Commenter Peski sends the link and sniffs, “Maybe he only reads the New Testament.”
Actually, the Pope’s after more than just the atheists. You’ll find the encyclical here; our Protestant readers will note with interest (or not) what he has to say about individual salvation. As for the godless, his argument will be familiar as it’s been made in the comments of this blog many times.
The atheism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is—in its origins and aims—a type of moralism: a protest against the injustices of the world and of world history. A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering, and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God. A God with responsibility for such a world would not be a just God, much less a good God. It is for the sake of morality that this God has to be contested. Since there is no God to create justice, it seems man himself is now called to establish justice. If in the face of this world’s suffering, protest against God is understandable, the claim that humanity can and must do what no God actually does or is able to do is both presumptuous and intrinsically false. It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice; rather, it is grounded in the intrinsic falsity of the claim. A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope. No one and nothing can answer for centuries of suffering. No one and nothing can guarantee that the cynicism of power—whatever beguiling ideological mask it adopts—will cease to dominate the world.
He’s referring to communism (and refers to Marx by name earlier on), of which atheism is of course a component. To read this, you’d think it was communism that was a component of atheism — that the root of the problem is godlessness, not an economic system based on state coercion and compulsory compliance. It’d be like arguing that the problem with white-power churches in the midwest isn’t their racist ideology, it’s their Christianity. The difference, perhaps, is that while you don’t need racial theory to practice Christianity effectively, you may well need atheism to practice communism effectively, to clear the way for the state to be installed in the role of God. That makes the link between the two rather more problematic, although it also politely neglects to consider atheism within the context of other economic systems. Would a libertarian atheist state lead to the “greatest forms of cruelty”? I’m skeptical. But then, I would be.