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the Complete Review
the complete review - religion / literature

Hating God

Bernard Schweizer

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Hating God

Title: Hating God
Author: Bernard Schweizer
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2010
Length: 226 pages
Availability: Hating God - US
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  • The Untold Story of Misotheism

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting subject-matter, though focus on literary/textual examples somewhat limiting

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 11/10/2010 .
The Washington Post . 15/3/2011 Yvonne Zipp

  From the Reviews:
  • "Schweizer's textual readings are close and careful. Some figures he concentrates on are less than compelling choices (...). This book provides a useful reminder that a long history of cursing God precedes the present vogue -- and society has not yet collapsed from the corrosive effects of angry atheism." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Hating God relies on close readings of selected texts, but Schweizer’s insistence that his work is groundbreaking gets tiring. Still, I’d like to be in the room when Schwiezer informs Pullman that he actually believes in God." - Yvonne Zipp, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In Hating God Bernard Schweizer considers not the phenomenon of atheism or agnosticism, but rather that of people who are believers -- i.e. believe in the god-concept -- but are not fans and, in fact, hate or despise the 'Almighty' (generally because they think 'His' treatment of mankind isn't very good -- i.e. they see 'Him' as a bad guy). The word Schweizer uses to describe such folk is misotheist. It's a concept that has certainly caught on: he notes in his conclusion that when he 'googled' the word in 2001 "not a single use of it came back"; meanwhile: "in December 2009, the number of returns for a Google search of this term hit 52,000" [Less than a year later I find "90,600 results" (though, of course, this amounts to far fewer actual pages; only 703 results are displayed once "very similar" entries are omitted.] It's not a new phenomenon (or, as it turns out, word), but a Wikipedia entry seems to have helped fuel interest, as have the reactions to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials-trilogy, widely seen as a misotheist work.
       Schweizer's two-part work considers misotheism with a focus that is decidedly literary -- as he claims, early on, that: "In fact, literature is the principle conduit for expressions of animosity against the Almighty."
       The first part of Hating God offers 'A Brief History of Misotheism', a quick tour of some of history's great misotheists, ranging from Job's wife ("the original misotheist", he suggests) through Epicurus to Thomas Paine, Karl Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, William Empson, and ... Gore Vidal. It's a somewhat odd and haphazard collection, but allows him to describe the major strains of misotheism, and what is behind them.
       The second part of the book offers six more detailed case-studies, examples of specific strains of misotheism found in the works of Algernon Swinburne, Zora Neale Hurston, Rebecca West, Elie Wiesel, Peter Shaffer, and Philip Pullman.
       Schweizer sees misotheism as basically monotheistic:

True misotheism is only imaginable in the context of a monotheistic religion. By comparison, the polytheist, who worships numerous gods, and the henotheist, who acknowledges on principal god among several divinities, is free to worship one god while expressing disdain for another one (or others).
       Still, it's a shame he doesn't consider feelings of hatred directed at gods within these other belief-systems. Oddly, too, Schweizer avoids (or can't find) examples of Islamic hatred towards their deity. He suggests Salman Rushdie would not write a play like Elie Wiesel's The Trial of God indicting Allah ("having tasted the wrath of Islamic clerics and becoming the object of a fatwa, all because of a lesser act of blasphemy"), but aside from the fact that Rushdie would be the wrong man for the job in any case -- the non-believer Rushdie isn't misotheistic to begin with -- misotheism can surely manifest itself and be expressed in other ways, too (as, indeed, Schweizer shows with some of his other examples, which includes authors who are decidedly more circumspect in their expressions of god-hatred).
       Schweizer's short (in the first section) and then extended (in the second) examinations of individuals' misotheism allows him to discuss many aspects of it, from its different forms -- he differentiates between 'Absolute' and 'Agonistic' misotheism, for example -- as well as the various circumstances in which it arose, as people have a variety of reasons for hating god. By concentrating on 'literary misotheism', however, Schweizer's book comes to feel more like literary analysis than anything else; it also concentrates his arguments and explanations on individual books and authors, without comfortably offering a broader consideration of misotheism. Most striking is how little interest he shows in the reception of all these cases of misotheism -- repeatedly suggesting that the public largely fails to see the misotheism in the works, or willfully ignores it (Pullman being the most notable exception, though criticism of his works was more fundamentally about its anti-religiosity). As to misotheism in society at large, there's little discussion of that either.
       Given that raging at a god, or expressing hatred at some of the misery it causes is fairly commonplace, one has to wonder whether misotheism isn't far more widespread than Schweizer wants to allow for. Theodicy is all well and good, but there's really no need to believe in a god's 'goodness' if one is convinced that it is all-powerful, where everything -- even the bad and the worse -- can always be explained as being part of the god's 'great plan'. The Abrahamic god certainly seems, seen from everyday human perspective, a thoroughly unpleasant fellow; it's hard not to imagine that many of those who worship him aren't entirely thrilled by what he's unleashed. In this sense god-belief has many of the attributes of citizenship: many people dislike and disapprove of what the state does, yet remain conscientious and good citizens.
       Schweizer's readings of the authors he focuses on are of interest, and he certainly makes a good case for the misotheism in their works; still, this leaves Hating God with the feel of a work of literary criticism, rather than a true exploration of misotheism.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 November 2010

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Hating God: Reviews: Bernard Schweizer: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Bernard Schweizer was born in 1962. He teaches at Long Island University.

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