As Dan Fincke points out, the pope has stated he wants to meet atheists on the common ground of goodness. Bergoglio 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.
First, the phrase “even the atheists” rubs me the wrong way. It’s as if the Catholic church, an organization that recently protected and enabled child rapists, is lowering itself in order to speak to us. The fancy clothes don’t actually make you better than anybody – actions do that, and the actions of the Catholic Church have taken them into the ravine beside the moral high ground. The Catholic Church has a long climb before it finds itself on the same level as non-believers like me who, given knowledge about a man raping children (much less hordes of such men), would immediately call the police.
If we are to meet on the common ground of our goodness, that’s very difficult in the light of the Church’s recent (and historic) transgressions. However, if the pope means he wants to meet on our mutual desire to do good then, to an extent, I can acquiesce.
However, were I sitting face-to-face with the pope, I’d ask him to clarify what he meant by the word “good”. Does he mean that we must do what creates the most happiness in the world and also what alleviates the most suffering? Or does he mean goodness as doing whatever the Catholic Church commands? The former I’m on board with. However, since the latter often contradicts the former, I must say that if “good” means abiding by the decrees of the Catholic Church, even when they foster misery and inequality, then I am most certainly not on board.
I realize that many Catholics are attempting to do good with these values and just not thinking it through. It is for such people that the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” was coined. Even the parents who neglect their sick children unto death by praying for them rather than taking them to the doctor are attempting to do good, but I would never acknowledge that they were good people. Failing to act reasonably when actual suffering is taking place is not a sin that is washed clean by good intentions. That is why I can give a nod to the Catholic Church with regard to our mutual desire to do good. However, if the Catholic Church wants me to concede that it is actually doing good on the whole, then we are at an impasse. I don’t believe it. I’m unwilling to lie in order to build inroads and I simply won’t begin here.
I will not be granting surreptitious endorsement to the actions of the Catholic Church by acting in a way that lends credibility to their goodness. However, if they’d like to discuss how to use their influence in better ways, ways that augment human happiness rather than infringing upon it, I’m happy to contribute to the conversation.