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God loves atheists too, pope says

Published On: May 23 2013 04:15:58 PM CDT   Updated On: May 23 2013 05:13:58 PM CDT

The most important news story of the week didn’t even show up in most media outlets.

The comments by Pope Francis about how Christians might work with others, even atheists, was crowded out by made-up tales of scandals, real stories of tragedies, including the Oklahoma tornado, and general angst about rising gasoline prices.

So, if you missed it, here’s what the pope said:

“We are all children of God; all of us. And God loves us, all of us ... The Lord has redeemed us all with the blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone. Some may ask, ‘Father, even the atheists?’ Them, too. Everyone."

We can all get so oblivious to religious language that we miss what an astounding claim that is for a pope to make. This is a man who heads a church that long claimed salvation is impossible outside the church. He is a leader in the overall Christian church that has long claimed that outside of Jesus, there is no salvation. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. That’s the equation.

But here is the pope proclaiming that God has redeemed everyone, believers and non-believers alike.

In fact, he’s not even calling on non-believers to change their ways.

“Someone can object, ‘But I don’t believe, Father. I’m an atheist.' But do good and we’ll meet there,” the pope said.

Now, if the pope can say that about an atheist, the pope can, by extension, also say that about a Muslim, about a Buddhist, about a Jehovah’s Witness.

If you are like me, you will rejoice in the idea that we are all made in the image of God and are all born with both the capacity and the obligation to do good.

So those words can form the foundation of a powerful call to renew the ecumenical movement.

If you are a more traditionalist person, you might note that the same sentiment can serve as a far more intellectually persuasive argument to stop abortions than the arguments often presented.

It’s a remarkable assertion and it is not a new one. The pope has said for years that Christians and non-believers ought to meet not on the playing field of doctrinal discussion but on the playing field of a mutual desire to do good.

I have to confess that I had no high hopes for the next pope, whomever he may have turned out to be. For the past 50 years the Catholic Church seems to have been involved in a process of turning its back on Vatican II and in bringing the rest of Christianity down with it.

In the space of a few weeks, however, this guy from Argentina seems to have changed the starting point for dialogue and lifted up a vision of hope that the religion of Christianity has blurred through its squabbles and failings.

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