Pope Francis: Can Atheists go to Heaven?

Posted on December 8, 2014 by



Alex Liss

Introduction to World Religions


For my final project, I decided to go over how different people have reacted to Pope Francis’ thoughts on if atheists can go to heaven or not. I will analyze how the media has depicted his thoughts in different ways, how Catholics have reacted to his thoughts, and how atheists view his feelings. Pope Francis has brought some very innovative thoughts and actions to the Catholic Church so far, and one of his most interesting thoughts is that he believes that atheists can go to heaven. I found this topic interesting because atheists don’t believe in afterlife, so I wondered, if the Pope says that they can go to heaven, but they don’t believe there is a heaven, what are their thoughts? How are people of the media trying to inform the audience about this topic, reporting the Pope as positive or making him out to be bad? So, over this analysis, I will go over how the media has made the Pope out to be with his belief that atheists can go to heaven, how Catholics view him, and lastly, what do atheists think about his views.

Media Views from all angles:

After researching the topic, it became clear to me that not everyone viewed his opinion the same and that there were some different angles that the story was being approached from. Here is one from Steven Colbert, a political satirist who had a humorous take on the Pope.

Colbert Report Report on Pope Francis (Video)

One of the first articles I came across when doing research was from the Washington Times with the headline: Pope Francis suggests atheists’ good deeds gets them to heaven. The article went over how Pope Francis said that he believed if you do good, you will go to heaven, but directly after this goes on to point out how the Catholic Church did not agree with his statement, getting a quote from a Vatican spokesperson saying you have to be Catholic to go to heaven. For the most part, this article views the Pope as positive and encourages readers to think so also, and also shows the reader how he is different from Pope’s in the past. On the other end of the spectrum, I found a video of Bill Maher, and his opinion on Pope Francis’ view point. Maher is another political satirist, like Colbert, and I found that the two videos had a lot of similarities, especially the fact that in both videos they address to the pope as “Pope Frank”. He suggests that from what he has heard he believes the Pope is an atheist, because he believes everyone can go to heaven. During the video, he refers to the Pope as “Pope Frank”, which to some, may be saw a name-calling, and disrespectful to the pope and the Church. This will lead an audience to possibly question what the Pope said, and maybe reconsider their thoughts. It may also cause an uproar in the Catholic community because they may find this opinion offensive. Another article I found from the Independent, a British newspaper, started the article with “In his first year as pontiff, Pope Francis has enjoyed a very positive media image compared to his predecessors. He is certainly the first pope to have been compared to both a rock star and to Superman.” This article definitely sheds a positive light on everything that Pope Francis has done, and goes as far as comparing him to Superman. And one last article I found is from the Atlantic, the article titled: No, the Pope Didn’t Just Say All Atheists Go to Heaven. In this article, the author states people are misinterpreting what the Pope is saying. David Perry (author), believes that the Pope didn’t’ say all atheists go to heaven, he believes that this is the Pope trying to create an idea that will unite all, Catholics, atheists, everyone. The author is emphasizing that Pope Francis’ atheists’ comments are much more than they seem and that he is trying to create unity through all people in these comments. So, after reviewing a variety of media outlets, I see how the media tries to sway you into going with what they are saying, whether it is by telling you that you misinterpreted what the Pope said, calling the Pope, “Pope Frank” and ‘an atheist’, or comparing him to Superman, all angles are approached with this topic.

Watch first 2:30 of video

Catholic Opinion on Pope Francis and atheists:

The sources I used above were not written for any particular type of person or a certain religious affiliation, but the sources in this section target Catholics. I thought that it was important to gauge the interests of Catholics in Pope Francis because he is Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, so I wanted to see how they viewed him on his thoughts with atheists. In a catholicvote.org article titled: What Pope Francis Really Said About Atheists, the author, Stephen Kokx, writes that the Pope is just affirming truths that “any somewhat knowledgeable Catholic will uphold”. The main thing Kokx is trying to get is that not all Atheists are going to go to heaven, just like all Catholics aren’t going to heaven. Another interesting thing from this article is that it begins by targeting a Huffington Post Article. Kokx has a problem with this Huffington Post article because it says all atheists will go to heaven, and Kokx wants his audience to know that this is not what the Pope was trying to say.

In a catholic.org article, the overall same theme is evident as the catholicvote.org article, but doesn’t target any other particular article. The article tries to attract the reader into believing that Pope Francis believes anyone can go to heaven but to get there, you need to do good, as this “do good” is repeated numerous times throughout the article. But, as with other articles I have analyzed, this one also finishes by saying that that the Catholic Church does not stand by this thinking. So now that I have analyzed some sources from Catholic based websites and gotten their opinions, what do Catholics in general think about Pope Francis’ thoughts?

