Progressive news sites were all abuzz yesterday because of an apparent outreach effort by Pope Francis toward nones and even atheists.
How times change. It wasn’t long ago that Pope Benedict XVI, who styled himself after a Crusading pope of the good ole Middle Ages, was saying that the “attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity” leads to catastrophe. The new pope doesn’t feel this way. Or does he? It is difficult to know with any certainty.
At his very first homily on March 14, Pope Francis told cardinals (quoting French writer Léon Bloy) that “he who doesn’t pray to the Lord prays to the devil,” and “When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.”
Did you see that neat trick he performed there? He just delegitimized your answer that you don’t believe in the devil. Even if you don’t believe in him, you serve him. Your seeming act of omission (declining to believe) has become an act of commission (you had the chance, after all, to pray to the One True God in opposition to Satan).
As a Heathen, I have had this point driven home by Evangelicals, and I find it a very disturbing claim: by making individual own belief (or lack thereof) irrelevant, it opens the door to the logic behind the Inquisition and witch-burnings, anti-Jewish pogroms, and so many other evils perpetrated by the Church over the past sixteen centuries.
The whole praying to the devil thing is kind of weird because it does not really mesh well with the nice things the pope has had to say about those who are called “nones,” the folks with no religious affiliation. In March, at his very first ecumenical meeting, he recognized the nones when he acknowledged those who despite their lack of affiliation still feel the “need to search for the truth, the goodness and the beauty of God.”
Can you do this while praying to Satan?
Which makes his message Wednesday a puzzling one. On Wednesday, Pope Francis didn’t just drop the militant rhetoric.
It is one thing to quietly respect a person’s right to not believe, and that willingness is not one of the great virtues of the Church, let’s face it. It is something else entirely to come right out and say, “Don’t hate on atheists.”
But yesterday, that is basically what Pope Francis said:
The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.
This is the same Pope who said, on May 4’s homily, “With the prince of this world you can’t have dialogue: Let this be clear!”
Let’s try to work out the logic: If you don’t pray to God you pray to Satan, and with Satan there can be no dialog. Got it.
But you can have dialog with atheists, who according to that previous logic, pray to Satan and with whom there can therefore be no dialog?
But there was more: In his homily before the morning Mass yesterday, Pope Francis had more nice things to say about atheists:
“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!” he said.
“If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Compare Pope Francis’ words with those of Rick Santorum, who not so long ago said mainstream Protestants weren’t really Christians but were serving Satan in his attack on America. This is interesting because the new Pope’s homilies show that he shares with Santorum and other Evangelical leaders, an obsession with Satan.
Pope Benedict seemed to be in lockstep with our extremist Evangelicals. I’m not sure I’m used to the idea of a Pope more in tune with the times than the Republican Party. It was just in February, right before the Pope reached out to the nones, that Bryan Fischer was saying that four groups are “actively working to secularize and destroy America: humanists; atheists; militant homosexuals; and Muslims.”
According to creationist Ken Ham, failing to acknowledge the literalness of the Bible’s six day creation story undermines “the authenticity of the word of God.” Is it possible atheists are going to get more love from this Pope than the GOP’s self-styled Chosen People?
There’s talk that Pope Francis performed an exorcism Sunday. That’s a deal breaker for some. The Vatican says it just ain’t so, that “he simply prayed for the sick person,” possibly because they know most people find the idea disturbing, possibly because, no matter what it looks like, the pope did not perform an exorcism.
Catholic News Service makes the point that “In the book “On Heaven and Earth,” originally published in Spanish in 2010, the then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, said, ‘I believe that the devil exists” and “his greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe he doesn’t exist.’ “His fruits are always destruction: division, hate and slander,’ he said in the book.”
All this leaves you wondering just how much love Pope Francis can have for atheists, who by his own reasoning, serve Satan, who also by his reasoning, is using atheists to sow destruction, division, hate, and slander.
One thing is for certain: don’t expect Pope Francis to side with marriage equality. The Catholic Thing reports,
When he was trying to stop the Argentine government from legalizing same-sex “marriage,” he put the problem thus: Let‘s not be naive: This is not a simple political fight; it is a destructive proposal to God‘s plan. This is not a mere legislative proposal (that’s just it‘s form), but a move by the father of lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God. . . . Let‘s look to St. Joseph, Mary, and the Child to ask fervently that they defend the Argentine family in this moment. . . .May they support, defend, and accompany us in this war of God.
We have a great deal to learn about the new pope, and only time will tell how moderate he will be (let’s face it, almost anyone is going to seem moderate compared to Pope Benedict). Just don’t expect Pope Francis to be worldly, because worldliness is, in his worldview, the furthest thing from godliness.
Image from The Telegraph