Pope Francis divides atheists

Pope Francis may be as good as it gets, but the Catholic Church just doesn’t allow popes to get that good.

Nobody can accuse the Catholic Church of being democratic, but as an atheist I’ll paraphrase Winston Churchill’s remark about democracy: Pope Francis is the worst pope we ever had, except for all the others. I’m no papal historian, but I’m pressed to think of a less bad pope. True, I have nothing bad to say about Pope John Paul I, perhaps because he was pope for only 33 days.

Although Pope Benedict XVI unified atheists whenever he made pronouncements on atheists, gays, pedophilia, and all matters sexual, his successor, Pope Francis, is a divider rather than a uniter within the atheist community. Some atheists see this pope glass as 1/10 full, while others see it as 9/10 empty.

For instance, what are we to make of this statement from Pope Francis? “God’s mercy does not have limits and therefore it reaches nonbelievers, too, for whom sin would not be the lack of faith in God, but rather, failure to obey one’s conscience.” Pope Francis added that God forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith, as long as they follow their own conscience.

I like the pope’s emphasis on conscience, though I neither want nor need forgiveness for not believing in a nonexistent deity. I doubt that the pope would appreciate someone telling him, “Zeus will forgive you for not believing in him as long as you follow your conscience.” Following one’s conscience instead of a religious “authority” is exactly what atheists and humanists do. We are also guided by reason, empathy, and a growing knowledge of the world to help live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good. No need for gods and other supernatural forces.

Promoting conscience must make a lot of conservative Christians squirm. Is the pope saying it doesn’t matter what you believe about Jesus as long as you are a good person? Not quite, but he comes closer to that position than any pope in my memory. I’d say the difference between conservative and liberal Christians is that conservatives place belief above behavior and view this life as preparation for an afterlife, while liberals place behavior above belief and focus on improving the human condition.

The issue for me is not just how much of Catholic theology this or that pope believes, but which parts he emphasizes and which parts he mostly ignores. Pope Francis is concentrating more on peace, poverty and social justice than on abortion, gay marriage and contraception. He even gave a limited shout-out to gays, asking “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” But he conditions his benevolence on a search for the Lord.

I think Pope Francis is a liberal Christian trapped in a conservative Christian body (the Catholic Church). There are many cafeteria Catholics who ignore doctrines that make no sense to them. That’s why 82 percent of Catholics say birth control is morally acceptable. I don’t know what the pope believes about birth control, but as leader of the church he can’t seem to find an entrance to the cafeteria.

Whether you call it tradition or baggage, popes take great care to live mostly in the past. They may be in the forefront of 21st century technology by tweeting, but they are stuck with papal dogma and doctrine from centuries past. I see three kinds of baggage that go from bad to worse to worst:

1. Church doctrine that mostly doesn’t affect behavior. Examples include “infallible” papal declarations that require faithful Catholics to believe things like the Immaculate Conception of Anne (Virgin Mary’s mom) so that Mary could somehow be free from the stain of “original sin,” and also Mary’s Assumption into heaven, body and soul.

2. Church doctrine applicable only to church clergy and nuns. For instance, lives of celibacy. Benedict supported celibate heterosexual priests, but not celibate homosexual priests. In his Orwellian world, all ways of not having sex are equal, but some ways are more equal than others. Pope Francis seems more welcoming of gay priests.

3. Church doctrine that affects non-Catholics. A prime example is Catholic political influence on prohibiting contraception in an overpopulated world with undereducated, vulnerable women— a policy that furthers the spread of sexual diseases when contraception is denied.

I suspect that Pope Francis would like to be even more human-centered, while at the same time not alienating a doctrine-centered Catholic hierarchy. But he took a job that comes with lots of baggage and he either can’t or won’t act as Thomas Jefferson did. Reflecting the Enlightenment thinkers of his day, Jefferson rewrote the Christian Bible by cutting out the superstitions and miracle stories in it, calling what remained “Diamonds in a Dunghill.”

Bottom line: Pope Francis may be as good as it gets, but the Catholic Church just doesn’t allow popes to get that good.

Image courtesy of Semilla Luz.

Herb Silverman
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  • smokedsalmoned

    First they came to take away the bits & pieces of the freedom of religion and I said nor did anything. Next they came after gun rights and I did nothing. Then they refused to protect our borders and cut our defense to a joke and I said nothing. Later the press became completely co-opted and freedom of the press simply died and we all did nothing. FInally, they locked me up for speaking out against them and there was no one left to protect me or to prevent them from locking me up.

