him to do, and so they threw him down from the temple wall. He was still alive and trying to move when someone walked up to him and bludgeoned him to death.
There are Christians who have through history followed that type of holiness doctrine taught by James and also by John in his epistles. For example, the founder of the Methodist denomination, John Wesley, taught a doctrine of Christian perfection that is abhorrent to most Christian sects today. In the reformed church tradition, such as the Presbyterian denomination, there is Charles Finney (a lawyer and a president of Oberlin College) who also taught a form of Christian perfection, but I think many Presbyterians today would consider Finney’s holiness doctrine heretical.
You are right to think that most of the teachings of Christ and his followers are based in Judaism. There are many Jews who believe Jesus to be the Messiah, but they refuse to call themselves Christians because their view is that most of Christianity has corrupted the message of Jesus. Jesus actually taught his followers that the Pharisees had their doctrine right. He said to listen to them and to do what they teach you, but he warned them that the Pharisees were hypocrites so do not follow their example in how they live their lives.
“There are many Jews who believe Jesus to be the Messiah, but they refuse to call themselves Christians because their view is that most of Christianity has corrupted the message of Jesus. Jesus actually taught his followers that the Pharisees had their doctrine right. He said to listen to them and to do what they teach you, but he warned them that the Pharisees were hypocrites so do not follow their example in how they live their lives.”
If you are born of a Jewish mother than you are a Jew by heritage, despite how you worship. Since I’m not into stopping anyone from their religious beliefs, providing they don’t impinge on mine, I say good luck to them. The fact is though, if you believe in Jesus divinity than religiously you are a Christian, despite what you wish to call yourself. The “Jews for Jesus” Movement is for instance funded by the Southern Baptists as a proselytizing movement and they prey upon Jews who have not been taught their heritage. Religiously one cannot be a Jew and a Christian, however, a belief in Jesus for some can be a positive thing and many Christians are of course good people.
As for “James the Just”, brother of Jesus, history and Christianity have treated him unkindly. There is another perspective on Jesus history and the early movement he led. One of the best sources is a Biblical Historian name Hyam Maccoby. He wrote many books, but “Revolt In Judea” and the “Mythmaker” (about St. Paul) will give you a good idea of where he is coming from and where I am coming from for that matter.
Mike, I do not have “Jews for Jesus” in mind, but rather Nazarene Judaism or Netzarim Judaism. I’ll let you search for more information, but basically they believe in Yeshua Ha Mashiach but they reject the New Testament as corrupted. They think the Syriac Peshitta New Testament written in Aramaic is closer to the true New Testament, and they created an English version translated from the Aramaic. They reject Christianity totally. They reject hellenistic terms. They want to restore Judaism to first century Judaism.
I realize that many Jewish rabbis are dogmatic about not allowing any belief in Jesus as Messiah or you are Christian and not Jewish, but I tell you the truth that these Netzarim Jews are more Jewish than Christian in every way. If you met one, you would automatically assume he is Jewish… because he is. I would say they are more Jewish than most Jews. They look like orthodox Jews and strongly teach the need to be Torah observant.
I found the Mythmaker reference but could Revolt in Judea actually be Revolution in Judea?
If they believe that Jesus is divine, then they are not Jewish. Moshiach means King and not Son of God. The Moshiach is a regular human being, not super human in any sense. They may follow Jewish rituals and even dress like Hasidim, but they cannot be Torah observant and believe in a divine Jesus because the awaited Moshiach according to Jewish Torah exigesis is a human being. The Moshiach is supposed to lead the world to a New Age, so Jesus death would be a failure. Now I know Christians see it differently, that’s why they are Christian and not Jewish.
Mike, would you then also argue that James the Just and the Pharisee Saul were not Jews? What about Jesus himself, was he not a Jew?
Seems strange to base qualification into a religion based upon an ideology about Jesus. What qualification was used before Jesus was born? I would think that circumcision, Torah observance, and genealogy of the mother were more important criteria.
Posted by an anonymous internet poster arguing for a generic creator God in support of Christianity:
“By “nature,” I mean the physical space, time, matter and energy, as well as the laws of physics that “govern” them.”
And my reply:
The scare quotes are quite proper around “govern.”
Natural law does not govern at all.
Reality behaves a certain way. We have observed regularities in that behavior which can be modeled by certain mathematical equations. The equations constitute what is called natural law or physics. Using these equations certain unobserved behavior of reality is predicted. When the observation is made it turns out that the prediction of reality’s behavior was accurate. There is nothing like predicting the future — prophecy — to make the case for a certain theory being true.
