‘The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying ... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.’ Professor Carl Sagan
God must owe us a duty of care (English law standard). God must be discernible. God must be subject to the rules of science and be a promoter of the probity of evidence. Do we really hold to God being a third-rate magician, fond of planting dinosaur bones in the ground? Then the joke has gone too far. Has God really so little regard for the scientific method?
‘But should we believe in such things if it’s at the expense of everything that corresponds with scientific method, with reason?’ Matthew Alper, The God Part of the Brain
Lost in the line-up of usual suspects is a God so featureless, so without form and void as to defy description, a vague presence in the universe reductive of a hope that while we can never draw near to God we sense with a warm fuzzy feeling that Life is fated to fiddle a happy ending.
Hidden in a holy ha-ha-land we find ourselves holding the woolly bollocks of a God bound in a nutshell of Nature, a concept, a consciousness, a captureless recrudescence:
Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they find God wherever they look for him. One hears it said that ‘God is the ultimate’ or ‘God is our better nature’ or ‘God is the universe’. Of course, like any other word, the word ‘God’ can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say that ‘God is energy’, then you can find God in a lump of coal. Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory
Perhaps the reader fancies a party of Gods? God by committee. If the reader fancies a God who sleeps around in the bowels of Nature, or in an orgy of Gods, the reader may slap her or his back as a pantheist. Which sounds a bit saucy. But you and I are not normally invited to those sort of parties. The temptation of the Hebrew Bible with its gods plural must be tempered with the straight monogamy of, ‘O Lord, there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears.’ I Chronicles 17:20
You don’t find many Baalists these days, or followers of Zeus and Apollo. Never mind, we’ve been blessed with the Jehovah Witnesses to take the piss from so we shouldn’t complain.
‘It would be no different if Bush were to summon up Jupiter and the Palace Athena. Whatever happened to those gods anyway? Where are the people to believe in them now? How quaint they seem and yet how seriously they were held to be, to exist.’ Ian McEwan, interview Professor Richard Dawkins
Perhaps the reader fancies a God who, having kick-started the universe party, kicks back in Her favourite armchair and rolls the Big One rather than answer prayers, count sins or ruin the party with a few cheap miraculous tricks. Yours is a chilled God who would rather hang about the bookmaker’s than run the universe. And with good reason. Your God is probably ashamed of Her creation after the advent of the Spice Girls, and if you press Her, your God will deny creating the universe on the grounds of diminished responsibility. If you hold with a half-hearted God who wouldn’t be seen dead around Planet Earth you are a deist. Which sounds boring and a bit like a Catholic S & M party with whips and chains, but such parties should be avoided for a lack of heavenly herbs, and with lashings of nuns and hermits and Earthly habits.
If the reader fancies a God who does the business, a busy-body, subordinates sins, and pruriently espies us through the mean end of a telescope, and frowns furiously over human affairs, prefers a good hymn and a tambourine, tampers with the temporal time-lines, terrible temperament tapered and trailing hell-fire, you can talk to yourself as a theist.
But a personal God presents prestigious problems that overshadow, say, the paradoxes put forward by the possibility of travelling back in Time.
So take your pick from a God with no redeeming features (think of the Spice Girls), a God who is ashamed of Her creation (Spice Girls) or an interfering God with a sad taste in music (again it’s the Spice Girls).
For example, what on Earth are blessings? This quirk of Mormonism never failed to tickle my cognitive-dissonance bone.
Why should I seek an advantage or favour over my neighbour? Why should I be so solipsistic to believe God is willing to shower me personally with a golden show of blessings? Which blessings, and how do I measure the success of the appeal?
Do theist Mormons believe God is moveable to bless Her blue-eyed favourites with a bounteous Brucey bonus? Funny definition of a God. If the payment of tithing is rewarded with blessings, is there a sliding scale of reward? The debasement of begging for blessings is an example of the trouble you attract with a belief in a personal God. ‘God speaks through me,’ prophesised a monosyllabic George W Bush with his finger on the big red button.
‘The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.’ Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation
‘Who says that I am not under the special protection of God?’ assumed Adolf Hitler. (‘Oh no you’re fecking not,’ two-fingered God from Her favourite armchair and returning to the lucky-stars column of The Sporting Life.)
‘Simply put, they want a human God to eliminate all risk from their Life. Pat them on the head, kiss their bruises, put a chicken on every dinner table, clothe their bodies, tuck them into bed at night, and tell them that everything will be all right when they wake up in the morning. This public demand is incredible.’ Bill Cooper, Behold a Pale Horse
The personal God soaks the praise for every drop of good fortune that befalls our Lives from God’s high Heaven; the personal God escapes the blame for the deluge of bad fortune that drenches our Lives with devilish deliberate determination.
‘If it turns out that there is a God, I don’t think that he’s evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that basically he’s an underachiever.’ Woody Allen
For God has a plan — a personal plan — that plagues our feeble prospects and from which we never find relief. The late Christopher Hitchens lamented hymn-like God’s battle-plan: ‘Some design. Some father. Some caring God. Some designing supervisor.’ Collision: Christopher Hitchens v Douglas Wilson
Overarching the unravelled rainbow of a multi-spectral belief in a pot-luck God, Professor Dennett draws the distinction between belief in God and belief in, well, Belief: ‘There are no good reasons for believing that God exists. And plenty of good reasons for believing that God does not exist. But there are several good reasons for declaring a belief in God.’ Daniel C Dennett, AAI 2007
Why would a rational God give a rat’s arse about whether we believe in Her? Why would God set Faith as the deciding factor in winning Her favour?