Some atheists are angry at the Church for teaching ideas that they judge to be untrue. Some conservative Catholics are angry at the Church for teaching ideas that they judge to be untrue, such as the teachings of Vatican II. Some atheists condemn any Pope who teaches an idea that they think is false; and the same is true for ultra-conservative Catholics. These atheists make themselves out to be judges over the Church, and so do many conservatives. Some atheists think that they are a better judge of what is and is not truth than the Pope. And so do many conservative Catholics.
Some atheists sin by refusing to believe the true teachings of the Church. And so do many ultra-conservatives. Both groups refuse to believe any teaching of the Church that seems wrong to their own minds. Atheists make the mistake of putting reason above faith; any idea that does not accord with their own reasonings, they reject. But many conservative Catholics make the same mistake. Any teaching of any Council or Pope which they reason to be incorrect, they reject. Both groups put reason above faith.
Some atheists speak with contempt about anyone who disagrees with their own ideas. And so do many conservative Catholics. The further you go to the right in Catholic thinking, the more malice there is toward all who disagree. It reaches a point where some conservative Catholics think that almost no one else is going to Heaven except conservative Catholics. And of course, atheists think that no one is going to Heaven at all, since they think the place does not exist. So the slight difference is that the ultra-conservatives think a few more people are going to Heaven than in the atheists’ view.
Some atheists have contempt for all religions and all believers. Some ultra-conservatives have contempt for all religions but their own version of Catholicism. The difference is slight.
Some atheists are angry at conservative Catholics for their ideas on religion, and some conservative Catholics are angry at atheists for their ideas on religion. Some atheists speak as if they are the only ones who have correct ideas on religion; and some conservative Catholics speak the same way. Atheists see no truth on religion or morals outside of their own point of view; and the same can be said for ultra-conservatives.
And both groups condemn each other. But in condemning one another, they are really only condemning themselves. For they are birds of a feather.
What does Jesus say about non-believers and salvation? He gave the examples of Lazarus, who was saved by enduring suffering with grace; of the centurion, who had great faith even though he was not a Jew and did not convert to Christianity; of the Queen of the South, who was saved by her love of wisdom and truth, despite not converting to Judaism; of the Ninevites, who were saved by repentance with perfect contrition, despite not converting to Judaism; and of believers and non-believers who are saved by the love of neighbor, without realizing that in loving neighbor they were loving Christ (Mt 25). Therefore, non-Christians and non-believers can be saved without converting, if their failure to convert is not an actual mortal sin and if they love their neighbor.
What does Jesus say about the ultra-conservatives of this generation? His condemnation of the sins of the Pharisees is essentially a condemnation of errors among conservatives in the Church of every generation. He condemns their excessive emphasis on rules and external actions. He condemns their distortion of the truths of Divine Revelation, and their transgression of the commandments of God for the sake of their own disordered interpretation of Tradition. (More on the topic of modern-day Pharisees in a future post.)
Some atheists will be saved, despite their many errors on religion. And some ultra-conservative Catholics will be saved, despite their many errors on religion. But some from both groups will be lost to the fires of Hell, because they freely chose to hate their neighbor.