May 4, 2011

Review: Claudia L. Bushman, ed., "Pansy's History: The Autobiography of Margaret E. P. Gordon, 1866-1966"

Title: Pansy's History: The Autobiography of Margaret E. P. Gordon, 1866-1966
Editor: Claudia L. Bushman
Publisher: Utah State University Press
Genre: Autobiography
Year: 2011
Pages: 326, Genealogy, Chronology, Appendix, Index
ISBN13: 978-0-87421-784-1
Binding: Hardcover
Price: $34.95

"These are only memories & high lights 
& not a history with continuity, just pictures 
of the long ago, as they come to mind" (159). 

True to Mormonism's foundational book, the Book of Mormon, Claudia Lauper Bushman is a strong proponent of record keeping. Bushman's maternal grandmother, Margaret Gordon, used to visit and share stories of her exciting youth which the family urged her to write down. "[S]he said she regretted that she could not record [the stories] until she had a leather book...I felt sorry then that poor Grandmother never got the leather book she required" (xi). In 2002 Bushman was searching for a short life "Sketch" in Margaret's papers which had been donated to the library at Brigham Young University. Again, true to Mormonism's founding book, she relates her stunning discovery of lost writings:

But another item that I did find took my breath away, for there was Grandmother Gordon's autobiography, her "Family History." What is more—and very touching to me—a caramel-colored leather book held the manuscript, with the title "Family History" and her name, Margaret E.P. Gordon, stamped on it in gold (the E.P. stood for Elizabeth Pansy, her nickname)...I thumbed through the book, read some pages, and knew that I had discovered a treasure (xii).

Bushman and other family members went to work transcribing, proof-reading, collecting photographs and preparing the book for inclusion in Utah State University Press's "Life Writings of Frontier Women" series. Pansy began writing her "Family History" in 1928 at the age of sixty-two, and wrote intermittently for thirty-six years. She wrote about her hundred years of life, from her early childhood in Bingley, Yorkshire, England to her late life travels doing genealogy work in and around Southern California. In between these bookends she lived in colonizing villages in British Columbia and Ontario, Canada, growing Mormon settlements in Meadowville and Raymond, Utah, as well as Alberta.

With the care of a descendant and the precision of a trained historian, Bushman includes letters, diary excerpts, and other explanatory footnotes throughout her transcript of Pansy's history. These additional materials help contextualize the decisions of inclusion and exclusion Pansy made as she crafted a narrative to give her life meaning and encourage her descendants. (At times Bushman also relies on sources like Wikipedia or the Deseret News Almanac). The fact that Pansy had so many interesting experiences and was a talented writer also doesn't hurt. Her wedding and honeymoon account is quite wonderful, and it's a good representation of Pansy's often-romantic prose:

By 8 AM we [her and fiancĂ© Jim Gordon] were in the Temple, & in those days it took much longer to go through—so it was late afternoon when we emerged from those beautiful and sacred Portals Man & Wife—having thoroughly enjoyed the whole ceremony. We went to our hotel, had a good dinner, then started for home—Leisurely driving [in a wagon] out of town into the beautiful canyon through which flowed the rushing little river. By dusk we came to some beautiful natural Meadows—down by the river—Jim had planned we would camp there but had not told me—So he turned off the road & said here's where we would spend the night. He soon had a fine fire blazing, & our supper cooked. Then the horses taken care of, he made down our bed in the Wagon, having brought all necessary bedding—Then after a never to be forgotten visit till the stars came down ^out^, in a most beautiful spot imaginable, far from any other human beings, we spent our first night...A more romantic beautiful setting for a few hours Honeymoon it would be hard to find. Alone in a Mountain Meadow, sitting by a big camp fire—watching the summer stars come out—No sound for a background to our whispering, but the music of the rushing brook, the gentle soughing of the night wind through the trees & an occasional bird call—...Different, yes quite, from the usual—but we were different, Life [was] cast in a different mold for me from then on. Its compensations have outweighed its difficulties (116).

