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Do atheists reject God because they are angry at him?

April 2, 2010

I hear an argument frequently from certain theists…they posit that atheists actually do believe in God. They understand and know that God exists, but they are angry at him. They are so angry at him that they do what they feel is the best thing they can do to “stick it to the man” — reject him and reject the very idea of his existence.

Today, I got a hit (somehow) from a particular other blog, and he wrote a post summarizing this argument, I feel. I think I’ll post this comment here, because I don’t think my much shorter, condensed) comment has a huge chance of being published on his blog.

This different kind of atheist actually believes deep down that God is there, but claims to believe He isn’t, because he or she is angry at God. These ones make comments about how if there were a God, then there wouldn’t be any of what they ironically call “acts of God,” like hurricanes, earthquakes, and all sources of suffering…Since He has never shown up to apologize for the fact that their mother died, or their friend got cancer, or whatever other horror they’ve endured, they decided in their hearts that the best revenge against Him for what they perceive as His indifference to their suffering, is to look Him in the eye and say, “You aren’t there. You don’t exist.” They know, deep down, He is there; but they’re mad at Him.

I have, of course, never fully understood this argument. I think there are several questionable parts here (who would ever say to someone in the eye, “You aren’t there?” because they are mad at them? Even the silent treatment doesn’t quite work like that…), but the major difference I note is that, if anything, this description for disbelief would actually not lead to anger at God.

Rather, it shows signs of utmost respect.

I think the people who make this argument often fail to realize the hypotheticals that are being posited by atheists. Atheists aren’t saying that God actually is responsible for natural disasters or diseases, because they don’t believe in him. (So, no, dear theists, this isn’t atheists revealing their closeted, repressed belief in God.) Rather, they are proposing a hypothetical situation. If God were to exist, then couldn’t he do this better than it is? (You can agree or disagree: e.g., “this is the best of all possible worlds; you just don’t understand God’s plan.”)

What does the hypothetical matter though? Well, the hypothetical does not yet tell about the belief of the individual. Of course, we already know about the atheist. He doesn’t believe the hypothetical or conditional holds.

So, it doesn’t follow that he is angry at God. After all, he doesn’t actually believe God exists. As a result, he does not and cannot believe that God is responsible for whatever acts of suffering is there.

But what could I argue instead? I would argue that this position represents an utmost respect for the idea of God. (Note: I said idea of God…so that still isn’t quite the same as closeted, repressed belief wriggling its way out. Of course, if you want to believe that, go ahead.) How can it represent respect not to believe in something or not to believe something exists?

Well, it’s behind the hypothetical again.

The hypothetical supposes that if God existed, he would be so good and great and awesome that we (or at least, the atheist in question) would be able to see and experience and appreciate his goodness, and greatness, and awesomeness. So already, imbued with the hypothetical idea with God is goodness, greatness, and awesomeness.

We need to figure out the first part (the God existing part)…but we don’t have direct access to that. However, we do have access to a universe and world…and we can evaluate whether they seem to be good, great, and awesome. In many ways, they are. But in many other ways, they are not.

So, we actually have a few options to make.

1) We can attribute this less-than-ideal universe to God anyway, and adjust our beliefs about his awesomeness (downgrading him in the process).

2) We can attribute the universe to God, but somehow attribute the less-than-idealness to something — or someone — else, if we can figure out a way to do that that personally makes sense to us.

or

3) We can eschew attributing this less-than-ideal universe to God, reserving the idea of God for a theoretical universe that quite simply is not our own.

Atheists take the third option.

Imagine if you were an artist and someone saw one of your less-than-stellar paintings (or even just a painting that they thought was less-than-stellar.) Would you rather that someone immediately attribute that painting to you and view you less highly for what they believed to be your shoddy handiwork…or would you rather that someone assume that that painting obviously couldn’t have been yours because you are just a better artist than that?

Or, let’s say someone was robbed (that is our suffering), and some accused you. Would you rather that person attribute their suffering (their being robbed) to you or insist on behalf of your good character that you couldn’t be behind it?

OK, so these kinds of questions don’t quite cover the entirety of the situation, but you should at least get the drift.

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5 Comments
  1. Just yesterday I was asked why I “fought against God.”

    I said that I wasn’t fighting with “anything.” But that totally went over my mom’s head.

  2. When I was going thought my “breakdown” a few years ago my mom was telling me it was OK to be angry with god.

    I remember I had a really hard time with that. Angry with god for what? It wasn’t god who lied to me about his existence.

  3. Hypatia,

    I’ll say; your and Marcus’s parents are…priceless. I mean, I’m not envious of your situation and hope things get better…but…from an outside perspective…it’s interesting.

    TGD,

    That’s actually a REALLY interesting way of looking at it. And it’s so interesting how your mom was so willing to OK your alleged anger at god.

    I somehow STRONGLY doubt that she would ever have said, “It’s ok to be angry with me.”

  4. Actually she did say it was OK to be angry with her too. My mom is smart and the only reason I made it through alive was her wisdom and lack of ego when it comes to the realities of human pain and suffering as it relates to abuse. Ironically I never was angry with her either.

  5. The plot thickens!

    Major props to your mom.

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