home
RSS
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. Jeremy Griffin

    We could swing by Dairy Queen if you want.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  2. Jeremy Griffin

    Bet you when I get home, and I'm not even looking, I'll find my keys.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  3. Helper

    "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile." I Corinthians 3:19-20

    "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding." Proverbs 1:7

    March 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Luposian

      Amen! Preach it, brother!

      March 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Get a grip!

      For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in Spidermans sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness and again, "The Spiderman knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile

      March 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  4. Jeremy Griffin

    Or a Nehi, or a Hawaian Punch.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  5. John

    I hate god because he doesn't exist and people ruin the world pretending he does.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • DanIAm247

      Have you ever asked God that if He does exist to show you?

      March 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  6. Jeremy Griffin

    Okay, well, could someone give me a ride to work? I'll buy you a cream soda if we stop for gas.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  7. Satan Lucifer B.

    Using the bible to prove god exists is like using Harry potter books to find Hogwarts

    March 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Fast Fred

      I find Hogwart's under their chin's.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  8. educateurself

    Not hating anyone. Try it.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  9. Rick McDaniel

    Those are simply people who can't bring themselves to admit there is no God, even though they recognize, that the kind of image most religious people have of God, is far different than what our experience would show to be true, if you do indeed believe in the existence of God.

    God is not caring, not benevolent, and not fair, if he exists at all.

    Then, humans are so foolish, they actually believe man was created in "God's own image". Now how likely is that......really?

    March 8, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Luposian

      The FOOL hath said in his heart "There is no God."

      Besides, if you believe there is no God, what hope do you have beyond this life? Beyond the mayhem around you? The chaos and fear and anger and craziness? What joy can you experience after a loved one has passed on, even though you would be saddened by their departure?

      If you lose everything in a tornado, do you curse a God you don't believe exists, or sit in the piles of debris, bewailing your loss, only to yourself and those around you. Is there anything to be learned from the experience? No. Anything to be gained later on? No.

      NO Hope. NO joy. NOTHING to look forward to beyond this life.

      Personally, I would rather believe in a God that didn't exist, than to not believe in a God that did... not only does it give me a reason for living... there's an eternally terrible price to pay, if you're wrong.

      I believe I live a better life, overall, living for God, than those who live only for themselves and mankind. Because, when you do that... you make yourself god... and God already said "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."... that includes yourself!

      So choose to say you don't believe in God... but you are lying... because you've just made yourself that which you say you don't believe exists.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  10. Fast Fred

    You only hate what you fear. If you are taught to fear a god then.............???

    March 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Luposian

      I fear God out of obedience and reverence, not the knee-knocking Cowardly Lion type fear.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  11. Jeremy Griffin

    I wish there was, like, a sensor I could put on my keychain that would help me find them.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Fast Fred

      You may have left them next to your brains?

      March 8, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  12. Jeremy Griffin

    Man, sure wish I could find them. My keys, that is.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  13. Ted

    You may think you know that God doesn't exist, but I'm certain that you aren't. If you don't believe in God, the only way you will know if you were right while on this earth, is if you are ultimately wrong. So what will your steadfast atheism have done for you except to make you a more selfish, insolent person while alive? How will it have made you a better person? Think it made you more tolerant/less judgemental? No, not in my experience. The atheists I have known tend to be much more intolerant and judgemental than the God followers that I have known. True believers are loving, caring people. Compare them with the likes of Christopher Hitchens who has utter contempt for all who think differently from him.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Anotheralt

      I'm not sure painting all atheists you haven't met negatively based on your personal interactions with a limit sample is really all that Christian. How about you give people the benefit of the doubt, don't make assumptions about them before meeting them, and accept that good people don't necessarily have to believe in God.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  14. Jeremy Griffin

    My mom always misplaces her keys.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Bee

      Hey's, it's Jeremy the blog solicitor

      March 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  15. sanjosemike

    He didn't bring up the issue of churches' tax-free status. Because "religion" does not pay taxes, you and I must pay more.

    As an atheist, I don't hate god, because (as the author said) "How can you hate something that does not exist?"

    But I DO hate the fact that I have to pay YOUR share of taxes that your church dodges.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • NonBeliever

      Amen!

      March 8, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Ted

      So you think that all nonprofits should be taxed equally then, or only those that are faith-based?