As this excerpt makes apparent, Pansy was keen to record vivid details—the sensuousness of life in sounds, sights, smells, tastes—something Bushman called my attention to in the book's preface (xiii). She remembers phosphorescence on a Canadian lake, canoeing by night, she recalls the morning frost on the blankets waking up in a wagon during a long journey, still tastes the berries picked in the woods with her parents as a child.

One of the most interesting elements of the narrative is Pansy's efforts to write over or through her tragedies and frustration while still including some of their details, sometimes inadvertently. Financial loss, stress and frustration, sorrow, mental instability and death all make appearances. "Big risks," Bushman notes in one of the several section introductions, "did not always pay off," (137) and Pansy's family was often plagued by financial difficulty as her husband struggled to make a living doing farm work and later surveying land. She managed to not mention particulars about how her own desire to be attractive and fashionable, as well as up-to-date with technologies like the telephone and electricity, added to the family's debt and financial stress (172). Bushman includes diary excerpts and family letters which give insight to these matters. Pansy's sorrows increased as some of her children left the Church. Her firstborn son Kenny disappointed her by marrying a non-Mormon but seemed to be reengaging with the church when he died in a tragic work accident, falling from "a high building in To[o]ele" (224). Throughout her recollections, perhaps as the result of not being contemporaneously recorded, Pansy paid much more attention to family matters while big world history events like World War I or II seldom receive much attention—only in connection with family, as when one of her sons joined the military (91, 183). There is plenty of humor too, like the story of the "China man cook" at a house where she boarded for school who would sneak her deliciously forbidden foods when her caretaker/teacher was away. "You no tell Miss Dodson" Pansy remembers him saying (53).

On a more personal note, I was surprised to find information in the book about a man named Joseph Venables Vernon. He was Pansy's grandfather. Back in 2007 I was still working on the original project which this blog was created for, long since abandoned. I was reading the Journal of Discourses and writing somewhat homiletic commentary on the text. I spent a day or two trying to discover information about a man named brother Vernon, whom Brigham Young praised because he had "lived his religion, kept the commandments of God, and minded his own business" (Journal of Discourses 3:255. Incidentally, a fair chunk of this discourse was included in the 1997 "Teachings of Presidents of the Church" lesson manual on Brigham Young). I tracked down a woman named Virginia Andrus, who provided me with a photograph of Vernon. Imagine my surprise when I saw that same picture staring back at me in this book! I quickly leafed back through the acknowledgements, and sure enough, Virginia Andrus is there. I was sad to discover the tragic circumstances of his conversion and later departure from the Church in Utah, which Bushman details in the notes (21-26).

Pansy herself was a convert to the Church, which she initially viewed with great disgust until visiting her Mormon relatives in Utah. Bushman pays very careful attention to Pansy's account of her conversion, noting a few discrepancies and demonstrating from other sources how Pansy re-remembered elements of her conversion, conflating the timing and the impressions received by her and her mother who converted about the same time. Bushman skillfully shows the power of time and reflection on memory (82-84).

Given Pansy's time frame it is interesting how little polygamy is mentioned, though Bushman provides information about the practice's decline under legal sanctions in Utah and beyond in the early 1900s. Pansy recalls her initial feelings abut Mormonism were tainted because "Brigham Young, who I was taught to think of as a wicked immoral man—& polygamy—kept coming to my mind." But she had such an impression to "Find out about Mormonism" that she asked her cousin Fewson to mail her some reading materials. Her and her mother were especially impressed by Orson Spencer's now forgotten Letters Exhibiting the Most Prominent Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Reply to the Rev. William Cromwell, A.M. Having overcome her initial objections to Mormonism she evidently carried a certain distaste for polygamy thereafter, as a Bushman footnote points to family lore about her rejection of a plural marriage proposal, to which she is supposed to have admonished the asker to "go to hell" (105).

