Did you know that even if you don’t believe in heaven you can still go there?
I have done a couple of cartoons in the past about Pope Francis. For example, back in May when he suggested atheists could go to heaven, I did a couple of cartoons, The Pope Versus the Vatican, and The Pope, The Vatican and Fishers of Men.
Pope Francis is being recognized as open-minded and generous. Michael Day responded with his article in The Independent, Pope Francis Assures Atheists: You Don’t Have to Believe in God to Go to Heaven. He is referring to a friendly letter the Pope wrote to atheists in which he says:
“You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience… Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”
David Gibson attempts to balance that view with his article, Analysis: Pope Francis’ Outreach to Atheists Not as Controversial As It Seems, in which he claims the Pope’s letter is about forgiveness, not salvation. He suggests that the Pope’s statement is not a dilution of the gospel but an evangelical outreach to bring atheists to Christ. The Pope insists that atheists must first of all obey their own consciences because, as with believers, it would be a sin not to. But underlying this I’m sure is the church’s hope that the consciences of atheists will lead them to Christ and back to the church.
Sara Lin Wilde of The Friendly Atheist writes, Pope Francis: Atheists Can Be Saved if They ‘Obey Their Conscience’. She sees the Pope’s letter as “unusually humble and shockingly up-to-date”, and even though she may not agree with the theological content or context of the Pope’s words, she does appreciate them as an admirable attempt at inclusion.
From my perspective I find the language, though unusually generous, typically strange. The church still approaches me from a position of superior authority with a theology that will condescend to make room for even me. It seems to assume that I am a passive victim of my error rather than a conscientious thinker pursuing truth that has actively lead me beyond the church. It still wants to bend me to its categories so that I will reach its conclusions. Even though it may now be trying to understand me, it seems to be doing so only to win me over.
Perhaps soon Pope Francis will approach the atheist community as a peer.