      March 8, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  16. Ted

    You may think you know that God doesn't exist, but I'm certain that you aren't. If you don't believe in God, the only way you will know if you were right while on this earth, is if you are ultimately wrong. So what will your steadfast atheism have done for you except to make you a more selfish, insolent person while alive? How will it have made you a better person? Think it made you more tolerant/less judgemental? No, not in my experience. The atheists I have known tend to be much more intolerant and judgemental than the God followers that I have known. True believers are loving, caring people. Compare them with the likes of Christopher Hitchens who has utter contempt for all who think differently from him.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • sanjosemike

      Ted you have no right to judge me. I am an atheist. I give freely to many charities, both in terms of my time and money. I have never been on welfare. I vote. I pay a large share of taxes. I have paid all of my college loans off many years ago. I am a contributing member of society. I have never been on any public charity or unemployment. HOW DARE YOU JUDGE ME.

      As an atheist I probably contribute more to the community than most believers.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • John

      Religion breeds far more contempt and hatred than atheism. If "your experience" tells you differently it just means you are in a bubble.

      People who believe in god are terrible in my experience. Spend millions to spread messages of hate like how evil gay people are.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Ted

      So then why have the atheist dictators killed more people than any other breed of leaders?

      March 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Jillian

      It will have made me a better person, by making me more reasonable, more confident, more invested in each moment of each day–that's what withholding faith gets me. I do not have to consult a dusty book full of ugliness for my morality.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Ted

      sanjose mike – not judging you, just relating my experience, and btw – the way you respond to me shows the contempt you have for believers – so you are indeed judging me. and btw – what does collecting unemployment have to do with anything LOL?

      March 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Think it made you more tolerant/less judgemental? no.'
      Well its seems religion has had the same effect on you.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Ted

      Jillian – your response shows your contempt/judgement for those that believe as well. I do assume that your nonbelief will contribute nothing to your life. How can a lack of belief positively affect you? Do you realize that nearly all of the social movements in the last two centuries (abolition, suffrage, most anti-poverty and social welfare/justice programs/initiatives) have been faith-based? Please tell me how many social movements have been jump-started by atheism. Name one in fact.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • An atheist

      Truth cares little about usefulness. Either God exists, or not. We either have an immortal soul, or we do not. Human beliefs, hopes of fears do not make a true statement false, or a false statement true. Intellectual integrity is the courage to accept the logical conclusions of our observations about the Universe, no matter how terrifying they may be. Your comments just qualify you as a coward.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Gabino

      sanjosemike - Ok, fine you are an atheist. What I always notice in atheists is that they are always defensive and cry injustice. It seems to me that atheists and others to speak frankly have minds that are immature. You are correct, no group should be singled out but stop the crying, its pathetic. And if you really were as charitable as you claim you would not be putting it out there like you deserve a ribbon. And on your college loans, why even mention it, its a financial obligation you needed to take care of. Good luck.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Ted

      Yet another judgmental atheist – I rest my case

      March 8, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • MrHanson

      Yes, atheists do good things but their is no logical reason for them doing so. Maybe there is more to us then simply being made out of reorganized space dust? Altruism doesn't make sense in an evolutionary world view. We should dispense of the weak and unfit. But we know in our hearts that is not right. Maybe we are made in God's image afterall? Also we shouldn't judge. We all have the tendency to do evil when our corrupt sinful hearts alow us too. Even me.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Maybe

      Ted,
      "Please tell me how many social movements have been jump-started by atheism. Name one in fact."

      Just for starters:

      The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
      Doctors Without Borders
      The Red Cross
      UNICEF

      Not technically 'started by atheism', because atheism is not an organized ent.ity, but not started in the name of any "God".

      March 8, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Jillian

      Ted, because those movements were associated with faith does not make faith good–it makes it a tool. Faith and religion have have more frequently been used for great and pervasive evil. Faith can be used to unite people into a common purpose–to push them to do things they might otherwise be too afraid or horrified to do. My personal preference is to use the reasoned benefits of a cause to unite people–faith is a double edged sword that too often brings stupidity and evil along with any good it does.

      My lack of faith has brought me self-knowledge, great love, and a good deal of compassion for others. It is because of my compassion for others that I fight religion. How can it be GOOD to check your talents for thought at the door of a church? How can it be GOOD to rely on a book so full of ugliness as the Bible for your ideas about right and wrong? To follow a hypocritical religious leader? To carry so much hatred as the faithful often do?