Pansy's experiences before joining the Church gave her a rather expansive view of the gospel, and she never hesitated to perform Temple ordinances on behalf of people she admired and knew, but whom never joined the Church in life. She also notes instances where women gave each other blessings akin to what contemporary Mormons refer to as priesthood blessings. Zina Card, a daughter of earlier Church President Brigham Young, gave her a blessing in which she encouraged Pansy to have another child (148). A wonderful blessing of comfort "not in the authority of the Priesthood but in the simple faith of a good true Woman Saint" was given her by Mary Pickering (205). She told her the Lord loved her deeply and that God had "a great mission for me to perform, greater than anything I had ever done" (205-6).

This blessing evidently helped instigate Pansy's move to California where she would interweave moments of interaction with Church hierarchy, when a woman's proper role (her proper role) was discussed. Her great work involved learning and then teaching others about proper genealogical research and Temple work. She was asked by Alonzo Hinckley to head up genealogical efforts in California as an official church calling. She was especially impressed by the blessing and setting apart she received from Hinckley:

I bless you with full authority & Power to go into every District & Branch of this great Mission & organize & teach Genealogy & Temple Work (239). 

She was especially impressed that Hinckley, who was presiding over the California mission when he called Pansy, was now an apostle. This decision to put her in charge wasn't uncontroversial. Hinckley had received permission from apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, who wrote to him: "All things being equal we would have preferred a man, but as that seems impossible we give Sister Gordon our unequivocal approval" (239). Smith later gave her a personal blessing when she returned to Utah for a time to receive training at the Church's research department library, p. 233). Even still, others weren't so sure about this woman. One Brother Jones "told me he could not understand why the Church would put a woman in a Position of authority like that. It just wasn't in order" (240). Others expressed similar feelings until Hinckley stood before a congregation, paused in his remarks and walked over to stand beside Pansy who was seated on the stand. He "put his hand on my shoulder & said, 'This woman has been called—and given full Power & Authority to go into every branch of this Mission—to organize & teach Genealogy & Temple Work." She recalls that "the effect was electrifying...That was one of the most wonderful moments of ^my^ life" (241). Other "electrifying" moments are recorded after receiving or witnessing healing priesthood blessings, the miracles she dutifully recorded for future posterity (203, 245).

Obviously, Pansy's womanhood is apparent in instances other than discussions of Church authority. She was attuned to good fashion despite the financial hardships. A particularly funny recollection regards the old "night gowns of white cambric trimmed with embroidery. Such relics of antiquity my girls could not imagine And they were just the worst fitting most uncomfortable things, long sleeves & high necks. Just too bad for words, how ever I had to wear them—& they never seemed to wear out. I had some calico house dresses made up which were a little better, & petticoats, etc. Oh, I stocked myself up well" (113). Her insecurities shine through in letters Bushman added. "'Will he love me when I'm old' is the question I am now asking myself as I gaze in the glass at my rapidly increasing proportions & let out my dresses" she wrote to her husband in 1914 as he was away for work for long periods (178). She scolds him for being too glum, or for bad fashion, but tempers it with a self-deprecating sign-off, "Your no account wife, Pansy" (192-3). This same feistiness also shows through in some of the inter-Saint squabbling she recalls taking part in as she worked in various church genealogical libraries. Then-Stake President Legrand Richards promised her if she would "go on quietly, trying to overcome the ill will now will be blest & in time be given great responsibility in the Church" (237).

Vignettes like this pervade Pansy's entire narrative. At the center of it all is Pansy's nagging memory of a marriage proposal she passed up just before becoming engaged to Jim. Joseph Sharp of Salt Lake poured his heart out to her (Bushman includes the very personal letter in the footnotes, p. 106) but Jim was of "good sturdy Scotch blood" and she couldn't bring herself to break away from the rest of her family, then residing in Meadowville, to go get married in Salt Lake. She negotiated the struggle between desire and reality by understanding her life as the product of God's guidance:

[Joseph Sharp] would have been a good match for me—he had sheep & property—& a position in the city & I could have had a pleasant life. But I know for a certainty my Father over ruled my life, & I chose the path I was meant to tread—not a path of ease or even much material pleasure but my path, which was to lead me the way I was meant to go—So that chance to walk along a smoother way was passed up & I walked out onto the way destined for me, & I have no doubt. And so I passed up a fork in the road & stepped right on (107).

