Bernard Schweizer and Misotheism

Bernard Schweizer and Misotheism February 16, 2011

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.

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