Friends Don’t Let HuffPo Writers Do Theology

Friends Don’t Let HuffPo Writers Do Theology May 23, 2013

Pope Francis Says All Who Do Good are Redeemed – Atheists Included

It takes some doing to get so many layers of complicated errors all folded into 11 words, but if anybody can do it, it’s HuffPo.

Let’s unpack this elaborate confection of blunders.

1. The first blunder is that what the Pope said–what he actually said, not what the headline reports–is “news” in the sense that it is some sort of startling change in Catholic teaching. It ain’t.

2. Pope Francis does not say that “all who do good are redeemed”. The reason he does not say this is because people–like HuffPo–are all too ready to assume that our redemption depends on us doing good. In fact, all who do good, and all who do evil, and all saints, and all Nazis, and pirates, and Communists and Mormons, Swedenborgians, and Satanists, and plumbers, and students who are getting Fs, and little kids and old coots, and profoundly brain-damaged folk and really brilliant scientists, and tall, and fat, and short people, and Muslims, and atheists, and Jews, and Buddhists and everybody else with a pulse are redeemed. Stalin is redeemed along with St. Damien of Molokai, Jack the Ripper and St Francis of Assisi are both redeemed. That’s not me. That’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

605 At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God’s love excludes no one: “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” He affirms that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many”; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us. The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: “There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.”

In short, the reason we are redeemed–all of us without any exception whatsoever, even Hitler and Judas Iscariot–is that Jesus Christ died for every human being without any exception whatsoever. That has nothing to do with our “doing good”. It has to do with the overwhelming generosity of God to us even when we are not good at all–even when we are pounding nails through his hands and feet.

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man–though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. – Romans 5:6-8

So the offer of salvation is extended to all–including atheists, not because of our goodness, but because of God’s grace. However, that does not mean it is a slam dunk that the offer will be accepted by all.

3. Francis *does* say that atheists are capable of doing good, for the simple reason that they are and always have been able to do good by virtue of the fact that the natural law is accessible to any human being. That is true but not news–except to Huffpo.

So at the end of the day, the pope said… well, what the Church has pretty much always said. Which is kind of the job description.


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  • Angela MC

    Thank you Mark!

  • ivan_the_mad

    “So at the end of the day, the pope said… well, what the Church has
    pretty much always said. Which is kind of the job description.”

    Indeed! But I might qualify that with something from Dostoevsky, “There is no subject so old that something new cannot be said about it”, although HuffPo is taking that rather too literally here.

  • Alister Crowe

    I’m personally OK with HuffPo posting the bleeding obvious, IF it drags one more of my friends kicking and screaming into reconsidering the way they think about the Church. I can tell people that its what we’ve always taught all I like, they won’t believe me because I’m Catholic and therefore bias.

  • You know, Mark. I think sometimes you are so quick to pull the trigger on something, you miss the bigger picture in it. In this case, the good. Yes, it’s obvious to you that this is what the church has taught for 2,000 years. I hope it would be. But, to many, many others it is not obvious, or known. And, the Huffington Post piece does feature additional comments from Father James Martin, and a link to more information from Reuters. So, it provides additional information for thought.

    At the end of the day, in my mind, this is a great way to spur new conversation and thought among people regarding God’s teaching.

    • chezami

      I did note the good: atheists can be good too. I merely noted that it is also the old–and separated it from the egregious.

      • I understand. Just thought it was over the top. If HuffPo wants to do a positive article on the Pope – let them. I don’t expect them to get their theology down 100%.

  • honzik

    The Guardian’s article on the subject pushes a political angle in its subtitle: “Just do good, and we’ll find a meeting point, says Francis in marked departure from Benedict’s line on non-Catholics”. Arrrgh.

  • Dan C

    We need to re-address how we evangelize. Truth is, Francis is getting positive press, which is good.

    The public face of Catholicism has been clear, and Benedict noted it- we were represented as a religion of “no.” He wanted us represented as something more, and all his work and encyclicals pushed this agenda.

