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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. Alex

    What's ridiculous about this article is that the author is commending misotheists as "brave, visionary, intelligent people..."! Are you serious. Last I checked, a brave person didn't disguise their thoughts and feelings for fear of others – even in the face of punishment (including death). Actually, their concealment points to their insecurity in their feelings about God. Perhaps they sense that what they are feeling isn't right nor rational when really contemplated. What frustrates me as a Christian is that we can be so ARROGANT – we humans and our human spirit to think that we should understand everything and know everything – if we don't get it, then it's wrong. Not to say that we shouldn't get frustrated or even mad when tragedies and injustices occur, but we have to understand that there is something greater than ourselves at work here and yield to it. Clearly, you can't expect to understand the One who created you. And we all know we didn't create ourselves. We should all see the complexity of earth and human beings and see that we all came from something greater than ourselves. And can you really expect to understand the decisions and ways of God – are you really that great?! If so, then you create a new planet with new humans in space, and let us know how it goes!

    March 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Philo Cafe

      What an incredibly arrogant, presumptuous, uninformed and narrow-sighted view you posted. Individuals such as yourself misunderstanding the point entirely is why the self-reflection of the so-called "misothesists" is done within the relative safety of brilliant works of literature. To put it another way, wombats don't read Shakespeare.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  2. Dave

    To Sirena- I see you're back posting your illogical and opinionated jibberish. Do you happen to have any kind of a job or do you simply like posting nonsense to show us all how lame you are (BTW I'm retired after working hard for a long time)? Dis it ever once dawn on you that maybe man has a limited capacity and can't fully grasp how God could exist. I would think it's easier to believe in the almighty than to believe in...nothing.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  3. Tekpilot

    far more then 50 percent of the worlds population believes in a supreme being. More like 85 percent. To say that we are all dilusional and the 15 percent are not, is much more preposterous. There is the fall of man that has caused all of creation to groan and A righteous God who is almighty is merciful to who he wants to be meciful too. Not who we want him to be merciful to. Just because we cant understand him does not mean he is being wrathful. I'm convinced he need not punish mankind at all, just look away for a second and we do it to ourselves.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Fshy

      That's right! When have the masses ever been wrong? Except that one time they thought diseases were caused by bad spirits...or that time they figured weather patterns could be manipulated by prayer, ooh, maybe that time they thought the earth was flat and the sun and stars revolved around it! Maybe we should rethink this theory.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Um

      People are sheep. End of story.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'far more then 50 percent of the worlds population believes in a supreme being. More like 85 percent. To say that we are all dilusional and the 15 percent are not, is much more preposterous.'
      And they do not all worship the same god so surely some of them must indeed be delusional. You fancy telling us which ones they are? I will lay money down thats its not the ones that believe the same as you do.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  4. God

    You can't make everyone happy.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Q

      Actually, being omniscient and omnipotent, you could....if you really wanted to....

      March 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • ABeliever

      Q, I'd rather have free will. Then faith in God means something.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Now God is egocentric!

      Amazing how many HUMAN fralities he has, don't you think?

      Whats next? Acne? Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

      Most likely pedophillia.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  5. truthfulness

    ugh

    March 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  6. lance corporal

    what self indulgent nonsense

    March 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  7. mars25

    this world is too complex for there not be a god. read (creator behind time and space) it was written by mark eastmen. he was athiest who wrote allot of the stupid science textbooks we read in high school. but anyways very good book he really go's in depth on how everythings works in realilty and how the bigbang theory is literally inpossible. cant find this book in barne n noble or no book store. so go on amazon(kinda questions me why this book is so rare). but yeah 1/2 the book is in science nerdy wording then the other half is dumb down so we can all understand. READ IT EVERYBODY!!! U MIGHT HAVE A CHANGE OF THOUGHT. PLUS SCIENCE SUCKS WE NEVER NEEDED TO RELY ON IT IN THE BEGINNING OF DAYS. AND NOW THAT WE DO ITS MAKING US STUPID,LAZY, AND ITS KILLING ARE WORLD SLOWLY.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'PLUS SCIENCE SUCKS WE NEVER NEEDED TO RELY ON IT IN THE BEGINNING OF DAYS. AND NOW THAT WE DO ITS MAKING US STUPID,LAZY,'
      With that statement I'm thinking you already started from the position of stupid and lazy.

      'this world is too complex for there not be a god'
      ok, if you say so.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Um

      Good grief. You can't even spell "goes". Why would we listen to you?

