Are We Angry at God? January 5, 2011

Are We Angry at God?

Atheists may get angry at the idea of a god.

We might get angry at the way people follow their gods.

We might get angry that so many people believe in a god.

But we don’t get angry at god.

We can’t get angry at god because we don’t believe one exists.

So you can understand why this new “research” about atheists and our anger toward god makes very little sense:

… And yet people get angry at God all the time, especially about everyday disappointments, finds a new set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

It’s not just religious folks, either. People unaffiliated with organized religion, atheists and agnostics also report anger toward God either in the past, or anger focused on a hypothetical image — that is, what they imagined God might be like — said lead study author Julie Exline, Case Western Reserve University psychologist.

In studies on college students, atheists and agnostics reported more anger at God during their lifetimes than believers…

Most popular atheist blogs spend a lot of time debunking Christian claims or responding to things Christians in the news have said or done. No doubt that comes off as angry. If you ask me how for my thoughts about god, I won’t have nice things to say. You probably don’t, either.

Christians blogs — at least the ones I read — never seem that way. It’s hard to be upset when you have so many advantages and privileges.

I don’t know what questions Exline asked, but if the conclusion people are reporting is that “atheists are angry at god,” there’s either a problem with the questions, the interpretation of the results, or communication of what was actually found.

ERV also says how crazy the reporting around this study is, but says she would be opposed to the Christian god if he existed:

… If we grant the premise that the Christian deity exists, then yes. I would have to say that I would be ‘mad’ or ‘angry’ with that entity. I find it to be a repulsive creature unworthy of worship. If the Christian god were real, I would be against it. Likewise, if Darth Vader were real, I would ‘hate’ him. He is clearly a villain to non-dipshits, and I would happily join the Rebel Alliance. If that didnt exist, I would start it.

(via The Jewmanist)

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  • leeloo

    haha and i JUST got asked last night, why all atheists are so preoccupied with god. but me being me, i can NEVER come up with a good response at the time, they always come to me much much later, when everybody has forgotten the question.

  • Raquel

    From what I understand the study says that people who now identify as atheists tended to self-report anger at god before they identified as an atheist. One of the questions in the survey is “Looking back over your entire life, how often have you felt angry at God.”

  • The one I hear is, “God MUST be real. Otherwise, you’d not be talking about him.”

    I don’t talk about a god.

    A god does nothing. It does not tell me that I’m wrong. It does not make its wishes known to me. It does not set bushes a-blaze to communicate, or even send me email.

    It’s the believers in the god who do all of this. If the god exists, then it does NOTHING on its own behalf to communicate anything to me.

    My beef is with religion, when it starts to affect laws, education, and freedom. My complaints are with the people who are holier-than-thou, who speak on behalf of their god AND take action to punish others on behalf of their god.

    If your god has a problem with me, then please tell your god to contact me and let its points be known. Otherwise, STFU.

  • What pisses me off the most about articles like this is that theists read them and think they have a better understanding of us afterward.

  • I’m angry at God. His followers are his children, and he has raised them very poorly. God is a bad father. or a bad mother?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    There is a lengthy series of movies, or (re-makes of a movie, if you prefer) entitled The Atheist, in which the title character stops believing in God for a while because he is angry at Him, because bad things happened to him and his family.

    Example: Nastik (an Indian word for atheist) (1983)
    Shankar (Amitabh Bachchan) grows up as a Nastik (athiest) because his father got murdered by Tiger and his mother and sister got torched in their house and blamed God for doing nothing…

  • Gregory Marshall

    Angry at God, no, now Santa Claus, I got some issues with that guy, I never did get that red bike with the banana seat when I was seven.

  • Dianne

    I guess this part of the quote could be accurate: People unaffiliated with organized religion, atheists and agnostics also report anger toward God either in the past… Most atheists I know, myself included, didn’t start that way so at some time, before we realized the truth, we probably were angry at god. Then of course, we smartened up and realized that being angry at a god made no more sense then being angry at Rumplestiltskin.

  • Noel

    The proper response to such a nonsensical question is, “I’m angry at you, and millions of others like you, who have twisted so much of the world in your wasteful and willful evasion of reality.”

    Where now selflessness, not selfishness, is moral; humility, not pride, is the virtue; forgiveness, not redemption, is justice; the ineffable, not the reasonable, is the truth.

    There’s a whole lot of real people to be angry about.

    To be angry at some imaginary god is a waste of time.

  • Revyloution

    Yahweh… not so much, but im simply FURIOUS at Thor.

