Pope Francis Reaches Out To the ‘Nones’: Can We Be The Pope’s Allies?

In a recent audience, where he met with dignitaries from other Christian communities, Pope Francis had a few words to say about ecumenism — a dialogue between different denominations or religious groups in search of common ground.

His speech for the occasion included shout-outs to Jews, Muslims, non-Catholic Christians, and — surprisingly — “those men and women who, although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious tradition, are nonetheless searching for truth, goodness, and beauty.”

The media latched on to those words with interest, proclaiming the pontiff’s intention to create new alliances between the Catholic Church and the “nones.” Was Francis really calling on the irreligious (including the spiritual-but-not-religious as well as Humanists) to “work with believers to build peace and protect the environment”?

My advice to atheists: tread cautiously.

Obviously, Francis is convinced that atheists are utterly wrong in their lack of belief; it’s what you would expect from any major religious leader. And he’s not willing to leave God out of the discussion for the purposes of dialogue with the non-believer. His language subtly highlights the terms of engagement: we won’t be protecting the environment so much as “safeguarding and caring for creation.” And that truth, goodness, and beauty we’re seeking? The Pope makes a point of noting that it’s “the truth, goodness, and beauty of God” in particular, essentially invalidating all the other ways people find meaning in the absence of an omnipotent, omniscient deity.

By itself, that’s not a deal breaker. In the service of a good cause, there’s no shame in ignoring a difference of opinion, and we’re mature enough to handle a few backhanded remarks about our wrong-headed interpretation of the universe, right?

Where we really need to pay close attention is in asking Pope Francis exactly how he expects us to engage with Catholics and other believers. What is he asking us to support?

The language of environmental stewardship and “peaceful coexistence” appeals naturally to Humanist values, but we need to remember the Pope’s conservative Catholic milieu. The Pope’s prescription for healing the world might turn out to be something very different from what most non-believers would find acceptable.

A real red flag is the use of the phrase “defending human dignity,” which often crops up in Catholicism as a euphemism for opposing abortion, banning contraception, and promoting the dogmatic belief that gay people are “broken.”

Any alliance between the Pope and the “Nones” would have to set aside these contentious issues and focus on common goals. That’s not impossible; having witnessed poverty firsthand in Argentina, Pope Francis is expected to be deeply concerned with issues of economic justice and equitable distribution of resources amongst disadvantaged populations. Those are issues many atheists would be glad to get behind. Catholics and non-believers do share common ground, even within the higher levels of Catholic power.

On the other hand, in addressing the non-believers, Pope Francis felt it necessary to point out “how much violence has resulted in recent times from the attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity.” That attitude doesn’t exactly seem to provide the groundwork for fruitful co-operation. And the longer Francis delays in addressing some of the pressing issues that lead non-believers to mistrust the Catholic Church — issues like the child-abuse cover-ups or the ecclesial overreach into legislative matters like abortion availability and same-sex marriage — the more his stated desire for ecumenism appears hollow.

When you consider those factors, it seems like he’s not interested in a partnership of equals; he has a different approach in mind. It’s the kind where he explains what’s what, while the godless listen, assent, and obey.

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.

  • Seamus Ruah

    No.

  • LesterBallard
  • jim.aido

    From the article ironically titled “Pope Francis starts his tenure humbly” from LA Times:

    Emphasizing the power of prayer, Francis said, “He who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil. When we don’t proclaim Jesus Christ, we proclaim the worldliness of the devil, the worldliness of the demon.”

    And now he wants Atheists who by his own definition “prays to the devil” to work with him?

    Don’t exorcise me bro!

    • Librepensadora

      The pope sounds like so many detractors of atheists: We are so anti-religion that atheism must be a religion. We don’t worship or pray to his imaginary god so we must be worshiping and praying to the imaginary enemy of his god. Many of us use reason and science to chart our path in life, so we are worldly.

    • Rain

      He sure talks about the devil a lot. He’s more boldly superstitious than the previous couple of popes. Usually your typical modern pope doesn’t want to seem to have too much of a superstitious oogey boogey cave-manish mentality. This one boldly says the heck with it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-W-Busch/578120211 Michael W Busch

      When people who are purportedly monotheistic talk a lot about the devil as some personified evil, I begin to think they actually believe some from of Zoroastrian-like duotheism.

  • Roy Gamsgrø

    “how much violence has resulted in recent times from the attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity.”

    … Excuse me?
    I can think of a -lot- of violent incidents as a result of religious people trying to force their particular interpretations of their religions onto other, but… Can anyone enlighten me as to what violence has resulted from the nones trying to remove religion from the public? Other than, of course, the violent backlash from… The religious?

    • Baby_Raptor

      All the school shootings, weather phenomena, and other bad things, of course. Those are all the fault of “taking god out of the public square.”

