Yes, you knew I would have to weigh in on this one. I hate to use Vatican II as the source for this, but it will work out in the end. It can be fun when you defeat people with their own words.
Vatican II in Lumen Gentium says:
- …Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) …
I want to look at 4 points:
- “No fault of their own”
- “Without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God”
- “Sincerely seek God”
- “As it is known to them through the dictates of conscience”
First and second point: An Atheist is one who denies that there is a God. This is different than an agnostic who does not care if there is a God. They make no determination one-way or the other. In both cases, they make a choice. They choose not to believe in God. You cannot deny that which you do not know. Say that I have never heard of a widget. How can I say that one does not exist. It is only when someone introduces me to the widget that I can then say I do not believe in widgets. Before this time, it would never had occurred to me to say that widgets do not exist. Now that I know of the widget, I can do so. The same is true of God. Before you know of God, you cannot deny Him. Once you are introduced to Him, then you have to make a choice to believe or not to believe. Agnostics are just lazy cowards who do not want to go through the process of making an informed choice so they just say “I do not care.” To not make a choice is to make a choice and their choice is to not believe.
With this in mind, now we can say that one who has been introduced to God and deny Him, that they are to blame for their choice. It was their decision. No one made it for them. Atheists then are to blame, it is their FAULT that they do not believe. The knowledge was presented to them and they denied it.
I do not know what to do with the word “explicit” in reference to knowledge of God. When someone tells you that there is a God or shows you Sacred Scripture, that is all explicit. No one is hiding anything. To the overall argument, this point is trivial.
Third point: Is an atheist or agnostic even seeking God at all. One has already denied Him and the other does not care. Where is the sincere seeking???
Forth point: In other words, “Let conscience be your guide.” Do you know how sick and wrong that is? NO! I mean sick and wrong! Conscience is good if you have an informed conscience and a strong conscience. It takes time to inform and strengthen ones conscience. This is why the third point is so important. The Church has never taught that one must follow ones conscience, but ones informed conscience. This is why it is so important a duty for parents to educate their children. Education in all aspects: Reading, writing, arithmetic, religion and logic. Without logic, the ability to reason, one cannot make a rational, informed decision. Rather, they act from a more visceral perspective, from feelings, not truth.
In fact, I am surprised the Pope did not say, “just follow your feelings.” That would have made him the ultimate hero of the world. In effect, that is exactly what he said. Follow your conscience = follow your feelings. It is only when we add the word “informed” conscience to the discussion, that we enter in to a human discussion. Beasts act from feelings, humans act from reason.
As a priest, I have much knowledge, explicit knowledge gained through sincere searching of the truth of the Faith. Even as a priest with all this education and daily concentration on matters of faith, I am still growing in my knowledge of God. So how much knowledge do you need before you are accountable to be a believer when judged on the last day. Jesus asked that we have the faith of a child. This is to say that children believe out of trust, not intelligence. They trust their parents who say there is a God. A child has never researched the issue, and yet they believe. What I bring out here is that it is not a question of how intelligent, well read and knowledgeable you are. It is about “do you believe?”
“Informed conscience” does not mean that you have all the knowledge, but that you have sufficiently strove to know the teaching of the Church and incorporate them into your thinking. This is the sincere part. You must strive with all human valiantry (with all your heart, mind and strength as Scripture would say), to know, understand and believe the teachings of the Church. Anything less is a week and uninformed conscience and so should not be followed on a whim. In many cases, we follow our conscience with the information we have at hand. As my knowledge grows, so does my ability to exercise my conscience to conform unto God and become not only a believer, but become holy as well. God understands that we make the best decision at the time with the information we have at the time. This is true of the sincere seeker. Those who are not searching for truth, may follow their conscience using the information they have at the time to make the best decision they can at the time, but God does not understand or tolerate this. That is, He does not understand or tolerate that one would not seek Him. After all, we remember the whole reason God made us, “To know Him, to love Him and to Serve Him in this life so that we may be happy with him forever in the next” To deny God is to deny our happiness. How is that rational? Jesus even says that if you deny me, I will deny you.
There are so many example to show that this is yet another ridiculous statement like “Who am I to judge?” Yes, God is merciful, but that mercy does have limits. God is also just and He will not violate justice for the sake of mercy. That would be faults mercy. Only those who strive for heaven will gain heaven for only they will have done their part to participate in redemption and so gain salvation.
The Pope has lowered the bar to a level unprecedented. It fully embraces the modernist position that there is no hell and that all go to heaven. It is true that God died for all, but it is also true that only some, even few (the narrow path) will embrace the cross and except God’s mercy.
I would love to see where the Pope got his theology for his statement because I cannot find anything to support it, not even from liberal Vatican II, which I am sure he fully embraces.