A Vatican spokesperson is walking back remarks Pope Francis made last week suggesting that atheists and people of other faiths who do good deeds are also redeemed “with the blood of Christ,” a statement that seemed to contradict Catholic teaching that “outside the church there is no salvation.”
After lauding Francis’ ability to speak in a “language that everyone can understand,” the Rev. Thomas Rosica issued a corrective to the pope’s homily and suggested that, basically, people misunderstood the pope.
In a message delivered on Vatican Radio last week, the pope said: “The Lord has redeemed all of us… not just Catholics. Everyone!” Adding, in case there was any confusion: “Even the atheists. Everyone!” In response to the homily, Rosica wrote that, while the pope is a gifted speaker, Francis was not rewriting theological doctrine when he made his inclusive remarks:
Pope Francis has no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation through his homily or scriptural reflection when he stated that “God has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!” [...]
This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.
By: Katie McDonough, Assistant Editor, Salon, May 28, 2013
“Atheists In Tornadoes And Foxholes”: If You Believe Only When There’s An Enemy Army Or A Tornado, You Don’t Believe
If you’ve watched the endless interviews with survivors of natural disasters, you may have noticed that the news media representatives, faced with someone who may be too shocked or nervous before the cameras to offer sufficiently compelling testimony, often do some gentle prompting. “When you saw your home destroyed, were you just devastated?” “You’ve never seen anything like this before, have you?” “Your whole life changed in that moment, didn’t it?” Not everyone who survived a disaster is YouTube clip-ready, so some need to be coached. There was one such interview after the tornado ran through Moore, Oklahoma that got some attention. Interviewing a woman as they stood before the tangled pile of debris that used to be her home and discussed her family’s narrow escape, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said, “You guys did a great job. I guess you got to thank the Lord. Right?” When she hesitated, Blitzer pressed on. “Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?” She paused for a moment before responding, “I’m actually an atheist.” Awkward laughs ensued.
Blitzer’s assumption was understandable; most Americans profess a faith in God, and there is an awful lot of Lord-thanking after a natural disaster. Atheists find this puzzling, to say the least; if God deserves your thanks and praise for being so merciful as to allow you to live through the tornado, maybe He could have been kind enough not to destroy your home and kill 24 of your neighbors in the first place. But at times of crisis, everyone looks for comfort where they can find it.
It’s often said that there are no atheists in foxholes, and I suppose Wolf Blitzer thought the same would be true of tornadoes. But when you stop to think about that old expression, you realize how insulting it is, not just to those who don’t believe in an almighty but also to those who do. It says that the primary basis for religious faith is fear of death, and one’s beliefs are so superficial that they are a function only of the proximity of danger. If you believe only because there’s an enemy army or a tornado bearing down on you, you don’t believe.
Wolf Blitzer will no doubt be more careful next time. And perhaps he’ll learn that those who hold to no religion are a fast-growing group, as many as one in six Americans in most polls, so there’s at least a fair chance that the next disaster survivor he interviews will also be an atheist. Some of those secular folks are becoming more open about it as their numbers increase; for instance, when last week it came Arizona state representative Juan Mendez’s turn to open the legislative session with a prayer, he instead chose an eloquent invocation of “my secular humanist tradition,” including a quote from Carl Sagan. Afterward, Mendez said, “I hope today marks the beginning of a new era in which Arizona’s non-believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers.”
It’s a nice thought, but it may take a while. There are signs of progress, though. Last week, Pope Francis made news around the world when in a homily, he delivered to his flock the shocking news that atheists are capable of doing good. They may not get to heaven, but on this planet they are not necessarily gripped by evil. This was certainly a step in the direction of mutual understanding that his predecessor was not inclined to make; Pope Benedict was aggressively hostile to those who don’t believe in God, essentially blaming the crimes of the Third Reich on atheism.
But I was surely not the only atheist who was a little underwhelmed by Francis’ generosity of spirit. Atheists are capable of goodness? How kind of him to say. If you heard a man say, “You may not believe it, but women can be intelligent,” you probably wouldn’t respond, “What an admirable statement of his commitment to equality—thanks, Mr. Feminist!” But the bar is pretty low for religious leaders; we expect them to hold that all who do not share their particular beliefs are doomed to an eternity of the cruelest punishments the divine mind can devise. We speak of religious “tolerance” as the most we can expect when it comes to the treatment of other people’s religions. But we “tolerate” not that which we love or respect but that which is unpleasant, painful, or worthy of mild contempt. We tolerate things which we’d just as soon see disappear. You tolerate a hangnail.
Nevertheless, we can give the Pope credit for making a start, even if in public life the most vapid expressions of faith will continue to be the norm. Singers will thank the Lord for delivering unto them a Grammy, smiting the hopes of the other nominees, who are plainly vile in His sight. Football players will gather to pray before a last-second field goal, in the hopes that God will alter his divine plan in their favor and push the ball through the goalposts. And presidents Democratic and Republican will end every speech with “And may God bless the United States of America.” As The Atlantic‘s James Fallows has noted many times, this utterly content-free bit of religiosity means nothing more than “This speech is now over.”
