reblogged from First Things

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 22.57.55

I’ve shaken my fist in anger at stalled cars, storm clouds, and incompetent meteorologists. I’ve even, on one terrible day that included a dead alternator, a blaring blaring tornado-warning siren, and a horrifically wrong weather forecast, cursed all three at once. I’ve fumed at furniture, cussed at crossing guards, and held a grudge against Gun Barrel City, Texas. I’ve been mad at just about anything you can imagine.

Except unicorns. I’ve never been angry at unicorns.

It’s unlikely you’ve ever been angry at unicorns either. We can become incensed by objects and creatures both animate and inanimate. We can even, in a limited sense, be bothered by the fanciful characters in books and dreams. But creatures like unicorns that don’t exist—that we truly believe not to exist—tend not to raise our ire. We certainly don’t blame the one-horned creatures for our problems.

The one social group that takes exception to this rule is atheists. They claim to believe that God does not exist and yet, according to empirical studies, tend to be the people most angry at him.

A new set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that atheists and agnostics report anger toward God either in the past or anger focused on a hypothetical image of what they imagine God must be like. Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University and the lead author of this recent study, has examined other data on this subject with identical results. Exline explains that her interest was first piqued when an early study of anger toward God revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward him than believers.

At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Reanalyses of a second dataset revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as “atheist/agnostic” or “none/unsure” reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation.

Exline notes that the findings raised questions of whether anger might actually affect belief in God’s existence, an idea consistent with social science’s previous clinical findings on “emotional atheism.”

Studies in traumatic events suggest a possible link between suffering, anger toward God, and doubts about God’s existence. According to Cook and Wimberly (1983), 33% of parents who suffered the death of a child reported doubts about God in the first year of bereavement. In another study, 90% of mothers who had given birth to a profoundly retarded child voiced doubts about the existence of God (Childs, 1985). Our survey research with undergraduates has focused directly on the association between anger at God and self-reported drops in belief (Exline et al., 2004). In the wake of a negative life event, anger toward God predicted decreased belief in God’s existence.

The most striking finding was that when Exline looked only at subjects who reported a drop in religious belief, their faith was least likely to recover if anger toward God was the cause of their loss of belief. In other words, anger toward God may not only lead people to atheism but give them a reason to cling to their disbelief.

I’ve argued elsewhere that, according to the Christian tradition, atheism is a form of self-imposed intellectual dysfunction, a lack of epistemic virtue, or—to borrow a term from my Catholic friends—a case of vincible ignorance.

Vincible ignorance is intentional suppression of knowledge that is within an individual’s control and for which he is responsible before God. In Romans, St. Paul is clear that atheism is a case of vincible ignorance: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Acknowledging the existence of God is just the beginning—we must also recognize several of his divine attributes. Atheists who deny this reality are, as St. Paul said, without excuse. They are vincibly ignorant.

Recognizing this fact, however, does not mean that the cause of this self-imposed dysfunction has been understood. While I firmly believe all forms of atheism are instances of both vincible ignorance and an obstinacy of will, I’ve sometimes mistakenly assumed it to be a purely intellectual failing—a matter of the head, not the heart. Only recently have I begun to appreciate how much the emotional response to pain and suffering can push a person to an atheistic worldview.

Most pastors and priests would find my epiphany to be both obvious and overdue. But I suspect I’m not the only amateur apologist who has been blinded to this truth. As a general rule, those of us engaged in Christian apologists tend to prefer the philosophical to the pastoral, the crisp structure of logical argument to the messiness of human emotion. We often favor the quick-witted response that dismisses the problem of evil rather than patient empathy, which consoles atheists that we too are perplexed by suffering.

Many atheists do, of course, proceed to their denial of God based solely on rational justifications. That is why evidentialist and philosophical approaches to apologetics will always be necessary. But I’m beginning to suspect that emotional atheism is far more common than many realize. We need a new apologetic approach that takes into account that the ordinary pain and sufferings of life leads more people away from God than a library full of anti-theist books. Focusing solely on the irate sputterings of the imperfectly intellectual New Atheists may blind us to the anger and suffering that is adding new nonbelievers to their ranks.

