Bernard Schweizer and Misotheism

As atheists, we’re frequently told that we “hate God,” which seems absurd. How can we hate what we don’t believe in?

But Bernard Schweizer believes that there are people who do believe in God, but don’t much care for Him. He explains it in a new book, Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism.

Schweizer has his own blog, but he also has an interesting series of posts at Religion Dispatches, starting here.

Misotheism may be a useful disambiguation for atheists. As Schweizer explains it:

What I’ve tried to do in my work is to take the lid off this simmering, largely repressed stew of blasphemy — and to do away, for good, with the false notion that atheists hate God. While atheists may oppose religion or clerical institutions they cannot reasonably hate God, since one cannot hate that which does not exist. What atheists from Annie Besant to Christopher Hitchens will do is express contempt for the fictional construct called “God,” much as one might dislike for a fictional villain, say Uriah Heep or Iago. In addition, atheists may take exception to the fact that so many people consider God to be both real and praise-worthy.

Misotheism is a different kettle of fish. In fact, it may well turn out to be more threatening to the pious than atheism because misotheism makes the radically subversive claim that there is a God but that he is malevolent or at least incompetent, indifferent—in any case not worshipful.

As Schweizer sees it, misotheism is not the rejection of the existence of God, it is a reaction to the problem of evil. The problem, simply stated, is how to believe that the essence of God is goodness and love (which Schweizer defines as eutheism) with the existence of suffering.

When I was a believer, I just gave up on eutheism. God may be good, but that goodness was not the sort that humans meant when they used to word good. Therefore, calling God good was an act of equivication.

Misotheists go farther: viewed from a human perspective, God is flawed, perhaps evil. At least, as Woody Allen put it, an underacheiver.

To make Schweizer’s job difficult, we atheists do spend an awful lot of time arguing about the problem of evil and the nature of God. It can sound like we actually believe in a God, and that we’re railing against him. But we are actually arguing against the literary character of God found in the Bible and in the words of believers.

When I argued with a friend that Hermione had behaved immorally by placing a memory spell on her parents in the last Harry Potter book, I was not assuming that Hermione actually exists. (Yes, I did have that arguement. Don’t judge me.) To some degree, arguing about Hermoine’s actions are just a verbal shortcut around the problem of talking about a character. To another degree, it’s the Paradox of Fiction, our emotional response to characters we know aren’t real.

  • FFR

    I suppose I was a misotheist for a few days. It was between my Christianity and agnosticism before I became an atheist.

  • mikespeir

    Nitpick:

    “While atheists may oppose religion or clerical institutions they cannot reasonably hate God, since one cannot hate that which does not exist.”

    Of course, I know what he means. It’s just worded wrong. You can hate that which does not exist if you believe it exists. We don’t believe God exists.

    On the other hand, hatred might rise up in you when watching a villain in a movie, even though you know he isn’t real. We might indeed experience that kind of antipathy for similar reasons when reading about the petty, but fictional deity of the Bible. I mean, really, what’s not to hate?

  • http://ohmatron.wordpress.com/ Custador

    If it’s any comfort, I have arguments about Imelda Staunton’s depiction of Dolores Umbridge in the Potter films; she plays the character so well and the character is so revolting that I ended up loathing her, and it took me a few watches to realise that I was hating a fictional character because the character was designed to be hateful. She should have received an oscar for that role.

    /off-topic

    • Skippy

      I absolutely agree with you, Custador. As I watched “The Deathly Hallows,” I felt myself so hating this character, that when I came out of it, I thought, “Damn, Imelda Staunton is an acting GENIUS!”

      • http://lydiafromtexas.wordpress.com/ LRA

        I hated Dolores Umbridge so much in the fifth book that I was reluctant to go see the movie. But I did.

        Alas, ear wax.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

          You’re all a bunch of fantasy geeks… I’m in good company!

  • Francesc

    I assume that Hermione has to do it, because Voldemort could torture her parents to get information. That way he can’t.

    About the less relevant part of the post, I doubt that misotheists as defined by Schweizer can exist -more than transitionally like FFR. I mean, they have to consistently believe in a bad god wich is at the same time the responsible of their existence and the existence of everything around us.

    It’s far more plausible to believe in a neutral god who doesn’t care -like some theists out there- or in an amoral god.

    P.D.: Yes, I will continue argumenting that bible’s god is a bad an immoral god, as a way to show that our morals don’t come from god or a holy book.

  • WarbVIII

    I can see his point,and agree in general. Although I can also see that a hatred of a god of the books can lead to hatred,and perhaps that hatred never leaving an individual after he/she decides that there is no god…granted I would also suggest that such an condition is less common today than it was in the past.

  • drax

    Realizing that if in fact the christian god existed he would have to be the biggest asshole of all time, is what started me down the road to atheism. So, I suppose I was a transitional misotheist. However, I can’t tell you if that lasted one second, one month, or one year.

  • Len

    I assume that Hermione has to do it, because Voldemort could torture her parents to get information. That way he can’t.

