“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.””
They quote it not simply to attack atheist people with an unpleasant glee, but to reassure themselves that they cannot possibly be fools because they acknowledge the existence of God.
What is often ignored in quoting this are the words “in his heart”. This implies a subconscious belief, something which is not carefully examined. Many non-believers have come from religious backgrounds. To arrive at the position that there is no God was often a long, difficult, painful process of ‘soul’-searching, research, reading, thinking and redefining one’s self. The non-believer does not say in his heart, in his unconscious, that there is no God, it is something thought through in the brain, in the conscious mind.
The other point which these bible quotin’ Christians perhaps have not considered is that the word fool, in this context, does not mean idiot but a wicked person. The implication from the writer’s point of view could be that a wicked person wishes there was not a God so they can be wicked.
The fact that atheists are not wicked simply by definition, again reflects more on the kind of religious believer that thinks atheists deliberately pretend not to believe so they can be naughty boys and girls. Atheists, like Christians, like all human beings, are capable of committing both good and bad acts.
The next part of the Psalm says,
“They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that does good.”
It is quite hard to think of a group of people, or even an individual, that has never done good. Even murders have shown love to their wives and children! Unless the religious person defines the notion of ‘good’ as meaning obeying their concept of God, it makes no sense.
But we can turn this around.
“The fool has said in his heart, “There is a God.””
Anyone who has not arrived at a position of belief or unbelief through conscious reasoning – who just believes because it’s what they’ve been told, or just thinks it must be true without understanding why – can indeed be called a fool, in the sense of ignorant.
Quite often those that profess religious beliefs which are not well examined, or who read the bible as the literal Word of God, are indeed “corrupt” and commit “abominable works”. From the Crusades; the torture and burning of ‘heretics’; the present day murders of doctors; the calls for state-sanctioned killing; the abuse and murder of women and children; the incitement to hatred, intolerance and murder; not to mention those acts of violence recorded in the Bible (if true); are acts which those Christians who fail to understand Christianity have committed.
This quote from the bible was quite probably written about a situation being observed at the time – perhaps a community of godless people who were acting immorally. Many atheists today think deeply about questions of morality and attempt to behave in moral ways. The phrase “Good without God” was pasted on billboards to challenge the erroneous idea that the godless are evil doers.
Are some Christians really reduced to scoring points against others with different, considered, points of view? What is the meaning of love your neighbour?