Young children often have to be told what to do. But usually the older they become the more it is possible to reason with them. A good father wants his children to grow into independent individuals, his equals, no longer requiring his imperatives.
Our relationship with (our concept of) God is very similar.
When we were very young he told us what to do and expected us to obey without question. In those days (people's concept of) God wasn't exactly a paragon of virtue and wisdom himself. In fact, he could be - and sometimes was - a right bastard (e.g. to the Egyptians and Canaanites).
In the meantime, many of us have grown up, at least a little, and (our concept of) God, our father, has matured and become more humane, rational and enlightened.
I only speak for my own (concept of) God, of course, but have no problems with other people's, provided they don't seek to impose it on me or others. On the contrary, I think we need different concepts of God to suit different people(s) and cultures. Established religion has done immeasurable harm in making people feel that by rejecting their particular (concept of) God, they reject God himself.
God (the Truth and Reality behind all the concepts) is what it is, regardless of what we believe or don't believe about it.
Referring to God as "he" is nonsense, of course, simply reflecting how I conceptualise and personify "him". It is not to be taken too seriously. Taking our concepts of God too seriously has caused immeasurable harm and suffering. An important attribute of my (concept of) God is his sense of humour - surely also one of our most divine attributes. I imagined the heavens shaking with his laughter the first time I saw "The Life of Brian".
It is hardly possible to overstate the profound influence that Judaeo-Christian concepts of God have had on western society, much of it, perhaps, for the better, but much also for the worse. We are in urgent need of more enlightened, truthful and useful concepts of God and a concomitant system of values, attitudes, morals etc., particularly those relating to economic and social justice, as well as to meaningful and sustainable human activity on a planet with limited resources and a finite carrying capacity.
Our concept of God (or lack of it) is important, not just for our own spiritual well-being, but also because of the role it plays in determining or failing to determine the values, attitudes and aspirations which influence our behaviour. When Islamic fundamentalists flew two jet airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center they were inspired and motivated by a deep and sincere (although most would agree, misguided) belief in (their concept of) God.
In Genesis revisited I describe how my (concept of) God would have responded to Adam and Eve's transgression of eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Not by cursing them, but by praising Eve's courage and her desire for knowledge and wisdom, and by giving both her and her husband advice about how to proceed on the difficult path along which increasing (self)-awareness would lead their descendents.
I conceive of God as a loving father who wants his children to grow up and be independent of any instructions ("holy scripture") he may or may not have inspired in the past. He is a God of Love and Reason, and of Just and Sustainable Society. He is not all mighty. If he were he wouldn't allow there to be so much suffering and injustice (any omnipotent God would have to be a sadist to permit the world to be as it is.
My God issues no commandments, but offers advice, encouraging us to use our reason and to question authority.Jesus said to love your enemy, but that is absurdly idealistic and impractical. My God says that it is better to try not to hate your enemy, but instead to try and understand him and if possible to resolve your enmity (which more often than not will be rooted in misunderstandings) to your mutual satisfaction. There are some enemies, however, whom one has no choice but to fight. Jesus said to love your neighbour as yourself, but to me that is neither possible nor desirable. To treat others as, in their position, you would wish to be treated yourself, makes a lot more sense.
Jesus, it is claimed, was the "Son of God" and died for our sins. That obviously has a lot of appeal for some people, but is complete nonsense. There is no such thing as Original Sin (only original ignorance and stupidity). The story of Adam and Eve does not symbolise man's Fall, but his departure from the animal kingdom, away from his instinctive and blameless animal nature towards higher human nature, increasing his awareness and thus his responsibility - for himself, for others (including coming generations) and for the world at large.
Neither do we need God's forgiveness for the wrongs we do, since it is not God, but ourselves and others that we harm. It is their forgiveness (and self-forgiveness) that we need. But being a matter of the heart rather than of the head, this is easier said than done, requiring humility and genuine regret on the part of the transgressor. And where are we to find that, if not by appealing to a power greater than our own vain selves (i.e. God)?
There is no sin (well, maybe a little bit) in what we feel or think, but in what we DO. It is our deeds for which we are responsible, not our thoughts or feelings, over which we have very little, if any, control.
Jesus said that a man who so much as looks at another man's wife with a lustful eye has already committed adultery in his heart. If that were the case there would be little to deter him from going ahead with the act. It is what we do that counts and for which we are responsible.
When Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, he should have let it stand. Although I suspect that the subsequent qualification about "all things being possible for God" (i.e. with his help the rich can also enter the kingdom of heaven), was added after his death so as not to deter the wealthy from joining or supporting the Jesus sect.
Jesus, it says in the Bible, is preparing the Kingdom of Heaven for those who believe in him after they die, but not my God. My God wants us to create the Kingdom of Heaven (Just and Sustainable Society) here on Earth, not for some vain reward in a supposed afterlife, but for the reward in this life of earning the love and appreciation (rather than the curses) of our children and coming generations.
It is outrageous, but very clever, the way Christians placed the sources of their authority, the Bible and Jesus (and with them their concept of God), beyond criticism, one being the "Word of God", the other "His Son". Christians were not looking for Truth, but believed they had already found it. There is no room for discussion or debate (except relating to interpretation, which only a select and literate few were permitted to participate in) when one party has the Word and absolute authority of God on their side. In the past people had little choice but to accept Christian teachings: if threats of hellfire did not persuade them, social or physical coercion did.
Most modern Christians are no longer so fanatical, thank goodness, their power and monopoly of Truth having been progressively reduced over the past few centuries as the secular state, humanism and science have chipped away at them. But even now, because Christianity is so interwoven with the fabric of society, and having wielded such power and authority in the past, a very sizable portion still remains.
How, in our modern day and age, can anyone still believe that Jesus was the "Son of God", who was "born of a virgin", "performed miracles", "died for our sins" and was "raised from the dead" for our "salvation", when any rational person can be pretty sure that these are untrue fabrications designed to establish the authority of the early Christian church? Because they are the very foundation and justification of a religion which, whether we like it or not, has had an immense influence on the creation, development and history of our society.
It is not just a matter of committing Christianity to the history books, where it belongs and as most people have already done; it needs to be replaced with other religions based on more truthful, enlightened and useful concepts of God. A man cannot live on bread alone, nor on all the material wealth that modern society has to offer (if he can afford it), but needs spiritual sustenance as well.
On the other hand, what good is all the spirituality in the world to us if while we are aspiring to or enjoying it, the material world, on which we and those who will come after us also depend, with all its beauty and diversity, is being damaged or destroyed before our very eyes?
Whether we were too busy with our material aspirations or our spiritual aspirations to do anything about the plundering and spoiling of our planet, I suspect, will make little difference in our children's eyes.
What we need are religions conceived not just to "save our souls", but at the same time also to "save the planet". The two cannot be separated, but are inherently and intricately intertwined.
My concept of God is under construction and subject to revision - and will remain so.