Misotheism is the "hatred of God" or "hatred of the gods" (from the Greek adjective μισόθεος "hating the gods", a compound of μῖσος "hatred" and θεός "god"). In some varieties of polytheism, it was considered possible to inflict punishment on gods by ceasing to worship them. Thus, Hrafnkell, protagonist of the eponymous Hrafnkels saga set in the 10th century, as his temple to Freyr is burnt and he is enslaved states that "I think it is folly to have faith in gods", never performing another blót (sacrifice), a position described in the sagas as goðlauss, "godless". Jacob Grimm in his Teutonic Mythology observes that:
It is remarkable that Old Norse legend occasionally mentions certain men who, turning away in utter disgust and doubt from the heathen faith, placed their reliance on their own strength and virtue. Thus in the Sôlar lioð 17 we read of Vêbogi and Râdey á sjálf sig þau trûðu, "in themselves they trusted".
In monotheism, the sentiment arises in the context of theodicy (the problem of evil, the Euthyphro dilemma). A famous literary expression of misotheistic sentiment is Goethe's Prometheus, composed in the 1770s.
A related concept is dystheism (Ancient Greek: δύσ θεος "bad god"), the belief that a god is not wholly good, and is possibly evil. Trickster gods found in polytheistic belief systems often have a dystheistic nature. One example is Eshu, a trickster god from Yoruba religion who deliberately fostered violence between groups of people for his own amusement, saying that "causing strife is my greatest joy."
Some dualist interpretations of Christianity would conclude that demons are gods in those subsets of religions. In that context, misotheism is encouraged for one third of all deities but not the other two thirds. The concept of the Demiurge in some versions of ancient Gnosticism also often portrayed the Demiurge as a generally evil entity.
Many polytheistic deities since prehistoric times have been assumed to be neither good nor evil (or to have both qualities). Thus dystheism is normally used in reference to the Judeo-Christian God. In conceptions of God as the summum bonum, the proposition of God not being wholly good would of course be an oxymoron.
A historical proposition close to "dystheism" is the deus deceptor "evil demon" (dieu trompeur) of René Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy, which has been interpreted by Protestant critics as the blasphemous proposition that God exhibits malevolent intent. But Kennington states that Descartes never declared his "evil genius" to be omnipotent, but merely no less powerful than he is deceitful, and thus not explicitly an equivalent to God, the singular omnipotent deity.
- Misotheism first appears in a dictionary in 1907. The Greek μισόθεος is found in Aeschylus (Agamemnon 1090). The English word appears as a nonce-coinage, used by Thomas de Quincey in 1846. It is comparable to the original meaning of Greek atheos of "rejecting the gods, rejected by the gods, godforsaken". Strictly speaking, the term connotes an attitude towards the gods (one of hatred) rather than making a statement about their nature. Bernard Schweizer (2002) stated "that the English vocabulary seems to lack a suitable word for outright hatred of God... [even though] history records a number of outspoken misotheists", believing "misotheism" to be his original coinage. Applying the term to the work of Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials), Schweizer clarifies that he does not mean the term to carry the negative connotations of misanthropy: "To me, the word connotes a heroic stance of humanistic affirmation and the courage to defy the powers that rule the universe."
- Dystheism is the belief that God exists but is not wholly good, or that he might even be evil. The opposite concept is eutheism, the belief that God exists and is wholly good. Eutheism and dystheism are straightforward Greek formations from eu- and dys- + theism, paralleling atheism; δύσθεος in the sense of "godless, ungodly" appearing e.g. in Aeschylus (Agamemnon 1590). The terms are nonce coinages, used by University of Texas at Austin philosophy professor Robert C. Koons in a 1998 lecture. According to Koons, "eutheism is the thesis that God exists and is wholly good, [... while] dystheism is the thesis that God exists but is not wholly good." However, many proponents of dystheistic ideas (including Elie Wiesel and David Blumenthal) do not offer those ideas in the spirit of hating God. Their work notes God's apparent evil or at least indifferent disinterest in the welfare of humanity, but does not express hatred towards him because of it. A notable usage of the concept that the gods are either indifferent or actively hostile towards humanity is in the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft.
