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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. dissenter

    I do not "hate" the gods because how can you hate that which you cannot prove exists. I do find loathesome the cultish miscreants who gather together once a week to prostrate themselves before words written by men to control people. Their existance is very real and rather terrifying. Their willingness to denounce others based purely on differing theology is disturbing.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Anotheralt

      Denouncing others in church is one thing. Having the Church give political contributions (or contributions to political causes) *cough*Mormons*cough* is quite another. Faith is a currency I have no personal use for. Turning your faith into money and messing with my rights as provided by the 14th amendment is a no no.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Bee

      I'm Mormon, I contributed.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  2. Mark Miller

    Real or not.......God ruined my life......Christianity is the main cause of hate, bigotry and racism..... it is even a proven fact. Just read your history.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Colin

      Äctually, by the sounds of it, those who beleive in god ruined ur life.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • 4mercy

      I can't stand when people blame all of this kind of stuff on "Christianity". People have created and encouraged the things you mentioned. Some SOME of them were/are Christians....some were/are not. They were people. People are not perfect – cannot be perfect. They are not these things because they believe in or worship Christ. Perhaps their views have been misguided by their upbringing or environment or their own selfishness....they may have been influenced by countless things. But not all who are Christian are racist or bigoted. You, speaking out against them, seem to be just as judgmental as those you condemn. Pray. Worship Jesus. Ask him to reveal himself to you. Concentrate on your own salvation before you try to influence others. "Oh blood and water which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a font of mercy for us, I trust in you." from the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy

      March 8, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  3. Tim

    True Unbelievers, like True Believers, are a rare breed. They can tolerate each other. Most of us are either God Haters or God Lovers, and we can't.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  4. Skip Hanzel

    I do not believe in any god or spirit. Great thesis but lets take the hate out of it. My friends, family all believe in a god. I do not hate what does not exist and I do not hate what they believe.I feel so free to not be bound by all the guilt that believers must shoulder.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Texas

      If god is really omnipotent he could make us have free will and live without suffering and death, without any need for redemption. But he doesn't; that is proof enough of his malevolence. Evrything could be perfect but he likes to watch us squirm, suffe, and die. The only hope he offers is an eternity praising him so long as you still love him while he tortures you to death.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  5. Texas

    If god is real he is clearly malevolent, and so the most reasonable thing to do is to hate him.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • 4mercy

      I don't think God is malevolent. I think he is just. Whatever we suffer in this life has been brought upon us by generations of ignoring God's instructions to us and His love for us. We can offer it up to God in reparation.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Texas

      4mercy if we have failed an omnipotent god it is only because he wanted us to and made us to do so; his omnipotence would grant him the power to give us free will and obligate us to do what he considered the right thing, but he didn't. He set us up to fail him so he could punish us so that we would beg him for forgiveness. Sounds pretty malevolent.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Tim

      LEt's not go blaming God for our own short comings.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Texas

      Tim, an omnipotent god created those short comings intentionally. We were born to fail because he made us that way.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • 4mercy

      Wow, Texas. Someone really did a job on your faith. I'm sorry for that. God LOVES you. He really does. He LOVES you. I believe that in my heart. He does not want to see us fail. He wants to see us love others here on earth and strive to be with him for eternity. His love is endless...as is his mercy. I will pray for you. I believe God will grant you the great graces which will soften your heart and re-open it to him.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Texas

      4mercy if an omnipotent power loved you he would not force you to suffer when it is in his power to give you free will and happiness; and if he wanted man to succeed mankind would because an omnipotent god commanded it. But we don't so either he wants us to fail or he does not exist...your choice but those are the ONLY possibilities.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • 4mercy

      By "women's rights" I was speaking of women who believe they have the right to kill their unborn children.

      March 8, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Richxx

      4mercy – read the old testament again. God is not love. God is jealous, vindictive and cruel. Look how he ordered Abraham to kill his son Issac. Wasn't that a cruel trick? Would a loving god do that?

      March 8, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  6. Richxx

    I believe in God, just not the fake God created by men in the bible and koran. The real god has not chosen to show himself to us yet except through his creation. At least I don't see any evidence. Perhaps he is trying to communicate to us as we might to an ant. He speaks but we don't hear. Perhaps if we don't kill ourselves off (with our fake religions), we might evolve to where we can hear him in another 20,000 years or so.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  7. AZLlib

    Personally I don't hate God. BUT, I do NOT want to be associted with the Right Wing (My Way or Highway) crowd. It truly confuses me to see somebody hold a bible talk about love and then do everything in their power to push for war, hate other people, judge other people, condem other people of all races and faiths. Many like me I'm sure are being counted here as a hater, but in truth the jumble comes between that of God and that of organized religion.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  8. 4mercy

    This article is not news. Get with it CNN. Leave the religion to EWTN...at least they KNOW what they are talking about!

    March 8, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Bee

      It's not supposed to be news, it's supposed to be a Belief blog post, filed under the Opinion section.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • 4mercy

      Bee, you're right. I stand corrected. CNN should leave articles that are more about 'non-belief' out of the 'Belief' blog. The Eternal Word Television Network (and radio) is the best source for information on faith and belief.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Bee

      oh, I see

      March 8, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  9. Rev. Henry Bates

    It has been my experience that when people say they don't believe in God, they really mean they don't believe in religion. Belief in God, of course, is not predicated on a belief in any particular religion, just as Jesus is not exclusive to Christians, but far too many people don't get this concept as it contradicts so much of what we have learned in our culture.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • UnicornLover

      I like bearded man living in the clouds because I like rain and when he sneezes we got rain....

