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Anonymous Greg wrote:

Hi, guys —

A disturbing new survey from Pew research indicates almost 70% of Catholics think you do not need to believe in God to go to Heaven.

  • Assuming Pew:
    • does not have the Catholic Church in its cross hairs (an expected but nonetheless ridiculous response) and
    • are experts in the collection of accurate data, what are we to make of this?
  • If only 30% of Catholics know that belief in God is necessary, then what's the final percentage of Catholic souls actually going to Heaven? . . . 20 percent? . . . or less?

There seems to be something terribly, terribly wrong in the Church. This data has shaken me to my core.

Please tell me that the Pope is aware of this and has a plan to address this unforgivable statistic.


  { What do we make of a Pew poll saying 70% of Catholics think you don't need to believe in God? }

Eric replied:

Dear Greg,

It is true that only Jesus Christ saves, and that atheism cannot save. However, the Church teaches that we cannot judge whether any specific individual, atheist or not, is condemned. There is no anti-canonization process that declares that people are in Hell. As Dr. Peter Kreeft, no liberal or shrinking violet, put it:

"Can other religions save you? So far, our answers have been rather liberal: there is much truth and much moral goodness in other religions.

Now we will begin to sound very conservative. Christianity cannot get rid of its founder's claim to be the only Savior. However, the doctrine that Christ is the only Savior does not necessarily entail the conclusion that consciously professing Christians are the only ones saved. Passages like Romans 1 and John 1:9 tell us that God shines light into everyone's mind and speaks to all people through conscience—God's inner microphone. Christians do not claim to know how many people respond to this knowledge of God in such a way as to be saved; but they do claim to know (because Jesus has told them) that if and when and however anyone is saved, it must be by Jesus, the one and only Savior.  In other words, Christian exclusivism is not a demographic claim about Heavenly and Hellish population statistics. It is also not a psychological claim about exactly what has to go on inside the mind and feelings, or the conscious or unconscious levels of the soul, to be saved; about how clear, conscious, and explicit saving faith must be. It is also not a theological claim about how much information you have to have about the true God to be saved. Rather, it is the claim that Jesus is the only objectively Real Savior. So if and when a Jew, Hindu, pagan or atheist is saved, it is not by Judaism, Hinduism, paganism or atheism but by Christ."

 (Kreeft, Peter, and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 1994), p. 347)

Imagine, if you will, a man who grows up in an externally Christian household where he is abused in the name of God, and is taught a severely distorted image of God, which he then (rightly) rejects.

  • How culpable is he for his atheism?

Only God knows. At the same time we have to balance this with the Catechism's statement.

III. The Characteristics of Faith.
The Necessity of faith.

161 Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. (cf. John 16:16; John 3:36; John 6:40 et al.) "Since ' without faith it is impossible to please [God] ' and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life 'But he who endures to the end.'" (Dei Filius 3:DS 3012; cf. Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:13 and Hebrews 11:6; Council Of Trent: DS 1532.)

Nevertheless, indifferentism is an error.

  • It is one thing to say that it is, in exceedingly rare circumstances, remotely possible for someone who professes to be an atheist to be saved;
  • it is another to believe that the question of faith is irrelevant, which seems to be the outcome of the survey.

But we are not saved by knowledge; we are saved by faith working through love (Galatians 5:6). Just because someone is indifferent to the doctrine that you need to believe in God to be saved does not mean that they are condemned; they could be invincibly ignorant through bad catechesis, which lamentably is far too common nowadays.

I am not privy to the plans of the pope. I can't say he is aware of this and has a plan to address this. I think it is not something that devolves exclusively on the pope and is something you and I have the power to address by evangelizing and sharing our faith. You and I are the Lord's hands and feet. Do not hold your breath for the pope to solve the problem.

The devil is always prowling about trying to destroy the Church (cf. 1 Peter 5:8, Revelation 12:12).

In the 4th century during the crisis of the Arian heresy [which denied that Jesus was God], St. Jerome said:

"The whole world groaned when, to its astonishment, it discovered that it was Arian . . . The little ship of the Apostles was in peril, driven by the winds and with her sides buffeted by the waves. There was now no hope. But the Lord awoke, He commanded the storm, the beast died, and there was calm once again."

(St. Jerome, quoted in Jurgens, W. A., translation, The Faith of the Early Fathers Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1970–1979, Volume II, 190).

If you think the Church is in stormy seas, only based on this one fact, you have been under a rock for the last half century or more. But She will prevail, Our Lord guarantees it.


Eric followed-up later:


I just ran across a good explanation about how an atheist could be saved.

The question from Matthew Olsen starts just before the 44-minute mark of this YouTube video after Jimmy takes a sip of Zevia (a no calorie beverage he likes).


The answer lies in an implicit faith contingent on God's existence.


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