According to graph below created by pewforum.org, 84% of Catholics were favorable of the Pope, which is a very high rate. Over the last 100 years, The Catholic Church has been declining in interest with many serious problems within it, such as child molestation along with others. This shows that people who affiliate as Catholic approve of the Pope and his beliefs. I believe this has a lot to do with the evolution of beliefs within the church, and one thing that I really think vaulted favorability of Francis is his thoughts that people outside of Catholics can go to heaven if they are a good person. Although I do believe that this statistic was weighted toward getting a positive response. There was a very favorable and most favorable and only and unfavorable. It did not give the option of an undecided or different levels of un-favorability.



Atheists’ View on Pope Francis

This is the most interesting part of this theme to me, as Pope Francis says that if a person does good, they can reach heaven, regardless of if they are Catholic or not, which means an atheist, who does not believe in heaven, can go to heaven. This made me think, would an atheist even care what the pope thought? According to religion.blogs.cnn.com, a blog was created showing atheists’ opinions on Pope Francis, there was nothing but love to the Pope. Some of the responses put up were “I may be an atheist, but there’s something about Pope Francis that makes me want to be Catholic. He’s so inspiring.”, and “You guys know, I’m as atheist as they come, but man, this new pope continues to impress me”. This CNN blog makes you want to believe that every atheist like’s the pope, but the only problem with this blog is that it only shows positive things about the Pope. The purpose of this blog had to have been to show that Pope Francis is loved by everyone, which is fine, but I’m not sure if every atheist believes this way entirely. Out of curiosity, I decided to call one of my friends, who is an atheist and ask him what he thought about the pope. He said that he did not know if he believed in heaven, but he really did like Pope Francis and what he stood for. To me this is really cool, because Pope Francis is saying that Heaven is open to more than Catholics, and it is great see so many different types of people coming together and acknowledging the opinions of a new and different kind of pope.


So after reviewing all of this information, I do believe that after Pope Francis said atheists can go to heaven, it made a positive impact on the Catholic Church as a whole. Some of the sources I found definitely put spins on the story to try and make it seem better or worse than it actually is. After seeing different sources for the same story, I see now that no two people see the story the same and in this case, interpret what the Pope said in different ways. Never before had a Catholic Pope really acknowledged that he believed other people outside of Catholicism could go to heaven, and through the research and sources, I believe this has been viewed as extremely positive for the popularity and support of the Catholic Church. I would say that 3/4th’s of the sources I found were positive or supportive toward the Pope, which is a contributor to why the Pope continues to gain support. If those who write articles for major publications agree with your thoughts and ideas, they are going to write good things about you, and this has what has been done with Pope Francis with his belief that atheists can go to heaven, if they do good, regardless of what they believe.

Pope Francis


Kokx, S. (2014). What Pope Francis really said about atheists | CatholicVote.org. Retrieved from http://www.catholicvote.org/what-pope-francis-really-said-about-atheists/

Chumley, C. K. (2013, May 24). Pope Francis suggests atheists’ good deeds gets them to heaven – Washington Times. Retrieved from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/may/24/pope-francis-suggests-atheists-good-deeds-gets-the/

Perry, D. M. (2013, May 24). No, the Pope Didn’t Just Say All Atheists Go to Heaven – The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/05/no-the-pope-didnt-just-say-all-atheists-go-to-heaven/276214/

Daily Caller. (2013, June 1). Bill Maher: ‘I think the pope might be an atheist’ | The Daily Caller [Video file]. Retrieved from http://dailycaller.com/2013/06/01/bill-maher-i-think-the-pope-might-be-an-atheist-like-i-think-obama-is/

Pew Research. (2013, September 12). Retrieved from http://www.pewforum.org/2013/09/12/six-months-into-papacy-large-majority-of-catholics-continue-to-express-favorable-view-of-pope-francis/

Criado, E. (2014, March 7). Pope Francis – the first year: From atheists to gay marriage, 12 months in his own words – News – The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/pope-francis-what-hes-said-and-what-others-said-about-him-9174851.html

Comedy Central: Colbert Report. (2014, May 14). Pope Francis on Baptizing Martians – The Colbert Report – Video Clip | Comedy Central [Video file]. Retrieved from http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/5ob1j2/pope-francis-on-baptizing-martians

News Consortium. (2013, May 30). Pope Francis says atheists can do good and go to heaven too! – Living Faith – Home & Family – News – Catholic Online. Retrieved from http://www.catholic.org/news/hf/faith/story.php?id=51077

Burke, D. (2013, November 7). Even atheists love this Pope – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs. Retrieved from http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/11/07/atheists-who-really-loooove-this-pope/

Pope Francis. (2014, November 10). Retrieved from http://cdn1.relevantmediagroup.com/sites/default/files/field/thumbnail/Pope-Francis-009.jpg

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