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Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism Hardcover – November 5, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Schweizer, an associate professor of English at Long Island University (see InProfile in this issue), dissects the contemporary guard of angry atheists (Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris et al.) by placing the phenomenon in historical and literary context to show roots and development. He likes the term "misotheism" to capture the virulence of the god-haters and draws mostly from misotheists from 1800 onward, though he looks at the book of Job. Most god-haters (including Shelley, Camus, and Zora Neale Hurston, whose inclusion might surprise some) have used literature to articulate and disguise their briefs against a divinity they blame for suffering, catastrophe, and/or mass slaughter. Schweizer's textual readings are close and careful. Some figures he concentrates on are less than compelling choices; nobody reads Swinburne anymore except graduate students of English. 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. (Nov.)
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"In Hating God, Bernard Schweizer distinguishes between atheists---those who conclude from the arbitrary and cruel acts of God that he does not exist---and misotheists---those who believe in God but engage in a life-long struggle with his apparent indifference to the world he has created. It is misotheists, those who wrestle with God in the manner of Jacob and Job, who create the rich literary tradition Schweizer so persuasively illuminates in this important book."--Stanley Fish, author of The Fugitive in Flight: Faith, Liberalism, and Law in a Classic TV Show
"Bernard Schweizer makes a long overdue distinction between atheism -- the denial of God's existence -- and misotheism -- the morally inspired hatred of God, and, in the process, reintroduces us to some of the most subversive religious thinkers who have ever lived, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Gore Vidal and Zora Neale Hurston. Hating God is one of the most exhilarating excursions into religious studies that you will ever take!"
--Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America
"Schweizer skilfully plumbs pathology and pathos among real and imagined agonizers."--The Journal of Theological Studies
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What we get here are really two books. Part One is a chronological survey of misotheistic thought from the ancient philosophers to early 20th century thinkers. Part Two analyzes six authors whose works are misotheistic to some degree. Part One is outstanding. It provides compelling definitions of various strains of theism and contrasts them with misotheism. Schweizer supplies a useful taxonomy of ists and isms, distinguishing traditional atheism from new atheism and antitheism from agnosticism. He then examines the origins of misotheism, which is brilliantly traced back to Job's wife, winds its way through Epicurus and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and culminates in Nietzsche and Camus. Schweizer discusses several exponents of misotheism like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin, both of whom are especially intriguing figures worth reading about.
So Part One is great, but it's only 80 pages. I was hoping it would be the springboard for a philosophical discussion of misotheism. Instead, it raises the curtain for 120+ pages of interminable literary analysis in Part Two. Here Schweizer examines the works of six authors: Algernon Charles Swinburne, Zora Neale Hurston, Rebecca West, Elie Wiesel, Peter Schaffer, and Philip Pullman. Schweizer spends way too much time scrutinizing their writings and loses the thread of misotheism as a philosophical idea. I think he would have done better to compress Part Two into one short chapter and research other genres and avenues--besides literature--in which misotheism has been promulgated.
Bottom line: This book is primarily about misotheism in literature. Admittedly, misotheism is marginal and has few adherents, but there must be more than literature to draw from in support of the case for god hatred. Schweizer ignores art, film, theater, culture, sociology, psychology, etc. I think it would have been interesting to poll and interview self-proclaimed misotheists (I've met a few myself) and delve further into the psychological reasons behind it. Instead, Schweizer's scope is narrowly confined to literature; this is disappointing.
I call the information valuable not only from a scholarly point of view but because it also nourished me in a spiritual sense.
As opposed to atheism, anti-theism, or agnosticism, Schweizer defines misotheism as the outright hatred of God. As opposed to atheists who question the existence of God, misotheists acknowledge his existence but question his good will. Schweizer divides misotheism into three categories: agonistic, absolute and political misotheism. Agonistic misotheists, studied through Rebecca West and Elie Wiesel, struggle with the acceptance of a bad and careless God and seek to enter into dialogue with him, convinced of his underlying good will. Quite the opposite, absolute misotheists, like Nietszche and Shelly, do not wish to change God but rather completely dispose of him. Proudhon or Bakunin, as political misotheists, address their attack because of the socio-economic effects that God and religion have on the world.
Through this thorough definition of Misotheism, Schweizer skilfully brings the rigour and precision one would expect with the minting of a new concept, writing a book both addressed to academia and non-scholars.
I highly recommend this book to anyone, religious or non-religious, willing to explore literature through the pathos of great writers and experience an unfamiliar journey into human relationship with the divine.
With his coinage of misotheism, Schweizer has laid solid ground for further theological study of the subject but also for future scholars willing to approach great figures of literature in a completely new way.
An overall very well written must-read for those looking to have a sound understanding of religious rebellion through literature.