Why Do Some People Hate God? Misotheism Part I

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.

Classification

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.

The Oceanic Feeling
Onward Chitin Soldier
Bible Mash-ups
The Undeath of the Author
  • swmr1

    Very interesting. I definitely went through a period of agnostic misotheism during my deconversion. When I finally looked at the Abrahamic god from new (secular!) angles and realized that he was pure fiction, I was so relieved. Life became much brighter. Truth set me free.

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

      Ha! So did I!

      I was relieved to come to the realization that “God” as people describe it is fictional. However, I’m still agnostic about there being some kind of “God” in existence. But such a god would be a philosopher’s god, not a god of any religion. I leave room for the possibility, but I think humans have no access to the answer to that possibility.

      • http://ironymous.blogspot.com/ nomad

        After reading the Bible, I still wasn’t sure God existed but I certainly hoped he didn’t.

      • swmr1

        I agree. So glad to be as sure as possible that YHWH is bogus though.

        • http://ironymous.blogspot.com/ nomad

          I wonder what you would call fear of God? Theophobia? Or maybe just plain religion?

    • drax

      It’s Agonistic Misotheism, right? As opposed to Agnostic Misotheism. I misread it myself the first time. I think he’s talking about people that believe in god, but can’t square their belief with the horrible things that are attributed to god, so they agonize about it. I think it was around 1990 that I consciously realized that I didn’t believe in god, because if he existed he was the biggest a**hole ever. For some period of time before that I was an agonistic misotheist because I believed god existed AND he was the biggest a**hole ever. I was a very angry person at that point in my life.

      • Bernard Schweizer

        Yep. It’s AGONistic misotheism. You got it right. The Greek word “agon” indicates a conflict, struggle, or test of wills; the verb “agonize” is derived from it (Wikipedia is quite useful on this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agon).

        What I find interesting about your post is that you were able to move beyond angry misotheism and become an atheist (enjoying more peace of mind that way). The misotheists I treat in my book somehow didn’t manage to make that transition (not for lack of trying, though). They ultimately failed to “switch off” religious belief in God and kept on quarreling with him. Strange, isn’t it… and fascinating!
        Bernard Schweizer

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    If JAHWEH was real and walking down the street towards me I’d cross to the other side and not make eye contact. In that situation am I a misotheist or just smart?

    • http://a-million-gods.blogspot.com/ AVlCENNA

      It’s because you are a racist. What do you have against Jews and their God? Eh!!!!

      You should walk around with a lightning rod or a faraday cage. Remember the day science defeated God was when they put lightning rods on churches.

      • Matthew

        And Mosques? Just askin’ . . .

    • http://ironymous.blogspot.com/ nomad

      You’d want to cross the street, but you wouldn’t be able to do so unless he allowed you to.

    • Robert Jase

      You crossing the street is part of his divine plan – you only think you chose to do so.

  • Brian M

    Have to admit I am an internally inconsistent combination/collision of atheist and misotheist (too much black metal music LOL), The rational side of me is agnostic/atheist. The emotional side: definitely misotheist. Loved Pullman, to be honest :)

    • drax

      Black Metal will do that to you. 8-)

      • Brian M

        Emperor! I Am the Black Wizards!

    • Bernard Schweizer

      Brian,
      This is an interesting reflection. The idea that people can activate different potentialities of belief and dis-belief is relevant to my subject. You’re saying, then, that these labels “believer,” “atheist,” “misotheist” do not always apply as pure essences of identity. True. There certainly are degrees of anger at God, shades of misotheism, if you will. This is what I explore in greater detail in my book. Your own wavering between rational atheism and emotional misotheism can be seen as a reflection of what I call “agonistic misotheism.” One can argue that somebody who emotionally rebels against God, even if it is only temporary, and even if it is “only” on an emotional level, is not a textbook atheist. There obviously is that remnant of belief in the deity that makes you want to quarrel with him. This is one of the characteristics of “agonistic misotheism” (and, yes, it is AGONISTIC not agnostic).
      Bernard Schweizer

  • Robert Jase

    I was a type 3 but since I converted to non-belief I’ve gotten much better.

  • jeff c

    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.

    So you’re a misotheist if you’re angry at god, and you’re a misotheist if you’re angry at the idea of god? By that logic, you could be an atheist AND a misotheist. Or is Schweizer just equivocating here?

