Pope Frankie Says Relax

The title for this post comes courtesy of my wife, who thought it would make a good caption for a picture of the Pope. It’s well known that Pope Francis declared that even atheists could get into Heaven, although that’s not exactly what he said.

His words were apparently, “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!” At first glance, this looks like he’s essentially supporting the popular idea of Heaven as portrayed by non-denominational media, in which the main qualification for getting in is living a good life (although people who can’t play the harp might be in for bad news).

And really, to a non-Christian, that strikes me as making a lot more sense than teaching that you have to believe a certain thing. That’s really quite arbitrary, isn’t it? Nonetheless, I’ve seen it stated quite often that Jesus DID die for everybody, but people who reject him are still going to Hell. I don’t think this holds much water, but it’s a popular opinion, and this article on Catholic Online proposes that it’s what the Pope meant. Father Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, was much less generous than Francis, insisting, “Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her.” The general interpretation seems to be that he means the Catholic Church, although it could certainly be argued that modern Catholicism isn’t a whole lot like “the Church as founded by Christ.” Wait, does that mean people who haven’t heard of the Catholic Church (if there are such people these days) can still go to Heaven? Doesn’t that make missionary work a bad thing? Look at it this way. Jesus is said to have told his disciples to spread the Gospel throughout the world, but he surely would have known that not everyone would accept it (most of the people he met in his own homeland didn’t, after all), so was he TRYING to get people thrown into Hell? Dante placed the virtuous pagans in Limbo, where they don’t get tortured but it IS pretty boring, but that’s hardly actual church doctrine.

There’s also the question of unbaptized babies, with a popular Catholic notion being that they end up in Limbo as well, although the Vatican never officially endorsed it. I’ve come across the idea in some Protestant writings of an age of accountability, with children under a certain age automatically getting into Heaven when they die. Sounds pretty good in some ways, but doesn’t that mean the most effective form of evangelism is to kill kids? Also, even if babies get a free pass into Heaven, wouldn’t it be pretty lousy to be an eternal baby? (That’s assuming, of course, that people pass into the afterlife with the minds they had in life.) Mind you, the Catholic position is also that God isn’t bound by his own laws, so he can presumably make as many exceptions as he wants. And if that’s true, maybe atheists CAN get into Heaven, if God happens to like them. Or maybe he never lets anybody into Heaven. You never can tell with deities.

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10 Responses to Pope Frankie Says Relax

  1. Well, a different way of looking at redemption and the afterlife and etc is not “going to” heaven or hell, but being with God (the source of all life and ISness) and being separate from God (disconnected from the source of life and ISness, therefore, truly and utterly dead). The redemption thing means that everyone is forgiven for the sins of the human condition, everyone has the opportunity of eternal life. But if you reject the source of BEING, you’ve basically cut YOURSELF off from eternal life. It’s not so much punishment from a vengeful god as much as natural consequences. You choose to reject LIFE, you die. Duh. Now, me, I’m a bit of a universalist– not pure, I’m not saying everyone GOES to heaven, but I believe people can achieve unity with God (or The Universe, or The Goddess, or WHATEVER THE HECK ANYBODY WANTS TO CALL THAT SOURCE OF ISNESS) through many different paths, not necessarily the Roman Catholic tradition I was raised in and still intend to practice once our Sunday schedule in this family isn’t so insane. Which isn’t exactly Roman Catholic doctrine, perhaps, but that’s what I personally believe. So you choose to be the hands of God in the world, to submit yourself to the source of ISness, you, then, ARE. You choose to block that out, see yourself as mere autonomous flesh, and others as mere objects around you, when that block of flesh dies, well, that’s all of you there was. Because you rejected that Eternal Life.

    That said, POPE FRANCIS ROCKS. I love him more all the time. SOOOO good to get someone who shows TRUE Christian compassion in a position of authority.

    • Nathan says:

      I’ve seen some Christians propose that, instead of going to Hell, non-believers will simply cease to exist after they die. Which, of course, is what a lot of us believe will happen anyway. It certainly comes across as more compassionate than making someone suffer for eternity.