Joe Carter was the web editor of First Things.


Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Anger at God common, even among atheists
Julie Juola Exline and Alyce Martin, Anger Toward God: New Frontier in Forgiveness Research
Joe Carter, Do Tummy Aches Disprove God?

Categories: Atheism, God

31 replies

  1. Some good and valid sounding points there. There are, of course, many atheists who are not angry, militant or vociferous but who plainly don’t believe in a particular ideology. You don’t hear much from them because they’re simply not interested.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How can I hate someone I don’t believe in, who doesn’t exist? That many do is suggestive that in some hidden corner of the psyche, or the soul, a steady certainty that HE IS is present.


    • You can’t hate for that reason, I agree. “That many do…” doesn’t follow. Most don’t harbour any anger, you just don’t hear about those.
      Your conclusion about the hidden corner of the psyche can’t be drawn. The statement doesn’t follow.

      Many people have good reason to be angry with the organised religions.


  3. It would probably be more accurate to state that atheists have anger toward the portrayal of God and God’s behaviour in certain religious texts. The God of the Old Testament was vengeful and an argument could be made for cruel.

    An all-powerful God that has chosen to sit back and let us fight over the ‘right’ way to worship him, whilst permitting disease, war and poverty…. It is only right to call into question the morality of having the power to help people and yet not acting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. He has given you and me the duty to help those in need. He commanded us to love and to serve. To the extent that there is hunger, we have not done what is required. The earth shattering, cataclysmic fall of humanity resulted in disease and death and murder. Obeying his commands by all would reduce the impact of sin. He doesn’t sit back. Calling into question his morality doesn’t lead to anger, IMO. IT IS more personal than that. He will question us on that Day. He will ask us to account for the suffering we ignored. The thought of that reality angers a fallen human nature.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “He will question us on that Day.” Many born again Christians claim they will not be questioned and if I believe as they do I will not be questioned.
      According to them you are wrong. Any missionary out there ready to save this mislead “Followers” soul?


    • But i thought God only revealed himself to the Jews and it wasn’t until Jesus that the gentiles were called to faith. Wouldn’t that necessarily leave the vast majority of humanity without divine guidance?

      Liked by 1 person

    • You don’t really know what God thinks because you only have a book of short stories to refer to.


    • However i do respect what you say about needing to be a caring person by helping those who in need but you also said that it was because God commanded you to. So are you saying that is the only reason you do it?


    • God commands us to love him, knowing full well I cannot force myself to love anyone. So, how can he command love? The answer is simple but subtle. I can only love someone who is lovable. If I don’t find that God deserves my love, I cannot be forced into it.

      When I discover how much he loves me personally, I respond with gratitude and love for him and it pours out of me for others. His love is infinite. Tapping into the source of infinite, pure, Godly love is like tapping into oil wells, or Fort Knox, or the Library of Congress, but greater. I can gladly obey him.

      Sometimes he leads us into pain. Remember Job. When we come out the other side of that pain, we are purified, better reflecting the image of him who left us here. That’s his goal. To help us become more like him.

      “Gee, what did you do today?” “I suffered and became a tad more like Jesus.”


    • Christians, those bathed in the blood of Christ, are forgiven. An accounting for rewards is given upon their deaths. Non-believers will face God alone without God’s provision. That will be a day of terrible reckoning.

      The new testament is the full revelation of God’s redeeming work. The thief who was sorrowful for his life style was taken to paradise by Jesus the day he died.


    • “bathed in the blood of Christ” is that some kind of shampoo?

      Liked by 2 people

    • yes, much favoured by vampires


    • His blood sets the sinner free. Without the shedding of his blood, there is no remission of sin, as has been said. That fact is the key to salvation. His shed blood makes all the difference. As stated, Christianity is a bloody religion. He didn’t come here to rule over us in a traditional fashion, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom. And that he did when he bled and died.


    • How does human sacrifice set us free?


    • There is not much blood to bathe in from a crucified man.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Catholics prefer to drink it. More practical

      Liked by 1 person

    • “The thief who was sorrowful for his life style was taken to paradise by Jesus the day he died.”

      Nope. Jesus was dead in his grave. Remember?