      March 8, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Teo

      Apparently, you hate Grammar, too.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  8. UCFknightman

    How can one hate a deity that does not exist?

    March 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • @UCFknightman

      Try reading the article again. Second paragraph: "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."

      Relax, this isn't about you.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  9. greg

    God-hatred....hmmm...I think a chunk of this comes from the fact that so many believers are full of anger/hatred and then dump this onto others in various forms of oppression–most believers, by definition, are inflexible, show an amazing ability to disregard others and the facts, and use God as a way of de-humanizing people who think or look differently. And some comes from the fact that life is not fair and to that extent God-hatred is more an expression of feeling abandoned.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  10. Misotheism Fan

    Iv been looking around for more stuff by this author. He seems like a cool guy. Very intelligent.

    His book, "Hating God" has a facebook page, and a website. Hatinggod,com.

    There more info about the book there. I suggest people take a look.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • lance corporal

      what obvious self promotion by the author

      March 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Skepticz

      Maybe self promotion. maybe not. Not important. Either way, this is an interesting article.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  11. William Demuth

    I do not believe, but if I did, I too would loathe God.

    If he is responsible for the state of this world, then the crucifixion was a well-justified act of jurisprudence.

    I have found him guilty in abstentia, but if he chooses to return to the scene of the crime, I recommend we kill him again.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Matthew

      God didn't start wars, didn't ruin marriages, didn't cause drug addictions. Man did all of that. I know you will counter with natural disasters but nature was set up long before men and things like hurricanes help the environment more than hurt it. Man just chose to put cities over top of what use to be marshes or grasslands.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Bee

      Will, sounds like you hate God.

      And don't about killing like that: it's wrong and causes problems.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Teo

      Thank you. I needed a good laugh.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • ABeliever

      God is not responsible for the state of the world. Man is. God gave man free will. I believe He did this because there is no glory in being loved if there is no alternative. But free will necessarily allows for sin. And sin is responsible for the state of the world.

      So if you want to hate someone for the state of the world, you're gonna have to look in a mirror. We can either make this a better place or make it a worse one. It's up to us. I'm glad we have a choice. I just wish we'd make the right one. (And this part is true whether or not you believe in God.)

      March 8, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • William Demuth

      God is either perfect, or he is not.

      Either evil is beyond his control, or he is at best indifferent, and more likely a sadist.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  12. no name

    who cares

    March 8, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Philo Cafe

      Obviously, you do. Otherwise, why would you come to the page and post?

      March 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • mcsmilan

      no name, I like your name.
      Yes, no need to care one way or the other. Life is what it is. To get rid of evil, one must also get rid of good. Good cannot exist without evil, and vice-versa, or how else would one be able to judge and compare? Once people take a rest from discrimination and judgement in general there is little need for hating anything. All that is left is the bliss of freedom. The Last Judgement is what brings true peace.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  13. Matthew

    People today often get too caught up in this life. Life is only 80 years. However, there is a lot more to life. Funny how our ancestors knew all about this matter. Our ancestors were far better then us, that was why they had a better society that was why the West was more powerful in the past.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  14. educateurself

    Most people don't read or look to the Bible for the very explanation they need about the reason, existence and allowance of evil. It says evil will end after the destruction of Religion.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  15. Matthew

    There is evil in the world because I look at life as this:

    Life is just a small part of our existence. In the scope of eternity it is almost meaningless. The Bible states that God cannot be with evil. St. Augustine further defines evil as the absence of God. So evil is the absence of God or everything that is God. Because God is all-good. God cannot be in the presence of evil. This is why man is not worthy to be with God. God provided a way though, a sacrifice to blot out our sins. At first it was with pure animals (animals are incapable of sin so they took the place of our sins) and then it fell on the ultimate sacrifice, God's sinless son, Christ.
    Now the question many of you pose is why did God create this world with evil in the first place? Genesis explains that with the eating of the fruit but the true story is we can choose to run from God and what is good. God built in rules for the universe that were meant to be followed and if followed would have a perfect universe. A life and world without sin would be perfection. However, God gave men the choice not to follow and in a way this helps God's plan. Only those who are truely deserving and follow after God get to go to Heaven. He gets the best. Life is a TEST like the ACT, LSAT, MCAT, etc. You either pass it or you fail it. It is also a story, we are a character and each person can play a role as either making the world better or worse by our actions.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Michael

      Isn't it funny how people will give up their ability to be rational and logical for dividends they think they will collect in the form of an afterlife. The only reason, or at least the main reason, that people believe is because of something promised to them in return. If Jesus claimed to be the son of God, preached wonderful practices of morality, and was an overall inspiring person but said that there is no afterlife, Christianity would have dies out long ago.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Why on earth would any god want to set up a test to determine what happens after you die? What would be the point? Is he lonely? Is he just playing with us for kicks?