      March 8, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • JAdams1776

      The rational mind doesn't "believe" anything that requires a certain world-view in order to be true. It doesn't matter what your world-view is... When you drop a rock, it falls to the ground, regardless of belief, prayer or voodoo. A belief in any god, or any religion requires a specific world-view to "work." Subjectivism fails when confronted with reality.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Sean

      To quote Tom Hanks in 'Angels And Demons'..."Faith is a gift I have yet to receive." And it *is* all about faith. My problem is that I cannot stand those who try to 'whitewash', for lack of a better word, the Christian faith while overlooking the problems and issues that Christianity has caused in the past. It's hard to "get with" a faith that does it's best to overlook, or sweep under the rug, it's faux pas.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Colin

      Actually Henry, my experience is the opposite. When people say they believe in god, what they often mean is they support the idea of religion. They essentially "believe in belief" because of the put-itivemoral good such a belief supposedly fosters.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  10. ksbondgirl

    When I hear people ask why God would allow terrible things to happen, my take on it is that it is people who allow these things to happen. Not God. If they truly had God in their lives, they wouldn't do the things they do. As for natural disasters, they are just that and nothing more. No matter what we do to "harness" the earth, it's just too large and powerful for that to happen. It's about love and respect and too few of us have or give it.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • JAdams1776

      Right. When it's a good thing, "Praise the Lord!" When it's a bad thing, "Blame the wickedness of men." It's a familiar song, that has been played to the gullible by the shaman for thousands of years. Guilt works when one wants to control the masses, and fleece them of reason and wealth.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  11. julian

    If I understand correctly, god wanted people to live sensibly. We can destroy him. All we need is a little chaos. When god is dead we will be free.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  12. mattmchugh

    Always fascinating what does and does not post on CNN forums.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  13. JAdams1776

    A religion is sometime a source of happiness, and I would not deprive anyone of happiness. But it is a comfort appropriate for the weak, not for the strong. The great trouble with religion – any religion – is that a religionist, having accepted certain propositions by faith, cannot thereafter judge those propositions by evidence. One may bask at the warm fire of faith or choose to live in the bleak certainty of reason- but one cannot have both.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  14. Sean

    I don't hate God...or Christ. I follow God and Christ in my way. I'm not much on Christians, though. They are, from my experience, an intolerent, egotistical, pompous, sanctimonious, bigoted lot of people.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • JAdams1776

      Christian belief can be summarized thus: "The faith in which I was brought up assured me that I was better than other people; I was saved, they were damned ...Our hymns were loaded with arrogance - self-congratulation on how cozy we were with the Almighty and what a high opinion he had of us, what hell everybody else would catch come Judgment Day."

      March 8, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Mao

      I'm sorry ... I hope you can forgive me.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Sean

      Forgiveness I have...tolerence for bigotry I don't.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  15. BLUEFLAME777

    Revelation 22:20
    20 He who testifies to these things says, Surely I am coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! #Bible

    March 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  16. mdnc

    More stories about your imaginary friend who lives in th sky. It's just a little creepy, that's all.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  17. IamGOD

    let me explain it to you... Believers hate GOD because he promised to be there for them, yet one after another realize that they are alone, and that help never comes unless it's another human hand... There it is... plain and simple....

    March 8, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Anotheralt

      I believe the counter argument goes something like-he was actually there, you just didn't see it, or weren't aware of it for some other reason. It's kind of a lame argument, I'll grant you, but it just highlights a certain philosophical tension. One party believes God is should make himself known in some sort of obvious way, as if it's an unspoken part of the contract. The other party believes that God is always there whether or not we see proof of this. Is accepting something as Truth in the absence of all reasonable evidence delusional? Possibly. On the other hand, we tolerate and sometime encourage delusional behavior on a semi-regular basis in our society. Sometimes it's productive.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • IamGOD

      "I believe the counter argument goes something like-he was actually there, you just didn't see it" – interesting.. few million children under 5 die each year from disease, hunger, etc.. he surely was not there for them... And I have no idea how one can even state that he was there .. lol

      March 8, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • futurama

      heard this on futurama, and i never really paid attention to it until 2 nights go. "if you do things right, it'll seem like you've done nothing at all"

      mind blowing

      March 8, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  18. god

    as you know, the feeling is mutual.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • mattmchugh

      Right back at ya, big guy...

      March 8, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  19. JAdams1776

    I contend that the disgusting behavior of many of their alleged 'holy men' relieves us of any intellectual obligation to take the stuff seriously. No amount of sanctimonious rationalization can make such behavior anything but pathological.

    March 8, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  20. DEATHSTER

    We Don't Hate God
    We Just Don't Believe in it...
    We Don't Hate Unicorns
    as much as we don't see the Unicorns...
    Common Sense

    March 8, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • JAdams1776

      I like my Unicorn rare.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • UnicornLover

      ROFL! I like em BBQ-ed.

      March 8, 2011 at 2:52 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.