God is a benevolent, imaginary being you can talk to. Even if you believe God is real, when you talk to God, you are talking to an image in your mind, not to a person who would require you to speak out loud and enunciate clearly.
My interest in Buddhism has re-awakened recently. The forms of Buddhism I’m familiar with focus on meditation, not prayer, and if anything counts as divine or most holy for these forms of Buddhism, it’s the present moment. I’ve heard another atheist interested in spirituality and recovery say he uses reality as his higher power. For Zen practitioners and others, transcendance comes through a steadfast focus on the immediate present. It’s helpful for me — especially on a beautiful, chilly morning, as the sun shines up from its burrow beneath the horizon illuminating the undersides of gold-brown-green leaves in the upper branches of tall trees easing into autumn — it’s helpful for me to remember the here and now: I don’t really need this moment for composing letters or blog entries; the leaves and the sky and the fluffy, black cat, reluctant to share the sidewalk, are enough.
But the present moment isn’t a person. That’s why God is important. I don’t need a person to have created all the beauty of this morning — though the idea of a person doing that is truly magnificent, now that I think of it — but I do need a person to talk to, a benevolent person, always available, through every mood, fortune, misfortune, striving, surrendering, supplicating, communing, returning to the present. It’s not just me and the beautiful, impersonal world. Humans are social animals. We are built for communion and cooperation with others like ourselves. We are hard-wired to construct the universe in our own image.
I’m not saying everyone is hard-wired to believe in God. But I would be quite surprised to learn that any remotely healthy person does not have an inner life including frequent monologues or dialogs addressed to absent personages. A benevolent, non-judgmental God can be a beautiful way to organize those inner conversations.
Because one alternative, at least, one that thankfully is increasingly rare for me these days, is to carry on internal conversations with imaginary police officers stopping me for driving too fast or other infractions, conversations of excuse and self-justification, bargaining and wheedling; or conversations with imaginary muggers, about the contents of my wallet or weapons I could pretend to be carrying; or angry conversations with partners and family members, full of pain, resentment, and blame.
I know that believers get angry at their gods at times. The only complaint I’ve ever had about my loving, imaginary God is that She can be a little too quiet, a little bit distant. But how could I hold that against a non-existent being? The work of bringing Her closer is mine.