- Maltheism is an ad-hoc coining appearing on Usenet in 1985, referring to the belief in God's malevolence inspired by the thesis of Tim Maroney that "even if a God as described in the Bible does exist, he is not fit for worship due to his low moral standards." The same term has also seen use among designers and players of role-playing games to describe a world with a malevolent deity.
- Antitheism is direct opposition to theism. As such, it is generally manifested more as an opposition to belief in a god (to theism per se) than as opposition to gods themselves, making it more associated with antireligion, although Buddhism is generally considered to be a religion despite its status with respect to theism being more nebulous. Antitheism by this definition does not necessarily imply belief in any sort of god at all, it simply stands in opposition to the idea of theistic religion. Under this definition, antitheism is a rejection of theism that does not necessarily imply belief in gods on the part of the antitheist. Some might equate any form of antitheism to an overt opposition to God, since these beliefs run contrary to the idea of making devotion to God the highest priority in life, although those ideas would imply that God exists, and that he wishes to be worshiped, or to be believed in.
- Certain forms of dualism make the assertion that the thing worshiped as God in this world is actually an evil impostor, but that a true benevolent deity worthy of being called "God" exists beyond this world. Thus, the Gnostics (see Sethian, Ophites) believed that God (the deity worshiped by Jews, Greek Pagan philosophers and Christians) was really an evil creator or demiurge that stood between us and some greater, more truly benevolent real deity. Similarly, Marcionites depicted God as represented in the Old Testament as a wrathful, malicious demiurge.
Dystheistic speculation arises from consideration of the problem of evil — the question of why God, who is supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, would allow evil to exist in the world. Koons notes that this is only a theological problem for a eutheist, since a dystheist would not find the existence of evil (or God's authorship of it) to be an obstacle to theistic belief. In fact, the dystheistic option would be a consistent non-contradictory response to the problem of evil. Thus Koons concludes that the problem of theodicy (explaining how God can be good despite the apparent contradiction presented in the problem of evil) does not pose a challenge to all possible forms of theism (i.e., that the problem of evil does not present a contradiction to someone who would believe that God exists but that he is not necessarily good).
This conclusion implicitly takes the first horn of the Euthyphro dilemma, asserting the independence of good and evil morality from God (as God is defined in monotheistic belief). Historically, the notion of "good" as an absolute concept has emerged in parallel with the notion of God being the singular entity identified with good. In this sense, dystheism amounts to the abandonment of a central feature of historical monotheism: the de facto association of God with the summum bonum.
Arthur Schopenhauer wrote: "This world could not have been the work of an all-loving being, but that of a devil, who had brought creatures into existence in order to delight in the sight of their sufferings."
Much of post-Holocaust theology, especially in Judaic theological circles, is devoted to a rethinking of God's goodness. Examples include the work of David R. Blumenthal, author of Facing the Abusing God (1993) and John K. Roth, whose essay "A Theodicy of Protest" is included in Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy (1982):
Everything hinges on the proposition that God possesses—but fails to use well enough—the power to intervene decisively at any moment to make history's course less wasteful. Thus, in spite and because of his sovereignty, this God is everlastingly guilty and the degrees run from gross negligence to mass murder...
The deus deceptor (French dieu trompeur) "deceptive god" is a concept of Cartesianism. Voetius accused Descartes of blasphemy in 1643. Jacques Triglandius and Jacobus Revius, theologians at Leiden University, made similar accusations in 1647, accusing Descartes of "hold[ing] God to be a deceiver", a position that they stated to be "contrary to the glory of God". Descartes was threatened with having his views condemned by a synod, but this was prevented by the intercession of the Prince of Orange (at the request of the French Ambassador Servien). The accusations referenced a passage in the First Meditation where Descartes stated that he supposed not an optimal God but rather an evil demon "summe potens & callidus" ( "most highly powerful and cunning"). The accusers identified Descartes' concept of a deus deceptor with his concept of an evil demon, stating that only an omnipotent God is "summe potens" and that describing the evil demon as such thus demonstrated the identity. Descartes' response to the accusations was that in that passage he had been expressly distinguishing between "the supremely good God, the source of truth, on the one hand, and the malicious demon on the other". He did not directly rebut the charge of implying that the evil demon was omnipotent, but asserted that simply describing something with "some attribute that in reality belongs only to God" does not mean that that something is being held to actually be a supreme God.
