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My Take: Why some people hate God
March 8th, 2011
10:07 AM ET

My Take: Why some people hate God

Editor's Note: Bernard Schweizer is an associate professor of English at Long Island University in Brooklyn. He specializes in the study of iconoclasts and rebels, including the controversial writer and public intellectual Rebecca West. His third book is “Hating God.”

By Bernard Schweizer, Special to CNN

There’s a lost tribe of religious believers who have suffered a lasting identity crisis. I am referring to the category-defying species of believers who accept the existence of the creator God and yet refuse to worship him. In fact they may go so far as to say that they hate God.
 
No, I’m not talking about atheists. Non-believers may say contemptuous things about God, but when they do so, they are simply giving the thumbs-down to a fictional character. They may as well express dislike about Shakespeare’s devious Iago, Dickens’ scheming Uriah Heep or Dr. Seuss’ Grinch who stole Christmas.
 
For atheists, God is in the same category as these fictional villains. Except that since God is the most popular of all fictional villains, New Atheists – those evangelizing ones such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins - spend a considerable amount of energy enumerating his flaws.
 
But someone who truly believes in God’s existence and yet hates or scorns him is in a state of religious rebellion so perplexing as to strain our common understanding of faith to the breaking point.
 
Although these radical dissenters could steal the thunder from the New Atheists, they have remained almost unknown to date.
 
When it comes to God-hatred, a collective blindness seems to settle on us. First, we lack a generally agreed-upon name to refer to this religious rebellion. And anything that doesn’t have a word associated with it doesn’t exist, right?
 
Well, in the case of God-hatred, this principle doesn’t hold because the phenomenon does exist whether or not there’s a name for it. And in any case, I’ve ended the semantic impasse by naming these rebels and their stance once for all. My chosen term is misotheism, a word composed of the Greek root “misos” (hatred) and “theos” (deity).
 
Why do I care so much about them? They strike me as brave, visionary, intelligent people who reject God from a sense of moral outrage and despair because of the amount of injustice and suffering that they witness in this world.
 
At the same time, they are exercising self-censorship because they dare not voice their opinion openly. After all, publicly insulting God can have consequences ranging from ostracism to imprisonment, fines and even death, depending on where the blasphemy takes place (Ireland, for instance, imposes a fine of up to 25,000 Euros for blasphemy) and what God is the target of attacks (under sharia law, being found an enemy of God, or “mohareb” is a capital offense).
 
But I also care about these rebels because they chose literature as their principal medium for dealing with their God-hatred. I am a professor of literature, and the misotheists’ choice of literature as their first line of defense and preferred medium endears them to me.
 
Literature offered them the only outlet to vent their rage against God. And it was a pretty safe haven for doing so. Indeed, hardly anybody seems to notice when God-hatred is expressed in literature. Such writers cleverly “package” their blasphemous thoughts in works of literature without seeming to give offense in any overt way.
 
At the same time, these writers count on the reader’s cooperation to keep their “secret” safe. It’s like a pact between writer and reader.
 
Zora Neale Hurston could write that “all gods who receive homage are cruel” without anybody objecting that “all gods” must necessarily include the persons of the Christian Trinity.
 
Or Rebecca West could write that “something has happened which can only be explained by supposing that God hates you with merciless hatred, and nobody will admit it,” counting on the fact that, since nobody will admit it, nobody will rat her out for blasphemy.
 
There lies, in a sense, the awesome, subversive power of literary writing, something that had worried Plato 2,400 years ago when he required that all poets be removed from his ideal “Republic.” Interestingly, though, while guardians of propriety have put Huckleberry Finn on the list of proscribed texts because of its liberal use of the N-word, few people have declared Hurston’s "Their Eyes Were Watching God" or Shelley’s "Prometheus Unbound" or West’s "The Return of the Soldier" as forbidden texts because of the underlying misotheism of these works.
 
And even where the misotheism is overtly expressed, as in Elie Wiesel’s "The Trial of God" or in James Morrow’s "Godhead Trilogy," literature offers an enclave of religious freedom that is vital to the human spirit and its impulse to free itself of any shackles, even the commands of God.
 
