The fool says in his heart, “God does not exist.”
They are corrupt; they do vile deeds.
There is no one who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven on the human race
to see if there is one who is wise,
one who seeks God.
All have turned away;
all alike have become corrupt.
There is no one who does good,
not even one.
(Psalm 14, HCSB)
I thought I would tackle a psalm that's so popular it appears in the Psalms twice. (Psalm 53 is pretty much a repeat of Psalm 14.) I know Christians love to quote from this one on the rare occasions when they stop to consider the possibility of someone not believing in god. Actually, most Christians I know rarely take the time to consider the reality of atheism. They assume that atheists have suffered some trauma in their lives that makes them abandon god. Or, if they look at the text of this psalm, they rest easy in the belief that someone who denies belief in god is a "fool." I mean, if the Bible says it, then it must be true, right?
The thing is, though, if they read the psalm more carefully, it accuses the entire human race of being fools: "There is no one who does good, not even one." So if the psalmist is equating disbelief in god with bad behavior, then the psalmist is, by extension, accusing the entire race of being atheists, isn't he? "All have turned away..." is how the psalmist puts it. So is this psalm really an indictment of atheists? Is it any kind of refuge for the pious religionist? I think not. At least, not any more than it is an indictment of religious people.
Of course, atheists are pretty skeptical of the psalm's "atheism=corrupt" formula. There isn't the slightest evidence in our modern world that people who don't believe in god are any more likely to commit evil acts. In fact, much of the evidence tends to support the idea that belief in god promotes all kinds of evil: slavery, war, genocide, etc. It strikes me that one accusation I've heard Christians level against atheists is that the atheist worldview promotes nihilism and pessimism. Reading this psalm, I would counter that the Judeo-Christian worldview is far more pessimistic than the atheist worldview. "All alike have become corrupt"? Really. What about the nice person who held the elevator door for me? What about the neighbor who agreed to keep an eye on the house while I was on vacation? What about the random stranger who took time out of her day to compliment my kids on their good behavior? In general, it's not atheists who are running around trying to convince everyone of how everyone is a sinner who deserves eternal punishment.
I would love to hear others' thoughts on this psalm which is often used by religious people as a slap in the face to keep atheists in their place. (Ooh, look I was a poet, and I didn't even know it...)
Logical fact: one cannot turn themselves inside out and fit inside their hearts which keeps one alive by pumping blood around the body. The original hebrew is "There is no Elohim" not "God does not exist.
for·the·one-making-it-permanent to·David he-says decadent-one in·heart-of·him there-is-no
Elohim they-care-corrupt they-care-abhorrent practice there-is-no one-doing-of good
Yahweh from·heavens he-cgazes on sons-of human to·to-see-of ?·there-is
I think most Christians that recite that verse to Atheists do so not because we do not believe in their god but because we have chosen not to believe in their god. They have presumed the existence of God and take it as a given that He exists. It is as if it is a self-evident truth and we are in denial of it rather than just not believing it.
It is as if they only have Faith in the words and promises of the Bible being true but they don’t need faith in his existence because that is “obvious”. We are “fools” because we have made a deliberate choice not to believe. They cannot grasp that there was no decision ever made. We never decided to not believe in something that we may once have believed. We just reached a point where we stopped believing because we saw that God is not self-evident but rather quite improbable. It was not the “truth” even if we had once believed it was. It was a delusion.
The Christian (or Muslim) sees us as being arrogant in denying (in our hearts) their god and cannot grasp that all we are saying is we do not believe what they believe. We cannot decide to believe what we do not or cannot believe. There is no decision making process involved.
The reply to the asinine wisdom of this psalm is to call them fools for denying the existence of Krishna (or Zeus, Allah, etc.). I will ask them if they are calling all one billion Hindus fools for not believing what Christians believe. This often gets the reply that “at least they have faith”. This is called “playing the faith card” so the discussion is over.
Hitchens, in “God is not Great” remarks that all this psalm reveals is that unbelief (not disbelief) must have been common back in that epoch as it is mentioned twice. Skepticism often leads people to the conclusion that there need not be a prime mover. The natural flow of thought from this line of inquiry leads to unbelief. Atheism is a conclusion that is reached as a result of critical thinking and there is no decision ever made to consciously decide not to believe something.
With all the knowledge and alternative answers humanity now has that people could not have imagined even 30 years ago, I wonder who the real fool is.
My reply to anyone who throws a Bible verse at me is that they have a mighty poor weapon. The Bible is so filled with horrors that even quoting a seemingly benign verse is fraught with difficulties.
The focus and crux of the bible is belief in god. This is why I know the bible is untrue. To be judged on belief alone reeks of manipulation. The stories of ancient miracles reek of manipulation. The lack of any real revelations about our universe reeks of manipulation. The presence of a "hell" as punishment for non belief reeks of manipulation. The instructions "not to rely on our own intellect" reeks of manipulation. To be named a "sheep" reeks of manipulation. We did not evolve to be sheep.
To tie belief with morality is in itself immoral. Once you see through the smoke and mirrors, a thinking person with integrity can not go back to the pale shelter of religion.
one accusation I've heard Christians level against atheists is that the atheist worldview promotes nihilism and pessimism. Reading this psalm, I would counter that the Judeo-Christian worldview is far more pessimistic than the atheist worldview.
No kidding. Evangelicals in particular like to highlight how everyone has an evil heart and tends to do bad unless Jesus fixes them. Religion teaches you to believe you are capable of nothing good at all, unless empowered by your invisible friend.
"They are corrupt; they do vile deeds." - from what I've read in a book recently ("Big Gods - how religion transformed cooperation and conflict" by Ara Norenzayan - fascinating book), the reason the religious don't trust atheists is that they don't see that we have a moral compass, or more to the point, there is no "eye in the sky" watching over us to make sure we behave.
What we do have, like anybody else, is
- the police