Q. Isn't it enough to be a good person to merit Heaven? I have some friends who are Buddhists and they are very peaceful and very kind people. Assuming they never kill anyone or cheat on their wives or something like that, would they really be kept out of Heaven just for not becoming a Christian? That can't be right. I think it would be better to be a good Buddhist than a bad Catholic! Look at the good thief, he was saved and he was never baptized, never went to church, never did anything redemptive at all.
A. First, no one - not even Mother Teresa - can
merit heaven by being "good", we are all saved because (and only because) Christ has merited Heaven for us. Look at
the commandments. Do you think your "good Buddhist" (or even a "good
Catholic") hasn't broken any of them? Does he Love God (who he doesn't
believe in) above everything else (first commandment)? Does he never lie
(eighth commandment)? Has he never looked at a woman aside from his
wife in a lustful manner (sixth commandment)? Blithely claiming this or that person is "good" fails to recognize a Gospel truth - no man is good, we all are sinners and all need a Savior.
Unfortunately we moderns
are more influenced by Immanuel Kant, than Emmanuel (God with us). Kant
taught that all religion was reducible, in the end, to morality. That
the only important thing was "being a good person." If that wasn't bad enough, since the 60's our society has reduced "bring a good person" to "being someone who doesn't directly harm other people." This is a very watered down view of morality. This isn't
Christianity, which teaches that we all sin and fall short of the glory of
God (cf. Romans 3:23). In fact Jesus tells us that none of us can ever even deserve to be called "good!" (cf. Mark 10:18).
As to the thief. He was saved through baptism - baptism of desire. You claim he did "nothing redemptive" but you might want to look closer at the story. The
thief suffered with Christ on the Cross. He publicly witnessed to
Christ's divinity. He reproached his fellow thief. Far from doing
nothing "redemptive" he did a lot more than most suppose or than most of
us would! Thus, he was saved. In fact, the thief is a great example
disproving everything else you said. He wasn't "basically a good person"
(he was an evil doer set to by justly executed by the civil authorities) yet he came to Christ and was saved.
All that being said, God doesn't demand the impossible. If someone can't
become Catholic (or even Christian) through no fault of their own, they
might still be saved. This, obviously includes Buddhists. But
we should never assume that anyone can be saved by their own merits,
that is the essence of an old heresy, Pelagianism.
If interested, you might check out a post I did a couple weeks ago titled - CAN CATHOLICS RESPECT OTHER RELIGIONS and the Vatican Two document Nostra Aetate.