      Humans can be good, and we can be loving, and we can be joyful and real and deep without religion. Religion convinces you that it is the cause of your own basic desire to do good. However, religion can be used to turn the desire to do good into evil actions and self-destructive guilt. It is true that some people think they find happiness in religion–however, they could have found it elsewhere, if they had known where to look, and it wouldn't have come at such a high cost.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Jillian

      ""Yes, atheists do good things but their is no logical reason for them doing so. Maybe there is more to us then simply being made out of reorganized space dust? Altruism doesn't make sense in an evolutionary world view. We should dispense of the weak and unfit. But we know in our hearts that is not right. Maybe we are made in God's image afterall? Also we shouldn't judge. We all have the tendency to do evil when our corrupt sinful hearts alow us too. Even me.""

      There are plenty of good reasons to to good things without a god. Evolutionarily, we are social animals with emotions. We have an inborn desire to make others happy–you can see it in a two year old child (who, raised without gods, will not believe in them). Sometimes, we also have inborn desires to do less beneficial things–to control those desires, we have reason. I am a thinking, conscious being. It makes sense to assume that others are as well. Given that I like being alive, I figure you do, too. Given that I like being able to say how I want to live my life, I figure you do, too. When I look at more than just you, at humanity as a whole, there is PLENTY of reason to want for my fellow humans to be happy, well-fed, healthy and free. They are like me. I am like them. That is reason enough for me to be altruistic.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Jillian

      I say: My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. .. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison.[34][35]

      Hitler, 1922

      March 8, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • sanjosemike

      Ted said:"
      sanjose mike – not judging you, just relating my experience, and btw – the way you respond to me shows the contempt you have for believers – so you are indeed judging me. and btw – what does collecting unemployment have to do with anything LOL?"

      sanjosemike responds: As a productive, useful citizen, my fiscal habits mean a great deal. I am not a "weight" on society, but a contributing member of it. I also am married to the same lady for 44 years. I paid my childrens' college education. I have never been divorced, and never cheated on my spouse. Ever.

      I am defensive. Religious people hold atheists to be responsible for all evil. Yes, you ARE judgmental. I will have none of it. So-called religious and non-religious psychopathic world leaders hold about the same number of evil acts, on balance.

      It's time for you to stop being so self-righteous. Atheists contribute a great deal to society, and yes, there are atheists in fox-holes.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  17. Jeremy Griffin

    Anyone found them yet?

    March 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  18. Luposian

    Obviously, anyone who acknowledges that God exists, yet hates Him, is possessed of Satan... for Satan hates God and all that He created. That individual is not saved, so they are no worse (spiritually) that the average worldly sinner, just different.

    No genuinely saved person can hate God, for if the Holy Spirit resides within them (as He would, if they are genuinely saved), He cannot hate Himself, as that is impossible. Just as Jesus said that Satan fighting himself (Beelzebub casting out demons) would bring his kingdom to naught, so too would it be utterly contrary for the Holy Spirit to reside in a person who hates God, as He represents God, as God the Holy Spirit.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Ted

      Yep

      March 8, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Anotheralt

      Why does anyone who hates God automatically fall into this weird christian paradigm where there's actually a satan? It's interesting.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Ted

      Anotheralt – how can anyone hate God if they don't believe in God? If they do, then it's logical to assume that it's Satan, who rebels against God in the supernatural world that causes people to hate God. It's not weird, it' Biblical. Christians have an explanation for the way things are. Atheists don't. I think it's weird that someone would hold steadfastly to a belief system that they don't really understand and that doesn't really explain anything.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Juliet

      I am an agnostic. However, there are many gods, including the Abrahmanic one, I would hate if they existed. The god of the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah is worthy of nothing but contempt.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'I think it's weird that someone would hold steadfastly to a belief system that they don't really understand and that doesn't really explain anything.'
      yep, sounds like christianity to me.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Kellie in Fort Worth

      According to the texts, Satan was the most beloved of God's angels who turned from him out of jealousy and envy – not hatred.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  19. Jeremy Griffin

    Hm, they're not in the jeans I wore yesterday...

    March 8, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  20. Jeremy Griffin

    I actually have two sets of keys, my home keys and my office keys. It's kind of a pain.

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

      I feel your pain man

      March 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Advertisement
About this blog

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.