Can an Atheist Go to Heaven?

Full Question

My question is this: can an atheist go to heaven? Thank you for your time.


If someone does not come to believe in God because of stubbornness or refusal to give up selfish desires then such a person would be culpable for their lack of belief.

If, however, because of circumstances a sincere person is prevented from coming to belief in God then their lack of faith is called invincible and such a person would not be considered culpable.

As Pope Pius XI noted in Quanto conficiamur moerore:

It is known to us and to you that those who are in invincible ignorance of our most holy religion, but who observe carefully the natural law, and the precepts graven by God upon the hearts of all men, and who being disposed to obey God lead an honest and upright life, may, aided by the light of divine grace, attain to eternal life; for God who sees clearly, searches and knows the heart, the disposition, the thoughts and intentions of each, in His supreme mercy and goodness by no means permits that anyone suffer eternal punishment, who has not of his own free will fallen into sin.

By Fr. Charles Grondin



  1. thomraff Reply

    “invincible ignorance” is Catholic-speak for science-based thinking: not accepting claims without sufficient evidence.

  2. Patrick Gannon Reply

    I’m not sure what to make of this. Christians are always telling me I must “choose” to believe, but belief doesn’t work that way. We believe things because we have some good reason for doing so. When I was a child, the good reason for doing so was the psychological abuse I suffered as a result of Catholic indoctrination. I believed because I was told to believe by my parents, my church, my school, my government. As I learned critical thinking skills I began to question my beliefs as many of them made no sense to me. How could an all-good God who knows all things, allow someone to be born that he knows in advance will be going to Hell?

    Even at a young age, I knew it didn’t feel right, but I grew up, drifted away and got on with life, while still considering myself a lapsed Catholic, I guess. Later I was insulted by a deacon quoting bible passages, which led me to read the entire bible. That was the end of my faith. I became a recovering Catholic – a very angry one, for a while. They told me their god was good, but Yahweh-Jesus is not good. Gen 3:22 tells us we know what good and evil are, and it was clear that Yahweh-Jesus is not good. The book is pretty clear about that. They also told me there was a Hell, but the book did not support this creative invention by the Church, largely as the result of the intentional mistranslation of four very different words, to the pagan word “Hell.” I set off on a path of research and reading that continues to this day, and I know too much now. I know that the Exodus didn’t happen. I know there is a very high probability that Jesus was a myth. I know how early Christianity evolved and that any of several other versions might have beaten the proto-orthodox if Rome had not stepped in. I can no more “choose” to believe in Yahweh-Jesus, than I can choose to jump to the moon. So do I go to Hell? (Not that it exists). Or am I in “invincible ignorance?”
    I don’t know if there are gods and afterlives. I’m agnostic, but pessimistic on the idea. I know with a pretty high degree of certainty that the foundation for Yahweh-Jesus has been washed away. We know there was no six day creation, no two-person DNA bottleneck, no global flood, no mass exodus from Egypt and no conquest of Canaan – and without these things, there is nothing else for the Abrahamic god to rest on. He is introduced and defined by these things, and they didn’t happen.
    Curiosity question… can an unbaptized atheist ever go to heaven? The Church catechism says no – and that includes aborted, miscarried and stillborns for whom the default destination is this Hell. It seems from this Answer that some small number of atheists (presumably only those who have been baptized), might go to heaven, while the aborted, miscarried or stillborn soul goes to Hell, without having any chance to either believe or disbelieve. Catholicism is such a convoluted trip

  3. Patrick Gannon Reply

    This may be a duplicate comment, as my prior one has not displayed here for some reason.
    I find it interesting that there is a path to heaven for an atheist. I have to assume that this is only an atheist who has been baptized. The Church catechism indicates that the default destination for aborted, miscarried or stillborn souls is Hell, and yet these souls are as innocent at it is possible to be. They never have the chance to determine whether they believe or not. A baptized atheist, it seems, can go to heaven under certain conditions. An unbaptized atheist will surely join those who commit the heinous crime of dying before baptism.
    That strikes me as rather odd. The Church believes that Yahweh-Jesus will send a completely innocent soul to Hell but he will let in an atheist who through honest reasoning found he or she simply could not believe in this imaginary invisible being that lives in the sky. I assume this would apply to agnostics as well? Does that mean there is hope for me? All the Catholics on this blog over the last couple years who have told me I am going to Hell, are wrong because I am incapable of “choosing” to believe something for which no objective evidence exists? That’s kind of funny.
    That sounds great, except that I see no attraction in heaven. If being in heaven means I am aware of others in eternal torment and can do nothing about it – well, that would be hell. If I am not aware of it, or made not to care by losing free will, then whoever that is in heaven, isn’t me; it’s some zombie that the here and now me doesn’t really care about. It won’t be “me.” We would have to be turned into zombies, or we would go insane with boredom. I’d rather just be dead, which is what most atheists and agnostics expect anyway.
    The bible gives us four words that were translated to the pagan word “Hell” long ago. The first is Sheol. It’s a place of permanent unconsciousness, and not a place of punishment. You’re just dead. Many Jews believed at the end of time those in Sheol would be wakened and judged. Some would be rewarded with a renewed paradise, the others would be destroyed. We didn’t even get the concept of an eternal, torturing, torment in hellfire for all of eternity until the “good news” of Jesus. Now instead of simply being destroyed at the end of time, we are judged immediately upon death and if found wanting, we are to suffer in torment for billions and trillions of endless years, despite living here only a handful of years, and despite Yahweh-Jesus going to extreme lengths to hide himself from us, not to mention, knowing in advance what our outcome would be and permitting those going to eternal torment to be born in the first place. How much more evil can you get? I don’t think I could invent a more evil god than that.
    Keep in mind that some early Christian sects thought Yahweh was the bad guy that Jesus battled in a celestial realm to save us from. At least that Jesus would have been good.

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