The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.
There's a lot being said about the recent comments of Pope Francis concerning atheists, and while it is nice to see a slightly more welcoming and tolerant voice leading the Catholic Church, atheists should be careful about reading too much into what was said and should realize that what the Pope refers to as "doing good" may not be exactly what an atheist thinks it is.
I'm an atheist and a Humanist and I strive to do good works. As the current president and a member of the Humanists of Rhode Island, I participate in building houses twelve times a year with Habitat for Humanity, help with our Adopt-a-Highway Cleanup four times a year, and dedicate time and effort to other volunteer efforts as they arise. I give some of what little money I make to charity, and I advocate politically on many issues, including poverty and guns.
But another part of my commitment to doing good is through my advocacy and work in the areas of women's, LGBTQ and reproductive rights.
The Humanists of Rhode Island is a proud member of the Coalition of Reproductive Justice here in Rhode Island. The coalition is lead by Planned Parenthood. Last year the Roman Catholic Providence Diocese called us "radical promoters of death" for our efforts.
The Humanists of Rhode Island participate annually in RI PrideFest, a celebration of LGBTQ rights. Finally, the Humanists of Rhode Island are fully committed to the feminist values of full equality for all women.
I consider these all to be examples of "good works" but on all these issues I find myself on the opposite side of the Catholic Church.
I don't see anything resembling "good works" when I see members of the Catholic Church, both lay people and clergy, engaging in efforts to restrict a woman's access to birth control and abortion. Many of the protests conducted outside abortion clinics here in Rhode Island, in which large signs with bloody images of aborted fetuses are held aloft, are organized by Catholic believers. If this is a "good work" then count me out.
Should I consider it "good works" to oppose marriage equality? A coalition formed here in Rhode Island to oppose marriage equality included the Catholic Church and MassResistance, a certified anti-LGBT hate group. Can hate or even simple discrimination possibly fall under the definition of "good works?" Many Catholics apparently believe so, but I do not.
I don't see anything good in the Catholic Church's continued promotion of policies that relegate women to second-class status, nor do I see much good in certain theological beliefs, such as the redemptive nature of suffering and poverty.
When I talk about good and the Pope talks about good, I feel that we are talking about two very different things. There may be some overlap between our positions, in that we both want to see an elimination of war, poverty, violence and disease, but there are some issues we will never agree on.
When the Catholic Church and the Humanists of Rhode Island find themselves strongly advocating on opposite sides of contentious issues that have a real impact on the lives of real people, we are both committing ourselves to different definitions of "good" and "good works." The Pope believes that our efforts will result in a final judgement before God and our assured entry into eternal life, but I can't believe in any of that.
No reward and no punishment awaits me in the afterlife. I live in this world, and I will die in this world If I am very lucky and work hard, I may leave this world slightly better off due to my efforts.
That's all I could ever hope for, and it is more than enough.