What God means to me

I don’t “believe” that God exists outside of the human imagination, but, believing very much in this imagination, I take the notion seriously - Alain de Botton

God is not only the reason I exist, but essentially the reason I think, write, seek to know and understand the world in which I live in all its profusion and confusion. Archimedes said that, given a firm spot, he could move the world. God, for me, is that enduring position, the reason everything else needs to be subject to critical scrutiny, and is open to improvement, reform and constant amendment - Ziauddin Sardar

God, to me, means any one of more than 3,000 deities created by human beings over the ages to try to make sense of the world. From Atum, the ancient Egyptian hermaphrodite god, through to the Aztec water goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, who changed people into fish so that her floods wouldn’t drown them, these figures provided comforting explanations for natural phenomena at a time when humans knew little about the universe. We live in an age of science and reason. If we let go of this mythology, we will be letting go of the reassuring idea of immortality and the certainty and sense of community that come with faith – but we will also be able to see the world as it truly is. - Ariane Sherine

In my mid-teens, the idea of God gradually stopped making sense to me. It seemed as natural a progression as letting go of the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. A universe without God, to most atheists, is not a universe devoid of mystery or wonder. I am full of questions about the physical world; I just don’t think the notion of God even begins to answer those questions, or why such a God would need us to worship Him at all. If everything is part of God’s grand plan, which only He can understand, then why pray, even if you believe? - Preeta Samarasan

God doesn’t exist, given that evil, including Tony Blair, does. Plain truth does exist, as does beauty, notably Mozart. They play some of the role God would have had. Death, too, is tolerable for another reason: you can identify with the ongoing decency that will persist after you, a hope for a humanity. To which can be added that science, lacking the concentration on logic that is the reality of decent philosophy, is no better on religion than it is on the natures of consciousness, time, determinism and freedom – and terrorism. - Ted Honderich

It seems so obvious that God was an invention of man rather than the other way around. The universe becomes more astounding once you remove a hairy, creative deity from it. Rather than one “good book”, I can enjoy loads of good books. All that time I might have spent poring over Leviticus or Exodus can instead be spent reading Richard Feynman or Carl Sagan, with a luminous marker between my teeth, ready to underline the next startling discovery that makes the world we’re on even more magnificent. - Robin Ince

God, eh? That’s a tough one. I have a clear idea of heaven: fresh flowers and clean linen sheets every day, and a masseur at my beck and call. Hell is obvious: Heathrow.

But God? A ventriloquist’s dummy, I suppose. Everywhere I’ve lived, the churches, the mosques, the temples are staffed by puppeteers who pull our gods’ strings, and speak in their name, demanding of us frankly irrational acts. - Elizabeth Pisani

When I’m asked about God, my view generally echoes that of the Buddha: that it’s not an issue one should concern oneself with much. - Sunny Hundal

“When I look at my son – nearly two – I find it impossible to believe that life is governed by chance and that there is no higher purpose. And if we are simply a bundle of competing, selfish genes, then wherein lies morality? It is moral consciousness that is at the heart of what religion and God mean to me. The militant atheists – who seem more obsessed with God than any religious fundamentalist – don’t get that. The atheist buses touring London are quite revealing. “There’s probably no God,” reads the hoarding. “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” There you have it: what is stopping people enjoying life is apparently not war, famine, unemployment, murderous social inequality, or the insecurity and unfairness that arise from a system of global exploitation, but a misplaced belief in God. Some materialism, that! - George Galloway

Share your views on god, religion and science by emailing godandme@newstatesman.com

This article first appeared in the 13 April 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Easter 2009