As unreliable as the MSM is in reporting on matters religious, religious bloggers and non-mainstream news outlets are almost as bad at reporting on what the MSM says about religion. Has anyone actually read an article or post which declares, without any weasel words or equivocal phrasing, “Pope Francis said Thursday that atheists can go to heaven by doing good works”? If you know where such posts can be found, please send me the links and I’ll post them here.
Of course, that’s not what the Pope said, as Jimmy Akin takes some time to explain. Pace Terry Mattingly, HuffPo’s headline (“Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed By Jesus As Well As Catholics, Pope Francis Says”) is only as dramatic as the fact is — all mankind has been redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice. If there’s any problem with the anonymous author’s piece, it’s that s/he confuses redemption with justification: “…the Pope’s words may spark memories of the deep divisions from the Protestant reformation over the belief in redemption through grace versus redemption through works” [bold font mine.—TL].
Why would such an assertion be controversial? In strict justice, atheists can’t be wholly blamed for getting Christian concepts mixed up. For one thing, Catholic catechesis and religious formation have degraded considerably since 1965; for another, common Christian consensus understanding of such basic concepts has also fallen apart, as a natural consequence of sola scriptura and the rejection of human religious authority. If we don’t get these things right, how do we convince the non-believer?
The assertion is only controversial if we believe that redemption is a guarantee of heaven — that, because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, you don’t really need to do anything other than be “good enough” to go to heaven. This is the error that needs correction. So what is redemption?