    Don’t even get me started on Centeotl, he still owes me money.

  • Beauzeaux

    “Don’t even get me started on Centeotl, he still owes me money.”

    You too?!
    The deadbeat makes even that weasley Baal look good.

  • JD

    I think it’s often done to be a conversation stopper. Say something so bombastic that it’s difficult for most people to have a response to nonsense.

    Other times, I think it’s a way to stop having to think about it, they think it’s impossible for people to not believe in a god, some kind of god, so they’ll substitute something in their mind to make any cognitive dissonance go away. If this is true, then I think it also explains why people say atheists worship themselves, Dawkins, Darwin, etc, and try to paint atheism as a religion in that way.

    I don’t tend to dig into research, but if it’s funded by an organization, you might find that the questions are leading in a direction that the sponsor desired.

  • Lauren

    its an online survey. you say “I’m an atheist”, then it asks you if you can imagine god from previous experience, or what someone else says. after that it asks about your feelings towards your “image of god” which is imaginary. and in the US most “images” would be of the judeo christian god since that is what we are inundated with. I could imagine anything for god at all. some of which I would be angry at, and some of which I would want to cuddle.

    giant kitteh god, now that is one for cuddling.

    online surveys are really self selecting and there is no way to do quality control on results. I didn’t get all the way through it though. lots of questions only had options relating to your “feeling towards god” so that would skew the report as well.

  • Lauren is right to point out the methodology calling upon one’s imagination.

    The thing about imagining God (or Darth Vader, or Hamlet’s uncle, or any other fictional baddie) is that you *CAN* feel angry and disdainful at the character, if they are vividly brought to life by the narrative.

    More thoughts on that problem here.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    “Don’t even get me started on Centeotl, he still owes me money.”

    You too?!
    The deadbeat makes even that weasley Baal look good.

    Never loan anything to Centeotl! I haven’t seen my Apocalypto DVD in months.

  • sven

    Never loan anything to Centeotl! I haven’t seen my Apocalypto DVD in months.

    Sorry, he promised me a copy of that. Still haven’t seen it.

    Back OT: Angry at god? What god?

  • Bob

    When it comes down to it, surveys and polls attesting to what people think or believe are inevitably flawed, and they’re often used to sell crap via some kind of addled notion that all of democracy distills down to majority rule. (It’s also supposed to protect the minority from the tyranny of those who believe they are ‘right’.)

  • Godless Lawyer

    There’s certainly a perception out there that all atheists are just former believers who rejected their faith after feeling ‘wronged’ or ‘abandoned’ by god in their moment of need. The ‘I hate you, so I won’t believe in you’ atheist.

    I’ve met exactly 0 actual atheists who fit this description.

  • Deiloh

    Good timing. My husband and I have been trying to adopt and after years of fostering with no adoption option being available, I’m ready to let that part of my life go. Not without some sadness. When I expressed my sadness, my husband said that if I would just believe in god I would know that whatever happens is meant to be. My mind flashed on the events that have lead children into our home. Foster and adoption families are needed because of abuse and neglect. The idea that this is meant to be, is revolting. In the heat of the moment I growled that his statement was not comforting and horribly stupid. His knee jerk reaction was that I only said this because I didn’t want to believe in god. On the plus side, we made up this morning despite going to bed really ticked at each other.

  • NotYou007

    Even when I considered myself a Christian I never got/was angry at this so called God. I didn’t care for church as a child and like others I went to church because I had no choice and once church service was over I never thought about a God in either a good or bad way.

    As an atheist I can’t get mad or angry at something I don’t believe in. Even when my mother was dying from cancer I never prayed or tried to ask a so called God for help and when she died it sucked big time but I never lashed out in anger at any sort of God.

    Death happens but angry I am not.

  • AWayfaringStrainer

    In an earlier paper, Exline pointed out that lifelong atheists did not even answer questions about the nature of god. It was only those who became atheists later in life, who answered the questions and they had negative opinions. Hardly a big surprise.

    I am not sure about the current study, by there is an online questionnaire to collect more data in this area that strikes me as very odd. As Lauren pointed out above, the questionnaire asks life-long atheists about the god that is portrayed in movies and popular press. To report that this god is mean and vindictive speaks to the nature of Hollywood writing rather than on any sort of theological belief.

    Furthermore, Exline’s research has been supported by the Templeton Foundation, which raises serious questions about the validity of the study.