    So you’re saying that the lesser evil is justified to prevent the greater. :-)

    • Len

      Oops – should have been a reply to Francesc.

    • Francesc

      What can I say, I am a moral relativist and the erase was temporal, may she succeed. I wouldn’t condone as “lesser evil” a murder.
      And, if I were his father, I would be really angry when she returned my memories.

      • Skippy

        Ah, but when the memories returned, would you know that you had forgotten them in the first place?

        • UrsaMinor

          Only if you remembered that there was a time when you couldn’t remember.

          • Skippy

            Intriguing. But would you immediately chalk that up to a wizarding daughter? Or just think that you had had an odd bout of forgetfulness? Then again, if you remembered that you forgot something like having had a daughter, you’d likely assume some craziness afoot.

          • Elemenope

            I would say that in order for Hermione to be in the clear, ethically, she would have to come clean with her parents about what she did to them after the fact anyway. When you violate someone’s personal autonomy due to exigent circumstances (ostensibly to protect them from greater harm), you at least own them an explanation of why the violation was undertaken.

            And they have every right to be peeved about it, though one hopes they take the exigency into consideration.

            • Yoav

              From the book it isn’t clear whether she have cleared it with them beforehand or not, if she did and they have agreed to it as part of their “witness protection” program then she is, ethically speaking, in the clear.

            • Elemenope

              Definitely if they consented she’s in the clear. The book is ambiguous on the point, the movie (which had the author’s oversight and blessing) rather less so.

  • Balstrome

    This guy believes, I think, that the “reality” of the god of the bible and the reality of god are one and the same thing. He does acknowledge that, as atheists, we see these as separate, but he can not in his world view accept that, so he comes up with this misoatheism nonsense.

    Speaking for myself, I reject the god of the bible for one set of reasons and gods in general for another set of reasons, which may or may not combine to support each other. Anyway, I am not about to let a faithhead tell me what I believe about gods.

    • Francesc

      I don’t think his intention was to tell us what we believe, he is defining a different set of people. He acknowledges that to be a misotheist someone has to believe in a god.

  • Siberia

    Mm, I hate the god of the Bible the same way I hate Dolores Umbridge and Edward Cullen. It’s not so much the thing itself but the idea of the thing (which is given a neat wrapper in the form of a fictional character) – I hate that someone would willingly kill the firstborns of a country just so to free a bunch of people (considering he could do otherwise, just as easily) and consider that just, or that someone would force a kid to cut his own hand to protect government lies, or that someone could be as douchey as E.C. and still be considered romantic and ‘hawt’. It’s the idea of it that I hate.

  • Thegoodman

    While I am atheist today; if I were given proper evidence that supports the claim that there is a god, I would be a theist tomorrow. But, in the event of legitimate/sufficient evidence, all of the “-eist” stuff would kinda go away and it would just be a fact that God exists.

    Today I am an atheist. Tomorrow I could be a misotheist, although it is extremely unlikely. I cannot imagine a scenario where I could ever be a Christian/Muslim/Buddhist etc…

  • Yoav

    They keep telling us we need to fear god, and as we all know fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to the dark side.

  • Francesco

    Hermione action was immoral but necessary, and she explained her reason which were perfectly logical. Plus I do not think someone would be so happy to make your parents completly forgot your existence

    • Mahou

      I don’t necessarily agree that it was really immoral. It was dishonest to be sure, but the motives, the situation, and the fact that it can be reverted once it’s all over, I think justifies the action.

  • Mahou

    My response has always been “For the same reason you hate Voldemort.”

  • Kodie

    I am thinking of people who claim they used to be atheists, they come to us and their period of atheism amounts to a rebellion for the rules, some chalk it up to immaturity, most claim it led to bad places and situations in their lives, and the only way out was to accept Jesus. The things they think of atheism as if it applies to everyone – that we just want to do whatever we want without consequences, their reconversion seems to go along the lines of a more mature understanding or perspective of how god is good, in that parental “for our own good” way, not actually good in the way they think we demand. I would say that actually does happen.

    I remember after 9/11 being on a forum and people trying to figure out what kind of god would let that happen. I don’t know, I think these people are in a bubble where nothing bad ever happens, certainly nothing that bad ever happened in my country in my lifetime. It shakes people up in a way they never had to confront before, and still come to terms with, “reasons.” After you start to feel ok again, that shock and hurt at god wears off and he must have had a good reason for it. I hate that line, personally. In a time of sharp hurt like that, people can be so generous, and afterwards, so selfish and brutally so.

    Anyway, in the couple years I’ve been posting here, I have observed a trend of people who argue in favor of god agreeing in underlying theme with atheists. Atheists tend to argue with the god as it’s presented to them, how things would be different if that god were real, while Christians tend to excuse the way things actually are to a god that they also believe is good. Christians don’t seem to get much out of this god, things are the way they are, for a reason or no reason, it’s the same. What is puzzling to the atheist is why they bother, because “if God,” then just looking at the way things are, he’s not good. Why wouldn’t you hate that god? Christians take for granted god exists and seem to suppose we agree but are in denial, then yes, we are arguing that it’s insane to idealize a god who manufactures so much tragedy, even if you think he has a good reason. If you believe in god, how can you not see that? You would be ignorant if you pretended that all didn’t matter, and it’s ok, because god has reasons.

