Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Not All Atheists Are Fools!: Misquoting Scripture

I am not a Biblical literalist. I am a Biblical contextualist. That means when I study the Bible (and all ancient literature), my position is not to interpret it from my cultural point of view, but ask myself how the hearers of the day understood the work in their own cultural context.
Yes, that takes a lot of study and when you do that, you will quickly discover that some points adhered to by Christians and critics of the Christian faith are interpretations that make no sense to anybody who takes the trouble to study.

Psalm 41:1 is one of the most abused verses in Scripture and it always quoted incompletely: "The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." The implication is clear. All atheists are fools. 

Only one tiny problem.

In the ancient Near East, the words foolishness and wisdom have nothing to do with intelligence. They have everything to do with morality. I can also say, I have known many atheists in my life. I can honestly say that very, very few of them are fools. The majority of them are actually quite moral and, though I may disagree with the particulars, they have a personal moral code that they follow for what they believe are very good reasons.

The fool in the 41st Psalm (and repeated again in the 51st) is an atheist, but a very specific type for a very specific reason. The fool mentioned here is a person with no morals at all. That is what the word means.

The fool referred to here is a nihilistic psychopath so when Christians talk to an atheist and quote this verse, they offend the atheist who thinks it is their intelligence being referred to, but in reality, you are claiming the atheist is a person of such low character they have no concept of right or wrong and are, in fact, aggressively following active evil. Not a good idea, but I will illuminate that in a moment.

Now by definition, a
nihilistic psychopath follows no moral code. They are true solipsists who cannot even fathom the concept of "other." And in the cultural context of the Psalms, a solipsistic,
nihilistic psychopath would be, by strict definition, an atheist.

But as I said, I know atheists who aren't. Therefore...

All solipsistic, nihilistic psychopaths are atheists, but not all atheists are solipsistic, nihilistic psychopaths.

Got it?

Now I've explained this to dozens of Christians and I've met the occasional one that doesn't want to have anything to do with "book larnin'" (an exact quote). Okay. Try this one on for size:
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:22)
Why such a strict command? Because to call somebody a solipsistic, nihilistic psychopath is an act of judgement on that person's character and that is not our role as followers of Christ. I can discuss actions. I can even condemn an action, but you and I and everybody else tread dangerous ground when we cast judgement on the person's value and worth.

And since "God so loved the world," that is not our job. Everyone has value in the eyes of God. Everyone is welcome to the table of Divine Grace. Even
solipsistic, nihilistic psychopaths.

Be careful what you say.


  1. There some serious problem with your argument. First of al I think you meant Psalm 14 and not psalm 41. Second you are right about he cultural meaning but you missing there’s more going on by just looking at one verse. The three rules I been told of sound biblical interpretation; they are context context and context . Lest look the passage:
    Psalm 14English Standard Version (ESV)
    The Fool Says, There Is No God
    To the choirmaster. Of David.
    14 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
    there is none who does good.
    2 The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,[a]
    who seek after God.
    3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.
    4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
    who eat up my people as they eat bread
    and do not call upon the Lord?
    5 There they are in great terror,
    for God is with the generation of the righteous.
    6 You would shame the plans of the poor,
    but[b] the Lord is his refuge.
    7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

    No wait a minute V1 to 3 sound familiar. Well next rule Scripture interprets scripture.
    Romans 3:9-26English Standard Version (ESV)
    No One Is Righteous
    9 What then? Are we Jews[a] any better off?[b] No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:
    “None is righteous, no, not one;
    11 no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
    12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
    13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
    “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
    14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
    15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
    16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
    17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
    18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
    19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being[c] will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
    The Righteousness of God Through Faith
    21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
    So yes in a way you’re right it does talk about the “nihilistic psychopath” but the bad news it is all of use including me. “. For there is no distinction:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, “
    Yet God died for all of us “nihilistic psychopath” calling us to repentance and forgiveness of sin though Jesus Christ our lord.

  2. No disagreement from me, Richard.

    I'm discussing evangelism in this post, not discoursing on salvation.