Can People Who Don’t Believe in God Still Go to Heaven?

Recently on The Patrick Madrid Show, a young listener David called in to ask if people who don’t believe in God could still go to heaven. In other words, are atheists and agnostics even capable of attaining salvation given their denial of the basic belief that our creator exists?

Patrick began by laying a foundation for his answer using the words of Jesus Christ:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)

“‘But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!’” (Luke 13:5)

“Jesus answered, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.’” (John 3:5)

Jesus is telling us in no uncertain terms that there are prerequisites to attaining salvation. Yes, we are given free will and no, we are not forced to live in accord with God’s law. But if we appeal to our intellects and think of our long-term destination for eternity in the afterlife, we would be fools to ignore God’s plan for us.

These various quotes from Jesus form the answer that David is looking for: No, if somebody doesn’t believe in God, accept Him through Baptism, and accept His forgiveness and grace through the sacraments and living their life according to His laws, then how could they attain eternal salvation in heaven? Somebody who doesn’t subscribe to a deistic belief system thinks that once you die, that’s the end of you. Effectively, their life doesn’t matter. They aren’t concerned with the afterlife and whether they’re destined for heaven or hell because it’s a non-factor.

This is the way it has been explained by Jesus Christ. We are required to not only believe in God as the very basis of our beliefs and duties but get baptized, resist temptation and sin, and repent for the mistakes we do make. By doing so, we maintain the purest soul possible and keep ourselves in a state even capable of entering heaven.

“Now, there is a little asterisk I want to put on this,” said Patrick. “This is the way it’s explained to us by Christ Himself. But keep in mind that God, being sovereign, meaning that He can do whatever He wants, is free to give salvation to whomever He wishes.”

So, the Church makes a special exception for those who, by no fault of their own, have had the truth kept from them. In various cases, some people have been brainwashed, indoctrinated against religion, or were restricted in some way from attaining the faith. These people were not atheists or pagans by desire but were victims of extraordinary circumstances which drew them away from God. And God will not punish those who were unknowingly kept from Him.

“Does that make sense, David?”

“Yeah, it does. Thank you, Patrick. God bless you!”

“Thank you. He just has.”

Tune in to The Patrick Madrid Show weekdays 8am – 11am CT

John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at and on the Relevant Radio® app.