The evil demon is omnipotent, Christian doctrine notwithstanding, and is seen as a key requirement for Descartes' argument by Cartesian scholars such as Alguié, Beck, Émile Bréhier, Chevalier, Frankfurt, Étienne Gilson, Anthony Kenny, Laporte, Kemp-Smith, and Wilson. The progression through the First Meditation, leading to the introduction of the concept of the evil genius at the end, is to introduce various categories into the set of dubitables, such as mathematics (i.e. Descartes' addition of 2 and 3 and counting the sides of a square). Although the hypothetical evil genius is never stated to be one and the same as the hypothetical "deus deceptor," (God the deceiver) the inference by the reader that they are is a natural one, and the requirement that the deceiver is capable of introducing deception even into mathematics is seen by commentators as a necessary part of Descartes' argument. Scholars contend that in fact Descartes was not introducing a new hypothetical, merely couching the idea of a deceptive God in terms that would not be offensive.
Paul Erdős, the eccentric and extremely prolific Hungarian-born mathematician, referred to the notion of deus deceptor in a humorous context when he called God "the Supreme Fascist", who deliberately hid things from people, ranging from socks and passports to the most elegant of mathematical proofs. A similar sentiment is expressed by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in reference to the temptation of Adam and Eve by God:
- [God] puts an apple tree in the middle of [the Garden of Eden] and says, do what you like guys, oh, but don't eat the apple. Surprise surprise, they eat it and he leaps out from behind a bush shouting "Gotcha." It wouldn't have made any difference if they hadn't eaten it...Because if you're dealing with somebody who has the sort of mentality which likes leaving hats on the pavement with bricks under them you know perfectly well they won't give up. They'll get you in the end.
There are various examples of arguable dystheism in the Bible, sometimes cited as arguments for atheism (e.g. Bertrand Russell 1957), most of them from the Pentateuch. A notable exception is the Book of Job, a classical case study of theodicy, which can be argued to consciously discuss the possibility of dystheism (e.g. Carl Jung, Answer to Job).
Thomas Paine wrote in The Age of Reason that "whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon than the word of God." But Paine's perspective was a deistic one, critical more of common beliefs about God than of God himself.
The New Testament contain references to an "evil god", specifically the "prince of this world" (John 14:30, ο του κοσμου τουτου αρχων) or "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4, ο θεος του αιωνος τουτου) who has "blinded the minds of men". Mainstream Christian theology sees these as references to Satan ("the Devil"), but Gnostics, Marcionites, and Manicheans saw these as references to Yahweh (God) himself. References to God as wrathful or violent are more sparse in the New Testament than in the Old, but a number of antitheist speakers, notably Hitchens and Matt Dillahunty have drawn attention to a number of passages.
Misotheism in art and literature
Misotheistic and/or dystheistic expression has a long history in the arts and in literature. Bernard Schweizer’s book Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism is devoted to this topic. He traces the history of ideas behind misotheism from the Book of Job, via Epicureanism and the twilight of Roman paganism, to deism, anarchism, Nietzschean philosophy, feminism, and radical humanism. The main literary figures in his study are Percy Bysshe Shelley, Algernon Swinburne, Zora Neale Hurston, Rebecca West, Elie Wiesel, Peter Shaffer, and Philip Pullman. Schweizer argues that literature is the preferred medium for the expression of God-hatred because the creative possibilities of literature allow writers to simultaneously unburden themselves of their misotheism, while ingeneously veiling their blasphemy.
