At first glance, the quote equates godlessness with foolishness. I often see Christians roll this one out as an ad hominem argument against atheists: atheism is taken to be evidence of poor character. In the context of Psalm 14, the quote seems to be saying that bad people deny God rather than that denying God is bad.
The word “fool” is translated from the Hebrew word “nabal.” A nabal is a reprobate, unrepentant jerk. Someone with no moral compunction. The fool of Psalm 14 is certainly such a person, a “worker of wickedness.” If we take this into account, the quote looks more like this:
The scoundrel says in his heart, “There is no God.”
So, in my opinion, the quote should be read as, “Bad people deny God,” rather than, “Denying God is bad.” I should also point out that the “fool” of this psalm is said to live in dread of God’s judgment whereas atheists in general do not fear the gods they believe to be nonexistent.
In any case, the quote doesn’t reflect well on atheists, and it’s offensive to me. The sentiment is basically tribalistic – God is against our enemies – and tribalism is a painful atavism. There are plenty of pious bastards and plenty of upstanding atheists. This is just another piece of hurtful nonsense, like so much of the Bible.
(BTW: I found this commentary on Biblical “fools” interesting.)
Posted: January 25th 2013
See all questions answered by George Locke