Definitions

Misotheism

Misotheism

Misotheism is the "hatred of God" or "hatred of the gods" (from the Greek adjective μισόθεος "hating the gods", a compound of μίσος "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 Icelandic 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 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 â sik 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, not coincidentially contemporary to the first modern expressions of atheism.

A related concept is dystheism (Greek δύσθεος "ungodly"), 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 mythology who deliberately fostered violence between groups of people for his own amusement, saying that "causing strife is my greatest joy."

But 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 God, the omnipotent deity associated with monotheistic belief. Indeed, the moral absolute of good and evil has historically arisen in parallel with monotheism. In conceptions of God as the summum bonum, the proposition of God not being wholly good would of course be a contradiction in terms.

A historical proposition close to "dystheism" is the deus deceptor (dieu trompeur) of 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.

Terminology

  • 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 does exist 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.
  • 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. But 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 (or even atheism) to an overt opposition to God, since these beliefs run contrary to the idea of making devotion to God the highest priority in life.
  • Post-theism accepts the validity of the concept of God as inducing morality at a certain stage of human development, but postulates a stage where morality can exist without support in religious cult, rendering the concept of God superfluous.
  • Certain forms of dualism make the assertion that the thing worshipped 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. The Gnostics (see Sethian, Ophites) believed that God (the deity worshipped by Jews and Christians) was really an evil creator or demiurge that stood between us and some greater, more truly benevolent real deity. Though there is no reason given why the higher God is not a creator God as well, nor why the higher God allows the realm of the evil demiurge as flawed and unjust to continue to exist. Similarly, Marcionites held beliefs deemed maltheistic in nature, depicting God as represented in the Old Testament as a wrathful, genocidal, malicious demiurge.
  • Satanism, as represented by the Church of Satan (founded by Anton Szandor LaVey) does not, as commonly presumed, advocate worship of Satan as a literal existing entity, but rather advocated rebellion against an all too real manifested god. As LaVey wrote about God:

[The belief that] 'God takes care of drunks and fools' is inaccurate. In truth, he doesn't even notice them. That's why nothing bad happens to them. I proceed on the assumption that God is an asshole, and only notices those who don't deserve his dubious 'attention': the sensitive, the just, the capable, the talented, the gifted. They are the butterflies whom God pulls the wings off of. You must be something special to be cursed by God.

Theodicy

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."

Critics of Calvin's doctrines of predestination frequently argued that Calvin's doctrines did not successfully avoid describing God as "the author of evil".

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... To the extent that [people] are born with the potential and power to [do evil things], credit for that fact belongs elsewhere. "Elsewhere" is God's address.

On a lighter note, Paul Erdős, the eccentric and extremely prolific Hungarian-born mathematician, referred to God as "the Supreme Fascist", who deliberately hid things from people, ranging from socks and passports to the most elegant of mathematical proofs.

Divine malevolence in Scripture

There are various examples of arguable dystheism in the Bible, sometimes cited as arguments for atheism (e.g. Bertrand Russell 1957). Most of these are from the Pentateuch, the theological nature of which is still close to henotheism. 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.

Hebrew Bible

  • The story of Adam and Eve, Genesis 2:16: God setting up a trap for Adam and Eve.
  • Tower of Babel, Genesis 11:1: God jealously chastising humanity for attempting to succeed using their own talent.
  • The Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart in the story of Moses in Exodus: God is explicitly shown to inspire impious behaviour on the Pharaoh's part (interfering with free will) so he can punish him for it.
  • Deuteronomy 7:1-6, 20:16-17, God calling for cruelty and even genocide against the Canaanites (mitzvot 596-598)
  • In the Book of Job God is shown to play idle games with Satan over the suffering of a pious man.
  • Deuteronomy 5:8-10 - God expressly admitting jealousy and in turn, punishing children - innocent of "iniquity of their fathers" - for generations after.