I don’t know if hearing that at the end of a speech makes anyone feel more reassured or hopeful about our country’s future. Perhaps it does. But that woman Wolf Blitzer interviewed? The group Atheists Unite put out a call to help her family rebuild their house, setting a goal of raising $50,000. They’re already approaching $100,000. She no doubt feels thankful, but she’ll be thanking her fellow human beings.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 27, 2013
One summer when I was in college, I worked for a tiny lobbying firm, most of whose clients were disease-related. If the firm wasn’t able to get you increased funding for research into your disease, at the very least it could get a friendly member of Congress to introduce a proclamation about it. Framed on the office walls were documents declaring the first week in June to be Copious Earwax Awareness Week or November to be Toenail Fungus Month.
The government declares lots of national days of this and weeks of that, most of which go unnoticed. Today, however, is the National Day of Prayer, in which, that pesky establishment clause notwithstanding, the federal government encourages you to get down on your knees and implore your deity to deliver whatever you happen to lack, or to be merciful toward those he might otherwise smite. Don’t confuse it with the National Prayer Breakfast; that’s an entirely separate national prayer event. Here‘s Barack Obama’s proclamation of the day, though beyond that I don’t think the government is doing much to honor it. That slack is picked up by the quasi-official National Day of Prayer Task Force, a decidedly evangelical Christian group chaired by Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson. This year’s honorary chair is California megachurch pastor Greg Laurie, whose participation led to protests from gay-rights groups unhappy with Laurie’s particular view of sin and sexuality. Laurie will be leading prayer events on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon today. The theme of this year’s events is “Pray for America,” the message being that everything is pretty much going to hell (so to speak) in our country, and the only thing that can get us back on the right track is Jesus.
In the face of all this government sponsorship of prayer, the rather less influential secular humanist movement has declared today the National Day of Reason. They had to declare it themselves, because unlike the National Day of Prayer, the government wasn’t going to get involved with them. So feel free, if you swing that way, to take a moment today to consider all that reason and science have done for us.
I’ll stop before my impulse to snark gets the better of me, but I would like to note something for my religious friends, especially the Christians: Next time you want to say you’re “oppressed” because people are saying that there may be a few areas we can keep religion out of, like science class, or that it might be better not to assume that everyone is a Christian but instead be sensitive to people who believe in gods other than yours or no god at all, consider that those of us who don’t believe in an almighty deity tolerate stuff like the National Day of Prayer all the time. We don’t much like it, but we almost always just let it slide. The government makes our kids stand up and declare that we’re “one nation, under God,” our money says “In God We Trust,” Congress starts every day with a prayer, and official sponsorship of religious events is everywhere. On the other hand, while there are lots of places where discussion of people’s religious beliefs is excluded, there is nowhere—nowhere—where the government explicitly affirms and honors the beliefs of those who don’t believe in god. There’s no government-sponsored “There Is No God Day” with White House proclamations and Pentagon gatherings.
And that’s as it should be. It’s not government’s job to tell you it agrees with your metaphysical views. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
11Yes, technically kids in public schools don’t have to say the Pledge of Allegiance if they don’t want to, but peer pressure being what it is, few feel comfortable abstaining.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 2, 2013
“A Shameful Waste Of Taxpayer Money”: North Carolina Lawmakers Introduce Law To Establish An Official State Religion
What is it about GOP state legislators that drives them to create laws that have no hope of surviving constitutional scrutiny yet always succeed in running up millions in legal fees to be paid by taxpayers on the way to failure?
And why is it that these same lawmakers are always among the ones crying foul when taxpayer money is spent on things such as healthcare for children or food stamps for the hungry but gladly blow big money on useless challenges to the United States Constitution?
Apparently, helping kids and seniors get needed healthcare is a shameful waste of taxpayer money while paying lawyers big money to pursue hopeless cases that only serve to further political careers is both noble and enlightening.
Over the past few years, red state after red state has taken to passing anti-abortion laws designed to subvert the Supreme Court’s judgment in Roe v. Wade—despite the reality that these state laws, on their face, clearly violate the law.
Recently, many have watched in amazement as Mississippi legislators filed a piece of legislation that would establish a state committee empowered to decide which federal laws the state will agree to follow and which ones they will chose to ignore. According to these Mississippi state lawmakers, they possess the power to ignore any federal law they wish as a result of their state sovereignty—despite a United States Constitution that clearly says otherwise.
But now, in what can only be seen as the coup de grâce in a Republican rebellion against the U.S. Constitution which is sweeping the nation, legislators in North Carolina are preparing to take on one of the most fundamental notions upon which our nation was founded—the freedom of religion and the importance of that pesky wall that separates church and state.
Meet North Carolina Representatives Carl Ford (R-China Grove) and Harry Warren (R-Salisbury), the primary sponsors of a bill introduced into the state’s General Assembly that would clear the way for the state to adopt an official, state religion.