  • smokedsalmoned

    If you force me to provide birth control and abortion in my health care plan or to have me work with an insurer who does so, you are violating my first amendment right to freedom of religion.

  • smokedsalmoned

    Obamas Position On Abortion
    Where does Barack Obama stand on the Abortion issue?
    *He voted against banning partial birth abortion.
    *He voted no on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions.

  • MinDC

    In a recent Papal encyclical, Pope Francis criticized orthodox Catholics as being “small-minded” in their un-evolved (if I might quote the President) attitudes towards homosexuality and abortion. While, the Pope stopped short of giving his tacit blessing to either sin, it should be noted that any condemnation of those proscribed acts was subtly nuanced to the point of non-existence. So if the Pope neither condemned nor condoned the twin evils of homosexuality and abortion, what did he do? Well, firstly the Pope demonstrated that Bill Clinton has nothing on him when it comes to waffling. Secondly, in a disingenuous, round-about way, the Pope set the stage to modify Church doctrine and accept both acts, which represents a major departure from, and schism with, orthodox Catholic doctrine. As a Catholic, I’m totally against re-writing theological doctrine because of political influence or to accommodate the agenda of any special interest group; however, if the Church is going to rewrite the tenets of Catholicism to make it more hip, convenient and inclusive, then why can’t the church accept other acts and deeds it has seen in its wisdom to proscribe? Why can’t the Church rewrite its tenets and accept active adulterers and polygamists? I’m pretty sure there are a lot more adulterers in the world then there are homosexuals (I’m not too sure about the polygamy thing, but you get my point), so if the Church wants to cast its net far and wide in the hopes of garnering more parishioners and being more inclusive, it ought to start with deleting that whole “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife” stuff. And if you’re going to rewrite a scripture that teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman to accommodate homosexuals, what do you plan on telling practitioners of bigamy or polygamy?

  • smokedsalmoned

    Obama On Born Alive Abortions
    On March 30, 2001, Barack Obama was the only Illinois senator who stood up and spoke out against a bill that would have protected babies who survived late term labor-induced abortion. He rose to object that if the bill passed, and a nine-month-old fetus survived a late-term labor-induced abortion was determined to be a person who had a right to live, then the law would “forbid abortions to take place.” He went on to explain that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not allow somebody to kill a child, so if the law decided a child who survived a late-term labor-induced abortion had a right to live, “then this would be an anti-abortion statute.”
    When an amendment was to be made to match federal law to protect these failed abortions, he voted against the bill to match federal law to protect them.
    Barack Obama is in favor of killing an accidentally born alive aborted child in order to protect abortion rights!

  • apspa1

    It seems what Francis is up to is blowing as much smoke as he can to hide the fact he hasn’t said a word about the sex deviates and sex criminals in the priesthood.

    Nor has he mentioned the continuing cover-up of and enabling of those criminals by church leaders; some of whom can be found in the Vatican itself.

    Talk is cheap, Francis. What are you going to do about preventing further crimes committed against the youth and bringing justice to the guilty hiding out in churches and rectories around the world?

  • WmarkW

    Least bad recent pope?

    John Paul II served as a focal point for protests against European Communism, leading to its demise in the middle of his tenure. That alone is the most significant papal contribution in centuries.

  • LululemonFanatic

    The Pope isn’t setting the stage for modifying doctrine. It’s just PR, he’s just slapping lipstick on the pig that is the RCC.

  • nkri401

    I bet you also want the government to be closed and default on the national debt…

    Somke something else, please. You will feel better and people around you would feel better too.

  • Esnofla69584736

    You’re right apspa1, talk is cheap. And your talk is worthless.

    “he hasn’t said a word about the sex deviates and sex criminals in the priesthood.” He hasn’t? Try again. But this time don’t read the comics. Read the news! Google it if you want to.

    “Nor has he mentioned the continuing cover-up of and enabling of those criminals by church leaders; some of whom can be found in the Vatican itself. ”

    Really? Again… you must not read a lot. Try doing more of it. He has. But if talk is cheap, then why do you insist on him talking more?

    Just another example of how incoherent and inconsistent atheists are, who hide their religious bigotry behind the pain and suffering of children.

    If you really cared about children, then you would speak out against the hundreds of thousands of children that have been raped by their own parents, teachers, police officers, college officials, etc…

    What has happened in the Church does not compare at all in numbers to what American children alone have suffered at the hands of their very own parents. Not to mention abortion. 1.5 million each year and counting.

    Talk is cheap apspa1. Facts speak louder than words.

