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The Fool Says In His Heart, "there Is No God"


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The fool says in his heart, "there is no God." -- Psalm 14v

 

I have a serious question. Why does the Psalmist say that?

 

I assume that "fool" here means "stupid person". Why is it foolish or stupid to say, in your heart, I don't think there is a God.

 

I am not looking to attack the Bible. I want to have a serious discussion about why a writer from 2500 years ago would make that statement, and how it has obviously changed today. Today, declaring, "I don't think there is a God," is taken seriously (whether you agree with it or not). It is not seen as a foolish statement.

 

Is it because the ancients saw a line between the created world and the God of their nation, and His dealings with them? While for us, today, we are less superstitious and more rationalistic, relying on data to explain things for us? We don't have such a need for God? God doesn't fill all the gaps of the unknown for us?

 

Or is it more? Israel's identity and existence was bound up with God, so declaring "no God" was crazy - because they were a nation. They were a nation because of God.

 

In the West, we are allowed to say, "I don't know if there is a God", or, "there is no God". People see that as a position: agnosticism, atheism. In the past, that was seen as impossible; only a fool would say that.

 

Any thoughts? I'd be interested.

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Maybe it was foolish to say it because it would lead to execution? It's like going into a pit of pigeons dresses as a giant bread crumb... pretty foolish I'd say. "Killed by Hungry Pigeons" would be the headlines the next day. Or it's like asking for ketchup in a French restaurant... So maybe the author didn't intend it to be foolish in the sense of low IQ to claim such a thing, but rather daringly insane to claim such a thing in a society full of religious exclusivity? One day maybe we'll be the ones writing books about how foolish it is to claim Jesus as God? Oh, sorry, we already do...

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Arab-American here. The verse should surprise no one.

 

Even today, many Middle and Near Easterners cannot understand why someone would be an atheist. My best friend, an American with no Arab blood, teaches in an American university in an Arab city; most of his students are Muslim. These students find some of their professors' saying they are atheists very upsetting. They have no context for it.

 

My friend, on the other hand, says "I'm not religious" instead of saying he is an atheist. Students can deal with that more easily.

 

Yes, there are atheists all over the Middle and Near East, and in some countries they can be open about it. In others, however, they have to hide it for their safety.

 

After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, word quickly spread that atheists (and there were a lot of them among intellectuals in Iran) had better pretend to be theists. If you were called before a board of revolutionaries, asked if you were an atheist and said yes, you'd be told to enter a certain room... and would be shot. (The only loophole if you were a known atheist was to say that your parents had raised you as an atheist. Then it wasn't your 'fault' since you had never made a 'choice' to reject God.)

 

Few countries take such drastic measures, but prejudice runs high. This is as true of many Christians and Jews in the Middle and Near East as it is of many Muslims.

 

Similarly, here in New York I was once approached by an Orthodox Jew in traditional clothing who wanted to share his information about how even a goy (a non-Jew) goes to Heaven if that person leads a good life. When I politely explained that I was an atheist, he became very nervous and started stuttering. Before that, he has spoken quite well. I guess he was prepared for any kind of response but mine. To his credit, he managed to continue talking, although he did emphasize the word "atheist" with a tad bit of scorn.

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The fool says in his heart, "there is no God." -- Psalm 14v

 

I have a serious question. Why does the Psalmist say that?

 

I assume that "fool" here means "stupid person". Why is it foolish or stupid to say, in your heart, I don't think there is a God.

 

I am not looking to attack the Bible. I want to have a serious discussion about why a writer from 2500 years ago would make that statement, and how it has obviously changed today. Today, declaring, "I don't think there is a God," is taken seriously (whether you agree with it or not). It is not seen as a foolish statement.

 

Is it because the ancients saw a line between the created world and the God of their nation, and His dealings with them? While for us, today, we are less superstitious and more rationalistic, relying on data to explain things for us? We don't have such a need for God? God doesn't fill all the gaps of the unknown for us?

 

Or is it more? Israel's identity and existence was bound up with God, so declaring "no God" was crazy - because they were a nation. They were a nation because of God.

 

In the West, we are allowed to say, "I don't know if there is a God", or, "there is no God". People see that as a position: agnosticism, atheism. In the past, that was seen as impossible; only a fool would say that.

 

Any thoughts? I'd be interested.

