An Atheist Going to a Heaven He Doesn’t Believe In

A reader from New York writes:

If I could take what the pope said about salvation seriously, then your shroud would become irrelevant. You don’t need to believe in anything, said Francis according to CNN. As an atheist it is nice to know I’m going to a heaven I don’t believe in where I’ll find out if your shroud is real or fake.

Or not! Here is what CNN is saying online:



But you must read beyond the first two paragraphs.

Francis’ comments received a great deal of attention on social media, with a number of people asking whether the Catholic leader believes that atheists and agnostics go to heaven, too.

On Thursday, the Vatican issued an “explanatory note on the meaning to ‘salvation.’"

The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who aware of the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”

Of course, as an Anglican I don’t agree. Nor will many  Orthodox, Coptic, Protestant and Evangelical Christians. But then again this controversial stance isn’t new. Nor is the controversy, also raised in the CNN story, over works and grace new.

“You don’t need to believe in anything,” the letter writer from New York says.

I remember sitting in a discussion forum in an Episcopal church about three years ago. The priest leading the discussion wrote three options on a chart under the heading, “What You Must Believe for Salvation” Under that, in parentheses, he wrote, “Salvation = Heaven.”

  1. Because of Christ’s Sacrifice you can be saved without believing in Christ.
  2. To be saved you must believe in the resurrection of Christ.
  3. To be saved you must believe in the words of the Nicene Creed.

We voted by raising our hands. As I recall each option received eight votes. I was very surprised by the vote for number 3. While I believe in the resurrection I also don’t believe that you must believe in it for salvation.

The Pew Research Forum survey from 2008, Many Americans Say Other Faiths Can Lead to Eternal Life,” is very revealing, at least for Americans. Based on polling data, 83% of American Catholics believe that Protestants can have eternal life and 49% believe Atheists can.

One twittering pundit asked: Should we believe the pope or the vatican spin?

Does the story in the Huffington Post with the headline that reads, "Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics” clarify anything?

An article in the Christian Post, “Pope Francis: Non-Catholics and Atheists Can Do Good, Too,” explores this story effectively, at least this early in the news cycle.

Anyway, why does this make the shroud irrelevant?

15 thoughts on “An Atheist Going to a Heaven He Doesn’t Believe In”

  1. As usual the hype in the media has nothing to do with the reality of what ther Holy Father actually said.

    Atheists are redeemed but not necessarily saved.

    Every human being has been redeemed through the cross and death of Jesus Christ. Our salvation depends on our response to our redemption. All men are redeemed, but not all are saved. It’s basic theology 101

  2. As a Catholic I would only add this spin to the Pope’s excellent, if seemingly universalist, comments: all are saved, all are invited into heaven but one can still refuse the gift. C.S. Lewis addresses this concept well in The Great Divorce. Pope Francis is pulling a Star Trek on the Church, taking us where no man has gone before. And to that I say, “Take us to warp 9 Mr. Sulu!”

    None of this applies to the Shroud though.

  3. David, did you read the Piope’s words or just CNN/HuffPost spin?
    The journalists are usually illiterate on many things and their main goal is sensation

    1. I read the comments yesterday in the NCR, not CNN. Also his groundbreaking comments about killing in God’s name being blasphemous. Unprecedented stuff.

  4. All day long I have read ‘what the Holy Father meant by what he said’ or ‘what he tried to say’ or ‘what he really said in a larger context’ or ‘what he said as understood theologically’ and so forth. I like to think he meant what he said.

  5. I am not the owner of a dead body yet. I have a soul like all earth people but I have no idea of what transpires in the moments after a person “passes away” and what decisions they can make with what they are suddenly aware of the situation that the soul finds itself facing (right after the death of the body). What happens there ?????

  6. The specific words of Jesus on the Last Judgment give the essential requirement for salvation. They are fundamentally the practice in life of the “Works of Mercy” outlined in Matthew 25:31-40, spoken towards the end of His mission, and shortly before the Passion narrative. You can forget anything else whether it’s St Paul, St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or Richard Dawkins, and yes, even the Shroud! It is also consistent with the frequent proclamations of the ancient Hebrew prophets!

  7. “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.”

    those are the exact words from the homily

  8. Matthew 26:28 ” … My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for MANY…”

  9. In hebrew Yeshu’a (Jesus) means “(providential) Salvation”. Many a Christian, Jew and Muslim etc can experience it in their life any day.

    1. in my view all the great religions pave a legitimate path to god.i respect all the great religions.yet as a catholic and former anglican i believe christianity offers the best and deepest path,and of the christian denominations catholicism is the ultimate.

      1. I concur. I too am a Catholic and have been since I was about 7 yrs. old. I am 72 years old now but do not attend church, I live in a board/care home and have Neuropathy in both lower legs and feet. I do not drive and do very little walking. I had a Priest come and visit me some time back. I say the Rosary at least once a day and each Sunday someone from the local church comes out to the home and gives me Holy Communion.
        The first time I saw the photo of the Shroud I was taken aback and looked at it very intently. It was as though it was telling me that it was the Risen Christ. It has been my belief since then.

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