    I look forward to seeing the new study in print. Unfortunately, it appears that it is not yet available. At the same time, the damage has been done with the religious and conservative press running a storyline that all atheists hate god and that is why they are atheists. Ugh. What a mess.

  • Angry at God? Oh yeah and I’m angry at Ming the Merciless too. There are plenty of injustices in reality that take up all my anger without using myths and stories.

    Honestly I’m glad that gods don’t exist or I’d be incandescent with rage at them.

  • Mike

    I didn’t become an atheist because I had some beef with god. If anything, I found out I was really pissed off at myself for spending so many years in a state of fear and self loathing while telling myself over and over and over that I was a no good, lowly sinner who wasn’t worthy of anything without Jesus. Anger at god had nothing at all to do with anything. I was mad at my own gullibility and ignorance.

  • Digitus Impudicus

    No. I am often angry at religious folk, however. Like the people who are celebrating the assassination of the Governor of Punjab because he dared say that it should not be a capitol offense to insult Mo. That pisses me off.

  • @Lauren — Then I’ve got the goddess for you! Bast!

  • When my sister found out I’m an atheist, she accused me of being angry at god. I asked her how one can be angry at something that doesn’t exist? I’m not angry at any god. However, I am angry at the believers of gods because they oppress everyone who does not believe like they do. I’m really angry at organized religion for all the harm they do to the world.

  • This reminds me of an article by a psychologist that talked about ending up in the hospital and asking himself, “why is God doing this to me?” Then he remembered he was an atheist.

    I suspect that’s what this study was about. Personally, I never do that, but the fact that some atheists do doesn’t bother me in the least (and may be evidence that religion is hard-wired into us in some way, explaining why religion persists in spite of a complete lack of evidence for its claims.)

  • Richard Wade

    I clicked on the first link in this post, “makes very little sense,” and came to the CNN Health site called “The Chart.” Reading through the comments I came upon this, a response by Julie Exline to the many objections in comments by atheists:

    Julie Exline

    Thank you for all of the comments and interest in our work.

    Just to clarify: We are by NO means claiming that all nonbelievers are angry at God (or, more precisely, angry about the idea of God). We are also not claiming that anger is the primary source of nonbelief. We recognize that there are many factors that feed into people’s decisions about whether or not to believe in God: For example, intellectual, social, cultural, and emotional factors could all play a role in religious belief (for believers and nonbelievers alike).

    What we have found is that SOME (not all!) people who do not believe in God report either: a) anger toward God as part of their history or b) anger when prompted to focus on a hypothetical image of God.

    We interpret these findings to mean that the topic of anger toward God may have relevance for at least some nonbelievers; thus nonbelievers should not be automatically excluded from conversations about the topic. Our goal in our studies, then, is to be exclusive rather than leaving nonbelievers out of our research. We do recognize that anger toward God by a believer is not the same as anger focused on a hypothetical image of God by an atheist or agnostic.

    Based on the comments received here and elsewhere, we have made some changes to our study to try to improve and clarify the questions that are intended for atheists and agnostics. We sincerely apologize for any errors or misunderstandings.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.
    January 5, 2011 at 10:30

  • what i hate about monotheism is that it’s so all about weakness. bow, grovel, kneel, and otherwise humiliate yourself before your gawd. the ancients had a much wider range of theology than is discussed, and a lot of it posited a more interesting relationship between the created being and the divinity. of all the goofy superstitious claptrap a modern society has to be stuck with, why couldn’t we have inherited the one where there are 5,000 gods, and nobody has to fight over which one is more important? sigh. some ancient religions were all about partying, and song and beer and sex. one of those would’ve been nice to be saddled with, instead of this puritan anti-intellectualism, as we attempt to emerge into modernity.

  • DA

    I’m angry at the cultural meme of God and how it retards our culture, so yeah, I guess saying I’m angry at God isn’t entirely off the mark.

    Chicago Dyke, I agree somewhat. Have you ever read God Against The Gods? Makes a really good case for the relative tolerance of polytheism in general although he admits some pagan rulers were asses about the whole thing.

  • heironymous

    Today’s Sentiments towards non-real beings:

    Bilbo Baggins – Moderately Happy
    Sauron – Irate
    Darth Vader – Warming
    Cthulu – Peeved
    Thor – Aggravated
    Jehovah – Annoyed

    Tune in tomorrow for attitudes towards Baal, Mephistopheles, Xenu and She-ra, the Warrior Princess.

    Sheesh – They’re all myths – fairy tales – fictional beings fabricated by man.