 

.... so are you trying to say knowledge has not gone anywhere since biblical times???

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To put this passage in a bit of historical perspective, while I haven't looked at the Hebrew in this passage I would bet that the writer was not referring to god in general but specifically to Yahweh.

 

The passage is either basically racist, the person is saying that people who do not believe in the Jewish god are fools, or it was directed at Jews who denied the Jewish god in favor of other gods (it is unlikely the idea of an atheist played into this at all) and he is calling them a fool for following other gods.

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KSS,

 

Interpretations change with time, because religion is a function of cultural development. Christianity has morphed from a regional phenomenon based on the groundwork of a lowly carpenter into this monolithic, multi-faceted Hydra that controls the hearts and minds of Western Civilization. With development comes changing interpretation.

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The fool says in his heart, "there is no God." -- Psalm 14v

 

I have a serious question. Why does the Psalmist say that?

 

Because it is an absolute statement that can not be proven... he could have easily stated the opposite, it is the fool that says THIS is God, or THAT is God... both are equally foolish.

 

I think that it is an ancient version of Pascal's silliness. The Psalmist is simply saying that it would be foolish to rule out the possibility since you can't possibly know... much better to assume God does exist and be wrong.

 

Besides, if there is a God, a personal, sentient, active, intercessory God... IF... what would be the point in our saying there is or there isn't? I think God would be much too big to care what we as individuals say in our hearts...

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To put this passage in a bit of historical perspective, while I haven't looked at the Hebrew in this passage I would bet that the writer was not referring to god in general but specifically to Yahweh.

 

The passage is either basically racist, the person is saying that people who do not believe in the Jewish god are fools, or it was directed at Jews who denied the Jewish god in favor of other gods (it is unlikely the idea of an atheist played into this at all) and he is calling them a fool for following other gods.

 

That sounds likely. Kooky henotheists.

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The reason that verse is there in the book of Proverbs is easy to understand, I think. The entire context of the book is something to consider when answering this question. Proverbs is supposed to be a book of "wisdom statements". Throughout the book the concepts of how to obtain "wisdom" and "knowledge" are laid out. If one lacks "wisdom" and one lacks "knowledge" then that one would be the opposite of wise and knowledgeable: They would be a "fool". According to Proverbs, wisdom and knowledge are gained by knowing and fearing god. Therefore, not believing in god (i.e. saying in one's heart that there is no god) would be to utterly lack wisdom and knowledge (according to this book) and, thus, you would be a "fool".

 

As an interesting side note: in the ancient world, the heart was often considered the seat of wisdom and knowledge. The brain was usually regarded as useless. This is why the ancient Egyptians would keep many vital organs when mummifying a corpse, especially the heart, but would pull the brain out through the nose and throw it away. It was a fearful thing to preserve the heart because it was believed the knowledge and memories it contained would accuse the person in the afterlife and could possibly condemn them.

 

When you couple this concept (the heart being the seat of knowledge and wisdom and not the brain) with the idea of that the only way a man can obtain wisdom and knowledge is by knowing and fearing god, then the verse becomes quite clear in what it is teaching.

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According to the Bible, all wisdom and knowledge come from the Hebrew god. Therefore, denying that single source would render one a "fool."

 

It appears to be another one of those self-serving Biblical verses. Many assertions are made and none are proven.

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It's simply one of the first idiotic utterances of the meme "I have the TRUTHTM and you're a fool if you don't believe me. Repeated ad nauseum by every nut job to come down the pike since.

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According to the Bible, all wisdom and knowledge come from the Hebrew god. Therefore, denying that single source would render one a "fool."

 

It appears to be another one of those self-serving Biblical verses. Many assertions are made and none are proven.

 

BTW, like the new avatar.

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Is it because the ancients saw a line between the created world and the God of their nation, and His dealings with them? While for us, today, we are less superstitious and more rationalistic, relying on data to explain things for us? We don't have such a need for God? God doesn't fill all the gaps of the unknown for us?

 

Or is it more? Israel's identity and existence was bound up with God, so declaring "no God" was crazy - because they were a nation. They were a nation because of God.

 

In the West, we are allowed to say, "I don't know if there is a God", or, "there is no God". People see that as a position: agnosticism, atheism. In the past, that was seen as impossible; only a fool would say that.

 

Any thoughts? I'd be interested.

