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Are Atheists Angry at God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Anger Are Atheists Angry at God?An interesting article published on CNN’s site the other day claims that many people are angry at God, even atheists and agnostics.  The article, entitled, “Anger at God common, even among atheists,” raises a lot of interesting questions.  Who gets angry at God and for what reasons?  According to the article, “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 continues, “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.”

Why do people get angry at God?

Anger at God can strongly resemble feelings you may have against another person, Exline found. God may seem treacherous or cruel when bad things happen, just like another individual might. Your anger may fester even more when there’s no good reason for the negative event, such as a natural disaster or a disease, to occur. And strong, longstanding negative emotions of any kind can lead to physical ailments.

Is being angry at God bad for you?

Moreover, distress at God is associated with mental health symptoms. Exline and colleagues found that among cancer survivors interviewed once and then again a year later, those who were angry at God at both points in time had the poorest mental and physical health. But the study cannot prove whether anger at God made them feel worse or that feeling worse made them more angry at God.

One other fascinating tidbit from the article: “In studies on college students, atheists and agnostics reported more anger at God during their lifetimes than believers. A separate study also found this pattern among bereaved individuals.”

These findings about atheists and agnostics are not surprising to Christian apologists, who speak with atheists and agnostics regularly.  Many atheists are deeply bitter and angry toward God.  I have been shocked sometimes by the ferocity with which they attack religious beliefs.  There is almost a sense that they have been betrayed by a loved one.

This has always startled me, as my experience with God has been completely the opposite.  I have never been inclined to blame God when bad things happen, and I count myself fortunate for feeling that way.  As we Christians  seek to build relationships with atheists, we need to be aware of this psychological dimension of anger behind some of their statements and try not to become angry ourselves.  Our anger will only stop the relationship from forming, just as atheist anger drives them away from God.


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Comments

  • Jim laCroix

    Hi Bill, I have always struggled with anger toward God, primarily because i was always taught and understood that He was responsible either directly or passively for anything and everything bad that happened in my life.
    Even as a believer for over 30 years I’ve just recently gone through a time of hostility toward God when circumstances contradicted the very nature and Word of God. Unfortunately I think most believers can’t handle or express their anger toward God and either deny it, or suppress it. Then they get depressed or anxious and turn to psychiatry and really get led astray.
    If the hostility so common toward God is caused by our conception that He allows or is responsible in some way for all the tragedies of this life, how do we overcome that anger or that conception? I think the most common answer would be that God has some hidden good purpose for our tragedies and suffering. Rom 8:28 and all. And I have to believe that that might be part of the answer sometime. I also believe that answer is probably the most common way Christians suppress their anger and cover up their disbelief. They convince their mind but not their heart. I am deeply empathetic for the believer who cannot understand how their loving Father has allowed such severe suffering and tragedy to destroy their lives
    But is it possible that another answer might be that He is not necessarily responsible in any way for all the tragedies of this life?Some-maybe: but not all. Would that be a valid approach to take with atheist and believers alike? Can’t we tell the angry atheist and depressed believer that every good and perfect gift to men comes from the Father above. And that no matter what tragedy or loss may come upon us here, God has insured that that it will last no longer than this lifetime and that only His Glory awaits those that will believe in Him.
    Bill, you said you were startled at the fierce anger of atheists and that you are not inclined to blame God when bad things happen… That startles me! I But maybe it shouldn’t. I wonder if sometime our anger toward God is initially just an angry dislike from a wiicked heart toward a just Creator. Then when suffering comes along we feed our anger by blaming God for anything we can come up with.But if we blame Him for stuff just to make us feel justified , I wonder how much of the stuff we blame Him for is even from Him anyway.

  • Boz

    Are Christians Angry at Quetzacoatl?

    hahaha! How silly. :p

  • Todd Pratt

    After a long attempt to find this article along with many other folks skeptical of its findings, I cannot (reference below). I’ve seen posts everywhere from CNN to local blogs that expound on its findings, but I cant find a reference in the JPSP or anywhere on the APA website to validate the facts. Did you read the article? If so, can you link to it, or provide a method of retrieving it? I find it difficult to believe that a true atheist would be angry at god anymore than they would be angry at a garden gnome. I would enjoy a talk about the implications of atheists being angry at god, but I prefer to see how these conclusions were reached before I commented.

    Missing Source:
    Exline, J. J., Park, C. L., Smyth, J. M., & Carey, M. P. (in press). Anger toward God: Social-cognitive predictors, prevalence, and links with adjustment to bereavement and cancer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

  • Bill Pratt

    Todd,
    I read the CNN article only.