    Stop abusing children by using them as a cover to your own twisted bigotry and perverted mind.

  • apspa1

    I have not had any good reason to trust any Pope since Pius XII welcomed the German Nazi Adolph Hitler, the Italian Fascist Benito Mussolini and the Croatian Ustashi Ante Pavelic to the Vatican while these monsters were carving up Europe.

    Pius XII wanted to be sure these good Christians remembered that church teachings and desires favored universal conversion to the Catholic faith.

  • Esnofla69584736

    Really, now that is very interesting apspa1. Unfortunately, that is mumbo jumbo, especially given the fact that the head of the oldest Jewish synagogue in Europe, Rabbi Eugenio Zolli, became a Catholic at the end of world war II. And guess what? He took the name of “Eugenio” in honor of Pope Pius XII. You know why? Because he personally saw how the Pope was responsible for saving the lives of thousands of Jews in Rome. He also saved them throughout Europe.

    The Nazi’s apparently destroyed more synagogues than 2000 years of Christianity. And think about it, the oldest synagogue in Europe (the one next to the Pope) was never destroyed in over two thousand years, not even by the Nazis.

    Like a good atheist, you think you can fool all the people. You only fool the ignorant ones.

    Look him up and get inspired, and stop reading books that are fiction or claim to be historical. The only fault about Pope Pius XII is that he worked silently. But weren’t you the one that just said that talk is cheap. Actions speak louder.

    Oh…the incoherency and inconsistencies of an atheist. They just can’t wrap their minds around the truth.

  • Jeremy Salleng

    That’s not how freedom of religion works. YOU have the right to believe whatever you want and choose to use contraception or not as dictated by your conscience. Freedom of religion does NOT allow you to make those decisions for others,

  • nkri401

    I just feel your Christian love – bring it on!!

  • Louise10

    Solomon had 300 wives, according to the Bible. That’s polygamy on steroids.

  • Rongoklunk

    Pope’s are charlatans selling an invisible skydude who died so we could all live – if you can believe that nonsense. Religion is the biggest lie ever told, and it’s been told a billion times because it makes folks feel good. We know of more than 3500 gods that the ancients invented, and there could have been thousands more that we’ve never even heard of. From Apollo to Jupiter and Zeus we just can’t stop inventing them. But nowadays we have science and higher education, and we know that gods never had any existence. They were all made-up by superstitious ignoramuses in the days before knowledge. That’s why nobody ever actually saw one. Ever.

  • Cr8oR

    Whether the glass is full of water, 1/10 or 9/10, is not the question, it is always full with either water or air…

  • Rongoklunk

    The pope is probably under orders to brush-up the image of the church at a time when most educated adults no longer buy into the god-hypothesis. What may have made sense two or three centuries ago, doesn’t make the same kind of sense anymore. Darwin changed things. And modern science too has changed things even more. We no longer believe in fairies like they did just a century ago. Supernatural thingies in general are not believed in. We know there are no ghosts, no demons, no devils. And we know that there’s no god either. Even Stephen Hawkins in his book “The Grand Design” writes that no god was needed in figuring out how existence came to be; it was all about chemistry and eons and eons of time. No God needed, of course.
    I imagine the pope knows this as well as we do. God belief has to be coming to its end. The pope doesn’t have all the cards he had in ancient times when everybody believed everything he said. His task now is how to sell a religion without a god. I’ve read that two or three Scandinavian pastors run churches which have stopped that claim; and a female priest in Toronto is trying the same thing. Getting together weekly to celebrate existence and good old Mother Nature; no gods involved. At least it’s honest.

  • Rongoklunk

    Should be Hawking. My error.

  • AGuyCommenting

    Esnofla – calling someone’s post “mumbo jumbo” is not the best method of repudiating it. Do you wiggle your fingers when you say it: Mumbo. Jumbo.

  • AGuyCommenting


  • jempy

    I am catholic, but I never believed in infallibility … even when the pope is surrounded by a lot of cardinals …

  • wenharas1

    People misundertand Papal Infallibility. It doesn’t mean that everything that the Pope says is somehow correct & not subject to scrutiny; it refers to specific matters of doctrine.

    Papal Infallibility has only been invoked 3 times. The first was declaring the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, the second actually making Infallibility a doctrine of the church during Vatican I, and the third was the declaring the doctrine of the Assumption. The Catholic Church does have specific dogma but much of the teaching is rooted in tradition and can be debated and even changed. (Whether or not that will happen is another matter entirely.)