I think both Kuroikaze and Looking4Answers made excellent points. For me I would also add that to challenge underlying, background mythologies, such as the existence of God, is taken by the average person as a rejection of all the values that "God" symbolizes in their minds. Most often when somebody declares, "I don't believe in God", what is heard by those who do "believe" in God is, "I reject all your values". Why else is it that usually the first response an atheist gets is the irrational argument, "Then what keeps you from going out and killing someone?" So to say "The fool has said in his heart, 'No God'", is not to attack their IQ, but their perceived rejection of their underlying truths by rejecting the symbol.

 

Of course one doesn't follow the other, but because people's background mythologies work invisibly without every really being directly examined, the response is not unexpected. This follows what Looking4Answers says in how belief in God is the beginning of Wisdom, according to the Proverbs. Acceptance of the symbol is the means to convey their underlying values. It becomes indistinguishable, and one and the same in their minds, even though it clearly is not.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Wow. Has no one here ever read Psalm 14?

 

Here's all 7 verses for everyone (using The Bible in Basic English translation that may provide a little clarity for this chapter):

1 The foolish man has said in his heart, God will not do anything. They are unclean, they have done evil works; there is not one who does good. 2 The Lord was looking down from heaven on the children of men, to see if there were any who had wisdom, searching after God. 3 They have all gone out of the way together; they are unclean, there is not one who does good, no, not one. 4 Have all the workers of evil no knowledge? they take my people for food as they would take bread; they make no prayer to the Lord. 5 Then were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the upright. 6 You have put to shame the thoughts of the poor, but the Lord is his support. 7 May the salvation of Israel come out of Zion! when the fate of his people is changed by the Lord, Jacob will have joy and Israel will be glad.

This is yet another Israel in peril set of verses (like we see in the books of the "prophets"). Taken properly the first verse is a condemnation of those who have felt forsaken by their god over their sorry set of circumstances. This can be seen by the contrasting statement made at the end of the chapter when the author speaks of the joy they will feel when "god" delivers them from this sorry situation.

 

This isn't a blanket statement about atheists. It never was and never has been. It's used that way but as usual it's simply to condemn those who were likely telling people in (I'm guessing the Babylonian exile) that YHWH had abandoned them and to give up hope (likely turning to other, local, gods in the process). The author says there is hope but not while the people are so corrupt. Fix that and he'll come for them.

 

mwc

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This isn't a blanket statement about atheists. It never was and never has been.

 

You mean whenever christians cherry pick that verse to chuck at atheists, they take the verse out of context? NO WAY!!! That never happens!

[being sarcastic]

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  • 1 month later...

Thanks to everyone who posted on this thread. I thought I would just one more thought.

 

I have read a lot more since I asked the question about this verse in the Psalms ("the fool says in his heart 'there is no God'").

 

I hold the view that racial superority is a key message in the Old Testament. This worked as an advantage to the Israelite tribe as they attacked other races in ancient Palestine. Having scrolls that told them they were 'God authorized' gave them strength, identity and justification. Later, when they were in captivity, this national identity of being 'God blessed' caused them to curse their captor and consider them as inferior heathens (Assyria or Babylon).

 

It is in this context that the Psalmist says, "the fool says in his heart, 'there is no God'". Looking at the Hebrew word for 'fool', it means someone of low moral values. One might paraphrase this as, "these immoral people say to themselves there is no God". Both Psalms (14 and 53, nearly identical) talk about being in captivity and being 'eaten up like bread' by their enemy who holds them captive.

 

A Christian should Not quote this Psalm to justify a Christian position of belief in God: this is not the original context. This Psalm is NOT saying "you are a stupid fool if you don't believe in God." It is the Israelites saying, "we hate our captors who don't have Yhwh as their God."

 

Reading this verse without context is another example of Christianization of the Old Testament, adapting and interpreting everything as being about Christ and Christian belief. In the process, the original context and meaning of the stories are erased. There is a very long heritage of this, from the time of the 1st Century CE: it is the way that Christianity arose from Judaism. For many Christians today, this way of reading the text is automatic, they don't know they are doing this. It's a lens. It is reading without original context.

 

Thanks everyone for their contribution.

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Many years ago, I heard the claim (undoubtedly from some Christian apologist) that the word "fool" here doesn't mean the "you stupid imbecile" kind of fool, but instead means one who is morally deficient. In other words, the atheist claims not to believe in god because he is immoral and likes to sin.

