Pope Francis I: Now Accepting Atheists?


Apparently, Christian doctrine is still newsworthy in some corners of the internet.  After Pope Francis restated hundreds of years of traditional Christian doctrine at a Mass on Wednesday morning, the internet exploded with commentary.  Taken from the Vatican Radio website, Pope Francis' exact comments are below:

"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. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. 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."

For some internet outlets, such as the Huffington Post, these traditional Christian notions expressed by Pope Francis were revolutionary steps by the Catholic Church. The Huffington Post began its story with the notion that Pope Francis "rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists." HuffPo even noted that this story was the second most shared piece on Reddit.com. The attention on traditional Christian doctrine is certainly refreshing in the news media. However, in the words of the great philosopher Inigo Montoya (Youtube it), "I do not think it means what you think it means."

Far from a repudiation of hundreds of years of Christian doctrine, Pope Francis simply reaffirmed 1 Timothy 2:5-6 by stating that Christ was sent to die for the sins of everyone. However, each individual must decide whether to accept the salvation through belief in Christ's death and resurrection. Far from suggesting that unrepentant atheists will go to heaven, the Pope is simply restating the fact that the choice of following Christ must be made by all.  We may come as we are (atheists included), but we will not leave as we were.

Pope Francis then proceeded to suggest that "doing good" is the common ground between all systems of belief. Some commentators interpreted this pivot as a move by mainstream Catholicism towards a salvation based on good deeds. While the Pope never suggests that "doing good" will substitute for belief in Christ as the risen savior, he does suggest that everyone may coalesce around the theme of helping each other. Regardless of the motivation behind the service, the vast majority of humanity can agree that helping those in need is an admirable, and necessary, pursuit. Charity is an expression of the inward changes wrought by Christ on the heart as well as one of the highest secular impulses.

Such a loving and accommodating picture of Christianity may not be the story some are used to hearing from a Pope. In the end, that may be the actual newsworthy item in the Pope's remarks. However, love and charity is the basic appeal of Christianity for millions across the globe. Although I am not Catholic, Pope Francis is a welcome reminder that Christianity is not about picketing the sins you hate but loving and serving the sinners.