  • wenharas1

    How much of Catholic teaching is dogma & how much is tradition? We also should remember that when traditions & doctrines were developing in the early Church, there was no understanding of science, psychology or medicine. Continuing to exist based on millenia-old interpretations of translated texts is no way to reach the hearts of people who have to live in the world as it exists.

  • edwills

    The number of infallible statements is less important than the Church belief in it. I wouldn’t care if there were just one exorcism, the belief is ridiculous.

  • AGuyCommenting

    Why is it so important for this unimaginably powerful deity that we acknowledge and praise his work? We are less than an amoeba to this force existing beyond time and space. Our flaws are the flaws he imbued us with, yet he punishes us for having them?

    Sorry, that doesn’t work for me.

  • h5r2

    Not only that. If you are sincerely trying to good but don’t find evidence for the existence of God, are you saying that this good God will punish your for eternity?

  • AGuyCommenting

    Yes! I was just writing elsewhere about the Christian insistence that good deeds must occur within the context of satisfying Christian doctrine. The Pope gives some positive lip service to the issue, but I certainly don’t need His approval.

  • Darrell G Wood

    The ultimate punishment is the separation from all that is good and all love. Our flaws, shortcomings or sin, if you wish is forgiven only through the acknowledgment of God and trying to live our lives according to his will for us. Apart from the will of God for our lives, we exist to please ourselves. As for the evidence of the existence of God, I have a question for you. Do you believe that darkness exists? What about cold? I assume you say yes. Well actually darkness ONLY exists because of an absence of light. Cold? Yes, that’s right, it only exists because of an absence of heat. These two things only have their existence from the absence of something else. So what? What does that mean? Do you believe in evil? Well? Yes, evil does exist, but only with the absence of good. If we (mankind) are only a part of the animal kingdom, where did our goodness come from? Do you know that it’s more mathematically probable that a supreme being created all that we know of and see, than creation to have happened from a big bang or evolution? Mankind cannot create life, we can COPY, but not create. Everything has to have a start somewhere. Science has proven that. You can see where i’m going, right? Where did the first of the very first of anything come from? It HAD to be created or made by someone or something. You should at least take the time to check into it before you dismiss it because you don’t want anything to cramp your style or have something or someone else to answer to. If you truly seek truth, the creator WILL NOT HIDE from you.

  • AGuyCommenting

    So many responses. To be brief:
    1. I have read OT/NT very carefully with plenty of supplemental material.
    2. Recent scientific thought believes things can be created from “nothing”. See some updated quantum studies.
    3.Where did God come from? That he exists outside of time and space does not answer the question. When he enters the time/space he created, does he age? Why not?
    4. Many who fervently believe in God have done terrible things. I think there are over 4,000 denominations of Christianity alone. Who is right?
    5. Belief in God apparently gives pleasure and even contains promise of an afterlife in heaven. How is this any less “self-pleasure”-able than any non-deity attitude?
    6. Why do you suggest only humans possess an understanding of good and evil? Is that tree outside my house good or evil? Is sticking my hand in the fire good or evil? Do I need god to determine the morality of that action? Do atheists stick other people hands in fire more than non-atheists? Is there an example of a goodness that people who believe in God have done that atheists have not?

    There’s more, but I’ll wait for a response. There’s enough to chew on here.

  • Darrell G Wood

    Thanks for your response:
    1) I’m glad you have taken the time to have read the bible. I think that’s great! So you ARE looking for thr truth, correct?
    2) In order to create something you have to have a vehicle for that creation. Whether you compress air to create a liquid, you have to have a vehicle to compress that air. Like, i can make coal out of dirt. OK, where are you gonna get your dirt from?
    3)This one is where faith comes in. God is spirit, therefore not subject to the physical laws of nature. Where did he come from? I have no idea. But the evidence i accept and the personal experiences i’ve had, leave no other explanation other than He does exist.
    4) Because man is an imperfect being, because of sin (disobedience), man has done many terrible things in the name of God. I’m sure you saw examples of this in the bible. And God did condemn those for their acts. Self edification and pride are mans greatest flaws (i believe).
    5) Who said we should’nt find pleasure in living a life following God? I have great peace and joy in my life because of my relationship with Christ.There is such a satisfaction, peace, joy and even excitement seeing God move in my life. Recognizing He is daily active in my life.
    6)There are other creatures in the world that exibit attributes that seem good to us. Dogs specifically show loyalty, love and affection. much of that is trained into them or derives from self satisfaction. If your dog comes to you when you get home, be sure it’s not just because he loves you. He’s expecting something in return. Affection, food…As for man, again i concede we have done many things in the name of God, but underneath I’m sure there were far more motivations than God. There are things that I do that one could say is good, but, I really don’t want to do. What motivates me? I accept there are things that don’t float my boat, but understand that God has placed me in a position to make a difference in someone else’s life or situation.

