February 13, 2015

Excerpts From The Introduction To "Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism" By Bernard Schweizer

"Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism" By Bernard Schweizer (2010).

Bernard Schweizer (1962-) is a professor of English at Long Island University, Brooklyn. He has published several books and essay collections on topics in British and European literatures. He is a leading Rebecca West scholar and has edited or co-edited a number of Rebecca West’s previously unpublished and uncollected works. In 2003, he founded the International Rebecca West Society in New York and is currently the second president of the Society. Schweizer has written pioneering scholarly works in three fields: the politics of travel literature, the female epic, and, most recently, the treatment of God-hatred in literature (misotheism).
His latest book, Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism, explores an almost unknown strain of God-thinking. Misotheists are not atheists, as Schweizer demonstrates, but people who blaspheme because they cannot forgive God for the miseries-both personal and collective-that befall humanity. Far from being depraved or immoral individuals, the misotheists treated by Schweizer are great humanists, thinkers, and artists.
Amazon description of the book:
While atheists have now become public figures, there is another and perhaps darker strain of religious rebellion that has remained out of sight - people who hate God. In this revealing book, Bernard Schweizer looks at men and women who do not question God's existence, but deny that He is merciful, competent, or good. Sifting through a wide range of literary and historical works, Schweizer finds that people hate God for a variety of reasons. Some are motivated by social injustice, human suffering, or natural catastrophes that God does not prevent. Some blame God for their personal tragedies. Schweizer concludes that, despite their blasphemous thoughts, these people tend to be creative and moral individuals, and include such literary lights as Friedrich Nietzsche, Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston, and Philip Pullman. Schweizer shows that literature is a fertile ground for God haters. Many authors, who dare not voice their negative attitude to God openly, turn to fiction to give vent to it. Indeed, Schweizer provides many new and startling readings of literary masterpieces, highlighting the undercurrent of hatred for God.
Excerpts from the introduction to "Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism" By Bernard Schweizer. (Source: Oxford University Press. 2010. Retrieved from Oxford Scholarship Online):
The introduction clarifies three main points about misotheism: a) the birth of modern misotheism with the romantic writers Blake and Shelley; b) the self-concealment of misotheism; and c) the fact that misotheism does not imply amorality. The introduction further establishes misotheism’s relationship to Gnosticism, atheism, agnosticism, anti-clericalism, and deicide. Next, a rationale is given for choosing the term “misotheism” to denote God-hatred, while alternative terms such as theostuges, passionate atheism, and metaphysical rebellion are discussed. The work of Albert Camus, notably his ideas about metaphysical rebellion, is discussed in order to distinguish Camus’s from the author’s approach to God-hatred. The author further clarifies three different types of misotheism: absolute (deicide), agonistic (God wrestling), and political (anarchism) forms of misotheism. The introduction reiterates the claim that literature is the primary conduit for manifestations of misotheism.

This study originated in a profound sense of bafflement and mystery. I was researching the work of the British journalist and novelist Rebecca West while reading Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials on the side. Although these writers have little in common, besides both being British and based in greater London, I repeatedly bumped up against a similar religious stance in their work: an aversion to divinity verging on God-hatred. I couldn’t place that affect on the spectrum of religious dissent ranging from atheism to Satanism: it was not atheism, since the hostility to God obviously presumes the existence of God; and it wasn’t Satanism either, since opposition to God doesn’t automatically lead to reverence for God’s adversary. I was surprised that even academics who normally had answers for everything were nonplussed when queried about this feeling of personal animosity against God. The mystery deepened when I began to realize that the existence of anti-God sentiments often fails to register even (p.2) when people directly look at it, as if the statement “I hate God” (or any of its variations) dissolves into thin air the moment it is uttered.

Here is an example of what I mean: Zora Neale Hurston’s acclaimed novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) contains clues to the narrator’s, and possibly the author’s, outspoken rebellion against God. These clues—beginning with the title and continuing with allusions to the Book of Job throughout the novel—find their explicit summation in the following passage: “All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood” (145). I have chosen this example because Hurston’s novel is not an obscure object of academic specialists. Being taught at high schools and colleges across the nation, it has achieved cult status and is read every year by more than one hundred thousand impressionable young minds.1 To my surprise, however, a review of relevant critical literature on this novel revealed that not one scholar had considered this statement as a potential sign of the author’s contempt for God. Similarly, when I taught Their Eyes Were Watching God, my college students never chose this anti-God statement for commentary and, when directed to it, they couldn’t quite make sense of it. So, I asked myself, why are so many people unaware of this antagonistic faith? And why do they fail recognize it even when confronted with it? 
The long answer to these questions is contained in the rest of this book. As for a short answer—this negative religious attitude has escaped detection partly because those practicing it tend to be secretive about it, fearing the consequences of owning up to their anti-God stance too openly. I claim that Hurston’s rhetorical maneuver of shifting the object of her blame into the plural (“all gods”) is only one of many techniques used by writers and intellectuals to conceal, even as they hint at, a view that they know would be considered grossly irreverent and blasphemous by many. My study will remove the camouflage and peel away the layers of disguise to reveal the true nature of anti-God rhetoric in the works of numerous writers and thinkers over the course of time. Certainly, opponents of God have had good reason to be circumspect. To say openly “I hate God” in some nineteenth-century societies could have caused trouble comparable to publishing cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed today. 
One of the people who experienced retribution for publishing attacks against God was the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. He had already tasted the wrath of the establishment after publicly proclaiming his unbelief in a pamphlet titled “The Necessity of Atheism.” This got Shelley expelled from Oxford University in 1811. But what he did next could have had more serious consequences. In 1812–13, he wrote a work of social and intellectual revolt titled Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem, in which Moses is depicted as a murderer, Yahweh2 is portrayed as a sadistic projection of the collective human imagination, and Christ is termed a “malignant soul” (Canto VII, 172). This poem pioneered a top-down approach of religious subversion: instead of denying religious belief or undermining the tenets of Christian teachings in general, it aimed its arrows directly at the Almighty and his son. This was blasphemy of the highest order and therefore subject to prosecution by law in the United Kingdom at that time.3 Knowing the risks of his endeavor, Shelley privately printed only 250 copies of the poem, and then went to the trouble of removing the printer’s name (his own!) by cutting out the title page and clipping the printer’s information from the final leaf of most of the booklets. He further limited his exposure by distributing no more than 70 copies among personal acquaintances whom he deemed sufficiently sympathetic to his project. But the poem was still disseminated widely enough to cause him serious trouble. In 1817, Shelley lost his Chancery trial for custody of his two children by his first wife, Harriet, on the grounds of his anti-Christian stance. Queen Mab was used as evidence to demonstrate his corrupting influence (Wheatley 83–85). But the notoriety of Queen Mab only stoked demand for the text among radical circles, and in 1821 a London bookseller by the name of William Clark printed a pirated edition of the poem. Shelley, from his self-imposed exile in Italy, immediately distanced himself from the work, condemning it in a letter sent to The Examiner as a “crude and immature” (20) product of his youth. Fearing serious repercussions, he promptly sought to block further sales of the work. His concern was justified: the Society for the Suppression of Vice stepped in, prosecuted Clark, and had him sentenced to four months’ imprisonment for blasphemous libel (Wheatley 85).