Thursday, January 28, 2010

Psalm 14: Poetry or Propaganda?

 

“The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.”(KJV)

Many evangelical Christians like to quote from Psalm 14:1 to show that atheism is a rebellious form of foolishness which corrupts the person so that “They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”

Yet is this unflattering attempt at demonization simply directed at nonbelievers in general? Or is it something more?

First a distinction needs to be made. Atheism is not an emotional position of understanding, nor is it a nihilist philosophy about the belief in nothing (as so often wrongly assumed). It lacks a dogma to drive it toward devotional convictions and believing blinding in doctrine (a doctrine it lacks). Atheism, simply put, is the lack of belief in the supernatural, period. It's not unbelief, it is disbelief. Atheist believe in many things, God just isn't one of them.

Religion, by and far, is largely predicated on emotional feelings of a deep seeded desire to be loved, to belong, to be worthy, all seemingly human desires, with the exception of the last bit to prove oneself through pious service to a divine being. This amendment, in God we trust, makes religion a romance affair between peoples emotions and their supernatural inclinations, hopes, and fantasies. Atheism is not any of these things.

Instead, one might define atheism as a cogent position stemming from an epistemic knowledge gained by sound reason and solid logic. It’s a deduction of the evidence we do have, a criticism of the evidence we should have in prolific abundance but do not (the more problematic element I would add), and finally, the conclusion the atheist makes is that there is not enough trustworthy evidence to sustain a belief in the supernatural, and everything else is philosophically unstable or fails to hold up to exacting scrutiny. This doesn’t mean a believer can’t have faith, because their concept of deism is (at the least) plausible, but what it does mean is that faith is virtually untenable, therefore unjustifiable, from a critical, skeptical, and well informed outlook.

Atheism is a skeptical position derived from the keener understanding of the proposition, and it uses rationalism as a tool to logically scrutinize and critically analyze the claims of religion. So the question is, when Christians cite Psalms 14:1 as a proof that atheism is a deficiency, and that it can only lead to corruption, abominable acts, and no good can come from it, are they simply reacting to an emotional conviction based on the dogma which with impolite persiflage attacks the character of the atheist in an attempt to pervert public opinion by subverting any redeeming goodness a nonbeliever might innately have?

I would argue yes, insofar as the way modern Christians tend to use this verse as a form of blackmail. A form of blackmail which tries to subvert the goodness of the nonbeliever by perverting their moral character, thereby degrading the nonbeliever, and giving religious people an excuse to despise, or otherwise, distrust the character of those who don’t subscribe to their belief or sect. But even this religious wrought moral persecution is not without criticism, since if we take time to actually think about it, the verse in question merely talks about the “heart” and not the mind. Accordingly, we cannot blame the atheist who has rejected the tenets of religious faith based on rational means. Most atheists I know are privy to the fact that religion does not answer many questions which they can find in science and other world philosophies, and that faith is by no means an enhancement to this deficiency.

As for the propensity to believe in the supernatural, one traditionally has to set aside rational arguments in order to defend their faith based position, and this only leaves a one dimensional emotional layer left to criticize, and often believers feel offended at any askance which should befall them. Apologetics is necessary to defend the believers position, but I find apologetics is never, and can never, be fully objective since it always takes the supernaturalist’s position and begins from there. In order to be truly dispassionate, one must approach one’s beliefs strictly objectively, and take the role of the scientist. Only then will a person see into the inner depths of their own beliefs, but refusing to do so is simply a stratagem that seeks to avoid answering the questions religion is incapable of answering.

Suffice to say, if any religion did answer all questions fully, properly, and satisfactorily there would be no need for apologetics to defend the merit of the religion or the faith in the first place.

But Psalms 14:1 is not just a way to subject the other to slander, but it’s also a form of fideism, or the doctrine that knowledge depends on faith or revelation from god. It’s saying quite literally that those who reject the Christian God are not only being foolish, but they literally equate to fools, since without faith they could never gain proper knowledge about God—and so their opinion is worthless. Again, I cannot see how this is not a biased position which automatically denies any other possibility or belief system than its own.

Even so, when we read Psalm chapter 14 in full, particularly 14:7, we find that it has a very specific agenda in mind. “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When the LORD bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.”

