In an “Onion”-like turn, Pope Francis seemed to suggest that redemption and do-goodering aren’t confined to Catholics. Catholic Online quotes him as saying,
“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.”
Now, obviously the Pope did not say this in English. Just a touch of difficulty in translating these off the cuff remarks might have greatly changed the meaning or the tone of what he meant. It will also be spun, and maybe appropriately so, that the Pope simply meant that a atheist loaf of bread in the hands of the hungry is as good as a Catholic loaf. Or he could have meant that sure, any atheist can be redeemed and do good, they can become a Catholic!
But even if the hordes of Catholic commentators beg to differ, I’m going to take this as a win for non-believers of all stripes. It’s always nice to be referred to in a sentence that doesn’t also include the words, “godless,”* “ignorant,” “selfish,” “stubborn,” or (egads!) “demonic.” There are certainly people, both Catholic and not, that do think that the good work of atheists is potentially harmful to Christians. These people believe that only Christians can safely govern our country and that non-Christians could do irreparable harm to our great nation. Non-Christians could not do good simply on the basis of their failure to be Christian.
Therefore, a simple acknowledgement of the fact that atheist’s can do good is a win. Once you start mixing in this language of redemption for atheists and the results are positively sunny. Woo-hoo! I think it’s clear that Pope Francis isn’t saying that everyone gets a free pass to Heaven, but I’m glad to hear him address non-believers in a positive and sensitive way. Let it be known that I give Catholic-props when Catholic-props are due. Props to you, Pope Francis, I hope you continue being more liberal than the rest of the church is really comfortable with. I like how this papacy is progressing.
*For some reason “godless” is thrown around as more seriously pejorative term than “atheist,” which again is more pejorative than “non-believer.” “Godless” is such a negative term that Ann Coulter has become fond of it, but “non-believer” is nearly neutral in connotation. Why? They all mean essentially the same thing. I can’t figure this one out.