    We need to stand apart from the other Christian sects that do end up saying “no.” Very clearly, standing in the Acropolis of America and talking about Jesus as our personal savior and reverting from our sinful ways has been ineffective.

    What Francis is saying seems to resonate, and he says it clearly. We need to distinguish our theology from the “faith alone” sects that Evangelism represents and start making amends for all the damage those Protestant sects have done to the Christian name.

    Our point of engagement with the world will be less with a Pauline pronouncement in the Acropolis of America, but with identification for everyone where they are truly doing the work of Christ, and serving him, and meeting him. This seems to be where we are received in prosetylizing.

    The past 30 years have only seen decline of our faith. We need a new game plan. What the pope says is news, actually.

    • Agreed.

    • Dan C

      This is the pope who said:

      “You might say ‘But Father, we might make mistakes.’ I might respond,
      ‘Well, what of it? Onward, if you make a mistake, you get up and go forward; that is the way.’ Those who do not walk to avoid mistakes, make a the more serious mistake.”

    • Dan C

      Sherry Weddell has been telling us that the key to evangelization has been sharing our relationship with Christ. Maybe we need to be pointing out to people where their relationship is already with Christ-where it is that they are experiencing and seeing Christ in their lives, even if they do not know Who it is they serve.

      Most people I think serve Christ, if defectively, and would benefit more from having that identified for them.

      What hasn’t worked is the assertion that “unless you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you will go to Hell.”

    • Dear Dan C,

      Sort of.


      Jon W

      • Dan C

        Incorrect. Exact for the words stated.

        “Sort of” fails as a critique, due to the accuracy of the comments I made.

  • Pavel Chichikov


    I saw the green
    grass hillside

    Embroidery of

    So good to wear on
    that first day

    Sumptuous as only
    God can weave it

    Sewn with flowers on
    the falling of it

    In waiting for the
    Lord to come

    And I will know you,
    says the Lord,

    Who wear the robes
    of My delight

    That you may dress
    in glory when you see Me


    17, 2013

  • SmokeyBehr

    The way that I read and interpret it is that Christ died for our sins, but unless we honestly and truly accept Him, we aren’t saved. Moreso if He is openly rejected, such as with Athiests. It takes more than just good works and “acting moral.” This comes from my blending of Catholic and Protestant teachings that I’ve had.

    • Dan C

      You do not know or understand Judgement. The wise man avoids calculations that determines who gets condemend , praying it is not him.

      Again, come out from Among the wicked Evangelicals. This is not how Catholics speak.

    • Imrahil

      I’ll go for a bit of sola-gratia here, which is, as always, what Protestants claim, but are the very converse of holding.

      It does not only “only” take good works and acting moral, in a sense it does not take even that. It takes God’s redemption, which is for all men, period.

      Now you can refuse to let yourself be saved. The bad thing about immorality is that, to different degrees – not far above 0 in the venial cases, but we won’t go into details here -, implies such refusal. In that sense, it takes good works and morality: the good works of not refusing, and among many other things, doing such pious works, particularly receiving Sacraments, it would be sinful to omit.

      As for a moral athleticism of the “really” and “honestly” and “truly” (except of course if these words are taken at merely literal value – it is *not* necessary.

      Hence, those who are not, in God’s eyes, responsible as for a sin for their not having the faith – for subjective and objective are different things – are not damned for unbelief. Though the may have it harder to get their other, subjective sins forgiven (through remorse), and especially to be certain in this and have the consolation of hope.

  • Jonathan Deundian

    Was it appropriate for the Pope to apply the words “children of God” to include ALL people? Many Christians believe the terms are reserved for the saved exclusively. Are they wrong?

    • Yes.
      For God desires that all men be saved. But not all will be in this state at the last day. Frances had his theology correct — even when parsed through TULIP.