Admiring but not uncritical, Bushman's editing is both scholarly and elegant, adding even more life to Pansy's quite remarkable hundred years (1866-1966). This book takes us to Indian villages on sleigh rides and canoe trips, and to villages of Christian evangelizing, with the translation of hymns into indigenous languages and the problems of colonization. We experience early Utah schoolrooms, musical performances, fragrant meadows, and modes of travel from horseback to car rides on highways. "While as a child," Bushman concludes, "I didn't always appreciate my bossy grandmother, I have come to admire her indomitable zest and her brave artistry in turning her life into a triumph" (276).

Her admiration can be extended through us in Pansy's History, which parenthetically, is also physically well-crafted, bound, and designed. Bushman's useful appendix adds letters Pansy's father wrote to the Missionary society under which he was employed when the family first moved from England to British Columbia. A personal life sketch written by Pansy's husband Jim adds a few interesting details, and also echoes some of the things Pansy had noted, like his enjoyment serving as the Stirling ward choir leader, Pansy as choir organist (309, see Pansy's account on 140). The appendix closes with records Pansy kept of her travels doing genealogical research and training, which mention meetings she attended, places she went, and overviews of talks she gave.

There is something quite intimate about reading a personal account like this, it differs so significantly from a history book, but or course, is its own history book. I've left plenty of holes in this review which I hope you will be eager to fill in by checking out her story for yourself. I'm quite glad this lost book has come back to speak to us from the dust.

May 1, 2011

Review: Bernard Schweizer, "Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism"

Title: Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism
Author: Bernard Schweizer
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Genre: Religion
Year: 2010
Pages: 246
ISBN13: 978-0-19-975138-9
Binding: Hardcover
Price: $29.95

In the face of inexplicable and extreme personal suffering, the biblical Job refuses to turn on the God who gave him life: "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). His property and children are destroyed, his body is inflicted with sores. Job's wife appears and insists that Job ought to "curse God and die" (Job 2:9). She isn't given a name and she's never mentioned in the Bible again, but she's the prototypical adherent of what author and associate professor of English Bernard Schweizer calls "misotheism." She is "ready to curse God in open defiance and willing to be damned rather than acquiesce in divine caprice" (29). She believes in God yet denounces him. In his new book, Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism, Schweizer faces the double task of outlining the heretofore foggy category exemplified by Job's wife, and justifying its relevance to current views of God and faith. By demonstrating that misotheism exists (my spell-checker still says no), that it has an interesting history and typology, and that it is morally (rather than epistemologically or ontologically) grounded, Schweizer hopes to facilitate "an increased tolerance toward those believers who cannot bring themselves to worship God in the prescribed way" (23).

"Misotheism," in contrast with atheism, is not the rejection of the existence of God, it is the reaction of a believer to the problem of evil—directed toward God—on behalf of suffering humans. Miso (hate) + theos (God) = misotheism, which is manifest in anger and disappointment toward a deity who seems either incompetent, impotent, or encouraging toward evil. Simply put, it's difficult to reconcile the suffering people witness in the world with a God who is considered to be the all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving creator. Theologians have developed various answers to the problem of evil, but such attempts fall short for misotheists. As Schweizer explains:

"They are concerned with the conditions of human happiness and with the ultimate causes of suffering, and they cannot square their empirical knowledge about these matters with what they were taught to believe about God" (23). 
 "The misotheist is interested in the human ramifications of the problem of evil, and he puts priority on the human response to the seeming randomness of cruelty and pain in God's universe" (220). 