Of course, in science, experiments are repeatable. See the experiment I’ve done? Try it yourself and you will get the same results.
I was raised with the understanding that the Old Testament made certain predictions and that these were proven to be accurate in the New.
The New Testament, in turn, makes certain predictions. Among them the promise of an afterlife quite similar to this life but without the pain and suffering that we all go through today.
When a theory — and Christianity is a theory too — turns out to contain a failed prediction it must be modified. Newton’s “Laws” are not quite right and had to be modified into a greater theory that explained how Newton’s Laws seemed to work. Einstein’s theory (Einstein’s Laws, if you will) did just that.
Modern Christianity has happily abandoned the biblical support for slavery. Happily abandoned the teaching about women teaching men in Timothy.
To argue generic theism advances Christianity not one whit. To claim, somehow, that some god is necessary does not advance Christianity. The only justification for Christianity is the truth of the OT and the fulfillment of prophecy by the NT.
That is not to say that Jesus did not exist as a person. He may have really believed that the End of Everything was coming soon — in the lifetime of some of his listeners. He may have taught some obvious ways to be moral. Great.
The only justification for religious belief is ethical behavior. But ethical behavior can be had without religious belief.
Thomas Jefferson thought Jesus was a great moral teacher. He cut and pasted (literally) the bible into one without any miracles preserving what he thought was the good teaching in it. In my opinion modern Christians should do the same. Be good for goodness sake. But abandon the obvious myth of the Jesus story.
“Still don’t like that this pope threw the nuns under the bus though.” (SwM)
Hey, they’re just women, but even so ,,, the action belies the words. I’m going to hang back, wait and see but … with hope for my Catholic sisters and brothers.
Pope Francis better hire a food taster. Not only is this a game changer; its a money loser.
This “all people are saved by the blood of Christ” statement is consistent with the gospels but not the Church’s teachings after the second century. Once a hierarchy was installed, women were excluded from the priesthood/ministry and membership trumped Christ’s words.
Watch out Pope Francis.
I like what this pope has to say.
nick, you took the words right out of my mouth – “hope he has a food taster.”
nick. Yep, 12 years of catholic school….. Don’t go much now, but made my Easter duty. 😉
SWM, I had a nun who would never just say the “Catholic Church.” She would put a very pious look on her face and say, “The Holy Roman Catholic Church..[pause for effect], the one true Church.”
I didn’t know you were a “kneeler.”
mespo, Bravo! I had a previous discussion w/ Gene about the hope sparked by a Jesuit, for the first time, being elected Pope. They are not saints, but they are true intellectuals who taught me, and millions, how to think, not what to think. I hope he’s got a food taster!
Catch this: http://townhall.com/columnists/michaelbrown/2013/03/18/the-scandal-of-the-jewish-pope-n1537293/page/full
Interesting link. Dr. Brown is of course born a Jew, but is now religiously a Christian and I’d be curious to know if his denomination is Catholic. It would be simplistic to say that all of Christian, or Islamic history represents one of hatred of Jews, since that is not true. Hating/Accepting Jews has gone through different eras, in different Countries. I think the basis of all religious bigotry is really how those questing for power need to find scapegoats to vilify in order to gain a following. Then there is of course the case of Edward II of England, who liked the Jews well enough when he needed to borrow money and then threw them all out of England when it came time for him to pay back his loans.
Thank you for doing this piece. When I read about the Pope’s statement I was quite impressed and thought about writing a blog on it. As a Jew though, I thought perhaps I was wishfully misinterpreting the positive meaning of it and so wouldn’t be the best convey it. I think it is an extremely hopeful sign.
I will be a lot more comfortable attending church with this pope. The catholic church was becoming way too close to the baptist church in its political tone. This pope is taking the church in a different and better direction. The fundamentalists hold that one must be saved by their brand of christianity. and the pope refutes that. Went to a Jesuit catholic church in Georgetown recently and really liked it. Joe Biden goes there, Blouise. 😉 Still don’t like that this pope threw the nuns under the bus though.
Thanks for this…. The more I read about this guy… The more I am superbly impressed with this mans character …. He recognizes from what I understand that his role is a steward leader…. Not in-fallacy because he is pope…..
From what I have also read the Jews in Argentina like him well…. So I suppose peace is the new code word for unconditional acceptance…. Which includes all…..
The notion of “Big Tent” religion has additional sources:
(Big Tent Perspectives). Such non-confrontational ideologies are refreshing in these days of warmongering, elitism, and “mine is better than yours.”
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