  • MarkR

    As a Christian and as an Adult Child of an Alcoholic articles like this seem alien to me. I state that because people who were NOT brought up in Christian households and did not have honoring relationships with their families are not easily categorized by either this article or by Christian’s in general. I have been a Christian going on 30 years and I know GOD is not responsible for the environment I was raised in- that being said I STILL struggle emotionally with anger at God. Why? Well on an intellectual level I understand but my emotions were so raw from that terrible life growing up being surrounded by alcoholics and drug abusers and shame based abusers of children that it is a hallmark of my family legacy. A father who was not home on Friday nights usually because he blew his money at the track and literally hated himself and his children was not exactly a way to see God as a loving parent- not too many Christains who relate to that kind of relationship with thier earthly fathers (or at least admit it). God saved me in 1981 and I came kicking and screaming into the Kingdom (sort of like others not brought up in Christian environments) and its been a 30 year growth process in which the grace of God has slowly changed much of that view. Still its a struggle and when other Christians bring up this subject about anger with God I still feel strangely unique in their presence and state that YES I have struggled and continue to at times to struggle with this issue. I guess my point is is that their are many believers who not only came from non Christian families but many who were from mentally, emotionally and sexually abused environments and the easy answer of “No of course I never feel angry at God as I am a believer” is a little to cut and dried. My sanctification is very much a process.

  • MarkR

    As far as what Todd said- my answer in my experience is that few of the atheists I know are REALLY atheists. My experience is that they like all created beings in the image of God know intuitively there is a God. I have an atheistic brotherin law who is a teacher- a geology teacher and is brilliant. Yet when it comes to Christianity he is antagonistic. My thoughts always were “If he doesnt believe in God whats all the anger about?” Finally it dawned on me- he is suppressing the truth as Romans 1 states and that creates much distress in a created being. When I say REALLY atheists I mean deep within they know. Atheism is affirmation of a negative and one would have to be a god to know. That being said the frail human condition would always be on guard for the possibility of the fact I (the atheist) am not all knowing and cannot make such a sweeping generalization of there is no God. So the tension is great. I think of them as angry agnostics who are hoping they are right. Just my 2 cents.

  • SteveJ

    @Mark R. My thoughts always were “If he doesnt believe in God whats all the anger about?”

    Maybe because traditional Christianity teaches that if he disbelieves the faith, he will burn in a lake of fire for all eternity. People resent that sort of thing. They’re funny that way.

  • Dan

    I want to start off by saying that not all forms of Atheism are the same. There are quite a few religions that have no personal deities (eg. Buddhism). So I think we should narrow down the term “atheism” to those who grew up around religion, but later rejecting it due to personal beliefs. Some people are very quiet with their atheism, while others are rabid. What makes those atheists rabid? I believe it is a). their contempt towards the social and cultural manifestations of religious groups and b). their own idea of moral or intellectual enlightenment by rejecting the logic of a God, thereby permitting them to live life without any fear of divine judgment, as they believe none exists. I guess there are more factors, but I want to focus on these ones.

    Everyone has a belief, even to not believe in the idea of belief is a belief itself. Atheists reject religion, but adhere to their own personal dogma. Extreme atheism is not a religion, but it is still dogmatic, for the most part. And we can clearly can see their dogma manifest itself in many ways. Supreme court cases to remove prayers, oaths to God, and the like? It’s been done. They feel they have some personal obligation to remove God, faith, as if they existed… But to an atheist, they shouldn’t. That is the irony of extreme atheism. I don’t need to explain it further than that. It is not unlike iconoclasms and religious conflicts that have happened ages past. For some reason, it is most prevalent in North America and parts of Europe. The rest of the world don’t seem to care. It is clear that they have some personal vendetta against God… Even though they deny the existence of God. They hate religion, they hate prayer, they hate divine judgment, they hate everything which supposedly stems from the belief in God, so they try to remove belief, starting from the public level. Lenin and other commie friends tried to do this not too long ago. Look at what happened. They believe religion is the source of all bad in this world. I guess they didn’t like waking up early on Sundays.

    The next group of atheists are the so-called “logical” types- they don’t believe in God out of rationality, not out of hatred. They think that they can live life with less burden on their shoulders, and that morality is subjective, every concept of what’s right is an illusion, and that everything can be explained through nature. You could call them natural materialists or material naturalists. Some of them are extreme atheists. Most are balanced. They truly believe that the world is devoid of any spiritual meaning and that we impose ideas upon the world. They like to stick around ‘evolution’ as the holy grail of human genesis- we are nothing but a byproduct of nature’s events. They stick to science to get answers about this world instead of through the bible. They believe that belief in God arises out of superstition, and we are prone to superstition, but not believing in that makes us more enlightened. But they have a lot of questions to answer with their beliefs. The strongest type of this atheist is the true skeptic- they believe that attaining truth is impossible, it can only be approached. As such, even science, to them, is not the ultimate truth, but they use it because it holds better than religious belief.

