for The Sunday Times (Perth, Australia) on Dec. 4, 2007
POPE Benedict XVI has criticised modern-day atheism, saying it led to some of the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" ever known.
In his second encyclical, Benedict also critically questioned modern Christianity, saying its focus on individual salvation had ignored Jesus's message that true Christian hope involves salvation for all.
Saved By Hope is a deeply theological exploration of Christian hope in the afterlife: that in the suffering and misery of daily life, Christianity provides the faithful with a "journey of hope" to the "Kingdom of God".
"We must do all we can to overcome suffering, but to banish it from the world is not in our power," Benedict wrote. "Only God is able to do this."
In the 76-page document, Benedict elaborates how the Christian understanding of hope had changed in the modern age, when man sought to relieve the suffering and injustice around him. Benedict points to two great historical upheavals: the French Revolution and the proletarian revolution instigated by Karl Marx.
Benedict sharply criticises Marx and the 19th and 20th century atheism spawned by his revolution, although he acknowledges that both were responding to the deep injustices of the time.
"A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God," he wrote.
But he said the idea that man can do what God can not by creating a new salvation on Earth was "both presumptuous and intrinsically false". He wrote: "It is no accident this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice.
"A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope."
He specifically cited Lenin and the "intermediate phase" of dictatorship that Marx saw as necessary in the revolution.
"This 'intermediate phase' we know all too well, and we also know how it then developed, not ushering in a perfect world, but leaving behind a trail of appalling destruction," Benedict wrote.
At the same time, Benedict also looks critically at the way modern Christianity had responded to the times, saying such a "self-critique" was also necessary.
"We must acknowledge that modern Christianity, faced with the successes of science in progressively structuring the world, has, to a large extent, restricted its attention to the individual and his salvation," he wrote.
"In doing so, it has limited the horizon of its hope and has failed to recognise the greatness of its task."
Saved By Hope, which Benedict largely penned this past northern summer while on vacation, follows his first encyclical, God Is Love, released last year.