Bernard Schweizer, author of Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism was nice enough to submit an essay … which we promptly lost. However, he was equally happy to submit a lengthy new essay, which I have broken into three parts.
What is Misotheism?
Pious people have a tendency to praise God for what is good in the world but to shield God from blame when things go wrong. “Things happen for a reason” is the default position that many take up when faced with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (especially when others are undergoing the suffering). Misotheists take another road: they tend to accept God rather grudgingly as the Lord of the universe, but they come down on him rather hard when misery, sickness, crime, and war strike. But why bother to blaspheme against a God that is not praiseworthy? Why not simply conclude from the outrageous “acts of God” that he does not exist? Isn’t misotheism at bottom devoid of logic?
Well, misotheism does have an internal logic, based on the belief that the world doesn’t reflect the doings of an all-wise, benevolent, powerful, and omnipresent creator God–therefore, the God who created such a flawed world and does nothing to correct its imperfection must be indifferent, incompetent, or plainly malevolent. This internal logic does not take into consideration that the degree of chaos, pain, and injustice on this earth may well be a sign that there is no God to begin with.
In many ways, atheists have it much easier because they do not labor under the paradox that requires them to reconcile belief in God with absolute moral revulsion against the higher being. Atheists are not faced with the painful prospect of having to struggle against a millenia-old theistic tradition that requires the believer to worship a deity that is silent and never shows itself, except in ways that could be construed as wishful thinking, hallucination, or make-believe. Where the misotheist is burdened with the conviction that God is man’s enemy, the atheist just stands back and laughs at the moral-theological contortions of the misotheist; and he looks with bemusement at the acts of faith among “true” believers. When the atheist becomes angry, his anger is directed against the institutionalized, ecclesiastical manifestations of religious belief. An atheist cannot muster true hatred of God since it is pointless to hate something that doesn’t exist.
Misotheism in History
Pullquote: Although perhaps a minor tradition in terms of sheer numbers, misotheism plays a significant part in the history of ideas and in literature.
By comparison, misotheists represent a far darker, tormented, and deeply subversive strain of God-thinking. And it is a tradition of religious non-conformism that has remained largely in the shadows—until, that is, I decided to shine the spotlight on it in Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism. Although perhaps a minor tradition in terms of sheer numbers, misotheism plays a significant part in the history of ideas and in literature. In my book, I trace the origins of misotheism back to the Book of Job, and from there I see it raise its head occasionally as in Epicureanism, in Milton, in Deism, in Utilitarianism, and especially in Anarchism.
The philosophical anarchists of the nineteenth century even rate a separate sub-type of God-hatred—what I identify as political misotheism. Political misotheists (including Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Michael Bakunin, and Peter Kropotkin) rave against God for some of the same reasons that led them to denounce other forms of centralized authority such as governmental tyranny, heartless bureaucracy, and the dictates of the market. Contrary to pious Tea Party libertarians, who also want to reduce government to a minimum while maintaining strong religious ties, the anarchists simply went one step further and sought to abolish not only centralized government but centralized religious institutions as well. And just as they wanted to eliminate the industrial boss and let a collective of workers’ syndicates run matters of public safety, social security, trade, and education, so they wanted to eliminate the celestial boss, God, and thereby eliminate the ultimate fount of (patriarchal) authority. These political misotheists are now more or less an extinct species, just as anarchism’s relevance has dwindled in the political debates of our own day.
Pullquote: After all, there is very little chance that anybody will actually lay a hand on a God, literally speaking, and therefore fiction becomes the principal arena in which to hunt down and dispatch God.
More significant to the story I tell in Hating God are the other two types of misotheists: the agonistic and absolute misotheists. Under absolute misotheism, I understand enemies of God who seek to “kill” God, if only through the power of human imagination and with the weapon of the pen. Literature has seen quite a few manifestations of such deicidal God-hatred, from Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, to Algernon Swinburne’s poetry, to Peter Shaffer’s deranged worshippers, to Philip Pullman’s adolescent crusaders against “the Authority” in His Dark Materials. This type of misotheist is engaged in an iconoclastic strife to banish the image of God for good, and he will enlist the powers of fictional invention to do the work. After all, there is very little chance that anybody will actually lay a hand on a God, literally speaking, and therefore fiction becomes the principal arena in which to hunt down and dispatch God.
The third type of misotheist, and the one that constitutes the most tortuous specimen of God-hater is the agonistic misotheist. Like a jilted lover, he is gravely disappointed by the object of his worship but still hopes that the fault might be on his side and that the relationship could be set on a new footing. The agonistic misotheist is, figuratively speaking, “agonizing” over his hatred of God, trying to invent excuses for God’s bad behavior yet circling back again and again to the frustrating understanding that God just is not what he is cracked up to be. Some great literature has come out of this struggle with the hatred of God: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Elie Wiesel’s The Trial of God, or Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier are overshadowed by this dark, tormenting struggle with the realization that God is (probably) evil.