Anger at God common, even among atheists
January 1st, 2011
12:15 AM ET

Anger at God common, even among atheists

If you're angry at your doctor, your boss, your relative or your spouse, you can probably sit down and have a productive conversation about it. God, on the other hand, is probably not available to chat.

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. A separate study also found this pattern among bereaved individuals. This phenomenon is something Exline and colleagues will explore more in future research, which is open to more participants.

It seems that more religious people are less likely to feel angry at God and more likely to see his intentions as well-meaning, Exline's research found.

And younger people tend to be angrier at God than older people, Exline said. She says some of the reasons she's seen people the angriest at God include rejection from preferred colleges and sports injuries preventing high schoolers from competing.

The age difference may have to do with cultural norms, she said. Perhaps previous generations were taught to not question God, whereas younger people today don't have any qualms about it. On the other hand, it might be that as people get older, they learn how to handle these types of feelings better.

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.

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.

Just like with people in your life, you can respect and feel anger toward God at the same time. And you can move toward forgiveness by reframing the way you view the negative event: Perhaps God was not responsible for it or that he acted in that way for a reason.

"When people trust that God cares about them and has positive intentions toward them, even if they can’t understand what those intentions or meanings are, it tends to help to resolve anger," she said.

Granted, these studies aren't definitive; they are steps forward in this emerging field of inquiry and not the final word on the subject.

But we see it in the real world, too. Jeff Crim listens to people's anger at God all the time - specifically, people who are dying. He's a chaplain and bereavement coordinator North Star Hospice in Calhoun, Georgia, and has found that it's important to find a way to express your anger at God in order to deal with it.

Expressing anger can be cathartic, and help you move on, but how you do it is deeply personal, Crim said. Crim himself will speak aloud to God, but others find solace in a trusted spiritual leader or other person to confide in about their anger at a higher power.

"What they need is a safe place to express their anger, to know that their anger has been heard and listened to," he said.

soundoff (1,107 Responses)
  1. Lee

    If you are angry at God, you do not know Him, read the bible & Understand God, then you will know that this world is temporary, & the eternal soul will last much longer. Be happy with this earthly world, it is only a test.

    October 5, 2015 at 01:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Xenomorpheus

      Truth be told, why would I be angry at something I don't even think about? Would be like asking a Sports fan why he/she hates chess . . . why would they? Just because you have nothing to do with it doesn't necessarily mean you hate it. It means it has no interest to you . . . Christianity, like all other religions, has no interest to an atheist because they have no reason to accept what any of them state as true based on the lack of evidence.

      October 5, 2015 at 08:42 | Report abuse |
    • WicasaWakan

      It's obvious YOU don't know the actual bible. "If you are angry at God, you do not know Him, read the bible & Understand God"??? REALLY? You are clearly deluded. Typical of a Christian to pick and choose what they want to believe from biblical writings. FFS grow up.

      October 5, 2015 at 10:12 | Report abuse |
    • Haluk

      "If you are angry at God, you do not know Him,"...this is a very simplistic statement...you tell people to read the Bible and understand but it is obvious that you have not read the whole thing...in fact, the Bible is full of people (example: Job) who are angry at God at one point in time in their lives...we are human and God understands that...He is big enough to handle our anger and disappointments...the key to this whole thing is not "not to be angry at God" but express that anger genuinely to God, confess it and seek the healing that comes from him...

      October 5, 2015 at 02:07 | Report abuse |
    • jero

      news flash bro, there is no eternal soul

      you body and the whole you is soul itself

      Question, do you believe that when you die, your "Soul" separates and goes somewhere? like hell or heaven?

      Do you believe in the Resurrection?

      John 5:25-29 New World Translation
      25 “Most truly I say to you, the hour is coming, and it is now, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who have paid attention will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself,*+ so he has granted also to the Son to have life in himself.+ 27 And he has given him authority to do judging,+ because he is the Son of man.+ 28 Do not be amazed at this, for the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice+ 29 and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, and those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.+

      Where will this resurrection take place? Most people will be resurrected here on Earth

      Remember that Criminal who was beside Jesus when they were hanged on the stake?

