There is a protest atheism which wrestles with God as Job did, and for the sake of the suffering of created beings which cries out to high heaven denies that there is a just God who rules the world in love. This atheism is profoundly theological, for the theodicy question – “If there is a good God, why all this evil?” – is also the fundamental question of every Christian theology which takes seriously the dying Christ’s question to God: “My God, why have you forsaken me?
Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology
This reminds me of something I read in Moltmann’s autobiography A Broad Place. Moltmann was having a discussion with the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch, whose work Das Prinzip Hoffnung was a key influence on Moltmann’s own work Theologie der Hoffnung, when Bloch said that he was an “atheist for God’s sake.” I think this is what Moltmann is getting at in the above quote. Atheists who reject God on moral grounds do so because a belief in a benevolent deity is seen by them as exceedingly immoral in a world full of suffering and evil such as this.
Even though Moltmann is sympathetic to this protest atheism, which he indeed does seem to be (the quote above is followed by some words on how impressed he is by Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, with Ivan Karamazov being the protest atheist figure), he nevertheless considers it to be going too far in its divinization of man into the ‘supreme being’ of man (a la Marx). Another problem Moltmann has with this protest atheism is that it sees god as an aloof deity; it equates belief in a deity with the belief in the apathetic god of metaphysical theism, instead of the Christian god who has himself lived a life as a man of sorrow, well acquainted with suffering, evil, and godforsakeness. This, according to Moltmann, would mitigate the appearance of God as a sadist or callous creator. So, to borrow a phrase from Jesus, perhaps protest atheists are indeed “not far from the kingdom of God” in their rejection of a benevolent deity on moral grounds.