Psalm 14 – Atheism for Dummies?

Bible opened to Psalm 14 with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans

Today’s passage: Psalm 14

Today’s chocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans

You may be familiar with Psalm 14:1: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.” And if you’re familiar with the rest of Psalms and Proverbs, you likely already know that the “fool” in Jewish wisdom literature is not simply an idiot, some slow-witted person with a head full of misconceptions. What separates the fool from a mere ignorant person is his willful stupidity, his unwillingness to learn and his commitment to acting on his misconceptions. The fool’s stupidity is moral and practical; the fool thinks he can do evil and prosper.

I don’t think this is meant as a blanket statement about atheists. David’s referring to specific people here. He further characterizes this group as follows: “Do all these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on the Lord” (4). These particular fools are enemies of Israel, afflicting and plundering the Lord’s people with no fear of divine retribution. They don’t believe that God has the power to enforce his moral order or his favor for Israel. They believe that he, at best, is on par with the tribal, parochial gods of those they’ve already conquered: a vitiated deity, an un-god.

David expects that the fools have another thing coming, however. He writes: “Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores His captive people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad” (7). Though his people suffer in the present, he believes that God will in time liberate them from their suffering. As usual, justice plays the long game–and in the meantime, David writes songs about his hope.

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3 thoughts on “Psalm 14 – Atheism for Dummies?

  1. That is probably my least favorite verse in the entire Bible–it’s the one jerks who happen to be Christian throw at me to insult me while feigning innocence because they’re “just quoting the Bible.” It’s interesting to see an analysis of it that actually takes into account the context. And given the way it’s been used against me (as an immature insult to be ignored or brushed off), I hadn’t really considered before that it doesn’t even say what people use it to say to me. It’s not “the atheist is a fool,” it’s “the fool is an atheist.”

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Alex; I’m glad you got something out of that post. Something else occurred to me as I was writing this post, along the lines of your last remark there. An atheist isn’t necessarily someone who says, “There is no God.” An atheist is simply someone who doesn’t say, “There is a God.” They might think there couldn’t possibly be a God, or they might simply withhold their assent because they haven’t yet seen anything that would convince them there’s a God. Technically, it’s only the former sort of atheism that David would categorize as “foolish.” You know, if the word “atheism” had any real analogue in Hebrew. :)

      I shared a snippet of my actual thoughts on atheism in the very first post, tackling Romans 1, which you may also be interested to check out. Thanks again for swinging by the blog!

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      1. “Something else occurred to me as I was writing this post, along the lines of your last remark there. An atheist isn’t necessarily someone who says, ‘There is no God.’ An atheist is simply someone who doesn’t say, ‘There is a God.’”

        Well hey, you understand atheism pretty well, too, then. I’ll have to check out that other post.

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