In the latest interview given by Pope Francis, the Washington Post is reporting that the pope told an atheist journalist that each person “must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them” and that efforts to convert people to Christianity are “solemn nonsense.”
Many Catholics have wanted to give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt when he has said things in previous interviews like the church shouldn’t be obsessed with abortion or gay marriage, or that everybody should follow their conscience. In six months, Francis has raised a lot of eyebrows.
But then he’s the pope, after all, chosen by God to lead the Church. He’s supposed to be a learned scholar and a wise man. Perhaps he has a plan, a vision for the church that we’re just not seeing yet, something that will justify everything he’s said publicly, something that will become clear at some point and make everyone smack their heads and say, “Oh, of course that’s what he meant.”
Then there’s the fact that his comments have been given to, and reported in, the media, and we all know how they get. The ignorance of most reporters easily explains how even the statements of a pope might be misrepresented.
But this latest interview doesn’t seem to be based on a reporter’s fallacious assumptions.
In La Repubblica, which conducted the original interview, the following exchange between the pope and the atheist reporter is printed (reporter’s comments in bold; italics mine):
“Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me.”
It’s a joke, I tell him. My friends think it is you want to convert me.
He smiles again and replies: “Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.
Your Holiness, is there is a single vision of the Good? And who decides what it is?
“Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is Good.”
OK, so suppose I’m Dr. Doom. What I think is “Good” is whatever kills the Fantastic Four and makes me king of the Eastern Seaboard. But as long as I act on my version of what I have decided is “Good,” then I’m OK and will get into heaven?
Houston, we have a problem. …
That “solemn nonsense” about proselytizing? That’s been the subject of people’s lives. It was the main activity of the careers of Jesus and his apostles, to bring people to God.
According to Francis, that seems not to be so, because elsewhere in the interview, he said, “The Son of God became incarnate in the souls of men to instill the feeling of brotherhood. All are brothers and all children of God.”
While brotherhood was, indeed, emphasized by Jesus, I’ve always had the crazy notion that it was secondary, an effect that occurred naturally once people repented and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Putting “brotherhood” in the primary position seems to me to be the inverse of what Jesus’ whole mission testified to, that salvation comes through faith in Jesus, not through one’s own mortal efforts.
Recall that point about humans not being able to follow the Law? If the Law wasn’t good enough to save people, how is “a vision of good and of evil” that varies from person to person going to do it?
Devoted anti-Catholics will rejoice in this story. I’m not interested in those opinions. The loss of another major church would not be anything to celebrate. Instead, I’d like to hear the opinions of sincere, thinking, Bible-believing Christians of all denominations. Is this pope truly a false teacher?
Here’s a link to the Repubblica article. Tell me if I’m overreacting.