Even those contemporary Jews, Christians, and Muslims who strive so hard to profess theologically "correct" beliefs about a sole, singular God who is incorporeal or infallible, ever-present or all-knowing, seem compelled to envision God in human form and to speak of God in human terms. Studies performed by a range of psychologists and cognitive scientists have shown that the most devout believers, when forced to communicate their thoughts about God, overwhelmingly treat God as though they were talking about some person they might have met on the street.

Think about the way believers so often describe God as good or loving, cruel or jealous, forgiving or kind. These are, of course, human attributes. Yet this insistence on using human emotions to describe something that is—whatever else it is—utterly nonhuman only further demonstrates our existential need to project our humanity onto God, to bestow upon God not just all that is worthy in human nature—our capacity for boundless love, our empathy and eagerness to show compassion, our thirst for justice—but all that is vile in it: our aggression and greed, our bias and bigotry, our penchant for extreme acts of violence.

There are, as one can imagine, certain consequences to this natural impulse to humanize the divine. For when we endow God with human attributes, we essentially divinize those attributes, so that everything good or bad about our religions is merely a reflection of everything that is good or bad about us. Our desires become God's desires, but without boundaries. Our actions become God's actions, but without consequence. We create a superhuman being endowed with human traits, but without human limitations. We fashion our religions and cultures, our societies and governments, according to our own human urges, all the while convincing ourselves that those urges are God's.

That, more than anything else, explains why, throughout human history, religion has been a force both for boundless good and for unspeakable evil; why the same faith in the same God inspires love and compassion in one believer, hatred and violence in another; why two people can approach the same scripture at the same time and come away with two radically opposing interpretations of it. Indeed, most of the religious conflicts that continue to roil our world arise from our innate, unconscious desire to make ourselves the apotheosis of what God is and what God wants, whom God loves and whom God hates.

Compiled From:
"God" - Reza Aslan