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,
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.