Pope Francis shocked Christians and non-believers around the world yesterday after announcing that atheists are not exempt from Jesus’ forgiveness and redemption.
According to The Huffington Post, Francis made this statement during his homily at Wednesday Mass. He explained that good deeds are what define a person’s life, and even those who don’t believe in God will be forgiven if they live an honest life.
“We must meet one another doing good,” he said in his sermon. “‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Francis also cited a passage from the Gospel of Mark where Jesus implored his followers to accept the positive actions of those outside their group. These people can in fact do good, according to the text, and Francis emphasized the need for Christians to be tolerant and accepting of non-believers who do just that.
Father James Martin, S.J. reiterated what the Pope said in an email to The Huffington Post. He claimed that Jesus offered himself to everyone when he died on the cross, not just believers. This idea has always been inherent to Christianity, he said. However, he believes Francis took it one step further.
“Rarely do you hear it said by Catholics so forcefully, and with such evident joy,” Martin said. “And in this era of religious controversies, it’s a timely reminder that God cannot be confined to our narrow categories.”
Despite these views, not everyone agrees with what Francis said. Several Christians, particularly Protestants, believe grace and belief in God are the keys to an ideal afterlife. Pope Benedict XVI took this notion even more seriously and according to Reuters, viewed other denominations of Christianity as less serious than Catholicism.
However, many people applauded the pope for his unprecedented statement. Reddit users were especially vocal due to their heavy integration in the atheist community and general skepticism of religious figures. A post linking to The Guardian’s coverage of Francis’ announcement received over 3000 upvotes with more than 2000 comments.
“I’m an atheist (le brave). All I want from the Christian community is to not think of me as an evil person because of it,” said one user. “I honestly don’t care what you believe, just don’t get a negative attitude towards others that don’t share your mindset. Thank you, Pope Francis.”