      • The modern concept of Hell as a place of fiery torment is wholly unscriptural. Even putting aside that a God of love would never torture anyone (let alone forever), the word derives from the Hebrew “sheol” (translated in Greek as hades) which denotes the collective grave of mankind. Everyone goes to “sheol” when they die. There’s another word mistranslated in the Bible to denote Hell, and that’s “Gehenna” or the Valley of Hinnom. This was a physical location just outside the city gates where garbage was placed and fires were kept burning; the dead bodies of criminals (who were not granted a memorial tomb) were also thrown there. Jesus used it as a metaphor to signify the fate of those who choose to do evil, not to signify that they’ll be burned alive forever (no living people were thrown into Gehenna), but to signify the concept of oblivion (since fire destroys utterly). Also, there are some who hold that even those God will one day redeem, as fire can also be depicted as something that purifies and refines, perhaps by restoring the soul to its original unsullied state. I’m not certain of the validity of this latter concept, but I’m open to the possibility of it.

      • Nathan says:

        I suspect that the idea of Hell as a place of eternal torment comes from the Greek concept of Tartarus. Only the very worst people went there, however; the default destination of the dead was Asphodel, which was a lot like the Jewish Sheol.

  2. I agree with rockinlibrarian. It’s good to see the Pope embracing what the hate-filled, fundamentalist extreme right considers blasphemy, the idea of universal reconciliation, which is the most loving interpretation of Jesus’ words, life and ministry. (He’s not the first Pope either to put forth that view either, but I’m not convinced any of them have taken the concept of grace to its logical conclusion–probably because it would eliminate the “need” for a clergy).

    I don’t know. To me, it’s clear when the apostle Paul said “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Rom 13:8) or in Galatians 5:19: “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Or Jesus’ own words in Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

    If the law is fulfilled (or summed up) in this one thing “love of neighbor as yourself” (and it’s a challenging one at that), then it’s clear that what God wants is for everyone to love and respect each other. Authentic Christianity, then, is not predicated on an endless sea of rules and regulations, man-made dogmas, codified creeds and membership in the right denomination or church, things that are not only superfluous, but often against the very spirit of Christianity. Christianity is an egalitarian, pacifist, but not passive, movement that is motivated by other-centered love. Everything outside of that that calls itself Christianity is a deception.

    • Nathan says:

      So love and respect are more important than belief for a true Christian?

      • To put it simply yes. To quote from the apostle John: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8). John goes on about this point, going so far as to say that “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20).

        So while knowledge and wisdom are important (Jesus says in John 17:3 “And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent), knowledge and wisdom only matter when in submission to love. And there are not a few who argue (and I think justly) that the person who chooses to live his life in love HAS come to know the “only true God, and Jesus Christ” even if she doesn’t recognize them by name, since, its their attributes that are of primary importance.

        In other words, an atheist, or a Jainist, or a Buddhist who loves and respects his fellow man, whose learned to hold as if sacred the lives he comes across on this planet, actually KNOWS God even if he doesn’t recognize or address him as such. Conversely, the so-called Christian who goes to his church three-times a week, prays at every meal, preaches to people at her job, but is rude, mean-spirited, hateful, and bereft of compassion is in darkness spiritually.

        Right after warning about false prophets, Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” So despite all the works that people do to gain entrance to paradise, they fail to do the “will of” God, which is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

        That means that the whole ultra-conservative, fundamentalist movement is built on a foundation of what the New Testament authors identify as evildoers and liars. Their leaders are motivated by power and greed, and their followers are deceived, lost, angry, undereducated and unhappy people led to hate and scapegoat others (gays, Muslims, blacks, hispanics) for their problems.

  3. halinabq says:

    First, I gotta say I like this new Pope. And the part about everyone going to heaven makes me like him even more. Christians everywhere would do well to remember that Jesus himself never intended to start a new church. In fact, he was a pretty irreligious guy, forever flouting the rules and customs of his own religion, so it’s hard for me to believe he was hell-bent (sorry-) on starting his own. All that stuff about believing in Christ to gain eternal life was dreamed up by evangelists like John; Jesus himself never said it (according to modern Biblical scholars). For Jesus, how you treated other people was all that mattered, not whatever theology you might claim to believe. It’s clear however, that Jesus did believe in the afterlife, and that how you behaved in this one affected your status in that one. But again, it’s what you did that counted, not what you believed. So, if Jesus’ words are to be believed, a selfless atheist would be far more welcome in heaven that a selfish Christian (which should be an oxymoron, but, sadly, is not).

    • Nathan says:

      In several instances in the Gospels, it appears that hoarding money and not helping the poor is the main impediment to getting a good deal in the afterlife. At other times, Jesus upholds the importance of the Jewish law, but apparently not in all its details. He says that it can be summed up with, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which certainly wouldn’t apply to all those laws in the Torah about executing people for cursing their parents or being gay.

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