      Luke 23:42, 43 New World Translation
      42 Then he said: “Jesus, remember me when you get into your Kingdom.” 43 And he said to him: “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.

      Is Paradise the same as Heaven?

      October 5, 2015 at 04:16 | Report abuse |
  2. Ken

    First off.. I would find it hard to believe that an atheist or someone who is agnostic being angry at any god. Remember, a atheist does not accept the claims made by any Theist (that means all religions) for proof of any god. Each religion has the same amount of "evidence" or proof. Religion is based on faith.. not facts. A person who is agnostic does not that there is a god or not a god. I am not sure where you got your understanding for this article to declare that one specific "god" exist and which one you may be referring to.

    October 5, 2015 at 01:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. J.

    I'm not now nor have I ever been angry with an imaginary being. I DO however get really annoyed with his/her/its followers when they stand in the way of social and scientific progress.

    October 5, 2015 at 01:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bill

      I'm still a little peeved at Santa for not getting me a new bike back in 1982.

      October 5, 2015 at 11:44 | Report abuse |
  4. ramblinrants

    I believe one of the problems believers have with anger towards God is that we feel it is somehow unfaithful. But, the interesting thing about anger directed at God is that it is found in the Bible. Habakkuk, for instance, opens with the following complaint: How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored and justice [c]is never upheld. The wicked surround the righteous. Therefore justice comes out perverted."

    October 5, 2015 at 01:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Saurian

    Ken, I don't think you read very careful the article. It said "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." which means that for atheists and agnostic they would feel a strong feeling of anger for God if they would accept that He exists (in an hypotetical situation). And listening the way atheists speak about God I think that what it is said in this article it is true. For example, I don't believe in Indian gods but I don't feel the need to tell those who believe in them that these gods are imaginary beings or demons. I feel that I would offend them so I prefer to keep my beliefs to myself. But lots of atheists have a need to express their anger about God and this is why the say things so bad about Him. I remember when I was a child that I was so upset on God that I said that He doesn't exist. Now atheists can say whatever they want but their strong need to reject any idea of feeling toward God shows their own problems. It is called "projection" in psychology (I know because I go to one and he said that the part of us we hate we tend to project to others and hate them).

    October 5, 2015 at 02:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Carbomontanus

    To all and everyone

    Remember also to be mad at the party secretary and on everybodys very traditional obedience and belief in him.

    Honest to God. Read the PATER NOSTER formula quite carefully. It is Verbum in imperative, very stict commands and demands. It is recommended that you are honest and give strict commands and blames to God instead of so many creeping and humble words.

    October 5, 2015 at 02:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. vasanth

    Useless even thinking about God, there is absolutely NO GOD. All things written about God is " real C & Bull." When you pray nothing Happens. things happen due to 5 laws.

    1. Law of Seasons Changing,
    2. Law of Seeding
    3. Law of one's own Mind
    4. Law of Karma ( what you reap you get back)
    5. Law of Natural Sciences

    Law 1
    If you suffer due to Heat or Coldness, thats because of the first Law

    Law 2
    We Having Children, trees Bearing Fruit is the second Law

    Law 3
    One doing own things with Mind Concentration ( eg Inventions, passing exams and coming up in life)
    Law 4
    Law of Karma or Reaping benefits of one’s actions
    One getting bad luck all the time, one having every thing
    Law 4
    Laws of Natural Sciences including Gravity,
    If you Jump up and Break your leg, its Gravity a

    This I got from Buddhist Teachings on the Net ( 5 Niyama Dharma )

    Take Nicaragua, and the most recent earthquake that killed poor Christians. God if he was there or his so called Son could have prevented it or could have informed the poor Souls about the impending disaster so they could leave that area.

    It never happen. Millions have died before same type of disasters and God or his son never interfered or warned. How can you say they love humans or blessed are the poor? Ha. What rubbish. There is NO GOD> ALL BULL.

    Now that we find water flowing on Mars, its no big deal that Billions of Planets have same systems, and Earth like Planets are Infinite in Numbers. In an Infinity ( Space), every thing is Infinite. Number of Suns, Number of Inhospitable Planets void of Life, Number of Planets that host life are all Infinite in Numbers. This God Talk is by Idiots who invented God.