Other examples include:
- Goethe's Prometheus
- the work of the Marquis de Sade
- Emily Dickinson's poem "Apparently With No Surprise" depicts God as approving of suffering in the world, relating the tale of a flower "beheaded" by a late frost as the sun "measure[s] off another day for an approving God".
- Mark Twain (himself a Deist) argued against what he saw as the petty God many followed in a posthumously published book, The Bible According to Mark Twain: Writings on Heaven, Eden, and the Flood. He talks, in part, about the African "sleeping sickness", malaria.
- Ivan Karamazov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1879 The Brothers Karamazov articulates what might be termed a dystheistic rejection of God. Koons covered this argument in the lecture immediately following the one referenced above. It was also discussed by Peter S. Fosl in his essay titled "The Moral Imperative to Rebel Against God".
- Konrad, the protagonist of Adam Mickiewicz's Forefathers' Eve, calls God a tsar.
In more recent times, the sentiment is present in a variety of media:
Poetry and drama
Robert Frost's poem "Design" questions how God could have created death if he were benevolent.
In Jewish author Elie Wiesel's play The Trial of God (1979), the survivors of a pogrom, in which most of the inhabitants of a 17th-century Jewish village were massacred, put God on trial for his cruelty and indifference to their misery. The play is based on an actual trial Wiesel participated in that was conducted by inmates of the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Nazi holocaust, but it also references a number of other incidents in Jewish history including a similar trial conducted by the Hasidic Rabbi Levi Yosef Yitzhak of Berdichev:
Men and women are being beaten, tortured and killed. True, they are victims of men. But the killers kill in God's name. Not all? True, but let one killer kill for God's glory, and God is guilty. Every person who suffers or causes suffering, every woman who is raped, every child who is tormented implicates Him. What, you need more? A hundred or a thousand? Listen, either he is responsible or he is not. If he is, let's judge him. If he is not, let him stop judging us.
Why would you trust a God that doesn't give us the right book? Throughout history, he's given the Jewish people a book, he's given the Christians a book, and he's given the Muslims books, and there are big similarities between these books, but there are also contradictions. ... He needs to come back and create clarity and not ... let us fight over who's right. He should make it clear. So, my personal answer to your question, "Should we trust [a God who can't get things right]", I wouldn't.
The writing of Sir Kingsley Amis contains some misotheistic themes; e.g. in The Green Man (God's appearance as the young man), and in The Anti-Death League (the anonymous poem received by the chaplain).
By the 1970s, Harlan Ellison even described dystheism as a bit of a science fiction cliché. Ellison himself has dealt with the theme in his "The Deathbird", the title story of Deathbird Stories, a collection based on the theme of (for the most part) malevolent modern-day gods. Lester del Rey's "Evensong" (the first story in Harlan Ellison's much-acclaimed Dangerous Visions anthology), tells the story of a fugitive God hunted down across the universe by a vengeful humanity which seeks to "put him in his place". "Faith of Our Fathers" by Philip K. Dick, also from the same anthology, features a horrifying vision of a being, possibly God, who is all-devouring and amoral. Philip Pullman's previously mentioned trilogy, His Dark Materials, presented the theme of a negligent or evil God to a wider audience, as depicted in the 2007 film The Golden Compass based on the first book of this trilogy.
The original series of Star Trek featured episodes with dystheistic themes, amongst them "The Squire of Gothos", "Who Mourns for Adonais?", "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky", and "The Return of the Archons". In "Encounter at Farpoint", the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard informs Q, a trickster with god-like powers similar to the antagonist in the aforementioned "Squire of Gothos" episode, that 24th century humans no longer had any need to depend upon or worship god figures. This is an amplification of the tempered anti-theistic sentiment from "Who Mourns for Adonais?", in which Captain James T. Kirk tells Apollo that "Mankind has no need for gods, we find the one quite adequate." In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine it is revealed that the Klingon creation myth involves the first Klingons killing the gods that created them because, "They were more trouble than they were worth."
