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Talking with non-believers

Talking with non-believers

Pope Francis continues to confound those who expect the Roman Catholic Church to act in predictable ways. National Catholic Reporter reports on an exchange between the Pope and a journalist:

…attention in Italy is focused … on the latest sensation from Pope Francis himself: a personal letter to a renowned journalist and nonbeliever, splashed across the front page of La Repubblica, the country’s most widely read daily.

In the letter, Francis makes three points that have all been said before, including by popes, but rarely with such clarity or in this kind of venue:

•God has never abandoned the covenant with the Jewish people, and the church “can never be grateful enough” to the Jews for preserving their faith despite the horrors of history, especially the Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.

•God’s mercy “does not have limits” and therefore it reaches nonbelievers, too, for whom sin would not be the lack of faith in God, but rather, failure to obey one’s conscience.

•Truth is not “variable or subjective,” but Francis says he avoids calling it “absolute” — truth possesses us, he said, not the other way around, and it’s always expressed according to someone’s “history and culture, the situation in which they live, etc.”

In his response to Scalfari, Francis wrote that he believes dialogue between the church and non-believers is important for two reasons.

The first, the pope wrote, is the historical breach between the church and the culture inspired by the Enlightenment. “The time has come, and Vatican II inaugurated this season, for an open dialogue, without preconceptions, which reopens the doors for a serious and fruitful encounter,” Francis writes.

Second, Francis says, from the point of view of the believer, dialogue with others is not a “secondary accessory” but rather something “intimate and indispensable.”

More in Salon

…what Francis did offer was a seemingly sincere and respectful attempt to find common ground. “The question for those who do not believe in God is to abide by their own conscience,” he wrote. “There is sin, also for those who have no faith, in going against one’s conscience. Listening to it and abiding by it means making up one’s mind about what is good and evil.”


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Rod Gillis

Thanks for this post. It is helpful to read the entire NCR article.Its early days, but Pope Francis seems to be moving back to a kinder gentler stance on Vatican II. His comments about Christian antisemitism and the Shoah are indicative.

The new atheists are doing Christian theology and its intellectual traditions a great favor. They are presenting us with a challenge to articulate with clarity and relevance the nature of belief in a modern world. When Bonhoeffer visited America, he noted that critical theology disparaged fundamentalism while being unequal to the task of responding to it. Much the same can be said for the current situation, with regard to churches in the reformation tradition with regard to atheism. The fall back to cult and amorphic notions of “justice” within a chaotic theological framework will only further our continual decline.

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