    • Bernard Schweizer

      Jeff,
      You’re making a good point here. Misotheists are essentially believers, not atheists. They think that a supernatural being, a God (notably Yahweh), exists, and yet they also think that he is a moral failure. Therefore they lash out rhetorically against God, well knowing that the supernatural being, God, is out of reach and that they cannot do him any actual harm.
      Whether this means that they are angry at the idea of God or at the real God depends on the religious belief of the person asking (or being asked) the question. If you ask a believer, he will say that the misotheist is angry at God and therefore a sinner. If you ask an atheist, he will say the misotheist merely thinks he is angry at God, but in fact he is only angry at the idea of God because God does not exist.
      If nothing else, this variance demonstrates that believers and non-believers do tend to inhabit different universes since they will give you different answers to the same question.
      Bernard Schweizer

      • jeff c

        Hmm, reading that again, I see that you’re not claiming that all folks who attack the idea of god in fiction are misotheists; just that it’s a favorite tactic of your “absolute misotheists”. Practically, it does seem like it’d be quite hard to tell the difference between that and someone like 1984 below without a definitive statement from the person in question.

  • Mogg

    I wonder if type 3 is a typical stage in de-conversion? I definitely went through a phase of it. Christians are trained to believe it’s their fault, not God’s, if they don’t have a warm fuzzy ‘relationship’ with him, so I guess it would be very common, particularly for those who are less overtly angry types for whatever reason.

  • Agentsmith

    To hate God is also believing in God. Here is the pickle: If the Evangelical Xtians are right, then God/Jesus haters are all destined to Heaven to spend eternity with someone/something they hate- simply because they believe.

    My questions is this: Would it be a personal Hell for the God/Jesus haters if they had to spend eons and eons with someone they hate? So the Evangelical heaven could also be Hell for some other believers then.

    • 1984

      “To hate God is also believing in God. ”
      Not really no. You can hate completely fictitious characters in books too, you don’t have to believe in them. Personally I hold similar views to that of Hitchens, and constantly attack the so called morality, and competence, of God in hopes to weaken the religious ideas that God is good or great.

      • Bernard Schweizer

        Of course people hate fictional characters (Iago, Scrooge, the Grinch who stole Christmas come to mind). My point is that if people hate a fictional character named Yahweh, then they are NOT misotheists. They are simply atheists angry at a collective human invention called God. To be a misotheist, you essentially have to believe in the existence of a supernatural being, a deity, while hating him at the same time–that’s what makes this form of religious non-conformism so unusual and paradoxical.
        I go into all these distinctions (including references to gnosticism, anti-theism, new atheism, etc. in the introduction of my book).

  • Ebon Badger

    Haven’t we already had this article? Was that the one you lost? o_O

  • Miss O.Theist

    Disappointing to see that Mr Schweizer was still getting an audience, of atheists no less, back in April. I can only surmise, back then there were still some folk fascinated by his claim that he would, or could, put an end to atheism/atheists being derided & dismissed as: “Oh, you people just hate God – that’s what your ‘problem’ is’”, for good. In reality, his campaign to move the “God-haters” concept out from the realm of religious mythology & delusion and into the realm of concensus reality – thereby carving out a unique academic niche for himself, that he could even claim to be the founder of – has only served to confer on this religious delusion an endorsement of somehow being rational. Creation Ministries International is still having all kinds of fun calling Dawkins a “misotheist”…

    The bottom line is this – Schweizer is claiming that he can detect and has detected certain traits/ attitudes/ beliefs of various authors, through their writings, which those authors have not themselves laid claim to. None of Schweizer’s subjects ever said something explicit like: “I can’t help believing in God, but I hate Him and very much want to hurt or even kill Him”. Furthermore, he is claiming that some of these authors expressed their God-hatred in a surreptitous, coded manner which their God-hating readers were able to recognise and secretively appreciate. This is essentially the same claim made by many irrational, bigoted religious – that they can detect ‘secret messages’ in the writings of atheists, humanists, liberals and progressives, which reveal their unacknowledged agenda of wiping out all Believers and enslaving humanity forever in service to their true master – Satan.

    • Melody

      Troll alert. *groan*

      • Melody

        Oops, my bad. Misread it the first time.

        • Miss O. Theist

          I see that I got a bit carried away in those last sentences. Obviously I have quite strong feelings about this…emotion doesn’t make for rational expression sometimes. On reflection, I’d say this:

          This is essentially the same claim made by many irrational, bigoted religious – that they can detect ‘secret messages’ in the writings of atheists, humanists, liberals and progressives, which reveals that their unacknowledged hatred for God, (and consequently, their secret love of Satan), is their true motivation for; supporting female equality/empowerment and women’s reproductive choice, endorsing social normalization of GLBT persons, demanding separation of church and state – or freedom FROM religion, supporting criminalization of child abuse popularly known as “spanking”, etc.

          • Melody

            Yes, I’m the same way sometimes, and I agree with your general assessment.


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