Sorry, that’s not what I meant. I’m not thinking of death bed conversions at all. Clearly then an atheist would no longer be an atheist.
Since everyone wants to quote the catechism, great, I can do that too:
“50 By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works.” Note that it says “can” = is able to; it doesn’t say “must” or “will.” But certainly we can see all around us good, rational, thoughtful people who look at the world around them and come to the conclusion that there is no God. If it were not otherwise, we would not have free will.
Yes. That’s in the chapter about faith. Elsewhere it also says baptism is necessary for salvation. However…
Let’s turn to #839-848, which talks about “The Church and Non-Christians.”
#842: “All nations form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth, and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all against the day when the elect are gathered together in the holy city. . .” Note: “extend to all,” not just those who believe in God or those who are baptized.
#847, in its entirety: "This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation."
And #848: “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”
Now, does it specifically use the word “atheist”? No. But atheists who “…try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.” It certainly seems to me that if one is a sincere atheist–you could probably write a book on what that means, but for our purposes here I would suggest “either someone who has never given serious thought about religion or someone who has considered religion and a belief in God, but has sincerely rejected the idea”…a sincere atheist could certainly go to Heaven. I just had lunch with two of them yesterday, and I am confident that if I go to Heaven, they will be there. In fact, from the actions, I would say they’re more likely to end up there then I am!