Pope Says Atheism Led to 'Greatest Cruelty'

Pope Benedict XVI strongly criticized modern-day atheism in a major document released today, saying it had led to some of the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" ever known to mankind.

But in his second encyclical, Benedict also critically questioned modern Christianity, saying its focus on individual salvation had ignored Jesus' 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 on 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 historical upheavals: the French Revolution and the proletarian revolution instigated by Karl Marx.

Benedict sharply criticizes 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 cannot by creating a new salvation on Earth was "both presumptuous and intrinsically false."

"It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice," he wrote. "A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope."

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