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That Old Fool of Psalm 14

Mike Knight

The fool says in his heart, there is no God.

Or so claims the Bible.

The usual response amongst atheists to this come in three forms: ignoring the person saying it; saying "But the wise man tells the world," or quoting Matthew 5:22, which states whoever calls another fool deserves hellfire. All of these responses lead to further argument, the last one to what is sometimes known as bibliowrangling - frantic attempts to justify this barefaced contradiction with other quotations.

Is this fool in the Bible equivalent to the modern atheist? I don't think so.

Modern atheism consists largely of an intellectual rejection of the traditional arguments and evidences for deities, on the grounds that they are insufficient in light of modern knowledge and thinking. This kind of outlook leads to Sartre and the Existentialists, to Richard Dawkins and, hopefully, you.

Who is the fool of the quotation?

In KJV interpretation of the Bible, a fool is basically one who is foolish, impious and blasphemous, usually by reason of lifestyle.

If we look at the social context of Judaism at the time, this becomes somewhat more understandable. Judaism is a religion of rules and laws, fronted by a harsh, legalistic and unforgiving god. At the time, Judaism the religion was Judaism the society. They were inextricably intertwined; as an example of this kind of society, consider Saudi Arabia - there, Muslim law and civil law are interchangeable. It is likely that this would have been the case in ancient Israel and Judaea - religion and the state became one. Rebellion against the religion was rebellion against the state and society.

It is no wonder that many pharisaic Christians look upon atheism as a force for social dissolution, with this kind of background.

In the Bible, unbelief is more a matter of willful disobedience than intellectual reasoning. The fool of Psalm 14 denies god/Judaism/society not through reasoned intellectual processes and argument, but through his 'perverse' mode of life.

This cannot be viewed as in anyway similar to the modern atheism which has come to us as a result of logical though, centuries of philosophy and scientific investigation. If anything corresponds in the modern world to the fool, it is the teenagers who take up Satanism as a way of getting back at their parents and shocking people.

This is not atheism, this is a way of denying society, of breaking free from repressive religious strictures, but it is not what atheism is. Trying to pretend that atheism is merely a denial of authority, as many Christians do, or a denial of one's father, is not only an attempt to discredit atheism, it is flat out-and-out incorrect.

Atheism is a denial of or absence of belief in any deities. This does not equate to social disobedience or anarchy. Unfortunately, the mindset of the religious is usually such that they are unable to even imagine a world without their religion; they fear it, because they do not understand it. What we fear usually ends up looming larger in our thoughts than it does in real life, but it is also easier to deal with when it is in our thoughts, because it is still not really an actual threat. This, in my opinion, explains why so many Christians refuse to learn anything about atheism from atheists, and rely on their pastors or priests; a pastor or priest will pander to your misconceptions, he will tell you that what you believe about atheism -- that it leads to soulless, godless anarchy -- is true, because it is in his interests to keep you believing that way. Sadly, many of these supposed authority figures, who are supposed to be men of learning and intelligence, ever bother to reserach the matter themselves beyond a cursory glance. Those few who do will pretend that the sharp logic of disbelief will strengthen their own belief - as one of the Church Fathers said, credo quod absurdum, I believe because it is absurd. "How could anyone tell this story and expect it to be taken seriously? It's too ridiculous to be anything but true," is one line I've heard before. This is not a good line of reasoning to take, although might provide some germ of hope to criminals with inventive imaginations, should there ever be a pastor in a jury...

Atheism is not a denial of one's father, it is not a denial of law, of reason or of truth. In the end, it is not even a denial of gods.

In the end, atheism is simply a denial of illogical thought, and nothing else. Words like god, heaven, afterlife, and all that are denied not because of some strange desire to rebel, but because they ultimately make no sense.

That is the essence of atheism, not rebellion.

Published:
  2002-07-04

Categories:
  Atheism, Bible

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