 

Yeah, I do happen to enjoy doing shit that pisses Jesus off, but that's not why I don't believe in god. I don't believe in god because there's no evidence that such a being actually exists. That doesn't make me a fool. It makes me a rational, thinking person who likes his beliefs to be based in demonstrable reality.

 

Glory!

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There were Atheists in the ancient world, an example is Xenophanes, who declared the ancient gods morally bankrupt and actually gets close to the Deistic concept of Nature’s own God – He imagined a god as a central force in the universe but not human-like in shape, thought or emotions; a god that is everywhere and everything, a god that is the whole universe. And his belief that god is nature and nature is god left him open to charges of Atheism. Later philosophers came even closer to what we call Atheism, especially by the time of the Roman Empire. - Heimdall :yellow:

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I heard a guy say this during an argument with a preacher on campus a while back and I think it's pretty good: "I agree, the fool says in his heart that there is no god. The wise says it to the world."

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blogged about this a couple weeks ago...good debate happening on the thread below the post...

 

To me it is simply the Psalmist declaring his distaste for unbelievers...though some christians try to claim otherwise

 

 

http://ragingrev.com/2009/03/23/psalm-14-g...bunch-of-fools/

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blogged about this a couple weeks ago...good debate happening on the thread below the post...

 

To me it is simply the Psalmist declaring his distaste for unbelievers...though some christians try to claim otherwise

 

 

http://ragingrev.com/2009/03/23/psalm-14-g...bunch-of-fools/

I wish xtians would make up their minds on whether or not Psalms is divinely inspired or not. They'll accept Psalms as divinely inspired if they can interpret it to mean atheists are fools even if that's not what it actually says, but if Psalms says to dash your kids on the rocks, then that's just the Psalmist's opinion in that case. We can't go and having the Psalmists making God look bad, can we? :rolleyes:
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wish xtians would make up their minds on whether or not Psalms is divinely inspired or not.

The discovery of the Ugarit texts shows that the Biblical Psalms, whatever their date, are indebted to a Phoenician hymnology that had a long tradition behind it. The Phoenicians also seem likely to have been the intermediaries through whom some of the Egyptian proverbs of Amenemope found their way into the Biblical Book of Proverbs almost verbatim. And the Canaanite origin of chapters viii-ix of the Book of Proverbs, on the theme of Wisdom, is attested by echoes here of themes in the Phoenician literature disinterred at Ugarit…. 'There is a veritable flood of allusions to Canaanite (Phoenician) literature in Hebrew works composed between the seventh and the third century B.C.: e.g. in Job, Deutero-Isaiah, Proverbs, Ezekiel, Habakkuk, the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Jubilees, and part of Daniel. - : A Study of History Volume XII Reconsiderations, Oxford University Press, London 1961.

 

So this may not have been a YHWHist sentiment, but instead the sentiment of the supreme Canaanite god El, the father of both Baal and YHWH..wouldn’t this be evidence that the Psalms are inspired by a pagan god and not good old Yahweh/Jehovah? - Heimdall :yellow:

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  • 3 weeks later...
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This is an interesting question, and I agree with the earlier poster who referred to the context of Psalm 14.

 

I read an interesting comment about this in Peter Craigie's commentary on the Psalms (Word Biblical Commentary 19). Craigie argues that rather than being a person devoid of mental powers, the "fool" is one who does not live according to a theistic moral code. In the Wisdom Literature of the Bible, "foolishness" is often the opposite of "kindness." That explains why, in the psalm, the God-denying antagonist lives an immoral life and oppresses the poor.

 

I think the denial of God in this psalm is basically a denial of accountability: "If God does not exist, everything is permissible." If I wanted an excuse for immoral living, I suppose denying God would furnish a sufficient one. I think the argument of the imaginary antagonist would run in this direction:

 

1) My life is easier if I steal stuff from poor people.

2) If God were on their side I wouldn't get away with it.

3) I do get away with it.

4) Therefore, God is either not on their side (i.e., doesn't care) or doesn't exist at all.

 

The poet counters by saying that God is on their (= his) side, since "God is with the generation of the righteous" (Ps 14:5). What's nice to see is the poet's honesty that all is not right in the world. In the last verse of the psalm, he pleads with God for rescue and hopes for a time of restoration.

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