Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!
Regular readers of the Rant will know I am not a fan of religion generally, and the actions of some religious institutions make me an grumpy fellow. Near the top of that list is the Catholic Church. Its views on sexual health, women, and a handful of other issues cause real harm and suffering and should not be glossed over because believers really believe in the goodness of the church.
When the present pope was elected, I had a few harsh words to say about it. Harsh, but I think I deserved. No man who claims, as Pope Francis does, that gay marriage is a tool of the devil set to ruin mankind is going to get my respect.
So it was with some surprise that I read that Francis said heathens like me get to go to heaven even if we are non-believers provided that we are good people who help others.
As an atheist and someone who values logic and evidence above just about everything else, the concept of the afterlife has about all the real world relevance of a debate over who wins in a fight between the Hulk and Thor. (Psst. The answer is Thor.) Still, it was a shocking point of view coming from the mouth of a Catholic traditionalist like Francis. His point seemed to be that what mattered is not what you profess to believe but how you behave. That goodness and kindness and compassion is what matters, not what flag once carries be it Catholic or atheist or anything else he said:
“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.”
While the concepts of heaven and metaphysical redemption mean less than nothing to me, I was still impressed that a pope would make such a clear statement that encouraged positive moral and ethical behaviour free from theological chains. It mean, taken as he said it, that good people are brothers and sisters regardless of their religious attitudes and will meet in heaven when the game is over.
It was certainly a statement I could get behind and was all set to write a column saying “maybe this Pope guy isn’t the jerk I thought I he was. Maybe I am wrong about this guy.”
But this is the Catholic Church we are talking about, so this was all too good to last. Within a couple of days the Vatican released an “explanatory” statement. Of course his popeiness didn’t REALLY mean atheists get to go to heaven just because they are good, the Vatican says. Atheists are still hell bound unless they accept Jesus and the Catholic Church:
“The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who aware of the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her … Rosica also said that Francis had “no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation,” during his homily on Wednesday.”
So there you go. Even when the church says something important, something that could do some real good by ending some animosity between believers and non-believers, as an organization it still manages to shoot itself in the foot. With a bazooka.