      Liked by 1 person

    • I am not allowed to comment further, correct?


  5. It is interesting how Surah 1, the invoking and opening prayer, supplicates to not be of those on whom is anger. It literally says ghairil maghdubi ‘alayhim (on whom is anger).

    The verse does not literally say the anger of God, although, it is a reasonable assumption that it refers to God’s anger.

    However, Abdel Haleem says that we should not assume the verse is referring to God’s anger since the verse does not say that.

    It is interesting how the verse may also be referring to this anger on people like those mentioned in this article about a large number of atheists.

    Below is Abdel Haleem’s translation of Surah Al-Fatiha

    1:1 In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy!

    ‎1:2 Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds,

    ‎1:3 the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy,

    ‎1:4 Master of the Day of Judgement.

    ‎1:5 It is You we worship; it is You we ask for help.

    ‎1:6 Guide us to the straight path:

    ‎1:7 the path of those You have blessed, those who incur no anger and who have not gone astray.

    Liked by 1 person


    You said;


    July 25, 2016 • 7:57 am

    He has given you and me the duty to help those in need. He commanded us to love and to serve. To the extent that there is hunger, we have not done what is required. The earth shattering, cataclysmic fall of humanity resulted in disease and death and murder. Obeying his commands by all would reduce the impact of sin.

    I say;
    Apostle Paul of Tarsus says justification by faith alone. Believe in Jesus died for your sin and you are saved. Jesus said all God’s commands must be followed.

    Why do Christians eat pork then? Do not observe Sabbath, Do not take korsher, Do not pray like Jews etc, They Christians do not follow God commandments and why are you saying “Obeying his commands by all would reduce the impact of sin” but you do not follow Gods command Mr. Followers?

    That type of deception by Christian missionaries is not accepted here.



  7. Then He told them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. That is why I told you that you would die in your sins. For unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.”


  8. “Abraham was overjoyed to see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Jews said you aren’t 50 and you’ve seen Abe? “Truly, truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”


  9. I don’t cut and paste. You said it was unlikely Jesus said the words attributed to him. The next quote I referenced, the one to which you commented to keep on topic, was in response to your previous comment.



    You said;

    The new testament is the full revelation of God’s redeeming work. The thief who was sorrowful for his life style was taken to paradise by Jesus the day he died.

    I say;
    How about the victims of the thief? who are not Christians? Christians keep asking us about the victims of a thief who was forgiven in Islam through Allah’s mercy because the thief sincerely repented and was sorrowful for his life style.

    PAULUS, D etc. ask the victims of this thief who was forgiven by Jesus and they will tell you they never get justice.




    The murder of a priest and the wounding of one of his parishioners in Normandy was an act of terrorism carried out by two followers of Islamic State, the French president, François Hollande, has said.




      The follow what Jesus said;

      Luke 19:27

      New International Version
      But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them–bring them here and kill them in front of me.'”

      New Living Translation
      And as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be their king–bring them in and execute them right here in front of me.'”

      Christians will kill Muslims, Jews, Mormons, etc. and they kill themselves i.e. Catholics, Protestants, Blacks, Police, Abortion Clinics, Bomb Mosques, Kill Sikhs etc.

      The Christians will vote for Bush and Blair to invade Muslim countries and destroy everything with drones and create vacuum for Isis. Now the Christians support Donald, Trump, Ben Carson, Newt Gingritch etc. because they insult Muslims, Hispanics, Blacks, Women, Handicapped etc.

      Fortunately, from the beginning, some good Muslims, Christians, Jews, Atheists, Hindus and all good people from all walk of like usually come together and beat these stupid religious fanatics and the history has recorded it. Donald Trump and his supporters will lose InshaAllah. He is not even a committed religious person but White Evangelical Christians are voting for him because he claims he hates Muslims but he is fooling them because his business partners are Muslims.

      He tells the Christians what they want to hear like Nabeel is doing to get what they want from them.


      Along with the religious consequences of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation came deep and lasting political changes. Northern Europe’s new religious and political freedoms came at a great cost, with decades of rebellions, wars and bloody persecutions. The Thirty Years’ War alone may have cost Germany 40 percent of its population.


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