While taking a look at pages on quote mining, I came across a rather silly example of how the Bible could be quote mined. In Psalm 14 (NIV) the Bible says, “There is no God”. It does, really! Yea, quote mining can be absolutely ridiculous, not so? Refrain from quote mining. Quote mining is dishonest, and an example of moral deficiency.
But I digress. Psalm 14:1 says:
The fool* says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.
I’ve seen this quoted at non-theists. The theist doing the quoting typically interprets this to mean “those that say there is no God, are fools”. I’m not convinced. In particular, this talks about what the heart says, not what the lips say. Note in particular the footnote on “fool”:
The Hebrew words rendered fool in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient.
Now there is a huge difference between
- The person that says there is no God…
…is a morally deficient person, and
- The person who is morally deficient…
…has a heart that says there is no God
Understand how different these two interpretations are. Also, be sure to understand exactly and completely how one can arrive at each of these two interpretations. Also remember this is poetry.
Now this is written from a theistic worldview, in a theistic culture, with a theistic audience in mind, where “God” denotes “higher purpose”, encompasses the ideals we strive towards. (See What is God?: The Personal God for some background on this understanding of theistic language.)
Here is my translation of the first verse into non-theistic language (please excuse the bits that I lose in translation), using the second interpretation:
A morally deficient person has a heart that believes there is no reason to be good, that they can do whatever they want. They have no moral compass guiding them. With no higher purpose than their own gain, they are corrupt, their deeds are vile. They do no good.
Verse two says: “The LORD looks down from heaven / on the sons of men / to see if there are any who understand, / any who seek God.” Heaven does not exist in the material universe. Heaven is a description of an ultimate ideal, a description and an idea, i.e. something in our Meh. The ultimate love and compassion is found in this ideal. A personification of this ultimate love and compassion witnesses what we are doing in our materialistic reality, to see if there’s anyone that understands, anyone striving towards such compassion, anyone reaching out to heaven. (Talking Meh here…)
A humanist may not have a belief in the particular idea of “God” that most Christians promote, but they definitely have a belief in a greater ideal. They believe that what they do does matter. They have compassion and the golden rule as their moral compass. Their deeds are not corrupt or vile, they do good. This poem cannot be talking about them, can it? Described in theistic language, the humanist has a heart that knows God, a heart that knows good, a heart that knows compassion and cares about the oppression of the poor (verse six). Effectively, they worship a God of compassion and love, even if they don’t care much about supernatural intervention.
Now consider a particular theist that verbally announces “there is a God”, but that is in fact corrupt. Consider someone calling themselves a “Christian”, but who does no good, a theist that focuses on personal gain. I propose that this psalm speaks about such people. This psalm says that while the morally deficient theist may confess “there is a God” with his lips, his heart is saying “there is no God”, as seen through his actions.
Don’t you think that challenges your perspectives on this verse a little? Do you think this makes sense? For interest’s sake, also take a look at The Message’s paraphrase of Psalm 14.
This post is a filler, so that this blog does not sit idle until I can publish my feedback on the creationism seminar. There will be more thorough feedback than I originally planned, because I’m not alone in tackling this highly biased, unscholarly, unobjective misrepresentation of science (i.e. using straw man arguments), coupled with dishonest quote mining, and topped off with a potent dose of argument from incredulity.