I refer to the story of misotheism as “untold” partly because misotheism tends not to be noticed even when it hides in plain sight. Another reason why the story of misotheism is “untold” is that nobody has bothered yet to draw the larger lines of development over time, beginning with the Book of Job and ending up with utilitarianism, philosophical anarchism and feminism. That story in itself is quite engrossing, but again it is not a story that has really ever been presented.
 
So I am doing quite a bit of connecting the dots, unearthing overlooked connections and making distinctions such as proposing a system of three different types of misotheism - agonistic (conflicted), absolute and political. Misotheism in its various manifestations is a dark, disturbing and perplexing strand of religious dissent. But at the same time, it is an attitude toward the divine that shows just how compelling belief can be.
 
If people continue to believe in a God they find to be contemptible, then belief is such a powerful force that it cannot be simply switched off on the basis of empirical data. Thus, in the last consequence, the study of misotheism is a testament to the power of belief, albeit a twisted, unconventional form.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bernard Schweizer.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Books • God • Opinion

soundoff (1,730 Responses)
  1. LeShon

    Very interesting premise. As an atheist, I've long thought that the reason many people hold to their belief in God/gods is that they are afraid not to, or that they don't want to give up the comforting affirmations and assurances that come from most religion. As a result it's interesting to me that people would come to hate their god(s), yet still continue to believe in them when there is nothing in it for them. I don't think it's 'faith' per se, because they've likely rejected the specific tenets of that faith. It may be a psychological coping mechanism more than anything. If they are able to blame and hate God for the way things are, it makes those things easier to accept. I don't know; it's certainly an interesting subject.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Its not an uncommon response by ex evangelicals. The deeper they got pulled into it before they reject it the deeper their hatred later. I knew someone who believed in but despised their god. I always worried what would happen to him. Depression and drug abuse would not be unlikely.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Roger

      Very good point, LeShon. I'd add that it's probably the same principle that leads people to stay with an abusive spouse. They know it's wrong. They know it only causes pain and suffering, both for themselves and their children, but it's what they know. And the fear of leaving that and entering into a world that they don't know is frightening.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • TheGuyUpstairs

      This is a very interesting point. The logic for people believing in a deity that they hate and can't prove exist suggests that they aren't just rejecting the faith. Rather, they are rejecting scientific explanations as well.

      The most logical reason somebody would continue to believe in a being that continually causes them to despair is they can't find a way not to discount their beliefs. They cannot take solace in sciences advancements that provide explanations for what was previously believed to be evidence of God. They believe there must be more.

      People would only believe in an unsubstantiatable deity when they can find no where else to turn.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Chris K

      Good points all around here.
      @Leshon – interesting to hear from an atheists perspective here. I think it is reasonable to suggest from an atheist perspective that this could be a product of socialization or the entrenching of religioous views in our psyche. The from a theist perspective I might suggest this as the inablilty to deny God's existence despite a personal stake in the argument. Which I think is what Theguyupstairs is saying as well.

      @MarkinFL – I can see this happening. Many theists struggle with attempting to adhere to their own beliefs. While they can't shake their belief in the existence of God, they are willing to disassociate themselves from the people or organizations they were part of.

      @Roger – I can see where you are going with this. While I'm not sure I would agree with the analogy, I think I would agree with the idea that they may hold on to the belief in God despite their objections out of fear of the unfamiliar.

      @theguyupstairs – I agree.

      I would add that for some people this may be a transitional stage between theism and atheism. I am not denying the possibility that people don't make this their permanent worldview, but some theists are unable to reconcile a certain thing in their life, but later let it go. While others for one reason or another determine eventually deny the existence of what once was the object of thier hatred.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  2. Jeremy Griffin

    Has anyone seen my keys?

    March 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  3. willy

    Hate God? Wow. One would hate a man who drugs a child and cuts him open and removes part of his body. Such a horrible person should at least be jailed correct? until it is understood that the child had an appendicitis and would have died if the surgeon did not do his work quickly. IMHO if you hate God then you do not know him.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Yeah, all those children murdered for the deranged pleasure of some god's other flawed creations clearly served a higher purpose. Lucky for those kids to be of use to a god. And how proud their parents should be!