Indeed, the hidden agenda is not so hidden after all. It is apparent that Psalm 14 is a planned attack on those who inhabit the land holy to Jews yet do not believe in the Jewish god. It is a verse which demonizes the gentile and the pagan and the Roman and the Greek and the Arab and all those who are not of the chosen people. It is saying quite clearly, “There are fools in our land! But we will rejoice when God takes Zion back and restores our fortunes!” Never mind how bad of an idea this is in today’s nuclear world. Never mind that Israel’s establishing settlements on the West Bank constitutes theft, and is illegal. Never mind about all that, what is important to note, is Psalm 14’s political message is clearly, without a doubt, propaganda and not poetry.

Antiquated as the sentiment behind Psalm 14 is in the twenty-first century, I still can’t help but find it a little bit insulting. For of a couple of reasons:

1) Ad Hominems: There is no reason to demonize and devalue other people simply because you disagree with them. Ad hominem attacks are used in one of either two ways. First, as a sensationalist tactic to direct attention to oneself, and secondly, as a way to run around the issue without having to account for dodging the question. If anything ad hominem attacks are evidence of someone who is failing to win the argument and is, in all likelihood, incapable of defending their position so they seek to tear down their opponent instead of having to admit defeat and forfeit the debate.The reason religious types resort to it so often it is almost absurd, is because in three thousand years their arguments haven't gotten any better. The atheist and skeptical ones have--as they have progressed along with advances in science and human understanding.

2) Brazen Audacity: As I stated earlier, I never based my atheism on baseless emotionally charged faith based proclivities, but rather, I came to my atheistic stance via a process of objective reasoning, and since it was the choice which left me with the least cognitive dissidence, it was the preferable choice. Granted I may be wrong, but to be proved wrong requires better evidence and explanation, and I am fully open to correct my opinion and changed my mind when I am shown convincing evidence, but as every erudite person knows, incredible claims require equally incredible evidence.

With confidence I think we can say that so far no person of faith has offered any convincing evidence which would hold up to scrutiny adequately enough to cause the most resolute skeptic to reconsider the religious proposition, otherwise we would not be having this debate. And I simply cannot just give them the benefit of the doubt, since their position is not readily tenable. When supposition is all you have to offer you need to earn your comeuppance, that includes gaining credibility and trust and so on.  But religious people often like to pretend they know more than they actually do, state emphatically that God is certain, swear on their holy books that if faith is good enough for them then it should be good enough for anyone, they propose a never ending myriad of ways you ought to live according to their worldviews, and it is in this audacity where they lose my respect, and it is in their failure to answer basic questions they swear they have the answers to where they lose my interest. The bottom line is this, believers need to make their beliefs believable before others will even start to consider them.

So when a believer quotes to me “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God,” I can’t help but see this as a clear admission that they have no real ground to stand on. For this ad hominem is the first step to the inevitable surrender of faith, it’s the first sign that, whether they will admit it or not, they are losing ground, and their position is in danger of being overtaken by the advancing forces of science, rationality, and better reason. And although this predicted scenario may not be entirely certain, something even I admit, what is certain is, if it should come to pass, as an atheist I have nothing to lose. The person of faith has everything to lose.

The fool may have said in his heart there is no God, but let me tell you what the atheist has said, while holding fast to intellectual honesty, prove God to me in a convincing fashion, that is testable, dependable, and which is corroborated, and which stands up to scrutiny, and does not have discrepancies or irreconcilable difficulties, and which offers a better alternative to everything I believe in, and which makes good on its promises, and is supported by a superfluity of evidence so convincing that it is virtually undeniable, and this might be persuasive enough to sway my intellect

But fool I am not, and that’s why I always wait for the evidence to come in before making decisions. Being prudent and thoughtful is a better virtue, in my estimation, than resorting to brash zealousness. Moreover, an educated guess resulting from a long process of tried and tested, not to forget, critically applied methods is far superior to making a leap of faith and hoping beyond hope that you *might be right. If anything at all, if I may be so bold, it is the religious who take things on faith who are being imprudent, which, ironically enough, is nearly indistinguishable from the foolishness they claim about everyone else—the claim being that a foolish person is one who refuses to understand the truth when it is staring them in the face. In this sense (fideism aside) I would have to agree, those who wish to remain ignorant rather than come to an improved understanding are being fools.

Sincerely,

The Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist