Are Atheists Children of God?

Are atheists children of God? Every atheist who truly loves his neighbor is truly a child of God.

Recently, Pope Francis gave a sermon that included a mention of atheists:

“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.”

Everyone who is in a state of grace is a child of God. The Council of Trent infallibly teaches that baptism makes us adopted children of God, including a baptism of desire. For us poor fallen sinners, the only way to enter the state of grace is by some form of baptism: the formal Sacrament of baptism by water, or a baptism of desire (implicit or explicit), or a baptism of blood.

Atheism is objectively a grave sin, but it might not be an actual mortal sin in many cases, due to invincible ignorance. Only unrepented actual mortal sin condemns a soul to Hell. To be saved, though, a person must die in the state of grace. How can an atheist enter that state? Some atheists were baptized Christian as children, and only fell away from the Faith later in life. So they entered the state of grace. If an atheist commits an actual mortal sin, he can return to the state of grace by implicit perfect contrition.

If an atheist was never baptized, he can enter the state of grace by an implicit baptism of desire. Whosoever loves his neighbor selflessly, in cooperation with grace, also loves God, at least implicitly. The love of neighbor implies the love of God.

God offers salvation to everyone, no matter what their circumstances or faults.

Pope Saint John Paul II: “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all.” [Redemptoris Missio 10].

Salvation is offered to atheists, and it is concretely available to them. Salvation is offered to prenatals who die in the womb, and it is concretely available to them. Salvation is offered to Jews, Muslims, other believers, and unbelievers, and it is concretely available to them. If an adult has a sincerely mistaken conscience and therefore does not realize he should believe in God, or should believe in Jesus, then it is not an actual mortal sin. Only actual mortal sin condemns to Hell.

Every human person either dies in the state of grace or in a state of unrepented actual mortal sin. There is no third case, as I show in my book: Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone.

If you love your neighbor, you are a child of God, including: Christians, Jews, Muslims, other believers, agnostics, and atheists.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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