Schweizer is careful to note that the misotheists he discusses aren't static in their beliefs and attitudes toward God, nor are they so easily grouped together (224). Any time we take to putting people in boxes they tend to pop out when we aren't looking. Still, he divides them into two broad categories: the "Agonistic" and the "Absolute." Following a broad overview of the "history of Misotheism," Schweizer zooms in to explore these categories in six "case studies" of writers who couched their misotheism in literature—often but not always obscuring their personal animosity by putting it in the mouth of fictional characters. Algernon Swinburne, Zora Neale Hurston, Rebecca West, Elie Wiesel, Peter Shaffer, and Philip Pullman (who, much more than the others, might be surprised to be listed among misotheists as opposed to atheists or agnostics) each represent different manifestations of misotheism within Schweizer's overall framework.

"Agonistic Misotheism" includes people who "are struggling with the understanding that God is not entirely competent and good, while resenting the need to praise and worship him" (17). Elie Wiesel was a pious Jew raised in a Hasidic community in Romania before a horrific eleven-months' stay in multiple concentration camps during World War II. A decade after emerging from hell Wiesel penned Night, a memoir:

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night...Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever" (154). 

Rather than rejecting God's existence, he wanted answers from Him: "Although I know I will never defeat God, I still fight Him" (155). The paradox of a prayer of attack is difficult to account for, but Schweizer contextualizes it within a wider trend of Jewish protest theology (169-170).

Less comprehensible but just as interesting are the "Absolute Misotheists" who seem to "exult in the demise of deity" (18). Rather than lamenting, they happily slam the judges gavel without hope that God might pull things off for the better in the end. Algernon Swinburne's "Hymn of Man" treats God as a criminal on trial being judged and condemned by a jury of men:

By the dread wherewith life was astounded and shamed out of
      sense of its trust,
By the scourges of doubt and repentance that fell on the soul
      at thy nod,
Thou art judged, O judge, and the sentence is gone forth
      against thee, O God.
Thy slave that slept is awake; thy slave but slept for a span;
Yea, man thy slave shall unmake thee, who made thee lord
      over man (99).

Swinburne's innovative adaptation of biblical motifs is uncovered in Schweizer's careful literary analysis, for instance he notes Swinburne's skillful parody of Matthew 7:1 ("For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you," 99). It is particularly difficult to classify such writing as "misotheist," even most of Swinburne's contemporaries saw him as atheistic at best. But Schweizer points to one perceptive review which said "the strangest and most melancholy fact in these strange and melancholy poems is, not the absence of faith, but the presence of a faith which mocks at itself" (100). In Mormon parlance you might say these are people who "leave God, but can't leave God alone" (see p. 66).

The difficulty of placing any given believer in a particular misotheistic category is apparent as Schweizer compares various believers in sometimes dizzying ways. Discerning the difference between a person who really believes in but hates God and a person who wrestles with ideas about God without actually believing in him seems near-impossible. (One perceptive atheist who reviewed Schweizer's book believes the division actually isn't relevant anyway. Citing the so-called "Paradox of Fiction" he notes that people can have emotional responses to characters they know aren't real.)

While people will squabble about where (or whether) to draw the line, Schweizer finds a common thread tying the strugglers together: by operating within a religious framework, drawing on religious motifs, scriptures, and icons, misotheist writers have managed to testify of their belief even while protesting the substance of it. Because his analysis is so literature-centric, however, it misses out on non-print manifestations of misotheism. Think Woody Allen's quip, "If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. I think that the worst that you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever." Parenthetically, I was much more interested in Schweizer's literary analysis than his psychoanalysis, as when he employs a healthy dose of Freud to explain why certain misotheists' broken relationships with their fathers most likely led to their conflicted approach to God (105, for instance). He doesn't take any time justifying this psychoanalytic approach, but he spends a good deal of time justifying his biographication of the writers' fictional literature (see 104, 114-115, 124, 208, 223, 225). 