    The last type is the spiritual atheist… Close to an agnostic. They may not believe in a personal God, but they believe that spirituality pervades the universe, and our everyday life. There is no moral objective in this world, no heaven or hell, but we are able to rise above material illusion into enlightenment- There are many philosophies, old and new, which follow this principle, like Buddhism, some having the concept of God, or at least a Nous (intellect). I feel these atheists are the least of our concern because they are happier with their lives and don’t feel the need to prove a point by being loud about their non-belief in God. Whereas the the previous two tend to be very clingy to their material existence and experiences…

    In conclusion, I feel that many atheists of today have some sort of anger, or frustration with their spirituality, but deny it all together because they think that their reasoning triumphs the belief in God. Unfortunately, people are not taught philosophy in school, mainly because they are too young, and thus retain their child-like mentality about personal belief. This concerns both atheists and theists alike. But there are many logical theists and atheists who are willing to debate over the existence of God- and they don’t use the bible or science to back up their claims. But with what I notice about atheists, it is very ironic how they will defend their dogma nervously in order to maintain their appearance of being rational.

  • MarkR

    Yea Steve that’s called repressing the truth. Thats the funny thing about truth claims- they in one way or another lead to a fork in the road- if something is true the consequence isnt always pleasant. Before I became a Christian I cannot really recall a worry about hell so much as comparing myself to the next guy and trying to be smarter or appear smarter and more sure of myself than him-because I didnt believe in God hell really wasnt a worry. I really find most people are very disturbed about hell and find it distasteful and yet can so easily in thought and word castigate people to that “pseudo” place. The reason I know hell exists is because of my fallen nature which has a sinful pre-disposition that is hellish . My relationship with God and the Holy Spirit which He has given me are my only (AND I SAY ONLY VERY GRATEFULLY!) consolation.–I know when Jesus said He was the Way the Truth and the Life that is an off putting statement to those who demand their own way- it was for me- but that truth has set me free.

  • SteveJ

    Suppressing the truth? You make it sound as if hell is self-evident, as if it’s written in the skies somewhere.

    Your belief in endless torments is reprehensible, not because of a stubborn suppression of the truth, but because it’s enormously unjust. A human life span with some sin in it merits endless ages of torture in a lake of fire??

    If anyone is suppressing the truth it’s the person who says, “God is love,” “his mercies endure forever,” “love your enemies,” “be imitators of God” … and then follows up with “God will torment unbelievers for all eternity.”

  • MarkR

    You have a problem with what God says- what can I say- I am not responsible for your anger. Good luck.

  • SteveJ

    What proof exists that God said such a thing? Zero.

    I realize that it’s taken for granted within the bubble you inhabit. But that doesn’t make it so.

  • UnderINK

    You have to believe in God to be angry at it. I always felt silly reading the Bible and trying to pretend it was serious. I would stand up at six years old and point out logical discrepencies in the text that both impressed and frustrated the pastor. That being said, I was always an atheist. I first called myself one at 8, but I’ve never believed in God to any degree whatsoever. it’s probably the AS making me hyper logical. but who canlt feel silly reading a book that says dragons exist? Unless, like most Christians, you’ve never read the Bible. That being said, the Bible is an atheists greatest tool. The more you read it, the sillier it becomes. It’s one of our greatest recruiting tools.

  • TOS100

    As an Atheist, I have to say that it is rather impossible for me to be angry at something in which I do not believe.

    If I have any anger at all, it’s with the people who want to preach to me. They constantly tell me that I’m going to hell, the end of the world is coming, or some other sentiment of fear that is rather annoying. I don’t fear these things because, in case you didn’t notice, I do not believe in these things.

    See, these things are not real, which is why they require belief and faith.

    But even worse, I’m angry at the Christians who are working diligently to destroy science, education, and our freedoms. They want a world where everyone is exactly like them.

    My message to them:

    * If you don’t want an abortion, then don’t get one.
    * If you believe it’s wrong to purchase alcohol on Sunday, then don’t do it.
    * If you don’t “believe” in scientific theories or methods, that’s fine. A “theory” in science is not a “guess.” I want the benefits of science in my life. Don’t take that away from me.
    * If you don’t like “swear words” in your entertainment, then do not consume it.
    * If you are worried about what your children are doing, then stop demand that the world be child-proofed and BE A PARENT!

    And finally, if you have any wacky beliefs, please keep them to yourself so that I can stop refuting your bull and get on with other more interesting things.

  • http://alabamatheist.blogspot.com/ Tim D.

