Pope Francis tells atheists to ‘obey their conscience’

VATICAN CITY — Once again breaking with traditional Vatican protocol, Pope Francis on Wednesday (Sept. 11) penned a long letter … Continued

VATICAN CITY — Once again breaking with traditional Vatican protocol, Pope Francis on Wednesday (Sept. 11) penned a long letter to the Italian liberal daily La Repubblica to affirm that an “open dialogue free of prejudices” between Christians and atheists is “necessary and precious.”

Francis’ front-page letter was a response to two open letters published in previous months by Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica and an avowed atheist.

The pope’s letter is especially notable for its open and honest assessment of the spiritual state of nonbelievers. And for an institution that long claimed sole jurisdiction on matters of salvation, Francis seems to open the door to the idea that notions of sin, conscience and forgiveness are not the exclusive domain of the Catholic Church.

In his messages to the pope, among other things, Scalfari had asked him whether “God forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith.”

Francis seemed to hint in his response that those who don’t believe are not necessarily excluded from God’s forgiveness.

“Given that — and this is the key point — God’s mercy has no limits, if you go to him with a sincere and repentant heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience,” Francis writes in his letter.

“Sin, even for those who have no faith, is when one goes against their conscience,” he added. “To listen and to obey to (one’s conscience) means to decide oneself in relation to what’s perceived as good and evil. And this decision is fundamental to determining the good or evil of our actions.”

Speaking about the church’s relationship with Jews, Francis stresses that Christians, and humanity as a whole, should be grateful that Jews have “kept their faith” despite “the terrible tests of the past centuries.”

In the letter, the Argentine pope also addresses one of the themes of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who had often condemned “relativism” — the incapacity of modern societies and men to recognize any “absolute truth,” such as God — as one of the evils of our time.

For Francis, there is no such thing as an “absolute truth” if that means a truth that can stand by itself “without any relationship.”

“Truth, according to the Christian faith, is God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, truth is a relationship.”

Francis concludes: “Despite the slowness, the infidelity, the errors and sins it committed and might still commit against its members, the Church, trust me, has no other meaning and goal but to live and witness Jesus.”

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  • HUW THOMAS

    The boast of an atheist is they have decided that there is no God or have rejected belief in God. That the Eternal Almighty creator and sustainer of life does not exist.

    And then we have:

    ‘’Because that which may be known of Elohim is manifest in them: for Elohim hath shown it unto them.

    For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, clearly seen being understood by the things that are made, both his eternal power and Divinity; so that they are inexcusable’’.

    What has happened over the years is the true meaning of atheist has been ignored and the atheist has raised himself onto the lofty pedestal of free will along with the Arminian.

    The Arminian declares his will being free to allow him to seek, choose and obtain salvation.

    While the atheist declares his sovereign decision in denying the existence of Deity.

    Atheist means without Theos / without God / without Elohim. Just as amoral means without morals.

    The question must be asked, why is the person who declares himself atheist, without God?

    Is it because the power of the atheist is greater than that of the Almighty? Or is it because the Almighty has left the person without saving grace, without saving knowledge and without trust. It is of course the latter.

    The boast of the atheist that there is no God is as empty as an old husk, because the word atheist means something completely different to what they have been taught. The atheist is without Theos, because they have been left in that state and what a terrible state it is to be atheist in the world and without hope.

  • LululemonFanatic

    You are drooling words, sir.

  • Thoughtful1

    The pope’s (and many posters’) reasoning is flawed on three counts: philosophical, scriptural, and logical.

    First, philosophy: It is an inaccurate and incomplete definition of “good” to say “follow one’s own conscience.” Hitler was likely following his own conscience. The Boston Marathon bombers certainly were. To stand any philosophical test, a definition of “good” has to take into account the intended effects on others as well as internal motivation. One who does not beleive in the existence of morality may choose such a definition, but if we are debating what is “moral” or “immoral”, than known societal impact becomes a necessary part of the conversation.

    Second, Christianity: Christian Scriptures answer the question of goodness without ambiguity. “There is no one good. Not even one.” One of the fundamental tenets of Christianity is that human beings have a flawed nature that may, from time to time, do “good” deeds, but which itself is not “good.” We are free to debate whether that tenet rings true to your own experience, but whether an individual action is “good” or “evil” is not of primary interest to salvation/forgiveness in Christian theology.

    Finally, logic: The question is “Does God forgive those that neither believe in Him nor seek Him?” And the answer begins with “God’s mercy has no limits for those that go to him with a repentent heart.” So he couches his answer in an assumption (one beleives in God and seeks Him) that is counter to the question, making the rest of the commentary that relies on that assumption irrelevant to the question.

    The Catholic faith has had many questionably pontifs, but all of those in the modern information age have been been very careful with their words. The early tendency of this Pope to embrace vagaries and then let the vatican issue clarifying statements is, in my opinion, going to be a larger problem for the Catholic church than if he just tried to adjust a point of faith or two.