New Testament

The Christian scriptures in 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 himself, and saw Jesus as rebelling against Yahweh. These groups were dualists that held to the notion that the god of this world, the demiurge, was evil, but that there was a transcendent world greater than this one ruled by a true good god.

Although God is considered to have been depicted in the New Testament as "kinder and gentler" than his characterization in the Old Testament, this interpretation is ultimately inconsistent with what the text says about his behavior:

  • Acts 5:1-11 - Ananias and Sapphira killed by God for falsely claiming they had donated all the proceeds from a recent land sale to the church.
  • Romans 9 - Paul relates (9:9-13) how the destinies of Jacob and Esau were fixed by God before either had done any good or evil works, and concludes (9:14-18) that salvation and damnation are determined not by man's will or actions, but by God's will. He then considers (9:19) the question of how God can justly condemn evil men for fulfilling his will, and answers (9:20-21) that, just as a potter has power to shape clay, God has the right to form evil men for his own purposes, specifically, (9:22) to evince his wrath and power by destroying them.
  • Revelation 21:8 - God throws the beast, the false prophet, and their followers into a lake of burning sulphur, and threatens those who do not believe in him with the same eternal punishment.

Misotheism in art and literature

Misotheistic and/or dystheistic expression has a long history in the arts and in literature. Goethe's Prometheus, and the work of authors like the Marquis de Sade are among the examples:

  • John Milton's Paradise Lost is often cited as an apology of Satan's rebellion against a despotic God, suggesting that if God's supremacy is only justified by brute force, then Satan was justified in rebelling against God's tyranny. Note that this interpretation is not universally accepted.
  • 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 argued against God 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 entitled " The Moral Imperative to Rebel Against God".

In more recent times, the sentiment is present in a variety of media:

Poetry and drama

The characters in several of Tennessee Williams' plays express dystheistic attitudes, including the Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon in The Night of the Iguana.

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.

Modern literature

Several non-Jewish authors share Wiesel's concerns about God's nature, including Salman Rushdie (The Satanic Verses, Shalimar the Clown) and Anne Provoost (In the Shadow of the Ark):
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.

Speculative fiction

A number of speculative fiction works present a dystheistic perspective, at least as far back as the works of H. P. Lovecraft and Olaf Stapledon's influential philosophical short novel Star Maker.

By the 1970's 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". 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 "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 Kirk tells Apollo that "We have no need for gods, we find the one sufficient."

Popular music

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.

Modern art

In 2006, Australian artist Archie Moore created a paper sculpture called "Maltheism", which was considered for a Telstra Art award in Australia during 2006. The piece was intended as a representation of a church made from pages of the Bible, specifically 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.

Notes

References

  • Blumenthal, David R. (1993). Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993. 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. ISBN 0-061-17397-5.
  • Mirabello, Mark, The Crimes of Jehovah (1997), ISBN 1884365132.
  • Naylor, Janet; Caroline Julian, Susan Pinsonneault (1994). GURPS Religion. Austin, TX: Steve Jackson Games, 1994. ISBN 1-55634-202-0.
  • Phillips, D. Z. (2005). The Problem of Evil and The Problem of God. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2005. ISBN 0-8006-3775-5.
  • Provoost, Anne (2004). In the Shadow of the Ark. Minneapolis, MN: Arthur A. Levine, 2004. ISBN 0-439-44234-6.
  • Roth, John K. (et al) (1982). Encountering Evil: Live Options in Theodicy. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1982. ISBN 0804205175.
  • Russell, Bertrand (1957). Why I Am Not A Christian. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1957. ASIN B000JX1TIK.
  • Sutherland, Robert (2006). Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job. Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-4120-1847-1.
  • Schweizer, Bernard (2002). Rebecca West: Heroism, Rebellion, and the Female Epic. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002. ISBN 0-313-32360-7.
  • Wiesel, Elie (1979). The Trial of God. New York, NY: Random House, 1979. ISBN 0-8052-1053-9.

See also

External links

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