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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. Satan Lucifer B.

    I'll figure it out with a ip tracer =)) THEN UR SOUL WILL BE MINE!

    March 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  2. OpenMindedinTexas

    Has anyone ever thought that God, Jesus, and all other religious figures that people tend to worship – just might have been alien contacts with early civilizations? Stick with me on this... I don't mean to sound all sci-fi, but seriously...has anyone ever thought about that?

    Maybe these figures do exist and early civilizations thought of them as Gods, which then they formed worshiping rituals that inevitably ended up being the religions we practice today (although twisted by 100's of generations).

    Its just a thought...

    March 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  3. Aezel

    Believe in a supreme being in the first place is a twist of insanity in the human mind. If people can do that why does the author find it so hard that the human being can do other insane things like believe in a diety yet hate them? It is all just degrees on a scale of mental unhealthiness and lack of rational thinking skills.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  4. Misothiesm

    According to Wikipedia Misotheism first appears in a dictionary in 1907. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misotheism

    This was an interesting article up to the point of claiming to create the term Misotheism.

    "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)."

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

      Yes, that part makes him look very ignorant, as though he did not actually study at all. A scholar he's not. A guy with a college degree and a bit of curiosity, sure.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  5. educateurself

    It's a good thing we are all have free will to believe in God or keys. Don't hate anyone for whatever they believe. Don't hate. Period.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  6. Jeremy Griffin

    Okay. Do you remember how to get here? It's been a couple weeks since the Oscar party.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  7. Satan Lucifer B.

    make it like 15

    March 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  8. WWRRD

    From an entirely Christian perspective, it is easy at times to hate God. God works on an entirely different plane than Humanity. He loves his entire creation. He knows each and everyone of us. He gave us free-will. He knows many of his creation will use their power of free-will to do evil things. This is a part of our fate as fallen beings from going back to the day in the garden of Eden.

    That being said, as fallen being separtaed from God, we have intimate experience with pain , sickness, and death. We fail to understand God's overall plan for each of us. Therefore, when we don't understand, and we suffer, we look to God with frustration and at times hatred. Christians take solace in the faith that God has prepared a place with Him in eternity where we know no more pain. That is where salvation comes from through Jesus Christ. God isn't Human. He came to us so he could personally experience what it is to be human. He doesn't see things the way we do. To expect otherwise is silly and makes him "not God"

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

      God is God. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Just because you don't believe does not make God any less real. For those who hate because of their misfortune, He NEVER promised us an easy lfe, just that He would be there to help us get through it. You may be OK without Him now, but you surely won't be come Judgement Day. We will all know the truth when we die.

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

      It is easier to understand the suffering in this world and not hate the Creator if you understand a bit more of what the REAL truth is. The REAL truth is that we are left alone to deal with all of the things, good and bad, that happen on this Earth. If you take all of the common threads out of all of the various religions, this is what you get: 1. There's a Creator, or at least a higher power. 2. The soul does not die. 3. Follow the Golden Rule.

      God, if that's what you want to call him/her/it, clearly does not interfere in the happenings of this world. Everything quite obviously does NOT happen for a reason, and all fate is not predetermined in this life.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • ZeroGods

      @Sally: I like your meta-analysis approach to finding the truth – it's sometimes an interesting way to learn things. But just because ancient people made up some really elaborate creation stories, which happened to gain a following and have some common elements, doesn't make those stories correct. While I might find #1 and #2 comforting, I just don't have any reason to believe that they're true based on my own experiences. And I can make sense of my life just as easily with or without them.

      #3 is pretty great though. It's a very practical way to get along with people!

      March 8, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  9. zero gods

    Being annoyed at an indifferent universe is somewhat less frustrating than hating a deity.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  10. Jeremy Griffin

    Satan: Philo's checking his place for my keys. If he doesn't find them, can you be here in, like, ten minutes?

    March 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  11. Satan Lucifer B.

    Do not find them, i want a cream soda and a soul

    March 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  12. Al

    I am ok without knowing, why aren't you? People don't resurrect, Santa Claus doesn't exist, and Mary did not miraculously get pregnant. Why do we insist and believe in such things? Why is it that religion is day in day out shoved down my throat when we know it is only a belief and believing in something does not make it true? I am not out on the street, TV, schools, work place, etc, etc., preaching there is no god, I keep thy religion/belief to myself, and so should you! Ban it from TV. All day Sunday with redundant biblical mumbo jumbo... but if I happen to question it or critique it, I am bad person? seems a little biased.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  13. Jeremy Griffin

    Philo: Could you please check under your couch?

    March 8, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  14. zbeast

    As an Atheist, I don't hate god... I just don't believe in god...
    If other's do believe more power to them but they should not user there faith to draw me into there delusion.

    If I were to pick imaginary creatures to believe in why not Anubis, he's got that power over the
    dead thing and a totally rocking body.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Sally

      I don't think you read the whole article. He specifically stated athiests were excluded.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  15. Satan Lucifer B.

    Of course, i love cream soda

    March 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  16. Philo Cafe

    Would someone, for the love of God, please help Jeremy Griffin find his bloody keys??

    March 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  17. Jeremy Griffin

    Do you still want the cream soda?

    March 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  18. educateurself

    How can one hate someone they do not believe exists? How can one hate someone they do not know? That sounds very incomplete.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  19. Satan Lucifer B.

    I'll pick ya up and take you....for your soul

    March 8, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  20. Tysic

    Wow, the ridiculousness of religion seems to have no bounds. I can't decide which is more absurd, hating an imaginary friend, or loving him.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:55 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.