    Just my two cents:

    As an agnostic non-theist, I cannot say I am “angry at god.” I don’t rightly believe in the traditional concept of a literal god; therefore, to say that I am “angry” at such a god would be akin to saying that I am “angry” at Morgan Freeman’s character in Bruce Almighty, or at YHWH or Yehova from Shin Megami Tensei — even if I did have a problem with the idea of such a person, that in itself wouldn’t constitute genuine “anger” at him/it. Anger implies a desire to change; I may think YHWH and Yehova make good villains for a game series, but that doesn’t mean I want to change them — if I did, they wouldn’t be as compelling or interesting to me, and I might enjoy their characters less.

    I can, however, say that I do feel some anger towards people who claim to speak for, or understand the mind of, god. That is the most supreme form of arrogance, so great that I cannot find the words to describe the headache it gives me to think that someone would actually believe they can speak for (or know the mind of) such a being, should it turn out that he/it actually does exist. I don’t trust books written by imperfect men, whether or not they claim to be inspired by god (anyone can claim that), and I trust the men who defer to such books even less than the books themselves.

  • Harvard Q Keck

    19May2011
    – – – It makes no sense to be angry at something that does not exist. The writer of the above article can’t get past the basic starting point: First, back up your claim with evidence that such a thing exists. Without this evidence, the rest is zero, nothing, a waste of time and energy….

  • Ian A

    I listened to a talk by John Harris, who is a Christian apologist and a professor of mathematics at Oxford. He was giving a lecture to a group of Russians after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he explained that many scientists have been religious such as Pasteur, Maxwell etc. He noticed his audience was getting angry and so he asked them why. One of them said that they were angry because they did not realise how many scientists were religious, and stated that they were told that people were religious in the West even though they knew it wasn’t true! A main plank of John Harris’ argument is that scientists are arguing over the way a car such as a Ford works, but religious people are looking at the designer of a particular make of car i.e. Henry Ford himself.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Ian A, if the designer is unknowable, how does one scientifically perform the task of ‘looking at the designer’.

    Sure, there are theist scientists, but they have to compartmentalise their job and their faith. Biologist theists are forced to face the evidence, and hence in the vast majority of cases they are not creationist theists. And so on.

  • Ian A

    Someone put it this way in looking for the designer in an analogy of a cruise ship. God has created the cruise ship and we are the passengers. Jesus is the captain and the Holy Spirit are the stewards. In other words the work of God is everywhere around and it is silly trying to scientifically prove the existence of the cruise ship.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “In other words the work of God is everywhere around and it is silly trying to scientifically prove the existence of the cruise ship.”

    …and therefore it is equally silly to even claim there is a cruise ship in the first place.

    Your problem is that if you are claiming that EVERYTHING is designed and made by God, then it becomes impossible to ‘test for design’. You can’t use Paley’s analogy of a watch in a desert (or cruise ship in the sea) being obviously designed when compared to the rocks around it, because you’re also claiming the rocks, sand and everything else around the watch were equally designed.

    If we were going to go with your analogy of Jesus being the captain, we’ve got a ship that gives every indication of not being captained at all, whose course is entirely consistent with a vehicle moving in the ocean at the random whims of the weather and waves. And yet some passengers insist that there’s an invisible captain controlling the vehicle, who has a plan that we cannot fathom, but whose course for the ship is indistinguishable from randomness.

  • Ian A

    It is the lack of randomness that bothers me. For example the appearances of Our Lady of Fatima. There are an awful lot of appearances on the 13th of Fatima, at :http://www.catholic.net/index.php?option=dedestaca&id=6326

    and the talk by Craig Keener on modern miracles at http://apologetics315.blogspot.com/2011/04/question-of-miracles-interview-with.html#comments
    At one point he mentions some Baptists are praying for a guy in a coma, and at the time that they are praying not only he but a number of other people come out of a coma at the same time. That shouldn’t be happening.

  • DonS

    Another raging atheist, Steve?

  • Andrew Ryan

    You’ve got a strange definition of ‘raging’, Don.

  • Donny

    How can an Atheist possibly be angry at an entity they believe doesn’t exist?
    IMO, if one is angry with God, they cannot be an Atheist. They would be an angry or disappointed believer, no?

  • Donny

    Jim laCroix…
    If I may?…IMO, if you believe you’re angry with God, just try on that you’re REALLY angry with yourself.
    By making God responsible for anything, good or bad, you automatically become irresponsible.
    However, take great care that you don’t confuse responsibility with blame or fault.
    Last…I humbly suggest you vow to be kinder to yourself.

  • Donny

    SteveJ…
    Right on! That’s why I’ve suggested that many believers, of most organized religions, are there because they are insecure and fear going to some made up hell or purgatory if they disbelieve in their version of God.
    And many priests or pastors truly believe the threat of damnation is them doing God’s work.
    Last..the bible’s a wonderful (full-of-wonder) book. But written by men, some loving and some fearful and angry.
    No offense to believers, btw.
    Namaste

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