In the film Pitch Black, villain protagonist Richard B. Riddick stated his own belief, "Think someone could spend half their life in a slam with a horse bit in their mouth and not believe? Think he could start out in some liquor store trash bin with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and not believe? Got it all wrong, holy man. I absolutely believe in God... and I absolutely hate the fucker."
Dystheistic sentiment has also made its way into popular music, evincing itself in controversial songs like "Dear God" by the band XTC (later covered by Sarah McLachlan) and "Blasphemous Rumours" by Depeche Mode, which tells the story of a teenage girl who attempted suicide, survived, and turned her life over to God, only to be hit by a car, wind up on life support, and eventually die. A good deal of Gary Numan's work, specifically the album Exile, is laden with misotheistic themes.
The output of Oscar-winning songwriter/composer Randy Newman also includes several songs expressing dystheistic sentiment, including the ironic "He Gives Us All His Love" and the more overtly maltheistic "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)", both from his acclaimed 1972 album Sail Away. In the latter song, Newman bemoans the futility of dealing with God whose attitude towards humanity he sees as one of contempt and cruelty.
The song "God Made" by Andrew Jackson Jihad proposes dystheism and has an implied hatred for God. More specifically, their song "Be Afraid of Jesus" is about a vengeful Christ although this could be a critique of fundamentalist hate speech.
"God Am" by Alice in Chains from their self-titled release has many misotheistic themes about the perceived apathy of God towards the evil in this world.
American death metal bands Deicide and Morbid Angel base much of their lyrics around misotheism in name and in concept. Many bands in the black metal genre, such as Mayhem, Emperor, Gorgoroth and Darkthrone express extreme misotheism in their lyrics and actions, which involved burning down churches during the early 1990s.
In 2006, Australian artist Archie Moore created a paper sculpture called "Maltheism", which was considered for a Telstra Art Award in 2006. The piece was intended as a representation of a church made from pages of the Book of Deuteronomy:
...and within its text is the endorsement from God to Moses for invasion of other nations. It says that you have the right to invade, take all their resources, kill all the men (non-believers) and make no treaty with them.
- Criticism of religion
- Deontological ethics
- Divine command theory
- Ethics in the Bible
- Evil God Challenge
- Free will
- God as the Devil
- God is dead
- Problem of hell
- History of atheism
- Lawsuits against God
- Love of God
- Moral absolutism
- Religious fundamentalism
- Religious extremism
- Theistic Satanism
- Virtue ethics
- Jacob Grimm: Teutonic Mythology Chapter 1. page 2. (Grimm's Teutonic Mythology Translation Project.)
- Richard Kennington (1991). "The 'Teaching of Nature' in Descartes' Soul Doctrine". In Georges Joseph Daniel Moyal. René Descartes: Critical Assessments. Routledge. p. 139. ISBN 0-415-02358-0.
- Richard M. Kennington (2004). "The Finitude of Descartes' Evil Genius". On Modern Origins: Essays in Early Modern Philosophy. Lexington Books. p. 146. ISBN 0-7391-0815-8.
- New English Dictionary, under miso-; also explicitly in 1913, Noah Webster's Dictionary of the English Language.
- "On Christianity As An Organ of Political Movement" (1846).
- Bernard Schweizer, 'Religious Subversion in His Dark Materials in: Millicent Lenz, Carole Scott (eds.) His Dark Materials Illuminated: Critical Essays On Philip Pullman's Trilogy (2005), p. 172, note 3.
- Seidner, Stanley S. (June 10, 2009) "A Trojan Horse: Logotherapeutic Transcendence and its Secular Implications for Theology". Mater Dei Institute. pp. 11-12.
- Apparently coined by Paul Zimmerman in August 1985, on net.origins referring to the misotheistic belief that God was in fact not a "Creator-God" but a "Damager-God".
