“God” is a group of sounds often used in English. Those sounds have very different meanings to different people. But no matter what particular mutually-contradicting religion a person belongs to, when they say “I believe in God”, most people mean little more than exactly what I also believe:
- a reflective life is valuable
- attempts to lead a moral life are good
- awe can be felt by looking at the world
- it is important to look for peace and love
- forgiveness, generosity and kindness should be nurtured
- even when things are bad, we should try to find some good or inner peace
- the patterns of relatedness in the universe are dazzling
- we should sacrifice for our family and friends
- we should not limit our kindness to only our loved ones
- we should limit our pride and greed from harming others
And there are more things in the list of things I value that other folks package into their word “God”.
But if, by “God”, a person means:
- a being to whom they can pray so as to affect the health and well being of others
- a being who rewards those who believe in him and punishes non-believers
- a being who wrote a book that tells us exactly what is right and wrong
- a being who makes the believer’s life meaningful, while a non-believer’s life is essentially meaningless.
- a being who controls the history and individual lives. And so the believer should relax and just accept things.
- a being whose holy books and directions we should not question
- a being who demands that believers preferentially associate and support only believers. And demands that believers either avoid, try to convert or battle non-believers.
Well, then, I don’t believe in their “God” (or whatever sound they use to label it) and I will fight that particular belief. Sure, I can believe in the first list but I have no need to try and tuck it all into one package and call it “God”.
But what if the sound “God” for them is a mix of items from both of those lists? Well, then I will try to fight the bottom list items (and any tools they use to strengthen them) and support the top list items and hope they do the same for me.
The question is, what should nonbelievers do with a believer’s abstraction called “God” or “Allah” or “Ram” or…? Well, first, it may be useful to unpack the word and see which list items they are wrapping the those sounds. And it should be obvious that we could do the same sort of analysis with other abstract words like “Freedom”, “Democracy”, “Family”…