      Or the gays, or aobortion, depending on who you ask and how they’re feeling.

    • Slow Learner

      He’s talking about them thar Communist dictatorships. Because obviously secularism and humanism are *exactly* the same as Marxist-Leninist dictatorships.

      • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

        And the secular humanist approach of out-competing religion in marketplace of ideas is exactly the same as the Stalinist approach of the “League of Militant Atheists” (Союз воинствующих безбожников) and its using state authority (IE: implicit threat to violence) to coerce conformity to irreligion in schools, universities, the armed forces, the trade unions, the Soviet press, et cetera.

        There exist atheists inclined to mandate something like that, even in the modern west. The Atheists study by Altemeyer and Hunsberger notes about 20-30% support among the Atheist groups sampled for a hypothetical law “requiring strenuous teaching in public schools against belief in God and religion”. Atheists in the general sample, however, were universally opposed; while fundamentalists in the general sample were in favor of the counterpart law that would “requiring strenuous teaching of religion in public schools”. (See their book for more details.)

        Of course, Altemeyer has other research that sheds light on that. Here in the west, high-RWA personality tends strongly correlated to religiosity; but in the USSR, it was correlated strongly to support of the Communist Party.

        Authoritarianism atheism is easily as evil as authoritarian religion; however, in the modern west, irreligion tends anti-authoritarian, while the numerically largest religious sects tend authoritarian (particularly among the more observant).

        • Houndentenor

          All the more reason for theists to support the separation of church and state. I don’t know why fundamentalists don’t see that weakening that division is going to bite them in the ass in the future if it’s allowed to continue. Instead they want to set up an apparatus that would be used against them if some hypothetical secularists wanted to use on them the same tactics that they used on nonbelievers for so long.

          • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

            I’d phrase it that they should set precedent while in the majority for principles on treating the minority that they and their children can be comfortable with when they’re in the minority. However, it seems to have more impact on those born after 1970, who can expect to live to see the US switch from majority-Christian to plurality-Christian.

    • Rain

      … Excuse me?

      Let’s face it, he’s not exactly the brightest Pope ever. It doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to be Pope. Although at least he’s kinda of a nice guy Pope. Dante put Boniface VIII in Hell because Boniface was such a jerk Pope. Ironically Boniface VIII probably didn’t even believe in the “mumbo jumbo”, whereas Pope Francis probably does. (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that he’s not lying his papal tail off.)

  • Baby_Raptor

    No thanks. Even if he didn’t think I’m a horrible abomination for being Bisexual, and that it’s a choice, and that I shouldn’t have basic bodily autonomy or access to basic healthcare…He’s still the willing head of a religion full of child rapers.

    The godbots may be totally willing to be associated with that, but I’m not. I have standards, and I actually care about someone other than myself.

  • Leum

    Pope Francis is paraphrasing Lumen Gentium, which was promulgated in 1964. This is standard Catholic doctrine and has been for decades.

    • Carmelita Spats

      Pope Francis can paraphrase, plagiarize, anathemize, sodomize, mythologize, canonize, theologize, all the livelong day…He still protected maladjusted virgins (pedophile priests) in Argentina, which is standard Catholic practice and has been for decades…He protected vicious sadists like Father Julio Cesar Grassi, who ran the “Happy Children” foundation and was convicted of pedophilia in 2008, and Father Napoleon Sasso,
      convicted in 2007 of abusing girls at a soup kitchen in suburban Buenos
      Aires, where he was assigned after being accused of pedophilia
      elsewhere. Pope Francis is a monster.

      • Claude

        Man, that is disappointing. Is there nor corner on earth where this story hasn’t played out?

        And just as I was ready to ally with Pope Francis over truth & beauty…

    • http://empiricalmystic.blogspot.kr/ Vijen

      “Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram” predates this crap by thousands of years

  • Tony

    If this Pope doesn’t address the child abuse situation soon and aggressively he deserves no respect or cooperation.

    • http://twitter.com/ylaenna M. Elaine

      ^ This a thousand times. Plus, I don’t understand how he can be pro-poor but anti-condom. Will he be perpetuating the lies the Catholic Church has spread about condoms and HIV?

      • none

        The Catholic Church changed it’s stance on condoms in 2010 – hope that helps.

  • A3Kr0n

    What violence has happened trying to get rid of God? It’s the people who believe in God that are causing the violence! If the Pope reached out to me I’d slap him as hard as I could, and probably wouldn’t stop there. I will not forget the millions who have suffered and died because of the Catholic church, or religion in general.
    Just remember:
    http://www.tshirtadvocate.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/busted-never-forget-dinosaur-tshirt.jpg

    • coyotenose

      The Chinese have harmed people while trying to stamp out religion. But that is not what he’s talking about. He’s talking about ebul secularism causing people to run get guns and massacre bystanders in America and Europe.

      Weird how he and other popes don’t have a single negative word about guns. From my perspective, I can make a case for personal defense. The living representative of Jesus cannot.

  • George Wiman

    In his dreams. I do take common cause with some religious people who are on the same side as me of certain social issues, especially environmentalism and anti-war. But the Catholic church has a lot of digging to do just to get up to ground level.

  • William Bell

    I think all of these comments could be interpreted to be benign (“so much violence…” could be more about not loving our neighbour enough… etc) unfortunately its probably wrong to interpret it that way.

  • Dave G.

    If you visited various religious blogs and websites after Christopher Hitchens died, you’ll see there’s a strong willingness to dialogue with, and respect those who earnestly seek the truth. Fundamentalists on all sides (and yes Virginia, there are atheist fundamentalists) shun such dialogue of course. Those who are strong in their beliefs, on the other hand, have no problem tipping a hat to others who believe other things but do so with passion and devotion. That the leader of the single biggest religious expression in the world would say what many actually say regularly, is hardly surprising to anyone who isn’t, well, their particular group’s version of a fundamentalist.

    • Baby_Raptor

      You need to take a good, hard look at what you’re saying, and what you’re willing to just casually toss away.

      If this were truly about differing beliefs, then sure. Whatever. We can chitchat til the Fucking moon turns bright pink.

      But that’s what you either don’t give a wank about or are just totally missing: This isn’t about mere beliefs. This man is the head of a religion that ACTIVELY HURTS MILLIONS OF PEOPLE. He holds beliefs that are not only factually wrong, but that DO REAL HARM. And further, he advocates forcing those beliefs into law, so not only Catholics but *everyone* has to live by them.

      If you sit down and talk with this man, or anyone who holds similar beliefs, ignoring all the damage they’re doing, you’re helping them. You’re legitimizing them, and you’re giving a giant middle finger to everyone they hurt.

      If not wanting to Fuck myself and other people over makes me a fundie Atheist, I’ll wear that badge with honor. And I bet a lot of the other posters here would too.

    • Pattrsn

      The good old middle ground fallacy rears its head once again. Can you point out to me anything that the “fundamentalist atheists” here have done that in any way compares to this mans complicity, and now responsibility in the campaign of lies and bullying that has and will condemn millions to death of Aids? Cause I just don’t see the equivalence between that and someone being pissed off because of their own or being witness to another’s, abuse by a religious organization.

  • Stev84

    It’s a step up from Pope Palpatine who equated secularism with evil and fascism.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    “…those men and women who, although not identifying themselves as
    followers of any religious tradition, are nonetheless searching for
    truth, goodness, and beauty.”

    I was searching for truth, goodness, and beauty just this morning, and then I saw her lying in bed next to me. I got up quietly and made coffee for both of us.
    ____________________________
    Perhaps Pope Francis has been convinced that “nones” and outright atheists will outnumber the religious in only 25 years:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nigel-barber/atheism-to-defeat-religion-by-2038_b_1565108.html?ref=religion
    He might be trying to establish good relations with what will be the majority within the reign of his next successor. Then again, he might be practicing diplomacy as defined by Will Rogers:
    “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘Nice doggie’ until you can find a rock.”

    Like others here, I can’t help but be suspicious. If we were to collaborate with him on something grand like significantly reducing poverty and starvation, or the reducing destruction of the environment, when it was accomplished I would not be surprised to see him turn around and give all the credit to The Great Unavailable One, of whom the Pope purports to be the only interlocutor.

    • Rain

      Perhaps Pope Francis has become convinced that “nones” and outright atheists will outnumber the religious in only 25 years:

      Maybe he meant he was reaching out to the “nuns”. Maybe he wants the nuns to be priests or bishops.

    • SphericalBunny

      I was searching for truth, goodness, and beauty just this morning, and then I saw her lying in bed next to me. I got up quietly and made coffee for both of us.

      Knowing that the only gender assignment you make is one of personal preference, that is cuter than anything religion has come up with in whatever-time-judgement-you-fancy years. Thank you :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000626052643 Gaby Abed

    “Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.”

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    “Can we be the Pope’s allies?”

    How about, “Why would we want to be the Pope’s allies?” I left that jacked up faith for more reasons than just “god isn’t real” and would rather not go anywhere near that holy hot mess.

  • Rain

    Take a photo of Pope Francis, and then take a photo of (still alive) Abe Vigoda, and compare the two side by side. They don’t look anything like each other. Just saying.

  • Valancy Jane

    The Catholic Church is in it to win it, folks. They’re not interested in diluting their craptastic message or in being reasonable. The last time they acted all sweet and nice was when they were trying to hop in bed with evangelicals to make a more powerful political bloc, and we know what happened then: the insane abortion rhetoric we’re still battling what, 40 years later? Every single time we think we might finally have dragged the Catholic Church, kicking and screaming, one inch closer to some semblance of non-abusiveness, we get surprised anew at its capacity for inhuman evil. We have every single reason to distrust that foul and diseased institution, and no reason whatsoever to believe that this olive branch they’re offering is anything but rigged to give electric shocks to anybody stupid enough to touch it. Can anybody possibly think that Francis is doing anything but desperately trying to keep his flailing church raspily breathing and vaguely relevant by trying to reach out for the support of the very group his church has been busily vilifying for decades?

    I’m not sure there’s any way to turn this Titanic, is what I’m saying here. I haven’t seen the 180 change on women’s and gay rights here, nor what I’d consider a definitive enough action plan on the many pedos among their ranks, to even consider throwing in with them.

  • Valancy Jane

    The Catholic Church is in it to win it, folks. They’re not interested in diluting their craptastic message or in being reasonable. The last time they acted all sweet and nice was when they were trying to hop in bed with evangelicals to make a more powerful political bloc, and we know what happened then: the insane abortion rhetoric we’re still battling what, 40 years later? Every single time we think we might finally have dragged the Catholic Church, kicking and screaming, one inch closer to some semblance of non-abusiveness, we get surprised anew at its capacity for inhuman evil. We have every single reason to distrust that foul and diseased institution, and no reason whatsoever to believe that this olive branch they’re offering is anything but rigged to give electric shocks to anybody stupid enough to touch it. Can anybody possibly think that Francis is doing anything but desperately trying to keep his flailing church raspily breathing and vaguely relevant by trying to reach out for the support of the very group his church has been busily vilifying for decades?

    I’m not sure there’s any way to turn this Titanic, is what I’m saying here. I haven’t seen the 180 change on women’s and gay rights here, nor what I’d consider a definitive enough action plan on the many pedos among their ranks, to even consider throwing in with them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/derek.cottle.5 Derek Cottle

      Shared.

  • bill

    he’s a videla-phile

  • http://empiricalmystic.blogspot.kr/ Vijen

    A clear case of plagiarism: he means “Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram”

  • Keulan

    I don’t want to be allies with an organization that protects child rapists. And it really doesn’t sound like Francis is reaching out to atheists in that speech anyway. Sounds more like he’s interested in working with only the nones who are still theists of some sort.

  • viaten

    Finishing the quote: “all those … not identifying [with] any religious tradition, … searching for truth, goodness and beauty, the truth, goodness and beauty of God.” It’s all gotta be tied to God, doesn’t it.

  • Karen Loethen

    The way I see it, it’s not the disbelievers who put the huge gap of hatred out there. So, if he is suggesting that the church practice what they preach andactually act loving…I’m all for it.

    http://taytayhser.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/mind-gap.html#.UU1K-fXv1cY

  • Poose

    “He who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil. When we don’t proclaim Jesus Christ, we proclaim the worldliness of the devil, the worldliness of the demon.”

    Ah, yes, the same words repackaged yet again, in short-”He who is not with us is against us” uttered by a myriad of former dictators previously. The latest example is George W Bush, uttered just post 9/11-and look at the shitstorm that created…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ajay-Jose-Appaden/524880909 Ajay Jose Appaden

    My Response: No thank you, I think Im good without your delusion… start being less superstitious and anti-human and maybe we can start talking…

  • ool0n

    Is it just me or is it normal to think of this when Catholics talk about “peaceful co-existence”? They’d have us burning at the stake in no time if the law allowed them to :-D

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcoPZL4vuiE

  • http://bsoi.st/ bsoist

    The language of environmental stewardship and “peaceful coexistence” appeals naturally to Humanist values, but we need to remember the Pope’s conservative Catholic milieu. The Pope’s prescription for healing the world might turn out to be something very different from what most non-believers would find acceptable.
    A real red flag is the use of the phrase “defending human dignity,” which often crops up in Catholicism as a euphemism for opposing abortion, banning contraception, and promoting the dogmatic belief that gay people are “broken.”

    This is a real problem. I find this when Christians try to work together. A collection of different groups get together, say they will ignore the differences in order to pursue some common goal, and then it all falls apart when a minor disagreement gets in the way.

  • Neon Genesis

    I notice though that the Catholic church doesn’t consider the LGBT community to be potential allies on any issues.

  • Jennifer

    Oh Hell No!

  • Houndentenor

    What does he mean by allies? Will I stand beside Catholics to protest an injustice? Sure. But if he thinks that people like me are going to shut up about the crimes of his church, then that’s just not going to happen.

  • http://twitter.com/_minego Micah N Gorrell

    “those men and women who, although not identifying themselves as followers of any religious tradition, are nonetheless searching for truth, goodness, and beauty.”

    Nonetheless? I do not identify with any religion BECAUSE I am searching for truth, goodness and beautiful.


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