Pope Francis is the embodiment of “speaking truth to power” in contemporary religion. Just days ago he dared to vow that atheist had a better chance of getting into heaven than Christians who openly disavow basic principles of Christian behavior and attitude. (See link to story at bottom of post.) I know, from my background, how this notion went over with many Christians of all stripe; for with them any “atheist” has no chance of getting into heaven for he does not “believe in God.” Pope Francis recognizes as I do that “belief in God” is not a simple academic or intellectual assent to a set of beliefs but is a heart-felt, soul-level, commitment to an interior spiritual dynamic that effects a different orientation to the whole of life. This commitment allows one to have a “discerning spirit” so that he can readily spot, for example, hypocrisy and point it out just as Jesus did to the Pharisees. And, I dare to say, this is because one has deigned to identify the “performance actor” dimension to one’s own life, including in the arena of faith. There is nothing wrong with being an “actor”. The problem lies in merely failing to recognize that one is an “actor,” which is what the word “hypocrite” meant in the time of Jesus.
In this article note also how one of the officials in the Vatican offered a follow-up explanation of the Pope’s observation, stating that it is possible that one can disavow “Christianity” and still be committed to a spiritual voice that will ultimately lead one to God. This resonated with reports I’ve had from friends who no longer confess to being a “Christian” but firmly and passionately believe in Jesus and in “the teachings of Jesus. From dialogue with these people I have learned that they have faith in the “person” of Jesus and not so much in the historical tradition of Christianity. One recently explained how that she realized that her Christian faith had been given to her as a form of indoctrination but that now in mid-life she had found the courage and grace to employ spiritual discernment and realize that the value of words, especially spiritual “words” lie beneath the surface and can be meaningful only when one is willing to delve into the interior dimension of one’s own life. This is learning to access the “spirit of the law” and no longer rely on the “letter of the law.”