a1 University of Liverpool
‘Godless’ was never a neutral term: in 1528 William Tindale talked of ‘godlesse ypocrites and infidels’ and a ‘godless generation’ is one that has turned its back on God and the paths of righteousness. An atheist, by contrast, a new and self-conscious atheist perhaps, might now wear the term as a badge of pride, to indicate their rejection both of belief and the implication of moral turpitude. Traditionally, though, those who declared themselves ‘atheist’ had a hardly better press than the ‘godlesse’, since ‘atheism’ was and in some cases still is considered a form of intellectual and moral shallowness: thus Sir Francis Bacon offers a bluff refinement of the Psalmist's verdict on the fool who says in his heart that there is no God:
The Scripture saith, The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God; it is not said, The fool hath thought in his heart; so he rather saith it, by rote to himself, as that he would have, than that he can thoroughly believe it, or be persuaded of it.