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Proudly I Am The Fool

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The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.

Psalm 14:1

Sometimes theists say this to me. They mean to call me a fool.  Of course, it’s not them saying it; they are merely quoting the bible.  If I weren’t properly medicated, that sorta thing might hurt my feelings.  I used to just tell myself, “nah, it’s not true, Seth.  You’re not a fool.”  But maybe I am a fool.  After all, it says so in the bible.

But let’s take a closer look at it, and see if we can’t find a more positive reading. Perhaps we can follow Tyrion’s advice, and wear the epithet like armor.


Harold Bloom tells us “there is no god but god, and his name is William Shakespeare.” So, let’s see what William Shakespeare thinks of the Fool.

The Shakespearean Fool archetype appears in a number of his plays, providing comic relief for the audience, but also representing a powerful statement about seeing through the bullshit of the powerful elite, full of self-delusions.

The Fool has the courage to violate social norms and question claims of authority.  In this way, the Fool is the best representative of skepticism from all of literature.

One thing all Fools have in common is that they fearlessly speak the truth to the socially powerful.  Fool (his name) in King Lear ruthlessly criticizes the eponymous character, and lives to tell about it!  Few others boast as much.  We skeptics should delight in being compared to so noble a character, fearlessly speaking in defense of truth, despite the potential social ramifications of doing so.

And don’t even get me started about Falstaff!  Falstaff is by far my favorite character in all of Shakespeare.  He is both Fool and Vice rolled into one.  Surely the bible says elsewhere that we atheists and skeptics are vicious.  I think later in that same Psalm passage we are accused of being corrupt and vile.  Well then, if any character represents us, it is Falstaff.

You see, Falstaff is an old knight who wanders the streets and taverns of the wrong side of town with the young Prince Hal, who later becomes King Henry V (“…we few, we happy few, we band of brothers…”).  He straightforwardly serves as a corrupting force for the prince, inviting him to question the righteousness proclaimed by the aristocracy, as well as the justification of what they deem to be virtues.  He also impiously dismisses religious authority.

He was definitely a heavy drinker, and in his death is reported to have cried out about drink.  This suggests that he drank himself to death.   To summarize, he was an anti-authoritarian impious corrupter of youth who challenged social norms and who died as a result of drinking.  Who else does this remind you of?

Socrates?  Me too!

So, Falstaff is an allusion to Socrates. That’s pretty neat!  In fact, Socrates himself was a sort of Fool character.  He is best represented by the character in Plato’s allegory of the cave who returns to the cave from the outside world, whose eyes are no longer adjusted to the dimness of the reality recognized by the prisoners.  He stumbles around and questions the importance of the shadows on the wall, and demands that the other prisoners question their received view of reality as well.  Eventually, Plato’s characters agree, the prisoners will kill the foolish stumbler; what he’s saying is inconvenient.  Surely this is a reference to the fact that the Athenians killed Socrates for impiety and corruption of the youth.  All he really did was wander around pointing out the unjustified assumptions made by the socially powerful, making them look stupid.  He may have been a Fool, but he definitely wasn’t stupid.

And the same goes for the rest of us Fools, I think.  Let the theists quote their Psalm.  Let us quote to them Shakespeare and Plato, who revere the Fool’s courage to question and probe the most basic assumptions of society.

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

As You Like It

I am wiser than this man … he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing … I do not fancy I know what I do not know.


So, I’m pretty damn flattered that the bible would count me among the ranks of these folks.  And it’s in the bible, so you know it’s true.  You’re goddam right I’m a Fool.  And proud of it.


Seth Kurtenbach is a philosophy PhD student at the University of Missouri.  His research focuses on applications of formal logic and game theory to questions about knowledge and rationality.  He is growing a mighty beard, in order to increase his philosophical powers.  Feel free to contact Seth at with inquiries about philosophy, logic, guest blogging, or visiting to give a presentation!

Helpful resources:
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Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an

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Blogs: Greta ChristinaPZ MyersThe Friendly AtheistWWJTD?Debunking ChristianitySkepChick, Rationally Speaking.


About Seth Kurtenbach

Philosophy grad student who wandered into a computer science PhD program with a backpack full of modal logic and decision theory.

8 comments on “Proudly I Am The Fool

  1. Jared Cowan
    May 7, 2012

    It’s supposedly in the original Hebrew that the word they use for fool isn’t attacking intelligence, since there’s a different word that’s understood in that way. The use of fool in Psalms 14:1 is talking about moral sense, which is still an insult in itself, since it suggests that if you say God isn’t in control or doesn’t exist at all, then you are lacking moral sensibility.

  2. rocketkirchner
    May 9, 2012

    Seth , ” There is a God , and his name is Aristophones ” Aristotle . The character of Fool in King Lear can only be understood in the light of Lears redemption in understanding love when him and cordelia are in prison at the end . he finally understands thru much suffering becuase of his own ignorance that love does not need to say that it loves to be love . …as his last silloquey states ”’ we shall be God’s spys , like gilded butterflies ”. check Malcom Muggeridge’s last interview with William Buckly jr. on you tube to get a better understanding of this in a christian context of redemptive suffering that teaches a man to love.
    in the context of Mugg’s view on this , you see a different kind of foolishness here . and that foolishness is one that ends up with love , and finally gets the message that love is the only reason for living . for the true skeptic doubts himself as equal as he doubts the idea of a creator or he is not a true skeptic , but a biased observer.

    it is imperative to be a rebel , but not without a cuase . if you are a fool for love and have been thru the ringer than you are not far from understadning the inner kingdom of heaven . if you are fool a just for the sake of being a fool , that makes you a rebel without a cuase like james dean . and james dean ended up crashing at the bottom of a ravine .

    • Seth Kurtenbach
      May 10, 2012

      I happen to think we all end up crashing at the bottom of the universe’s ravine.

      I take your point about self-doubt; I agree with it.

  3. rocketkirchner
    May 10, 2012

    Seth , the fact that we all have to face the grave in the end becuase 100 per cent of each generation dies ..yes . but there are different kind of fools . An interesting understanding of Fool in King Lear can be understood by the Greek chorus in Greek tragedy .

  4. toholdnothing
    May 10, 2012

    According to this link ( there are at least 5 kinds of fools in Hebrew, though only a few of them are lacking in intelligence. the others lack self control or humility, among other things. The fool in the oft quoted verse regarding one who says there is no God has been interpreted as speaking about ethics by many Bible scholars.

    It isn’t even uniquely or exclusively speaking about atheists, since the Hebrew doesn’t suggest that it is one who says there is no God that is nabal, but any sort of notion of God’s absence and people thinking or believing that which creates the issue. The verse, as tends to be the case with oversimplified ones quoted ad nauseum, is more complex than the surface message we get from the ill educated

  5. toholdnothing
    May 10, 2012

    Of course we all die. And, as I pointed out, there are different kinds of fools. Doesn’t mean there can’t be a good fool among them

  6. Alex Papulis
    May 10, 2012

    How isn’t it that crashing at the bottom of the universe’s ravine reduces all fools to the same level? What makes, say, questioning authority praiseworthy if that very questioning is occurring at the bottom of the ravine too?

  7. rocketkirchner
    May 14, 2012

    I wrote a piece for a politically progressive blog Dandeloin Salad called ”Optimism is the enemy of hope ” , just after my mother died . it is something you all might want to check out .

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This entry was posted on May 7, 2012 by in Author: Seth Kurtenbach, philosophy and tagged , , , , , .
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