    • Francesc

      Imagine that you are an ant in an ant farm and god is the little kid taking care of them. Sometimes it rains, you can’t see where this water come from but you need it. Sometimes some food falls from the sky, thank God! You are pretty warm everyday.

      Then our kid lets the farm too long under the sun and fast every ant is death. Or he is curious and drops too much water. Or he forgets the farm when traveling in holidays and you starve.

      The kid is neither good nor bad, he simply doesn’t care enough about the insignificant ants. Or he has reasons that the ants can’t understand.

      Believers accept the place of those ants and they think that, in the end, god will care what kind of life they had. Expecting that god is good is simply wishful thinking.
      But of course, if you can’t understand god’s mind how do you know what should you do? How do you know if he cares? Wich reward should you expect? What if he was gone long time ago?

      P.D.: yep, the ants in our parable can see “supernatural” things happening, some evidence that there is something outside the farm. We don’t have any evidence.

      • Kodie

        I went through a period of questioning god’s existence around the same time I realized how important god was to people, since I was brought up secular and in a community where most people didn’t talk about their beliefs if they had any. I thought I should give it a fair chance. I think a lot of even weak believers – and I have gotten into trouble in other forums for assuming their beliefs are weak, they are just not so strict – feel there is a deity at the controls and has concern for them, yet, for me, it was the quality assumed of god most easily dismissed. “If god exists,” he doesn’t care about you or me. Then, “if god exists,” why would a god who doesn’t care exist? Because he doesn’t. That’s the simplistic version.

        It is weird still for me to comprehend how something that doesn’t exist is so important or even most important to their personal being for even what I would presume to call “weak” believers, i.e. people who seem rational, accept science, actively partake in what would otherwise be seen as “sinful” activities… don’t really whip out the god talk all that much but still, when it’s useful to them, confirm they believe in god, and when pushed, will maintain that it’s extremely important to them and not weak at all.

        • Francesc

          It was too late for you, try telling a grown up person that Santa is real.

          When you explain to a kid that Santa is not real, either they accept it easily -because they already were suspicious, you are confirming it- or they are in denial. But they trust their parents and when they chat with other people everybody confirms that it was a lie.

          So… God is far more important -would he exist- than Santa, it is supposed to guide your life; believers are in communities who share their delusion (even what you called “weak” believers) and they don’t have a figure with authority to deny its existence.

          And you are calling them idiots when you try to explain to them that his believe does not have sense. It doesn’t matter the words you are using -only to keep the illusion of a polite conversation- this was a belief wich they thought about 30 years (for example), being wrong about it means that they wasted part of their life and besides, they would feel really stupid. So they would strongly deny even the possibility to be wrong.

          On another hand our mind works in an specific way, it tends to don’t believe in casualities but causalities and we really don’t fully understand probability; they grew up seeing a lot of little events that they could attribute to god.

  • http://dougintology.blogspot.com Ibid

    I find there are several flavors of atheist.
    The first kind looks at the world and it’s processes and finds no need for a god to explain the hows and whys. It’s what we usually think of as an atheist.
    The second kind was religious, but had something bad happen. This person claims to be an atheist, but actually does continue to believe in and despise god.
    The third kind was religious and is still religious but has rejected the church they were brought up in because their values have departed from those of the church so much that they had to leave. Most people like that will find another church, but some rejected the others as false churches long ago and have simply rejected another. These people are more likely to consider themselves spiritual atheists.

    I had a friend try to tell me that I must believe in god since I can talk about it so fluently. Clearly an argument fed to them by their pastor or self important Christian website. I told her that I can carry on about Star Trek just as easily, but that doesn’t mean I believe in Captain Kirk. And that the big difference between Jesus, King Arthur, and Captain Kirk is that the copyright hasn’t yet expired on Captain Kirk.

  • Pingback: Faith-Promoting Rumor » Book Review: Schweizer, “Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism”

  • Dr. Albert Jann

    Ignorance and lack of authentic knowledge can lead to funny close loop realisms. For the beginning I suggest you listen to “From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity”, By Professor Bart D. Ehrman. You will learn how religious and false god fabricated. And, this is not just Christianity, any religious rose from advancing social organizations and for attempts to answer complex existence problems, where some of them are literally quite interesting.

    But, what all these “about” ideas to do with the reality? Nothing to very little. Complex system’s relations and correlations are very complicated to simplify them in human stories and anecdotes. You have to be expert in Physics, Genetics, Biology and Synergy to begin to think about. Yes, there’s something compex out there and isn’t god, just complex natural probabilistic game of life. Compare to that, Atheism, Theism and all other notions mentioned above are just idiot’s ideas, actually another religious altogether.


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