Pope Francis - a religious leader with a message of tolerance? Well, fancy that!

When we think of all the other silly mistakes that could have been avoided if only the Pope had spoken up sooner, it is really quite frustrating

Where the Brownies led the Catholic Church has followed, with an apparent revelation this week from Rome. It seems that Pope Francis has joined the Girl Guiding movement in removing belief in God as a prerequisite for admittance.

In an extensive article for La Repubblica that was otherwise long on theological detail and short on soundbites, His Holiness responded to a specific question about whether “the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith”.

He wrote: “The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience. Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

Unfortunately, the news came just too late for the Florida cleric who was arrested again on Wednesday trying to burn copies of the Koran. Pastor Terry Jones was caught with a grill and 3,000 paraffin-soaked texts heading to a park in Polk County, but, if only he had stopped to read the Italian newspapers before setting out, he would have realised that believing in a different God is perfectly fine and checked his own conscience regarding the wisdom or otherwise of burning books.

When we think of all the other silly mistakes that could have been avoided if only the Pope had spoken up sooner, it is really quite frustrating. Isn’t it a shame about the Crusades, for instance?

This is not the first time that the Pope has upset Catholics with crazy talk about kindness and patience. Only this summer he asked, “If someone is gay and is looking for the Lord, who am I to judge him?” Christians hadn’t heard that kind of nonsense since some nutter wandered round Palestine telling people to love their neighbour and not to judge. Did Jesus really hate the gays? Is the Pope a Catholic? Who knows any more?

Of course the forgiveness of a non-existent God is something of an irrelevance to atheists, but let’s not get hung up on that. It seems to me that advising Christians and non-Christians to examine their consciences instead of unthinkingly regurgitating 2,000-year-old moral decisions is a splendid idea, and one which might result in real and wonderful change.

Isn’t it a funny coincidence that all the world’s most pervasive religions just happen to be run by powerful old men and to be focused on blaming everyone else? Isn’t it weird that organisations with millions of pounds invested in arms companies can still claim to own morality? Imagine what would happen if all the world’s religious leaders suddenly examined their own consciences and admitted that behind thousands of years of smokescreens and superstition, the real message boils down to this: try to be kind.

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