The proposed law, introduced earlier this week, states that the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment—which prohibits Congress from passing laws respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion in America—simply does not apply to the states. The bill goes on to proclaim the sovereignty of the states in this matter while proclaiming that each state is free to make its own laws respecting an establishment of an official religion and that such an establishment cannot be blocked by either Congress or the judiciary.
If you are of the mind that these North Carolina lawmakers have it right, allow me to introduce you to Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), the U.S. Supreme Court case that established the three-pronged test—called “The Lemon Test”— for determining when a state has run afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause:
- The law or state policy must have been adopted with a neutral or non-religious purpose.
- The principle or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion.
- The statute or policy must not result in an “excessive entanglement” of government with religion.
Clearly, there is no way that a state can create an ‘official’ religion without going very wrong when it comes to meeting The Lemon Test as established by the highest court in the land.
We should not be overly surprised that such an effort to ‘break’ the Constitution—not to mention the will of the Founders—should come from the state of North Carolina. This is the same state that continues to have a provision in its State Constitution requiring that nobody may run for a public office in the state unless that candidate affirmatively states his or her belief in God. Never mind that such a requirement is, again, in direct contradiction to the U. S. Constitution’s prohibition against religion as a prerequisite for serving in public office or the many writings of the Founders expressing their strong feelings against religion as a disqualifying factor for holding office.
And never mind that North Carolina has never removed this requirement from their Constitution despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961) which held that such a law violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. It was in the Torcaso case that the Court wrote—
“We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person “to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.”
So, is this latest effort to subvert a fundamental premise upon which this nation was founded simply the work of a few misguided public officials in North Carolina looking to score some points with the electorate?
Sadly, it is not.
Joining in the fun, as a co-sponsor of the bill allowing North Carolina to establish an official state religion, is one of the most powerful members of the North Carolina General Assembly, GOP Majority Leader Edgar Starnes. Apparently, expecting a leader in so important a role to show some fealty to the law and the legal underpinnings of the nation is asking a bit too much when compared to the opportunity provided that elected official to score a few political points.
I would call these ‘cheap’ political points but there is nothing cheap about the bills the state will rack up as they work to move their faulty legislation up to the United States Supreme Court in order to make their point.
For me, the overriding question presented by this latest effort to subvert the Constitution is just how long it will take for those who self-identify as strict constitutionalist—typically people who also identify as Republicans—to understand that their taxpayer dollars are being squandered by the millions by their elected officials.
When public servants have come to the point where they are desirous of turning their backs on citizens of their state whom may not subscribe to the same religious beliefs of those elected officials, we are on the road to an America that the Founders would neither recognize nor approve.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, April 3, 2013
There is much dispute and dialogue among scholars over what to make of the Christmas narratives in the scriptures and the connection between what was written and what we can know about what happened. As the Rev. Daniel J. Harrington has noted: “The New Testament contains two Christmas stories, not one. They appear in Matthew: 1–2 and Luke: 1–2. They have some points in common. But there are many differences in their characters, plot, messages, and tone.”
Those of us who celebrate Christmas do not tend to think as scholars or (God forbid!) journalists, but as people of hope. We tend at Christmastime to rely most on Luke, whose telling of Jesus’s birth is, as the Rev. Harrington says, is “upbeat, celebratory, and even romantic.” We find in Jesus, all at once, inspiration, comfort, challenge and, in one of Pope John Paul II’s favorite phrases, “a sign of contradiction.” And the contradiction is right there in the two Christmas accounts: Matthew emphasizes Jesus’s noble lineage, while Luke tells the story of a savior born in a manger. There is a special moral significance, I think, in Luke’s account: a faith rooted in the Jewish prophetic tradition traces its origins not to a palace but to a stable; not to an aristocratic household but to a family led by a carpenter. It was a powerful way to send one of Christianity’s most important messages: that every single human being is endowed with dignity by God and worthy of respect.
Pope John XXIII offered a take on this idea that quietly reminds us of how the materialism that seems to run rampant at Christmastime is antithetical to the Christmas story. The church, he argued in his 1959 Christmas message, “has always fixed her gaze on the human person and has taught that things and institutions — goods, the economy, the state — are primarily for man; not man for them.” He added: “The disturbances which unsettle the internal peace of nations trace their origins chiefly to this source: that man has been treated almost exclusively as a machine, a piece of merchandise, a worthless cog in some great machine or a mere productive unit. It is only when the dignity of the person comes to be taken as the standard of value for man and his activities that the means will exist to settle civil discord . . . .” In this telling. “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men” is not a greeting card sentiment but a moral demand.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also took “peace on earth” as a personal and social imperative. On Christmas Eve 1967, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. aired King’s “A Christmas Sermon on Peace” as part of the Massey Lecture series. (I draw this from “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.,” published by Harper Collins.) King argued that “if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional,” and he added: “Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.”
Like so many of Rev. King’s sermons that included stern warnings and tough lessons, this one ended in hope.
“I still have a dream,” he said, four years after his most celebrated speech at the March on Washington, “that with this faith, we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when there shall be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day when the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of god will shout for joy.”
Go tell it on the mountain.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 24, 2012