      March 8, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • willy

      if you blame God for evil then you do not know him

      March 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'willy – if you blame God for evil then you do not know him'
      oh he does enough evil in the OT for people to know him.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      No, evil is a human thing. Just like good. Gods are irrelevant. But if you believe, I can't see any way around everything being that god's fault.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • willy

      I think God gave us some control over our choices. If that is true how can we hold him responsible for our choices and the effects they have on others? You do not believe in free will?

      March 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  4. george

    If there is a God, he is either mean SOB or indifferent.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  5. joe

    Having read the bible, it's very easy to hate God. He's a jealous, insecure, vengeful, spoiled brat. If someone in real life had the same personality as god, they'd be locked away from Society.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Figure it reflects the personalities of the writers. Or at least what the writers expected of those in charge.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Patrish

      So true!

      March 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  6. NHP

    Bernard Schweizer, were do you get this stuff? “…anything that doesn’t have a word associated with it doesn’t exist?” Who says? “Literature offered them the only outlet to vent their rage against God?” Lots of people vent their rage against God without writing about it. It’s possible to believe & just not want anything to do with a God who lets people suffer. I would know…

    March 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  7. Chris

    I hate him because he's full of sh1t.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  8. Philo Cafe

    Q, you have an "irony meter?" Isn't it ironic that we're mentioning irony on a message board where everyone is their own irony meter? What everyone says...it's just so, you know...ironic! Wow, this is amazing! I didn't think I'd like this board, but I really do! How ironic! hahahaha....ha....uhh. (bang!!)

    March 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  9. BB

    believing in the kind of god this author speaks of intimates striking a deal- ok god, i'll be good if you keep me healthy, happy and sane. It was a deal described in the book of job. the dirty part is that sort of thinking puts you in a fairyland where everything points to "god's work," or god's desires. this sort of thinking creates the dichotomy where, if you don't think that way, well, your're outside the camp. and if that's true, well. history bears out the narrative.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  10. Native American

    Aramis2000: Yes, I believe what makes sense to me and I reject what doesn't make sense to me, and you probably do that too. It's called common sense, and people use it every day, about all kinds of things, including (believe it or not) religion.
    SmarterThanYou: I was referring to the old saying, "Statistics don't lie, but liars use statistics." It doesn't mean that anybody using statistics is a liar; it merely means that not everybody who quotes you a statistic is trying to be truthful. And yes, you can say the same thing about religion... it may have some truth to it, but sometimes it is used by liars.
    And to both of you: Make your point without hostility, and you'll sound more like a reasonable person instead of a mean-spirited hothead.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  11. IDecidedthereisaGod

    For all of you who decided there is no God because He did not answer your prayer, or granted what you prayed for: Sometimes God says No!

    March 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      I would take a "no". It would be the first evidence of a god I've ever heard of. The resounding silence that comes from that quarter does not instill any kind of faith.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Anotheralt

      Is anyone actually making that argument?

      March 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Well isn't that convenient...........an Almighty Caveat.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • NHP

      That's the standard answer from religious fanatics (as an excuse for a do-nothing God). A loving father doesn't say no when their child is in pain. Period. God does, hence the anger from people in pain. Easy to understand.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Roger

      That would seem to contradict the scripture, "Ask and ye shall receive". That looks pretty clear to me. Ask and it's done. It's not "Ask and you'll get an answer, sometimes yes, sometimes no".

      March 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Chris K

      @Roger

      "Ask and Ye Shall Receive"
      I don't think that there are many churches out their suggesting that you will get whatever you want simply because you ask it.

      Context:
      This comes from Matthew 7 verse 7 and 8 and in 9 it further explains:
      9“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

      This suggests something different than a shopping list of requests to God. People make all sorts of requests that they think will be for their benefit, but in my experience people tend to favor quick fixes and instant gratification. The answer to your prayer to God for Candy for dinner may be answered not so much with "no" but with "you need more vegetables."

      And then there are conflicting interests. I would not interpret "ask and it shall be given" to mean that when I ask for the Cubs to win that God will ignore those heathens in St. Louis asking for a Cards victory and grant me my wish. God isn't a Genie granting wishes.

      Of course I realize these examples are far from the bigger pleas people have like "cure my cancer," "save my marriage" and "I don't want to die." And yet I think we fail to see how our requests fit into the bigger picture. To get what we want might require the loss of freewill for someone else, and I think that can explain much of the suffering that exists today.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  12. Ry

    I get angry with God as times as well. But – when you've witnessed miracles happen right before you eyes and when you've cryed out to God in prayer and actually witnessed him answering your prayers, its impossible to deny his existance. Jesus, I love you more than anything in this world. Thank you for revealing yourself to me.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Anotheralt

      Umm..I'm glad you're happy, but correlation doesn't equal causation.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Peace be unto you Ry.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • HonorFirst

      Maybe a miracle is just a great random occurrence? Maybe chance isn't so few and far between with all the infinite possibilities that can happen, that good things actually do happen by chance?

      March 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Bee

      Ry has faith.
      Anotheralt does not.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Anotheralt

      Bee states the obvious but doesn't do anything with it. In point of fact, I don't have faith. I have hope 🙂

      March 8, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Roger

      How about when you witness Him NOT answering prayers, when he lets the innocent suffer, when he brings down tsunamis that kill a quarter million people, when he allows wars and disease and horrible deaths? Does that figure in to your belief in God?

      March 8, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Yeah and not too many centuries ago everyone thought the world was flat.

      Humans have proven to be poor at accurately interpreting what they see and hear hence they make poor eyewitnesses in court. Oh wait, no eye witnesses wrote the gospels. Hmmmmmm

      March 8, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  13. HonorFirst

    I don't believe in a God. I believe in the "powers that be", "Universal Energy" yes you could call it God but when you do you make it something. Good, Bad, What ever you want to call it.
    With that said I feel that the Churches have deviated so far from the original teaching through interpretation and preaching that the message has become distorted. People have come to resent some one telling them how you should be, what you should do, when out side of the church the world is falling apart. People turn to there faith and not action in hopes that if they believe enough then it will change or that THEY will be saved and everyone else will not

    March 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Anotheralt

      Religions end up being much more concerned with mythology and spirituality.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Anotheralt

      *thank spirituality.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • HonorFirst

      I can agree but I feel that organized religion is a teaching, a teaching of Dogma that is at times pushed on people. And to question the Dogma is not taken lightly
      "After all, publicly insulting God can have consequences ranging from ostracism to imprisonment, fines and even death,"
      I just think that the Teachings of how you should be and the reality of how you live are too different and the consequence is so unrealistic or impossible that the reward is unreachable while being human and naturally flawed, As we are so often taught.
      Just my Opinion

      March 8, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  14. Thegoodman

    This article is annoying on many levels. 1. It quickly dismisses atheists "Oh them...we are not talking about THEM". 2. He presents himself as the creator of the word misotheist (it predates this article...significantly).

    I think even people who claim to love they god they have chosen to believe in even hate them. Most believers in a god believe that god is omnipotent. If they hate anything at all, then their god has the power to change that thing, yet chooses not to. So their god is clearly either omnipotent and malevolent; or not benevolent and impotent.

    A true omnipotent and benevolent god is worthy of worship. Evil exists, so that god clearly does not exist. The options are a god that is not worthy of praise, or no god at all. Since there is no proof of the former, the latter is the only logical choice.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • TheGuyUpstairs

      Would a truly benevolent God remove all discomfort from the world? Would he effectively leave us all in a state of Euphoria? It would be as if everybody walked around in a heroine induced haze.

      As cognizant beings, humans inherently differentiate between emotions. If we could only swing between "euphoric" and "really happy", we would translate "really happy" to be miserable because that's the only spectrum we know. The argument that a truly benevolent god would remove all suffering is illogical because we would just adjust our definition of suffering accordingly, until there was only one state of consciousness: euphoria.

      I for one would pass on that life.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Chris K

      "A true omnipotent and benevolent god is worthy of worship. Evil exists, so that god clearly does not exist. The options are a god that is not worthy of praise, or no god at all. Since there is no proof of the former, the latter is the only logical choice."

      Your statement assumes benevolence equates to making things easy. I can't speak for anyone elses experience but my own, but in my experience true growth is not acheived by hand outs. As a parent the easy way rarely leads to personal developement. The ability to grow first requires a choice, otherwise there is no success or failure. The existence of Evil can be explained by the ability to make the wrong choice. Therefore I disagree with your assumption that the Existence of Evil negates the existence of an Omnipotent, Benevolent God who is worthy of our praise. But all of this is a moot point because of your claim that there is no proof of God.