    • Imrahil

      I think I read things to the effect that the term “child of God” properly refers to those in Heaven and Purgatory, and the baptized on Earth. That said, nothing is wrong if a Pope uses colloquial language to express what is true, which still would be the case.

  • Dan C

    Yes. There is no reason to believe that such language fails to apply to all humans.

    We sound like Evangelicals when we debate this. I maintain that American Evangelicalism is more dangerous to Catholics in America than Islam or atheism. This language that seems to make God’s love exclusive must be purged from our mouths.

    • michicatholic

      The Reformation is over. Hatred of other Christians is a bad thing. Get over it.

      • Dan C

        Catholciism has cozied up to Evangelicalsim in order to find enemies to overthrow those “Bernadin Catholics” and struggled mightily to dismiss the work of justice as originating in any Catholic theology.

        Moher and others worked hard within Evangelicalism to dismiss its own theologians who started with this philosophy.

        American Catholicims has had too close a relationship with political Evangelicalism and has embraced many of its presuppositions, leaving Catholica confused and even annoyed by Pope Francis.

        The problem are Catholics embracing Calvinism, not the Calvinists.

        • chezami

          I think there is a lot to this analysis.

  • John D. Mulloney

    Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. Don’t tell me what it means to the Church now. Tell me what it meant 200 years ago. And then we’ll discuss.

    • Dan C

      It seems to be with a sense of righteous comeuppance that these types of assertions made. A sense of comeuppance that the Older Brother had in the story of the Prodigal Son.

      The Elder Brother does not hold a Catholic vision of salvation.

      • michicatholic

        Maybe you should say that the Catholic vision of salvation shouldn’t be that of the Elder Brother.

        • Dan C

          Both are true.

    • Tom B.

      I’ll bite:
      Pope Pius IX (1846–1878), Allocution Singulari Quadem, December 9, 1854: “For, it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered therein will perish in the flood; but, on the other hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, will not be held guilty of this in the eyes of God. Now, in truth, who would arrogate so much to himself as to mark the limits of such an ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoples, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things? For, in truth, when released from these corporeal chains ‘we shall see God as He is’ (1 John 3.2), we shall understand perfectly by how close and beautiful a bond divine mercy and justice are united; but as long as we are on earth, weighed down by this mortal mass which blunts the soul, let us hold most firmly that, in accordance with Catholic teaching, there is “one God, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4.5); it is unlawful to proceed further in inquiry.

      — Note the reference to invincible ignorance. Sounds like the current teaching to me, though the language is sure different. So what’s your point?

  • tedseeber

    Thanks, you just made me feel better about this on re-reading it.

    Atheists are indeed *capable* of doing good. They just don’t, at least in the United States, for the most part. There *are* pro-life atheists. There *are* pro-social-justice atheists. But it is as rare to find both in an atheist as it is in a Catholic- or worse.

    • Guest

      Atheists are indeed *capable* of doing good. They just don’t, at least in the United States, for the most part.

      Where do you get off lying about atheists like that?

      • tedseeber

        It isn’t a lie. For the most part, in the United States, Atheists have come out in major support of abortion and homosexuality, and are generally against objective morality (the real core behind “there is no God” is “there is no God I am willing to listen to”).

        What few are more conservative, are invariably Ayn Rand style libertarians on fiscal issues.

        I can’t call libertines good- on either side of the spectrum. Liberty when pushed to licence becomes evil.

        • Dan C

          I think we need to distinguish between “supporting things” and “doing things.” They are not equivalent.

          Rooting for a sports team is a very different phenomenon than playing on a sports team.

          • tedseeber

            When it comes to the genocide of 55 million, when it comes to cheering on doctors like Gosnell and Karpan, there is no appreciable difference.

  • Chesire11

    When I first read Pope Francis’ comments they seemed pretty straightforward. I was honestly stunned to read that they were being so wildly misconstrued. It’s kind of sad when it is remarkable to find someone willing to interpret a Pope’s words in the context of…you know…Catholicism. Sheesh!