The Foolishness of Atheism? (Psalm 14:1)

While I’m working on the second entry to the series on prayer I thought I’d take some time to write a short correction of our common misuse of Psalm 14:1.

Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God….

I see this verse get abused by both those of religious belief and disbelief. It’s often used as a prooftext by my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ whenever they’re threatened by a challenge. And the critics usually claim it’s anti-intellectual and a false view of atheism. So is this verse a knock on atheism? Simply put, it’s not.

During ancient times, atheism was non-existent. In fact, it was the early Christians who were first accused of being “atheists,” as they were the first to worship an exclusive God. In a world dominated by idols (these religious idols included gods such as Roman emperors, who were often defined as “Lord” or “Savior of the World”) and a vast variety of deities, the idea of following and obeying only one God was the closest to atheism the world had reached.

Once again, it’s important to note the verse in its proper context. The Hebrew word used for “God” here is Elohim, which was the name given to God as judge or ruler. In the context of Psalm 14, which describes people committing abhorrent acts, it’s clear the intended meaning describes those who say there is no judge who can stop them from committing evil works. In light of modern atheism, this verse can be read as an argument against the belief that God isn’t punishing the wicked, but it’s not about atheism itself as a position.