      On another note, the writer's "dismissal" of Atheists, was as far as I could tell a nod to the Atheists. Explaining to those that assume that all atheists are God Haters in denial, that he does not take that stance.

      This is important because many theists fail to acknowledge the difference between someone who has arrived at an atheistic worldview through logic and reason, and someone who ignores the feeling that God does truly exist.

      Peace

      March 8, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  15. Ray

    Im not gonna lie, there are way too many big words in this article for this backwoods redneck to understand.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Or inner city gang-bangers and baby-mommas.

      🙂 gotta be fair, when taking aim at one group cause the flames of ignorance burns on many sides ...amigo.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Ray

      Oh Mark, I wasn't taking aim at any group other than my own, lol.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  16. Skepticz

    I bought this authors book after reading his posts on "Religion Dispatches.Org" (link below)

    http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/bernardschweizer/

    Im saying agree with every point, but he certinaly make an elegant distinction between atheism and God hatred.. something people often have trouble distinguishing between.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  17. Shawn

    I hope before your days on earth are done you see the truth. The bible is ancient text written by man. Jesus is no more real than the hundreds of gods before him. Living without belief in a creator is the greatest freedom one can have.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Anotheralt

      And denying the possibility of a million truths is just plain boring. I prefer the freedom where all things are possible and very few of them known.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • jpdistef

      Shawn, u know you're going to burn, don't u?

      March 8, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Tate Miller

      Right on target Shawn! Could not have said it better myself.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  18. M.

    Maltheism (belief that God exists, and is evil) and the proposed "misotheism" (dislike or hatred of God) is usually a transitional step between belief and realization that God does not exist.

    (Also, to reply to the snark about New Atheists enumerating the failings of a God. When attacking an entrenched position, it is rarely, if ever, sufficient to just say "I disagree." Pointing out logical and moral flaws within a belief system does not require one to also be a believer.)

    March 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Bree

      Right on, exactly what I think too.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Bee

      And, more importantly, a transitional step between belief and satanism. People who turn on God for the reasons you listed are following Lucifer's path.

      Athesists think they're smart, but they're story and fate is older than the Bible. Be careful before being so sure of things.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • casey

      Bee, why don't you just enjoy this life and worry about what happens after you die when that happens. I am sure God is not worried whether he is being praised or not, just that we are living life as respectful human beings to the planet and each other.

      You be careful with what you spend too much time believing.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • geoff

      Well said – I was working on a response of my own but you more or less nailed it. Thanks!

      March 8, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • SDM

      Not true. Lucifer believed in god.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Bee

      casey: so, you believe in God, or not? I can't tell for sure. But your advice is noted. I'll enjoy life.

      SDM: Yes, that's exactly what I'm speculating–He believed in God then fell away. Classically repeated by many Atheists, unfortunately.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  19. Steve

    Just read the book of Psalms. You will hear the cry of many so angry with God that it borders on hate. Look at Psalm 13 for starters.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  20. Qev

    Only ‘religious’ people hate “God”; rational people hate ignorance (i.e., religion)…’God’ is no part of the equation.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Anotheralt

      And people who grow up and get tired realize that hating anything is just exhausting.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • johnny j

      nicely said.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • casey

      I agree with them, well said

      March 8, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • B

      "For atheists, God is in the same category as these fictional villains"

      What a dammed stupid thing to say.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • runswithbeer

      I hate people who think they know what's best for ME. People who want ME to believe like they do. Well folks NO ONE believes like I do. No one else can get in my head. Keep your religion where it belongs, at home.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • LeShon

      "For atheists, God is in the same category as these fictional villains
      What a dammed stupid thing to say."

      I disagree. As an atheist, I think it's a good observation. I would compare it more to a Christian's opinion of Zeus or Osiris, for example, but I thought it was a good analogy to illustrate the point to monotheists who may have a hard time envisioning NOT believing in God. Not a slam on them in any way; we all see our world through our own lens. I might have used the term "fictional character" rather than "villain", but many atheists do think 'God' has been used to rationalize some pretty awful acts. Not saying it's right or far, just pointing out why the "fictional villain" comparison is a reasonable one.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.