Vatican: Atheists Are Going To Hell After All

Turns out atheists can’t be redeemed — when Pope Francis said they could, he was misunderstood.

On May 22nd Pope Francis gave a homily that sure as heck seemed to say the Blood of Christ redeems everyone, Catholic or not. I wrote about it for Care2 Causes, noting the homily acknowledged that atheists can be good people. The Vatican is not stepping away from the latter point, but it has issued an Explanatory Note about what the pope should have said about redemption.

Here is what he did say:

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. [Emphasis added.]

Hard to back away from that, but the Note’s author, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Thomas Rosica, sure tries.

Rosica instructs people to always keep in mind that this pope is first and foremost a pulpit preacher. “His words are not spoken in the context of a theological faculty or academy nor in interreligious dialogue or debate,” and he had “no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation.” The subtext: when Pope Francis speaks, you must take his words with a grain of salt because he isn’t an academic, gets things wrong for the sake of stirring rhetoric, and doesn’t understand the impact of his statements.

So much for papal infallibility. New rule: popes earn infallibility only if they are more scholarly than preacherly. I guess God speaks more clearly in libraries than churches.

Rosica quotes scripture to show that “God wants everyone to be saved.” That may be, but Francis said that everyone is saved already. But I forgot — preacher not a scholar, rhetoric before accuracy, doesn’t know his own impact. So we’ll go with the Scriptures’ implication that while God wants to redeem everyone, he doesn’t.

My favorite of the Note’s arguments is that every act of good (in Pope Francis’s parlance) or of neighborly love (Rosica’s phrase) is evidence that God is working through the actor. An atheist’s good deed proves “God’s activity in the person.” So when the pope said that atheists and other non-Catholics can do good, according to Rosica he meant that non-Catholics who do good are, on some level, potential Catholics.

So the Vatican line is that atheists are capable of doing good, but they “are still going to hell,” as The Christian Post put it. This raises a well-worn objection to all faith-based religions: how could a kind and loving God condemn good people to hell? The usual answer is that good works are necessary but not sufficient — one must also have faith to get past the rope into heaven.

At least Francis and his handlers have acknowledged and not recanted that atheists can be good and moral even without a bunch of old men and old books explaining how to do it. The belief that atheists are amoral is likely the root of Americans’ hatred and fear of them. Pope Francis’s homily pulled that rug out from under the haters, and the Vatican hasn’t put it back.


Related Story:

Americans May Hate Atheists, But At Least the Pope Likes Them


Photo credit: iStockphoto


Tom Edgar
Tom Edgar3 years ago

As there isn't a scintilla of evidence that either hell or heaven exists,or for that matter a God. I am not in the least concerned, My only regret is that those who are silly enough to believe will never know they were wrong.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams3 years ago

I still don't know why anyone pays attention to the Vatican and what they have to say about religion. They are beyond out of touch with reality.

Scot Roberts
Scot Roberts3 years ago


I'm an atheist but let me see if I can answer your question. Yes, Jesus was a Jew but the Jews don't see him as a savior or "Messiah" if you will. Therefore the "Christian" religion (followers of Christ or Jesus) was formed of people who DO see him as the son of God. Clearly he was a pretty good speaker and many believed in him. I don't believe the miracles happened.....those are a stretch.....and make for pretty good reading.

Shannon Moody
Shannon Moody3 years ago

here is my problem with organized religion - ok, just christians and catholics right now, as i have not done any research on other religions - their wonderful Jesus, who is their centerpoint - was born in Jerusalem. SO, in Israel, Judaism is very popular (in 2011, 75.4% of religious folk were Jewish). How did this magical JEWISH man (zombie perhaps, they are the only species i know of that die and come back to life), with a MEXICAN name, end up being a focal point for religion in Italy (and other countries)? Just sayin...

Shannon Moody
Shannon Moody3 years ago

as an agnostic, i don't believe in hell, so really, i don't care what the christians or catholics think. I am hoping i get reincarnated as a bird, so i can poop all over your cars.

Don Saito
Don Saito3 years ago

Hi Suba: Heh! Looks like our Green Stars crossed each other going between us. Yes, it's a very difficult question for the religious. Their usual reply is: "God did make it perfect, but then humans messed it up," which is ridiculous. Did humans cause those 99.5% of specie extinctions? Are humans responsible for the 900° F surface temperature of Earth's sister planet, Venus? No, either God is a total screw-up, doesn't care, or doesn't exist.

Here's one other subject I'd like to put out: there are degrees of atheist-to-agnostic. If you're absolutely certain there are no god or gods, then yes, you are in the same boat as the religionists, who claim knowledge when there is none. If you kind of think god/gods could be real but aren't quite positive, you're agnostic. The question then becomes: are you more towards the atheistic side of the spectrum, where you're 99.999% sure there are not god/gods, or more the other way? I'm more toward the "pretty sure not" side of the equation, and so do self-identify as "mostly atheist." It's the scientist wannabe in me that makes this distinction, and where I'm most comfortable.

Don Saito
Don Saito3 years ago

To everyone: IMHO, it's not quite "okay" to just passively allow the rights of the religious to believe whatever they want. Of course, they *have* the right to do so - that is not in question. But there is a pretty heavy cost to society for just letting it happen without at least *some* resistance, and that is: moderate religionists lay the foundation, the base, for their more extreme counterparts, who then take their beliefs further to commit atrocities such as suicide bombings, genital mutilation of children, anti-science idiocy, denying rights to women and minorities, child molestation, and much more evil. So, while belief may provide a certain amount of placebo effect to comfort the unlearned or self-delusional, there is actually nothing good religion offers that cannot be found or received from secular sources, and there are tons of highly negative aspects/results from belief.

Faith is not a virtue - it is gullibility, and it can lead good people to wrong action.

Don Saito
Don Saito3 years ago

Ron: So, we are agreed - God is of the OMNIS (all powerful, knowing, loving and perfect). But, if this is true, why did God create an imperfect world, so full of pain, misery and death; where 99.5% of all species that ever existed have gone extinct; where the Earth is but one tiny speck of dirt where Life can exist, and everywhere else we can see is hostile to Life; and finally, if God is of the OMNIS, why did he make billions of people who are doomed from birth to burn in Hell forever because they weren't born in the right country?

Linda McKellar
Past Member 3 years ago

Thanks Rainbow. Maybe I can get out of further jury duty if I bring up atheism! I always seem to get picked.

Ernie Miller
william Miller3 years ago

I have known for a long time I am going to his hell and really dont care. Any religion that requires a person to convert nonbelievers is a vengeful and hating religion