A few theological blunders or overstatements can be detected here and therein Schweizer's discussion. Two examples should suffice. First, he asserts that believers ought to know better than to try and make a bargain with God. Following Augustine's view of Providence, and certain Protestant views about predestination he concludes that "each individual's fate has already been decided prior to his birth" (183). This essentially labels all Christians as 5-point Calvinists with a heavy emphasis on "unconditional election." Second: Tony Watkins critiques Pullman's Dark Material series by noting that Christians don't claim a monopoly on morality and values but that they believe "morality only functions because it has an objective basis in the character of God, whether or not anybody believes in him" (204). Schweizer objects to Watkins on the grounds that Watkins presents a contradiction: Watkins can't consistently claim that morality can exist apart from religious belief and at the same time link morality explicitly to God, the object of religious belief. Regardless of whether I agree with Watkins's claim, Schweizer has overlooked the distinction that can be made between ontological and epistemic considerations. In other words, gasoline can make my car run regardless of whether I understand the actual process of fuel combustion, or whatever it's called (see?).

Schweizer's lengthy introduction (1-25) differentiates misotheism from multiple other approaches to God, including atheism, antitheism, gnosticism, agnosticism, and deicide, but he still misses a few possibilities. Think of the feeling expressed in novelist Julian Barnes's lament: “I don’t believe in God but I miss him,” for example. Of course, one book can only do so much, and Schweizer spends plenty of time contrasting misotheism with other manifestations of troubled relations between humans and their God. Speaking of which, why did Schweizer spend plenty of his time on this? 

It's inevitable with a book like this that readers will question the author's perspective, which he, oddly enough, doesn't directly address in the book. This is ironic considering how much time he spends talking about writers who masked their own misotheism. It might even be seen as a tantalizing invitation to investigate the author himself, but I'm not sure it was deliberate. Is he a misotheist? Elsewhere he says no (in the third person!): "Hating God is not written by a misotheist and it is not advocating misotheism" (Bernard Schweizer, "Hating God: The Untold Story,", 6 February 2011.) But by his own lights this is entirely contestable: "Thus, once again we can observe a degree of concealment and distancing when it comes to publicly avowing misotheism" (223). Again, is he? 

The strongest indication in the book that he might be a misotheist, or at least identify with them strongly, is found when he turns apologist for Robert Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy of children's books (see especially 205-207). The rhetorical advantage is clearly leveraged for Pullman, and to misotheists generally. It is clear that Schweizer is not out to reclaim or reform misotheists, but rather to make space for them, to offer a category as an alternative to the dichotomy of faithful believer or god-hating atheist. The underground nature of misotheistic output has led to little interaction and explication of the phenomenon. With an outline like Schweizer's we need not "reinvent the wheel every time this idea comes up." Misotheism will become more publicly relevant (Schweizer estimates there are six million American misotheists based on a recent sociological publication, see "Six Million God-Hating Americans Can't Be Wrong,", 18 February 2011). More pragmatically, it can "begin to spawn new ideas and lead to different spiritual and philosophical arguments that will contribute to making misotheism an evolving system of ideas rather than a static, reiterative position" (80).  "Process, development, critique, and invention" will follow in due order. 

Is this a feasible hope? "Schweizer’s insistence that his work is groundbreaking gets tiring," notes one reviewer for the Washington Post. Who might respond more positively to Schweizer’s insistence? Atheists might reject misotheists as fools who should just give up the act. Or they might give misotheists a warm welcome, happy to have more evidence against God's existence: even those who try to follow Him can't ultimately be satisfied with Him. If anything, atheists and doubters will welcome Schweizer's repeated point that those who doubt, struggle, or disbelieve are not by necessity evil or sinful; some of them base their feelings firmly on moral grounds (see p. 14). "In fact," he notes, "for many misotheists, love is precisely the centerpiece of their moral philosophy" (220). Based on the "master story-tellers, great thinkers, and dedicated humanitarians" Schweizer profiles in his book, "it would be reductive and unfair to condemn God's opponents as unworthy and in league with the devil" (217). At the same time, many of these readers who don't retain a feeling of desire for or allegiance to God might be confused or upset with Schweizer's assertion that atheists and agnostics, like misotheists, can also be just as "religious" as true believers (a topic for another whole essay, see pp. 206-207, 209, 211, etc.).  

