How could an atheist who was on his death bed be "saved"?


Please help! People are with concern of my ideas on salvation—the Catholic belief as a process. They say he would just have to accept Jesus(and all that).

What would be the truth? Baptism of desire? Perfect Contrition and Baptism of Desire?

After all, how would he fit those “good works” in there?


If an atheist is dying receives Baptism, is truly contrite he would be free of original sin and could go right to heaven. Pretty much what the good thief did. I am sure god would judge his heart and such. This circumstance would be extraordinary.

You can be the worst sinner and repent on your deathbed and go through purgatory and then heaven.


Only God knows what is in someones heart and I do believe that He takes everything into consideration.

It’s possible an atheist grew up with parents who despised God and was taught little else. This is why we can never judge others because their are circumstances that our earthly minds don’t understand but Our Heavenly Father does.

In the end, it is pretty much the individual who “chooses” where he will go due to free will, but what led him there is something beyond our reasoning and left to God.


I would think that anyone, atheists included, who repented in the waning minutes of their lives would be joining the repenitant thief on the cross.



Only God knows the secret of the soul. There is a saying that there are many conversions between the saddle and the ground. We do not know the fate of souls unless the Church tells us in the canonization of a saint. Jesus speaks of laborers in the vineyard. Some come on the first hour and some on the eleventh.
There are many death bed conversions. The good thief on the cross had a last minute conversion.


Catholic1, if you believe that works done in grace obtain “points” with which we are able to buy our way into Heaven, you are mistaken. Good works are entirely unnecessary and without merit in this sense. Good works are simply faithfulness to the Lord post-baptism. When the opportunity presents itself to act according to the Lord’s desire in a given situation, we either do (are faithful, do a “good work”) or fail to do and sin.

Thus, good works only “confirm” us in grace. That, of course, ultimately is all that we are saved by - grace. Thus anyone can convert at any time. Normally the process of conversion takes place through baptism. But, as the catechism tells us, while God binds us to the sacraments, He Himself is not bound by the same.

Does that help?



It is unlikely that the person is actually an atheist and then accepts Jesus on his deathbed. It is far more likely that he professes atheism but is actually agnostic. God leads each of us by a unique pathway to himself. Jesus may be the way, but the appearance of that way in each life is suited particularly to each person. The labyrinth at Chartres cathedral is an example of what the road home may look like. None of us goes straight. Some are more direct than others. Yes, salvation is a process.



I once upset someone when I commented on the picture of Jesus carrying a lamb with His face buried in its fleece. I noted that that lamb could be Jeff Dahmer. They were revolted by the fact that he might have been forgiven.

A little while later I read an account [in Colson’s Prison ministry I think] by a protestant minister who baptized Jeff in prison. Jeff wanted to be baptized in the Name of Jesus, but the minister insisted on doing a Trinitarian baptism. By all accounts he lived a devout repentant life thereafter. A couple of months later Jeff was killed by a fellow prisoner.

It appears to me that he was completely forgiven and went straight to Heaven.


That’s an interesting thought. I wonder how many professed athiests are really agnostics. Seems to me it takes more (or less) conviction to be an athiest.


I know personally of a man who was an atheist all of his life. He was a lawyer. His wife was also an atheist. They had two sons. One became a drug addict and the other an evangelical minister who worked with street kids. The biggest emabarssment of thier lives was the minister son. The father got cancer and over a period of six months declined and finally died. He refused to speak with his sone, because the son asked him to call to God and ask forgiveness for his sins and obtain mercy. The father said the son made a mockery of his life by asking him to repent. At the last minute the man screamed out is desparation, “God help me”, several times and then died.


Hopefully, God did. :gopray:


Yes we hope for the salvation of every soul no matter how evil their lives were. I doubt that there is a minister of any Christian denomination who has not seen deathbed conversions.


Let’s talk:

  1. God clearly is capable and willing of “saving” anyone who meets the criteria. The criteria of salvation is: Repentance and the sacraments.

  2. God is clearly capable of saving anyone He wishes. If in God’s infinite mercy and love He desires to save anyone, how does that affect me? The story of the workers in the vineyard story comes to mind.

  3. The question comes from whether someone who does not meet all the criteria, do they get special treatment. Can an unbaptized gangster on his deathbed recieve the sacraments and go to heaven? Sure. Can a baptized gangster on his deathbed get absolution? Sure. Can a baptized gangster who is not completely honest in his confession get absolution? I would have to leave that to the mercy of God. If fear of Hell enough to merit forgiveness? If I am not 100% sorry for what I have done, will God still forgive me? What degree of sorrow does it take?

  4. As to fairness. If a Saint at the last moment stumbles, will he go to Hell? Compare that to a gangster that cursed God all his life, doing no good and all bad that receives the sacraments at the hour of his death. Does one merit heaven more than the other?


I can hold out hope for an agnostic, since such a man can more likely pray, “God, if you are there, please save me.”

I have much more difficulty holding out hope for an atheist because atheists reject the knowledge of God given them through reason. Their hearts are therefore hardened, and there is no such thing as invincible ignorance of God.


Only God knows the secret of the soul. We do not know the workings of grace in a soul.


That’s why I refrained from saying outright that atheists go to hell.


God seems to have envisaged death-bed conversions - Ezechiel 18:21-29

But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. 23* Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? 24 But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die. 25 "Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 26 When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. 27 Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. 28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.


God’s ocean of mercy is intended for every soul - no exceptions. Whether the soul chooses to accept His mercy early on or at the last possible moment before death, the infinite ocean of mercy is still available to each and every one of us! Thank God!!!


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