    In Infinite Number of Planets with intelligent life like ours, there are those Cranks who say ( from their world), oh!!! "God Created our Planet and he created Man and Woman and all animals and all trees etc etc". They will also say that there is no other Planet in the Universe with life.


    Aaaa Men. You got it?

    October 5, 2015 at 03:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Douglas Elliott

      Vasanth, you are so so very wrong. God does and still does perform miracles. I have seen things that are humanly impossible except God intervenes and performs a miracle.
      I do agree that a lot of things that happen are of natural course that God has placed in the scheme of things, but to say that God does not perform miracles is absurd.
      I with my own two eyes have seen miracles happen. There was a young man that recently had fallen out of a moving pickup truck, injured very badly all over his body, with head injuries. The doctors gave up on him, but people all over the south began to pray for this young man, the doctor saw him later and asked who he was, the nurse told the doctor, this is the young man that you gave up on, saying there is no way he could live, but he just recently went home from the hospital, and shooting hoops on a basketball court. Yes he has a way to go before he is 100% but God does, has and DID a miracle.
      No one in there right mind can deny what God can do.

      October 5, 2015 at 08:36 | Report abuse |
  8. Steve

    I don't know where or how this study was supposedly done, but it's a load of crap. If one gets angry at god then that person is either insane or is not fully an atheist.

    I have been an atheist for five decades (100%). In all that time I have never once been angry at god, nor the devil for that matter. Why? Very simply. They don't exist. It would kind of be like a Christian that does't accept evolution, getting angry at evolution. I don't think so.

    So, what do I get angry at then? I find that I blame human nature a lot. But, I usually am more irked than angry. I rarely get truly angry. When I do, I blame myself for allowing myself to get angry.

    But then, maybe your little charade was to insinuate that many that think they're atheists, aren't. It might be that some atheists are only 99% sure, or it might be that they simply mimic what they see others do, just because it helps relieve stress.

    October 5, 2015 at 03:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Marn

    I call shenanigans on this one. Atheists don't believe in any gods. The idea that we have anger towards gods is just silly.

    October 5, 2015 at 06:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Robert

    We atheists are not angry at god because we don't believe in his existence. You can't be angry at something you do not believe exists. What angers me are the atrocities committed in the name of religion. It is a powerful and destructive force and I would argue has done far more harm than good in human history.

    October 5, 2015 at 06:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Deb Greco

    Only a person who doesn't know God very well could be angry at Him. The reasons listed not getting into a certain school or sports injuries or sickness and disease or the death of someone shows that the person doesn't know God very well because God isn't involved or responsible for any of those things.

    October 5, 2015 at 07:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. robertmoretti

    The fact that some atheists are angry at God proves that there are no real atheists.

    October 5, 2015 at 09:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. WicasaWakan

    I am a Humanist. I believe in Humanity over fantasy. If a God figure appeared today to every person on the planet, some (blind sheep) would immediately love him/her but many would be demanding answers and per the bible, that would be sacrilege for questioning a God that obviously is NOT a loving god but a vengeful and petty being. and don't say "well that was the old testament". You can't simply decide that what was the bible one day can just be changed or forgotten about when a new version comes out. Religion causes far more hurt than it does help. It creates real hurt and false help.

    October 5, 2015 at 10:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. pencilnbrush

    even atheists are mad at him?....what a ridiculous statement!.... how could they mad at something they dont even believe exists? this is obviously the editor not understanding what ...we...atheists are... or.... is confused and trying to lump us into a group they can fight with

    October 5, 2015 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Red

    I'm an atheist, and...let me check...nope, not angry at any god. I was kinda PO'ed at Santa last Xmas for not bringing me that Lexus I asked for (I knew I should've gone for the Volvo instead). But other than that, not angry.

    October 5, 2015 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Atheist Rick

    If you are an "atheist mad at god" then I got news for you, by definition you ain't an atheist. Telling me I'm mad at god is like telling me I'm mad at Odin or Zues. Makes no sense. I do get mad at the crazy xtians trying to hurt people all the time. But then xtians are real, and a real threat to a peaceful society.

    October 5, 2015 at 15:10 | Report abuse | Reply
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