On the other hand, misotheiets like Elie Wiesel would likely claim believers will almost certainly have a more difficult time with the book: "The tragedy of the believer is much greater than the tragedy of the non-believer," Wiesel noted (168). Ultimately, they might simply be turned off by the misotheistic critiques of God which range from the uncomfortable to the blasphemous, leaving misotheists without a welcome home among their ranks. If they believe in God they wouldn't feel that way, it might be suggested. I think there are deeper reasons why the book might be difficult for the faithful to read. First, it deprives the pious from easily dismissing those who struggle with their faith as simply being doubters, haters, or sinners. Schweizer's narrative includes deeply religious people facing real problems and seeking to maintain faith, even if that faith is antagonistic. Second, in the complexity that makes up our own religious life experiences it would be strange not to experience similar frustration with God at some point. Such feelings can be replaced through prayer, scripture study, or seeking solace in worship, but bringing the undercurrent of frustration to the surface seems awfully dangerous, though for some it may feel therapeutic. 

By grounding his discussion from the position of rationality and liberalism ('here, good reader, are proofs that misotheists can be good people, too, that they can be believers, and thus we see they need a spot at the table') Schweizer has shown his cards (217). Fundamentalists, it is expected, are not likely to embrace this kind of off-the-beaten-path religiosity. Nevertheless, the book might be most useful in providing a category for those who experience such feelings of frustration, it may give them a more constructive way to conceive of doubt, anger, or sorrow directed toward God without chalking their feelings up to religious apostasy or the loss of faith. 

To argue for the necessity of such a place, Schweizer points to Julia Duin's book Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do About It (2008). She notes that many people surveyed for the book "were disappointed and perplexed in some way with God" (216). Such people may not be satisfied by some of the common responses to their perplexity, like "things happen for a reason" (218). Misotheism provides a fruitful, and paradoxically faithful, avenue for people to struggle through, perhaps opening their eyes to help lift the burdens other people bear, to "mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort." Misotheism, Schweizer argues, "will continue to play a role in fiction and memoir as long as there are people who feel they have been harmed by God, either as individuals or as a community...[T]hose hostile to God—supposedly the fountainhead of all goodness—will continue to labor under the burden of making their paradoxical stance meaningful" (226). 

Of course, some Mormons might object that Mormonism offers a different view of God which can help circumvent some of the problems facing those who accept a God who created everything ex nihilo. I could only think of a few examples of Mormon misotheism (in Levi Peterson's novel The Backslider and Richard Dutcher's film Falling; more to come on these examples later), but I sensed a Mormon-esque possibility in a complaint from non-Mormon British journalist and novelist Rebecca West, one of Schweizer's featured agonistic misotheists:

"Indeed we should pray 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive thee thine.' For it seemed to us that there might be a divine plan that would excuse divinity. The agonies of this world might be the birthpangs of a dispensation that should be like the dawn after the dark night of this life. It might be that we were horses dragging the chariot uphill from the dark bog of disorder to the hilltop where there would be a temple full of worshipful and comprehensible gods and all things should be clear and happy. We were part of the plan. But a plan may be too cruel" (134, full quote from Bernard Schweizer, "God’s Cruel Plan: Where New Atheism Falls Short,", 10 February 2011).

Misotheism is a fruitful field of inquiry in religious studies because different manifestations are emerging depending largely on the social, religious, personal, and political circumstances of various believers (211, 217). Schweizer pays due attention to the modes of thought which influence misotheists, including feminism, Epicureanism, Greek mythology, anarchism, liberalism, humanism, Judaism, Christianity, and many more. In Hating God Schweizer's malleable typology of misotheism keeps the ball rolling, but also gives it some much-needed direction. 


Schweizer has been pretty active at promoting the book online: guest-blogging for CNN and Religious Dispatches, posting updates on his own website. In addition to his book and the informative wiki article (the talk page is quite amazing!), these links might be of interest: