Should We Care That Pope Francis Said That Atheists, Too, Can Be Redeemed?

During yesterday’s Mass in Rome, Pope Francis made some noteworthy remarks that go against the Protestant notion that only those who believe in Christ’s divinity can be saved. (Sure, he’s Catholic, and this belief is nothing new, but we’re still not used to hearing it from someone in his position.)

“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.

Damn… this Pope’s making it really difficult to dislike him. Compared to the legacy the last one left behind, it’s like Francis is dragging Catholicism into the 19th century.

Of course, the underlying message — that were all “redeemed” because Christ died for us — is just fiction to atheists. You may also think it’s condescending to suggest that atheists need to be redeemed (from what, exactly?), but to have the Pope reiterate to Catholics that they’re not the only special ones is a big deal.

One commenter on Huffington Post put it perfectly: “I’m glad to know that an imaginary being has granted me imaginary forgiveness.”

Still, to have a religious leader of any sort tell his followers that people who aren’t part of the faith can be good and “saved” is a huge step forward. Usually, it’s the exact opposite.

Now if only he would come around on marriage equality and find a way to rein in the sexual abuse within the Church…

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.