There is a term which I think should be more widely used and understood. That term is misotheism which means “hatred of the gods” (or God).
An example of a character who is a misotheist would be the “atheist” professor in the recent film God’s Not Dead (played by Kevin Sorbo). Sorbo’s character doesn’t have many good arguments against belief in the Christian God, mostly appeals to authority. The story does reveal that he has a deep antipathy towards God because he blames him for the death of his mother when he was a child. At the end of the film viewers see Sorbo’s character renounce his atheism and embrace Christianity moments before dying. This sort of abrupt conversion would obviously be problematic for an atheist who was truly convinced in their skepticism, but is definitely less of a problem for a character whose “atheism” is depicted as a smokescreen for his emotional problems with a god he clearly does believe in. A classic example of a misotheistic character would be Satan from Paradise Lost. That character is unable to have any doubts about God’s existence yet he still hates God and actively works to overthrow his plans.
A misotheist is a person who truly hates God. For them, there is no question about the existence of a divine being (speaking here of monotheistic misotheists, not pagans) but rather the question is how they relate to this divine being. Instead of responding with love, adoration, and worship they respond with indignation, anger and outright hatred towards that being and everything which it (in their mind) represents.
Atheists are NOT misotheists
Something I’ve noticed is that in debates and discussions between Christians and atheists, the Christian will often (not always) assume that their opponent really does believe in god but is choosing to “suppress” or deny that they do. In other words, many sincere Christian believers think that most atheists are actually misotheists and not true atheists. This can be quite frustrating for the atheists that they talk to. How can you convince someone you are telling the truth concerning a basic fact about yourself? Can you imagine an atheist saying “I don’t think you really believe in your God, you just pretend to so that you can feel better!” Obviously, most Christians would feel quite insulted if they were told that their sincerely held beliefs were really just a game of make-believe. An atheist is going to have a similar response when their genuine state of doubt and skepticism gets reinterpreted as merely an emotional state of mind, a sort of psychological bubble-wrap over their true, god-hating, beliefs.
What makes this common misunderstanding of atheists even more problematic is that for many ex-Christian atheists, they spent a period of time (whether weeks, months or years) trying to earnestly believe, trying to “get back” to the place they once were in their faith. When this simply becomes impossible for them it is frustrating to hear that they just need to “let go” of their doubts and negative feelings about God and suddenly their former faith will make sense. I’ve really latched onto the image of a broken bridge to explain how those of us who sometimes want to come back to Christianity feel (click here to read more about that).
Misotheism vs …?
So, while misotheism may not be useful in explaining how most atheists relate to god, is there some kernel of truth to the idea that ‘atheists hate God and religion’? It is quite possible for atheists to have strong negative feelings about their former religion or even about a religion which they never participated in. Sometimes those passions get translated into words which explicitly condemn the god of that religion. Thus, a former Jehovah’s Witness may say that they despise the character of Jehovah who they also now disbelieve in. They despise the control which that former belief system had over their life and their decisions. They despise what they now see as an abusive, manipulative belief system (not all former JW’s have such strong negative feelings, but that’s an easy example and it doesn’t take much digging to uncover the very real harm caused by their beliefs about blood transfusions).
An ex-Muslim likewise might come across to Muslims as “hating Allah”, because they are willing to speak out against what they see as cruel and primitive within Islam. When “Allah” is described in the Quran or the Hadiths as the one commanding cruel and misogynistic things, then it makes sense for people to condemn that “Allah” (ie, that human idea of Allah/God) as cruel and misogynistic.
Simply having strong negative feelings does not mean that the person criticizing their former beliefs actually feels as though they are in a relationship (even a combative one) with their former deity. What it means is that they are wrestling with their past. It means that they are calling out ideas and behaviors which they have now rejected. To deny that there is any emotional component here seems foolish. We are all emotional beings and we make decisions about what to criticize and what to ignore all of the time. An ex-Muslim obviously knows much more about and has a much more intimate knowledge of Islam, so it makes sense for them to blog about and speak against that religion. An ex-Christian, likewise, knows about the Bible and the Christian god. This doesn’t mean that an ex-Christian can never criticize Scientology or Buddhism, but it does help to explain why so many atheists in America choose to focus their limited time and attention on debunking the Christian god and the Bible (the fact that most Americans still believe in that god also helps to explain the criticism, since Bible-believing Christians currently wield much more political and social power than Buddhists or Muslims in America).