Fifty ways to say “there is no God” (riffing on Psalm 14)

Psalm 14 (and its doublet, Psalm 53) always fascinate me. I have commented before on Psalm 53, and today I found the following meditation lying around—something I started but never finished or posted. So here it is. First, the text:

אָ֘מַ֤ר נָבָ֣ל בְּ֭לִבּוֹ אֵ֣ין אֱלֹהִ֑ים

Psalm 14:1 in Hebrew

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good.
The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon the LORD?
There they shall be in great terror,
for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
but the LORD is their refuge.
O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

Psalm 14, NRSV

“There is no God”—the prime directive, the defining credo, of The Fool—has more alternative forms than Kant’s categorical imperative.

First, let us be clear that “there is no God” does not signify the contemporary secular atheist. No, contemporary secular atheists are mostly conscientious and moral, and more than a little right: they reject the God (i.e., the duplicitous claims to being Christ-followers and God-followers) of the real ’en elohim crowd, which consists of people who do not call themselves atheists, which includes, perhaps primarily, Church People like you and me.

How do we know who the real God-deniers are? This Psalm tells us.

It is neither the semi-intellectual New Atheist crowd (who deserve what the lion David Bentley Hart gives them in the den called Atheist Delusions) nor the ordinary moral, nongullible people you and I know who won’t accept BS of any variety, including the varieties served up by incompletely integrated (the more generous understanding) or hypocritical (the harsher diagnosis) Christians. (In connection with which: Has anyone else among my Christian friends been feeling what I have been feeling? namely, that I have more spiritual kinship with some of my frankly agnostic and even atheist friends than with some professing Christians?)

Rather, the real God-deniers are people who “eat up” (treat abusively, for their own advantage) the poor, aka the righteous, who are God’s own people.

Alternative forms of credo of The Fools:

  • There is a God, and God has blessed the prosperous, which is why they are prospering and why it is OK for them not to mind that others are not.
  • There is a God, and God wants me to flourish while you suffer.
  • There is a God, and God wants me to exploit the poor.

Those corollaries are derived rather directly from the words of the Psalm. We could go one step further and derive another corollary by trying to imagine the reaction of the people about whom the Psalmist is praying if they could hear his prayer:

  • There is a God, and God wants me to accuse other people all the time but never to accuse myself. God wants me to react angrily, and never just sit quietly and listen and pray for insight, when other people accuse me, because God knows I’m always right.

And we can go even further and preface “There is a God” to any statement that we ourselves or people around us take as axioms to guide our thought about and conduct in the world—as a way of stimulating self-critical reflection:

  • There is a God, and God has empowered the powers that be, so don’t question them.
  • There is a God, and God wants me to vote, but wants me to do everything I can to make it hard for you to vote.
  • There is a God, and God wants me to change the channel when the news shows suffering in the world, not to sit with the suffering and pray and ponder what I can do to help.
  • There is a God, and God created this earth and the seas and skies and all the wondrous creatures that inhabit them, but God doesn’t mind if I join in trashing the whole thing for short-term profit.
  • There is a God, and God created all of humankind, and God in the person of Jesus Christ laid aside every advantage and came to us in the form of a servant for the salvation of all humankind, but God wants me to shout “[My country] first and greatest!” whenever topics pertaining to our coexistence with the rest of the world come up for discussion.

How many of our commitments and slogans become obviously untenable when we set them next to our claim that we believe in the God of the Bible?

The list could be extended. We have so many elaborate ways of saying “‘en elohim”—there is no God, i.e., no God-as-described-the-Bible, as opposed to the god of our own self-serving conceptions.

6 thoughts on “Fifty ways to say “there is no God” (riffing on Psalm 14)

    1. Disagreement is always painful, but if you’ve read the Bible, you’ll know that it’s shot through with dissension from the murder of Cain by Abel to the war of the Lamb against the Beast in Revelation, and in between the prophets and the apostles are always striving to maintain or restore the integrity of Israelite/Christian thought and life against those who would corrupt them for their own benefit. The struggle is real, as they say. But it’s rarely a matter of deliberate corruption, at least on the part of the masses. It’s more a matter of being led astray. People like me sometimes struggle to remember that gentle education might be more effective than straight-up condemnation. Again, the Bible provides plenty of models for both. — I don’t think Christianity is unique among religions in this regard.

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      1. I’ve read the bible and have been a Christian. Everyone of you makes the same claims, that the others are “corrupt” and “led astray”. Alas, none of you can show that your version is the right one, or that there is a right one at all.

        Nah, Christianity is no different than any other religion made up by humans, each needing to pretend that they have the one “truth”.

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      2. Not just religions. Everyone has an implicit or explicit understanding of what is most important and how one should live, and people normally live in communities, religious or not, in which basic understandings are to some extent shared and to some extent contested. Not every disagreement is a marker of unresolvable confusion. “No one can show that your version is the right one”—show to whom? If I can’t convince you that people who call themselves Christian while contradicting with their words and practices the core teachings of Jesus—for example, the preachers who wave Bibles and guns in the air as they praise the infallibility of their lord and savior Donald Trump—well, I don’t know where to go from there. The fact that some are way wrong about everything, and that no one is absolutely right about everything, doesn’t mean we should give up on trying to get closer to truth.

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      3. Nope, people don’t have an implicit or explicit understanding how they should live. Feral children don’t. That shows that people must be taught.

        Every Christian claims that the other Christians are “contradicting with their words and practices the core teachings of Jesus”, and every Chritian can point to bible nonsense to show they and only they are “right”.

        Alas, none of you can show your version is right, and you can’t do the things promised by JC to his followers, Mark 16, John 14, and James 5. So you all appear to be frauds.

        So, is your version completely right about everything, James? If not, why are you doing it? You have no truth at all, and all Christianity has done for the last 2000+ years has splintered repeatedly on their claims of having the truth.

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      4. If I’m not right about everything, then I have no truth at all? Sorry, amigo, your reasoning powers aren’t quite up to snuff. We’re done.

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