My slacker godSo I have been a bit underworked of late, which provides plenty of thinking time, so I have been indulging in metaphysics (because nothing improves your life prospects/earning ability/sanity like a bit of ontology). I have been thinking about what kind of god I could believe in. Not that I intend to start, but if I did...
For starters, not your one. Gods who care about whether I'm naughty make zero appeal, because fundamentally it seems difficult to rationalise a transcendental entity who cares about my behaviour. Unless you are raised in a religious tradition, and do not question it too deeply, it's difficult to arrive at the belief. You certainly wouldn't create a god like that. You might want one that cared about you personally, but you'd probably want one who accepted that he'd created you with failings and didn't care about that, not one who considered those failings worthy of punishment. This is, for me, a fundamental problem anyway with the god who hates sins and loves sinners. He created the sinner and the sin both, and being omniscient, knew you would sin, knew whether you had the capacity to repent and also knew whether you would or wouldn't. See, it's a bit of a vicious (or virtuous, if he created you all saintly) circle.
If you are religious, bear with me and please don't take offence, but the people who invented the Christian and Muslim gods did not do it from scratch, so they weren't wholly concerned with making a coherent deity (if you like, you could say that God is what he is, and the reflection of him in the minds of men is not coherent, and that has the same effect, I think).
There is also, of course, the problem of evil. If we have a god that loves us, why is the world so often shit? Why is there pain? Why are some slaves? Why do some babies die and others become deformed? Why are people mean? Most theodicies are utter nonsense, because again this is a fundamental problem with the concept of God. It's such nonsense that he can love you yet give you polio that you need a bunch of nonsense to make it work. I mean, do you cripple the people you love? No, didn't think so. I do like the unitarian approach though, in which God creates a good universe and lets it make of itself what it will. That appeals to my belief that we are fundamentally good (by which I mean we are not fundamentally bad, rather than that we all have a saint inside).
I think this kind of god is possible to believe in: one who made the universe, set it in motion and chose not to know how it would be revealed. You have to rid yourself of the Jesus stuff, but (religious people look away) that was just ripped off from pagan king sacrifice mythology (check out Baldur or Osiris some time).
A god from whom the universe emanates also works quite well. The universe can equally well emanate from nothing but having a "creative force" is more satisfying. The key to these three ideas is that you have a god who can permit free will because he simply doesn't allow himself to know how the universe will pan out. You might believe he did it to entertain himself. It's hard for this god to be fully transcendent though, so he probably needs to be enmeshed in what is. I like a transcendent deity because of course he exists without the universe, which is kind of a sine qua non for creating it. But it's not impossible for the universe to be entwined with God intimately enough that he is not really transcendent. Some people believe this (including pantheists who believe God is entirely immanent). Personally, I don't believe it's possible to believe everything is God because that kind of god has too little meaning. If God is not meaningful, there's not really too much point to having one.
I think it is rational to believe in a god who does not permit free will. One metaphysical idea that appeals to me is the block universe. In a block universe, everything exists at once, timelessly. Variously, this is everything that was, or could have been, everything that is, or could be, and everything that will be, or might be. This allows God easily to be omniscient, simply because he can see the entire universe spread before him, but does not on the face of it permit free will, since he chose everything possible at moment one. However, I've seen it suggested that we live in a block universe, and our minds weave paths through it, creating time for us by choosing from the potentialities that exist. Of course the notion of a fate set in stone is not new, but this allows it to be something that you choose. It opens up the possibility that you can figure out how you choose, and although it seems that you could only change your future by small degrees, you would be able to pick a world you were glad to live in.
Another possibility that I like a lot is that we create our universe on the fly, by consensus. So three thousand years ago, the sun really did circle the Earth and the stars were pinpricks in a firmament, but now things are different because our understanding is different. This makes man the centre of the universe (not literally because our consensus is that there is no centre or that everywhere is the centre, depending on how you look at it), which is in decent accord with the view that God created us specially. It would also be possible for each of us to be living in slightly different overlapping universes. So long as our conceptions of the world were close enough, we would seem to be living in the same world. Only when we were very divergent would we think each other insane. So in your universe, there is a god who cares if you covet your neighbour's ass, but in mine, you can covet what you like and the only person who will care is your neighbour.
So I think I might choose the last kind of god. He gave us each our own universe and doesn't mind what we make of it. It will be however we render it. This god has done us each a huge favour. He did not just give us life; he gave us a whole universe of our own to live it in. And if we want to believe he will punish us for our sins, then he will, and if we don't, he won't. He's not fussed: he gave you the freedom to choose and he doesn't mind what you choose.