Kiss an Atheist-in-Christ!

Pope Francis waves to the crowd in St. Peter's Square on Tuesday (March 19) at the Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea SabbadiniI am still recovering from a wonderful, yet exhausting, family celebration, but couldn't resist posting about the Pope's latest comments, which I quote at length:

"(RNS) Pope Francis is warning Catholics not to demonize those who are not members of the church, and he specifically defended atheists, saying that building walls against non-Catholics leads to “killing in the name of God.”
“(T)his ‘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,” Francis said Wednesday (May 22) in remarks at the informal morning Mass that he celebrates in the chapel at the Vatican guesthouse where he lives.

“And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.”

"Francis explained that doing good is not a matter of faith: “It is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because he has made us in his image and likeness.”

"To both atheists and believers, he said that “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.”

"In a passage that may prompt a theological debate about the nature of salvation, the pontiff also declared that God “has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!”

“Even the atheists,” he said to those who might question his assertion. “Everyone!”
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I have already been challenged by a fundamentalist acquaintance who thinks Francis has now stopped being a Christian, citing John 3:17-19: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. "

For many years, Catholics were guilty of interpreting scripture to exclude the possibility that salvation could come to non-Catholics. It turned out to be an ugly, divisive and lethal opinion that turned human beings against one another. In my opinion, it is how the Devil used Scripture to rend the Body of Christ by war and discord. Catholics have worked hard to move past that interpretation of Scripture, and to align themselves with the vision of God from the parable about the Prodigal Son -- the God who loves us and desires our return.

Fundamentalists are welcome to believe any exclusionary interpretation of Scripture that they please. But interpretations that cherry-pick verses, and fail to balance them against verses that provide different messages are suspect. And usually self-serving.