  • chris

    There is a link in the article to participate in the study, which I did. But I did not finish it. There was a lot of ‘if you don’t believe in a god, just imagine you do and then tell us if you are mad at it.’ I stopped 1/3 into it and told them that asking me to answer questions about how I felt in the past through the filter of how I currently feel just doesn’t work.

  • Kamaka

    Angry at god?

    Oh, please.

    This is just one more diversion to avoid answering that problematic question the atheists keep asking.

    Where’s the evidence?

  • Dan W

    I looked at the study, and the methodology seems pretty crappy to me. It’s an online, anonymous survey, and they don’t even bother to give a working definition of “god” that people may have been angry at. Is it the Christian god, something else, what? I agree with Lauren and other commenters, it’s a poorly done study.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    I don’t hate God, but when I read John Gardner’s Grendel in high school, I loved this line, which expressed the miserable monster Grendel’s contempt for having been born to be an outcast:

    “Why can’t these creatures discover a little dignity?” I ask the sky. The sky says nothing, predictably. I make a face, uplift a defiant middle finger, and give an obscene little kick. The sky ignores me, forever unimpressed. Him too I hate, the same as I hate these brainless budding trees, these brattling birds.

    Is that epic or what? FU for creating me as a despised creature!

    I’m sure the real life Elephant Man felt that way most of the time.

  • I think I can address this one. I took the liberty of e-mailing the principle author of the study and asking her for a copy of the study and for some of her thoughts. I just finished writing an article on this:
    Are atheists angry with God? –

    Even though I don’t believe in the devil, the devil is in the details, 😉

  • Hughes

    Personally, I’m still angry about Noah’s flood. I mean it was insensitive and quite unnecessary to kill almost all people, animals and plants. What did it achieve? Nada.

  • steve

    This is so timely…I was just thinking about why I get angry when things don’t work right or I hurt myself and I wanted to ask others here if they “were angry at the God image in their heads too”. I am an Atheist – but I find myself getting angry when little bad things happen to me – because I was raised to believe that God was behind everything. That little piece of software still operates at a semi-unconscious level. In other words, there is still a sub-personality in my head that feels like God is punishing me and I get angry at the non-existent SOB for causing me pain. Stupid – maybe, but I guess it’s part of being human. Being conscious of it now will help. Anyone else mad at the image of God implanted in their heads at a young age?

  • Matt

    Survey to all Christians:

    Would you ever kill another person? If not, just IMAGINE you are a murderer. NOW would you kill another person?

    Omg, all Christians are murderers!!!

  • I don’t know. I really don’t see a problem with the way that’s stated. Yes, some of us agnostics and atheists have had anger at a god in the past when we may have believed, and we certainly feel anger at the god which is being pushed on us without evidence. I think the “hypothetical image” is on point. When people describe their god to me, I get angry.

  • RJ

    I was never angry at any “god”. I just realized by the age of 10-11 that the stories I was told in Sunday school were obviously unsubstantiated bull shit since not one of the teachers or ministers there could support any of their claims without “faith”. From there science took over and the rest is history.

    Why would any rational person be angry with an imaginary being? Obviously that question answers itself because no rational thinking person would have an imaginary friend to begin with.

    That whole study seems flawed from begining to end. Only time I get angry about religion is when it’s pushed in my face or when they try to make one of their crazy beliefs a law. Fail!

  • numsix

    When I was in Grade 8 (1980) I believed in god, I was a catholic.
    My dad died after a five year brutal struggle with cancer that year. I was not angry with god. I went on to join church youth groups and other church activities.
    Then slowly I started to learn; and over time realized that this god stuff is the greatest story every told; you know, work of fiction.

  • East Coast Steve

    **Same as the previous Steve above — East Coast Steve so as not to confuse with other Steves – **

    RJ – haven’t you ever had a conversation in your head? If you look closely, you may realize that the dynamic of the internal dialogue is the same as that of talking to an imaginary friend – most “rational” people know that – but it doesn’t take much of a leap for a believer to think otherwise. In any case, since all normal people are both rational and emotional – it’s easy to see how even the most Spock-Like among us will still decieve ourselves…and if you think the theories about sub-personalities within all of us has any merit, then you could conclude we are all often talking with “imaginary” friends. I happen to agree with many Neuroscientists etc… that there is really no “self” inside our heads – so I’m stuck thinking there are both many selves and no self at the same time…kind of a Zen Koan.

    My point being – humans are complicated – most everything is a shade of gray and my projection is that we all have imaginary friends (or enemies), but we choose to call them “self”.

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