Are you familiar with the Psalms 14:1? Well, most atheists are quite familiar with the said verse, thanks to the Christians who always use this verse to label those who don’t believe in the Christian god-concept.
In case you don’t know this verse, let me refresh you.
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
Well, just by reading this verse, now you’ll know why a lot of Christian believers use this passage to atheists. It is quite an entertainment to call an atheist a fool.
But does this verse really say atheists are fools? At first glance it seems that way. But looks can be deceiving.
If you will read the Bible, you’ll notice that the issue of atheism was not really tackled. There are neither characters nor situations in the Bible that focuses on non-believers. Heck! Even the devil believes in God. Nonbelief is not a threat in the Hebrew God, he’s more concern of people worshiping another god (Remember he’s a jealous God).
But most Christians still believe that this verse means atheism, so they still insist that the “fool” described in this verse means an atheist.
Really? Let’s see.
Psalm 14 was written for the choir leader of the temple. So it is safe to say it is addressed to him. The word “The” is a definite article, a determiner that indicates the specificity of reference. So we are talking about a certain type of a PERSON who said in HIS heart that there is no God. This PERSON is specified as a fool. VIOLA! An atheist! Not so quite.
This person hath said in his heart. Remember the author use the word heart as a metaphor. The word heart in biblical scripture is variously used, sometimes means the mind and understanding, sometimes for the will, sometimes for the affections, sometimes for the conscience, sometimes for the whole soul. Generally, it denotes the whole soul of man and all the faculties of it, not absolutely, but as they are all one principle of moral operations, as they all concur in our doing of good and evil." It sometimes mean as “human nature”.
Now this is more of a “let us choose the right word”. If the fool will say in his mind “That there is no God”, then obviously he’s an atheist. Wait a minute there! An atheist is a person who is not a theist RIGHT! So he doesn’t believe in a god or gods. The Bible is very specific about this, he who doesn’t believe in Elohim. Now let us examine the following sentence: They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. So here the word “heart” just doesn’t mean the mind, since proclaiming the whole shebang doesn’t make the whole person corrupt. We’re talking something bigger here. So I choose human nature as the nearest translation, since human nature is the complete psychological human attributes. So this is not about what’s on his understandings, but rather more on the whole of his individuality.
So, according to this verse, the fool is corrupt, they do abominable works and there is none that doeth good. The word fool is translated in Hebrew as “nabhal”. Apart from the Wisdom literature, we find nabhal frequently translated "fool" and nebhalah, "folly"; nabhal, however, it also denotes a wicked person, an evil character, "shamelessly immoral," equivalent to "a son of Belial" (Cheyne), rather than a merely "foolish" person, and nebhalah, "wickedness," "shameless impropriety," rather than simple folly. In the Chokhmah or Wisdom literature, which, within the Bible, is contained in Job, Proverbs (especially), Ecclesiastes, some Psalms and certain portions of the prophetic writings, "fool" and "folly" are frequent and distinctive words. Their significance is best seen in contrast with "Wisdom."
So does the fool in the said verse means lacking knowledge? If we use knowledge on the verse, it sounds like a person who in his knowledge accepted that Elohim doesn’t exist is a vile person. Such statement proves a very bias and short-sightedness in the part of the Psalter.
In Matthew 5:3 Jesus said that those who are “poor in spirit” (Poor means lacking off, spirit connotes to wisdom or knowledge) will have the kingdom of heaven. Another thing, Jesus has called the Pharisees as fools (Mt 23:17, 19). The Pharisees were religious leaders in their day and it’s quite strange to say that these religious leaders don’t have any knowledge about the Elohim? So then, using the word lacking knowledge about God seems not to fit.
So let’s choose the word “vile” or wicked person to replace the word fool. We are now talking about a specific person, an immoral person. Hmmmm…let see: An immoral person declares in his very nature, “There is no Elohim.” They (the immoral people) are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
Hmmmm…this makes more sense, isn’t it? The Psalter is not talking about non-believers; he’s talking about wicked people!
Now let us the following verse: 2The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. 3They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 4Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? Who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD. 5There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous.
If you’ll notice this verse, the Psalter was talking about certain knowledge. Is this about the knowledge of the existence of Elohim? Does the absence of knowledge of the existence of a certain community god automatically mean the absence of morality? Or is it talking about a certain knowledge that makes a person seeks God? Remember that this verse is talking about a certain understanding that makes a person seek the Elohim. According to Psalms 119, “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.” (Psalms 19:1-8)
So for the Psalter, The Law is the instruction in the knowledge of God and of men's relation to Him. To seek the Elohim is to obey his laws.
So there it is folks!
Psalm 14:1-5 is not about atheists being fools, but about people in the time of King David, who lost interest in the laws of their god. Who perverted the Laws (they are called workers of iniquity. Iniquity means, "The condition of one without law", therefore it is safely to say that they perverted the interpretations of the Law), influences other people to disobey the Torah and have stopped to call or accept the God of Israel.
Hope that clears the “fool” issue.