This column salutes the Pope's decision, although I'm not going to be bashful about pointing out that I made a similar pronouncement back in 2011, proving that if you want cutting edge, outside-of-the-box, pushing the envelope or any other cliche that means new and cool, theology, you've come to the right place. Furthermore, I will explain here the exact metaphysical mechanism by which atheists sprint past Saint Peter and into eternal bliss.
First off, the Pope and I are both using the word 'atheist' to describe not only atheists but the whole motley crew of nonbelievers and semi-believers, including atheists, agnostics, apathists, Deists, humanists, rationalists, existentialists, Buddhists, Baha'is and Jews. The true atheists are merely our leaders. They don't mind pissing off religious humanity by suing to get Bibles, crosses and prayers removed from classrooms, hills and graduation ceremonies, whereas the rest of us just sigh and ignore them. While we root for the atheists, we realize they tend to be angry people. Here's a link to a guy who has already replied to the Pope's invitation to the eternal hoe-down by saying, in effect, We don't want to go to your stinky old Heaven.
Most of us, though, are pretty tickled at the Pope banging open the Pearly Gates for us, although we're not surprised. We knew it all along. Not only do we go to Heaven, but we get the best spots There. Let me illustrate by means of two hypothetical cases:
Bob Christian passes on. Of course, he, all his friends and family have been supplicating God for weeks to let his soul into Heaven. After his final moment, he floats through the Tunnel of Light for his interview. The Deity looks at him thoughtfully, and says,
“Finally here, eh, Bob? Well, I know you've been thinking about coming here for years. In fact, you've pretty well kept me abreast of everything you've ever desired. When you were a kid, you prayed for toys for Christmas, instead of writing to Santa like all the other kids. When you were a teenager, you prayed you wouldn't get caught touching yourself by your parents. When you became a parent, you prayed that your son would get a big penis. When I granted that prayer, I also made him gay. I thought you might get the hint, but, no, you just kept on praying. You prayed that your daughter wouldn't marry that black guy. By the way, when she didn't, I was granting his prayer, not yours. You prayed for promotions at work. You prayed for your sports teams to win championships. You prayed your wife would never find out about that Asian prostitute you had sex with at that one convention and you still thought about every time you wanted to get an erection afterwards. You prayed you wouldn't get cancer. Gotcha on that one, too.
"I don't know how many times you prayed to win the lottery. Lucky for you, you mumbled something about wanting world peace once or twice, so you get in, I guess. Take that far seat over there by the kitchen entrance and try not to remind me what a bottomless pit of needs and wants you were.”
After Bob shuffles to the back, a non-believer, Joe Idunno, comes up for Judgment. The Creator checks his record and says,
“One thing about you, Joe, you weren't a whiner. You were content to live in the random Universe I created because hey, that's the way I wanted it. You didn't question My doings. You didn't ramble on about Me working in mysterious ways when life kicked you in the patootie. In fact, you seemed to grasp my essential nature, which is that at My age and place in eternal life, I don't think I should have to work at all. And the one prayer you ever said, the one after you fell onto the subway tracks and saw that headlight coming—I think it went “Oh, God, if you really exist and there is a Heaven, I would sure like to go”--that had the ring of sincerity to it. It was good to hear from you. Take that spot over there by the bar...the one between Darwin and Gilda Radnor, and grab yourself a brew. The pale ale in particular goes great with manna.”
There you have it. It's not complicated, not even as complicated as the Pope makes it. God loves atheists because we don't bug the crap out of Him about everything. Amen.