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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. Jeremy Griffin

    Geez. You really are the devil. Bah-zinggggg!
    Seriously, now I want some damn waffles.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  2. Bubba

    I know Jim Morrow, and although I find his books a bit unpleasant, there is more truth in them than most serious theological examinations. What if you KNEW God was dead? What if a new Messiah was born, and She had Her own ideas? Read before you condemn.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  3. JAdams1776

    The nice thing about citing god as an authority is that you can prove anything you set out to prove. The Bible is such a gargantuan collection of conflicting values that anyone can prove anything from it. The Ten Commandments are for lame brains. The first five are solely for the benefit of the priests and the powers that be; the second five are half truths, neither complete nor adequate. PLEASE, if you're religious at all, obey "Thou Shalt Not Kill." You'll all be dead within two weeks of starvation, because to eat, you must kill something. (Yes junior, plants are living things.)

    March 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  4. Satan Lucifer B.

    Yep, I told him id give him 3, n he did it. WAHAHAHA!

    March 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  5. Joebob

    Sorry to burst bubbles, there is no god. There never has and there never will be. There will always be people that use the "excuse" of "god" to try and get one's money or property or hard labor.... yes, it's a scam. Don't read the bible to me, it just gives me a headache! Reality is a much better foundation for living.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  6. Nancy M. B.

    As an adult, I finally came to the conclusion that either there is no God at all or if there is one, He's a mean S.O.B.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  7. Jeremy Griffin

    Ms. Butterworths? He only got 3 dollars?

    March 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  8. Satan Lucifer B.

    He puked for 4 hours after the fact.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  9. Colin

    @anotheralt. Picking up where we were before I went to lunch (and, to be honest, had a "nooner"). I agree that, in the absence of disproof, one cannot say definitively that something does not exist. But, simply beling credible to the point of not being disprooved is a pretty low achievement for any creed. It is also very different to being likely, probable, or even remotely probable.

    Even if one extrapolates the existence of a super-being capable of creating the Universe and its billions of galaxies, how do you logically join that to any god we have come up with asa species? There is absolutely no connection, which means, in so far as the way 99% of people use the term "god" there is zero reason to believe in it.

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

      I tend to agree, given our knowledge of things thus far. I still acknowledge the possibility as being entirely valid. All you've done is shown that our collective concept of God is perhaps flawed based on given evidence.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  10. Satan Lucifer B.

    The bottle shaped like a lady

    March 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  11. jim5k

    I'm an atheist, but I don't hate God. I just don't understand the concept, logic, or even why it's human nature to believe in God(s). Asking me to believe in God is akin to asking a devout Christian to believe in Zeus. It's not worth serious consideration.

    But I share the author's puzzlement in that I can't fathom why some people choose evil over good. I'd like to say the best universal philosophy is "do unto others", but many people seem to like being treated badly, and I don't want them to treat me that way.

    But logically speaking, I can see how some believers can hate God, especially if they feel like this "test" is treating them unfairly (personally, I believe in standardized tests). The term "playing God" is negative. It refers to someone making up the rules, judging you by them even if they don't make sense, and punishing you (to the point on infinite torture) if you fail to follow them (or even if you simply don't believe). Plus I don't understand this need to be worshiped. Yeah, I have some questions for God if he does exist.

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

    What kind of syrup?

    March 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  13. God

    Jeremy, the answer you seek is comming.... It is decidedly so! no..wait Reply hazy, try again...
    Oh what the hell..her number is 555-3525 and her name is Yu Betchya, give her a call.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  14. JAdams1776

    Don't appeal to mercy to God the Father up in the sky, little man, because he's not at home and never was at home, and couldn't care less. What you do with yourself, whether you are happy or unhappy– live or die– is strictly your business and the universe doesn't care. In fact you may be the universe and the only cause of all your troubles. But, at best, the most you can hope for is comradeship with comrades no more divine (or just as divine) as you are. So quit sniveling and face up to it– 'Thou art God!'

    March 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Bee

      are you a mystic?

      March 8, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  15. Satan Lucifer B.

    Really, never tried it, but i watched a buddy chug a full thing of syrup for 3$

    March 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  16. Jeremy Griffin

    It's gotta be creamy Jif, though.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  17. Tom R

    If there were a god I'd hate him or her. But since there isnt one I'll just hate the People who constantly try to convert me with rediculous stories of "miracles" that cant be proven.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • XWngLady

      Miracles are proven all the time. Ask doctors...The problem is, because there is no scientific explanation for them and therefore no way to really categorize/label them except as general 'inexplicable events' or merely just good luck and are left at that.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Tom R

      Medical miracles are not miracles and they are never proven. Tak the many cases of seemingly dead drowning victims recoverd after hours freezing water. Science now know that the cold slows the bodies organs down to the point that they appear dead. But the nearly complete lack of brain activity requires very little oxygen and the body can survive for hours on the left over oxygen in the blood with little damaging affect to the core organs. Its science not miracles

      March 8, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  18. Jeremy Griffin

    But you know what's good? Waffles with peanut butter on them. Seriously.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  19. DAT

    I pray that the day comes really fast when people wake up and think and that there are no more believers in the fantasy or magic of a bible or coran that was written by humans for humans (control). and one day soon all of this will be in the history books for kids to say what where those cavemen thinking. hahahah and laugh at them.

    then we can move forward and get off this planet and cruise around. or repair ourselves so we can live 200 or so years.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  20. keith

    As the lyrics that Johnny Cash once wrote...

    " Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
    Workin' in the dark against your fellow man
    But as sure as God made black and white
    What's done in the dark will be brought to the light
    You can run on for a long time
    But sooner or later God will cut you down"

    March 8, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • ChomskyisKing

      No Truer statement

      March 8, 2011 at 2:20 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.