I read with great interest that Pope Francis spoke recently about the relationship of Christianity with atheists, stating (in a nutshell) that atheists could certainly be saved. How? By their good works.
Did this surprise me? No. It is what I have always been taught.
Did it surprise a lot of people? Yes.
If you think about it Biblically, though, it is logical. Read the story of the Good Samaritan, if you don't believe me. Jesus was basically giving a smack-down to all the self-righteous "religious" people.
A lot of atheists, though, appeared to be offended by the Pope's remarks. Perhaps it felt to them as though the Catholic Church was commenting on their beliefs and lives in a manner that was both uninvited and unwanted. I can understand this. It's probably sort of like when I heard that Mormons baptize people without said people being present and without the consent of those people. I wouldn't want that. And maybe the atheists resent us Catholics trying to "save" them. Maybe they view it as an insult to their own intelligence, free-will, and world-view.
There may be another thing going on here, though. And it is something that should cause us Catholics and other types of Christians to do some reflecting. Are we behaving in such a way so as to cause atheists to say, "Why in the name of God, who I don't believe in anyway, would I want to spend an eternity in a place locked up with you prideful, judgmental, mean-spirited, unaccepting people?" They are probably imagining themselves stuck at a banquet table, eternally flanked by the likes of Jerry Falwell and Rick Perry. Not something that is especially appealing to me, either. Maybe we should ask ourselves if we are building bridges to God, and not obstacles (another thing Pope Francis spoke about recently). Are we really practicing the attitudes of meekness, gentleness, and loving-kindness that should be expected of Christians of all stripes? Or are we being like the proverbial clanging gongs and clashing cymbals?
There is a wonderful older priest at our parish who told the following story:
He said that, many years ago, he was approached by a young man. This young man was a Communist and an atheist. The priest said that he asked to see the Communist Party card that the young man was carrying, as he had never seen one before and it interested him. He spoke to the young man a bit and found out that he had been raised in a very "fire and brimstone" preaching household. The young man was raised with the idea of a God who is very harsh, very cold, very unaccepting -- ready, waiting, and almost eager to cast people into hell. The priest listened to the young man's story and then replied, "If that is what I thought God was supposed to be like, I wouldn't believe in Him, either."
A story worth reflecting on, eh?
Now, did the young man in this story get all converted and everything? No. And that is not even what that priest was after. All he was trying to do was convey to this young person the merciful face of God, as we Christians are supposed to see Him. After all, the women loved Jesus. THEY LOVED HIM. And that tells you something about the guy. Think about that, Governor Perry.