Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What should Atheists think of the new Pope?

It's hard to admit but the Pope says a lot of things that I agree with.  He advocates helping the poor.  He resists saying anything regarding abortion or homosexuality for fear of demonizing an already disillusioned part of society.  He criticizes the Christian Right Christianity as a dangerous "illness".  He criticizes capitalism as an oppressive system that causes wealth inequality.  He even says the unthinkable for Evangelical Christians, that it's possible for nonbelievers to get into heaven. Should atheists give the Pope a free pass?

On the one hand I want to dismiss him as a fraud.  I can use the same arguments I used in my earlier post (what does Christianity contribute to mankind?) and say that he only harms mankind by promoting Christianity.  But, this would be folly.  The fact is he is causing a lot of people, Christians and non-Christians, to rethink Christianity, and more importantly, he is causing division between Protestant Christianity and Catholicism.

When Christian leaders deliver substantially different messages from their predecessors it produces confusion and eventually a reassessment by it's followers.  That is exactly what is happening with the emergence of Pope Francis.  At the core his beliefs are the same as Pope Benedict, but his interpretation of certain dogma and especially his delivery of them to the faithful are radically different.  People rethinking Christianity can only be a good thing.  Scrutiny and analysis will only produce clarity about the true nature of things.  Someone who re-analyzes their faith may find themselves losing faith.  People who decided to reform their faith may unexpectedly decide that Christianity was a mistake.  It is doubtful that this will happen on a massive scale, but we can be hopeful that it will produce some positive results.

Division within any religion is usually harmful.  It will lead to either reform (enough reform will lead to secularization) or disintegration.  Protestant Christians and Catholics Christians have been fierce enemies for most of their existence.  Each claims the other is practicing a false religion and that the other is destined for damnation (Catholics maintain a softer stance on this than Protestants).  However, since the sexual revolution of the '60s and '70s,  they have made an uneasy alliance.  The sexual revolution gave women more rights, and changed the way we look at sex, marriage and monogamy.  Catholics and Protestants shared a disgust for these changes.  Post-sexual revolution they shared a stance on causes like abortion, birth control, gay marriage (but not divorce) and sex in general.  Now, the Pope's lack of comments on abortion and gay marriage, and his very outspoken criticism towards Christian Evangelicals, could cause this accord to dissolve.  The fact that Christianity is already lacking a coherent message weakens it's claim to absolute truth, and Pope Francis' new message muddies the waters for Christians even more.  Pope Francis isn't just causing division between Protestant Christianity and Catholicism, but within Catholicism itself.  A very hopeful analogy of Pope Francis would be to compare him with Mikel Gorbachev.  Gorbachev sought to reform the Soviet Union, but in the end he caused the collapsed of the entire USSR.

The downside of Pope Francis' message is that he may actually be attracting young people back to the church.  Right now Catholicism is very unpopular with young adults.  This is just the type of thing that could draw them back in.  In fact, this may be the reason he was elected Pope.  Also, we can't forget that he is the head of an organization that has caused immense human suffering, and he has failed to recognize this.  The Pope has yet to acknowledge that the sex abuse scandals and the fraudulent  behavior of the Vatican Bank  as fundamental problems with Church and not just aberrations.

Here are some comments by the Pope and some questions we atheists should ask ourselves as we listen to the Popes words:

 "Everyone must be committed to building a society that is truly just and caring"

Is this possible in a Christian context?  Christians don't believe in unity or equality.  Mathew 25:31-46 makes it clear the world is divided into blessed and damned.  How can there be a truly just society with this mindset?

"The Christian Right associates accumulation of wealth and stock portfolio with the Gospel"

Pope Francis has challenged this notion.  Is this a natural link for Christianity to make?  I have often argued that Christianity and Capitalism go hand in hand, mainly because both are elitist doctrines.  To be fair, it is only American Rightwing Christians who make this link.  Either way, the Pope's many comments on this specific topic could break the hold that Right Wing Christians have on free market economics in the political sphere.

"You don't have to believe in God to go to Heaven"

Huge statement right here.  What implications does this have for Atheists?  Not much since we don't even believe in the heaven the Bible describes, but it does upset Evangelicals.  Here is a response:

“Say what? Catholics please explain this… Evangelicals are NOT kosher with this.” said David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network

Relating a story about a mother breast feeding her child while giving a previous speech:

"She was modest," he said. "She did not want to breast-feed him in public while the pope was passing by … I would like to repeat what I said to that woman, to humanity: feed those who are hungry! May the hope and tenderness of Christmas shake us from indifference."

Appealing.  But is it genuine?

Here are some responses to the Popes comments from the Evangelical/Protestant community:

“That’s infuriating. That man needs to read his Bible.....I don’t mean any disrespect, but that man garners a lot of respect and he should earn that respect. He should not have done that… He’s not doing the job he was given, which is to represent Christ in a positive light.”
-Peggy, Church Attendee

Interesting view about her view of Christ, it's actually pretty accurate.  It's hard to represent a person who sees torture as a solution to the worlds problems in a positive light.

Many responses by Evangelicals have more to do with Politics than anything else:

"Like Obama, Francis is unable to see the problems that are really endangering his people. Like Obama he mistakes the faithful for the enemy, the enemy for his friend, condescension for respect, socialism for justice and capitalism for tyranny."
-Adam Shaw

The Pope sounds  “kind of liberal” (because he dislikes capitalism and seeing the poor suffer)
-Sarah Palin

“This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope....Somebody has either written this for [the pope] or gotten to him,”
-Rush Limbaugh (Who is actually a Catholic)

Limbaugh's comment is laughable "Somebody got to him" Like who Rush?

Agree or disagree with him, but all atheists should pay close attention to Pope Francis.  This is the biggest shake up the church has seen for a long time.


  1. I think the Pope is making it even easier to be a mainstream, Christian-in-name-agnostic-in-practice. I have mixed feelings, as I see atheism as the ideal but fundamentalism as an evil to be avoided at all costs. So, is agnostic-Christianity "good enough," or does it prevent people from reaching true intellectual freedom, leaving them in an intellectual purgatory where they are still at jeopardy of lapsing back into fundamentalism?

    1. Mark, what should our goals be? I used to be a purist but now I am realizing that short term goals do produce results. My problem with Christianity is the effect it has on society. The belief system creeps into politics, schools and a general worldview and the results are very, very bad for society and humankind in general. If agnostic-Christians don't act or vote like Christians that is "good-enough".

    2. Good read entertaining at best. Yes anyone can get to heaven it's called invincible ignore. The Pope is the closest thing to image of Christ that's all and like Christ when he speaks now understands.

    3. I'm inclined to agree, Joel. While the pope may inspire more usage of the tired No True Scotsman fallacy, that beats a "teach creationism" or "put prayer in schools" campaign any day.

  2. I doubt the Pope will cause much team switching. Protestants will continue to think the Catholics are crazy. Catholics will continue to be sheeple, albeit in their new, slightly less destructive form.

  3. Awesome post. Atheists need to be informed about this stuff.

  4. I think this pope is genuine but at the same time I believe he was carefully chosen for that reason.
    It is just a PR stunt to distract from the fact that the previous pontiff was the author of the plan to hide pedophile priests.