      March 8, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Nicholas

      Excellent, Matthew.

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

      @ Cedar Rapids He did it likely so He could see who is truely worthy to get into heaven. Why do we have tests that require people to pass in order to practice Medicine or Law?

      March 8, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Matthew – @ Cedar Rapids He did it likely so He could see who is truely worthy to get into heaven. Why do we have tests that require people to pass in order to practice Medicine or Law?'
      Because we do not know if they are up to it or not, but doesnt god already know everything and thus has no reason to 'test' anyone as he already knows the results of the test?

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

      Matthew,

      Is your "God" All-Just and All-Fair?

      Would such a being give some people mush minds that will believe *anything*, and give other people minds that are skeptical and logical?

      Would such a being personally visit and speak to certain people and not others?

      Would such a being create people who he knew would not pass the test?

      March 8, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  16. kEL

    zomg, please stfu. classifying and categorizing ppl by religion is the same as racism. just die already, and take yer stupid religions with you.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  17. John

    I question whether "Misotheists" even exist. The author clearly doesn't grasp the reason for "God Hatred" among non-believers. Why should I give any credibility for grasping correctly the behavior he interprets as Misotheisim.

    Non-believers don't hate God. They hate people using a fictional omnipotent character to give authority to their moral beliefs and to justify their actions. Spending "a considerable amount of energy enumerating his flaws" has less to do with God than providing rationale as to demonstrate why God is a fictional character.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • JR

      Brilliantly stated.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • dmm

      John, you clearly didn't grasp the point of this article. Second paragraph: "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." The author addresses early on the issues you raise about non-believers. He clearly states THIS article is not about them. Try reading it again – you will see that the articlie is about people who DO believe and choose to hate the God they believe exists. Lower your hackles. He's not talking about you.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Simon

      I firmly believe that a positive belief in a deity is irrational. However, I respect and understand the need to hope for a deity. Remaining agnostic is the only rational option when presented with equally unprovable alternatives. The Christian God (as described by the Bible) is certainly a figure worthy of hatred. Christianity has never been able to reconcile the actions of God with his stated traits. God-hatred is the result of God not living up to his own standards, the standards of religion, or even human ethics. If you believe in God and that he is supposed to be good, to not hate God is much more of a cognitive dysfunction than it is to hate him. If God exists, then it is right and just to hate him.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • ABeliever

      Simon, clearly you know little about the "Christian God". I am so sorry this is the only part you know. The rest of the story is so much bigger and better. You talk about God the way teenagers often talk about their parents. Not surprising since this is the relationship most often used to describe God's relationship to us. And in the same way, the more you find out about God, the more you will see Him in a very different light.

      On the other side is nothing. Really not anything else to know about nothing.

      March 8, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  18. why some people hate god....

    ....because God hates them....? maybe?

    March 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  19. Bee

    Mr.Schweizer–good mention of the Book of Job, which seems to be written to for this purpose. the issue is truly manifest in literature, because anger towards God is so very human, especially for those who suffer–so I don't think it's perplexing.

    "misotheism" is old as Adam, or older

    March 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  20. Peter

    There is nothing hidden about people being angry – or even hating – God. Martin Luther's one-time hatred of God brought about the Protestant Reformation. Can't get more high-profile that that. God can handle our anger at Him – He is not put off by it. In fact, God welcomes our honesty with Him. It's how we ultimately manage our anger toward God and whether we allow God a place in our life to help expand our view to the way HE (God) sees things.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • God

      How does God welcome honesty if He's supposed to know everything?

      March 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Really?

      How fascinating that you feel qualified to let us know how god feels about things. Yes another stunning example of the supreme self-absorption that religious belief requires.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Michael

      Isn't it funny how people will give up their ability to be rational and logical for dividends they think they will collect in the form of an afterlife. The only reason, or at least the main reason, that people believe is because of something promised to them in return. If Jesus claimed to be the son of God, preached wonderful practices of morality, and was an overall inspiring person but said that there is no afterlife, Christianity would have dies out a long time ago.

      March 8, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
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