  • AGuyCommenting

    1) Always. If you haven’t, I hope you might consider following suit and read a couple books on quantum mechanics and recent scientific discoveries. You don’t have to agree. Learning is learning.
    2) We are learning things are not as euclidian or newtonian as you state. Coal doesn’t come from dirt, but I get your point. For everything to exist, it must come from somewhere outside the system. You are saying God. I’m saying that’s a personification of a occurrence we do not yet understand.
    3)I think this is you best point. Faith. But that doesn’t get me anywhere. All it does is make me wonder – Why aren’t there other God spirits? If God created everything in 7 days, what happened when he spent a month on something? How do you get from that unimaginably huge thing to the stories in the bible? Is the snake Gnostic or Catholic? Quite a difference! Other people’s personal beliefs can honestly, yet strongly, disagree with yours. What is the effect of culture and society on one’s beliefs?


  • AGuyCommenting

    4) How is man imperfect? How were those imperfections not imbued within us by
    God? If we did not have the knowledge to understand the importance to not take from the tree of knowledge, why blame us? Do you think his response – now childbirth’ll be painful, etc. was fair? Seems the snake should get more blame than it does. Anyway, the entire story sound very mythos to me. Have you read pre-OT texts?
    5) Certainly I believe following God can be pleasurable. I was referring to this: “Apart from the will of God for our lives, we exist to please ourselves.” I meant that inserting God into the equation is just another form of pleasing ourselves. It’s comforting to have answers, even if they are only sustained by faith.
    6)I see no distinction within the context of “good” or “evil” relating to man v. every other living thing. Are ants, with their bizarre hive minds, good or evil?

    I do believe there are true moralities, but they are self-evident within ourselves. If you were born before Jesus, perhaps you are the kind of guy to still be motivated to do good works. Perhaps removing the palliative of religion, the purpose of doing good works here, without God or heavens or angels, can make these acts even more important and precious.

  • Darrell G Wood

    Thank-you for being patient with my figure of speech and the analogies i make. As for Quantum Physics, i’ll leave that to the end of my comments. As for faith, this is what is so miraculous about God. Hebrew 11:1 says ” Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 For this is what the ancients were commended for. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at Gods command, so that what is seen was not made out of what is visible.It continues to speak about Abel,Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and a host of others who acted on faith and found God to be true and trustworthy.
    3)As for the culture and society effecting our beliefs. There is not any other person in the history of mankind that has so dramatically transformed culture and society more than Christ. Although many cultures and societies have been impacted by deitys or the belief in, its the name of Jesus that completely rips people apart. Christianity is the MOST inclusive yet exclusive “religion” in the world.
    4) Gods desire is for man to love him willingly. Without free will, that would be impossible. We would all be here without a choice in how we feel or what we do. When Eve took from the tree of knowledge of good and evil it was a decision. She chose to be disobedient. Obedience comes from Love. In her actions she put herself above God, as did Satan. It was actually a serpent, it was’nt like what we know as a snake, because it was cursed to creep along on its belly, becoming what we know as a snake now. That scene in the Garden set in motion all of mankind. It’s even more amazing that Cain would kill Abel at a time in our history that God physically spoke to man. Again he made a choice because he was jealous.

  • PhillyJimi1

    I was chatting (praying) to the Egyptian Sun god Ra. Ra hates all life on Earth. You don’t have to believe in him or not. You don’t have to throw a virgin into a volcano to appease his wraith. He said in a billion or so years he is going to destroy Earth an all life on it and the is nothing humanity can to to stop his wraith.

    Funny, if theists made this claim science would seem to back it up 100%. All the available scientific evidence would back Ra up. BTW, you can actually see Ra. Isn’t that nice! So if I find a Ra believer who made this claim I guess I might have to reconsider my atheism. Of course it would be a complete waste of time to worship in even a 100% real god if that god didn’t actually do anything.

  • ThomasBaum

    And one should be able to believe whatever one believes as long as one does not cram it down other people’s throats or uses their beliefs to hurt others.

  • LaraLoganDoesExist

    No one can accuse the United States of being democratic, not after the totalitarian leftists start making plans to jail their political enemies.

  • persiflage

    you keep besting yourself for inane comments……..