- Original Usenet posting of Maroney's "Even If I Did Believe" essay, 31 December 1983
- Naylor et al. (1994)
- See the example of Viktor Frankl in Seidner, Stanley S. (June 10, 2009) "A Trojan Horse: Logotherapeutic Transcendence and its Secular Implications for Theology". Mater Dei Institute. p 11.
- Roth et al. (1982) - Extracted from a review of Roth's essay, in which the author comments that "Roth is painting a picture of God as the ultimate example of a bad and abusive parent!"
- Janowski, Zbigniew (2000). Cartesian Theodicy: Descartes' quest for certitude. Archives Internationales D'Histoire des Idees/International Archives of the History of Ideas. Springer. pp. 62–68. ISBN 978-0-7923-6127-5. LCCN 99059328. ISBN 079236127X.
- Thomas Paine (1819). The Political and Miscellaneous Works of Thomas Paine ... R. Carlile. pp. 4–.
- Bernard Schweizer, Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism (2010).
- Iwan Bloch, Marquis De Sade: His Life and Works (2002), p. 216.
- Transcript of interview with Anne Provoost by Bill Moyers for his "Faith and Reason" PBS TV series
- "Dear God", performed by XTC (written by Andy Partridge)
- "Blasphemous Rumours", performed by Depeche Mode (written by Martin L. Gore)
- "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)", performed by Randy Newman (written by Randy Newman)
- From the educational resource pamphlet accompanying the presentation of the 23rd Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award
- Blumenthal, David R. (1993). Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993. p. 348. ISBN 0-664-25464-0.
- Ehrman, Bart D. (2008). God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008. p. 304. ISBN 0-06-117397-5.
- Mirabello, Mark, The Crimes of Jehovah (1997), ISBN 1-884365-13-2.
- Naylor, Janet; Julian, Caroline; Pinsonneault, Susan (1994). GURPS Religion. Austin, TX: Steve Jackson Games, 1994. p. 176. ISBN 1-55634-202-0.
- Phillips, D. Z. (2005). The Problem of Evil and The Problem of God. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2005. p. 280. ISBN 0-8006-3775-5.
- Provoost, Anne (2004). In the Shadow of the Ark. Minneapolis, MN: Arthur A. Levine, 2004. p. 384. ISBN 0-439-44234-6.
- Roth, John K. (et al.) (1982). Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982. p. 182. ISBN 0-8042-0517-5.
- Russell, Bertrand (1957). Why I Am Not A Christian. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1957. p. 266. ASIN B000JX1TIK.
- Sutherland, Robert (2006). Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job. Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing, 2006. p. 226. ISBN 1-4120-1847-1.
- Schweizer, Bernard (2010). Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 246. ISBN 978-0-19-975138-9.
- Schweizer, Bernard (2002). Rebecca West: Heroism, Rebellion, and the Female Epic. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002. p. 184. ISBN 0-313-32360-7.
- Wiesel, Elie (1979). The Trial of God. New York, NY: Random House, 1979. p. 208. ISBN 0-8052-1053-9.
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- Lecture by Robert Koons (University of Texas at Austin) developing concepts of dystheism and eutheism (see also)
- Articles and essays from web site of David R. Blumenthal (Professor of Judaic Studies at Emory University and author of Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest)
- The moral imperative to rebel against God by Peter S. Fosl in The Philosophers' Magazine
- Why isn't Christianity considered evil? (from the AskPhilosophers forum at Amherst College)
- Account from the life of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev that was part of the inspiration for Wiesel's "The Trial of God"
- Transcript of interview with Elie Wiesel
- Anne Provoost's novel In the Shadow of the Ark (interview)
- Popular culture
- George Carlin on God
- Lyrics to Randy Newman's "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)"
- Lyrics to Depeche Mode's "Blasphemous Rumours"
- Mr. Deity, a series of short videos by Brian Keith Dalton depicting a bumbling and callously malicious God
- Introduction to literary misotheism, Q&A, and blog
- Atrocities committed or commanded by God
- Atrocities of God and his servants
- Even If I Did Believe
- Online introduction to Maltheism
- Maltheism Blog