In the Jewish religion, it is not permitted to depict God in any way, a prohibition that was not obeyed by the many Christians who revered a Jew named Jesus as their Messiah. The common Christian practice of depicting God in human form has, at certain periods during the history of Christianity, primarily in Eastern or Orthodox Christianity, provoked a backlash, when some fervent Christians have sought to destroy the many images of God or Jesus that have been created, and sometimes worshipped instead of God. But there is a very serious problem with the Christian practice of depicting God in human form, namely, that those who spend much time looking at these images come to regard God as being merely a more wise, powerful, and benevolent human being. Those who believe in God then try to understand the things that happen in the world, including the bad things that happen to them or to those they care about, according to this belief, which often leads to confusion, disappointment, bewilderment, or anger at God’s inaction, indifference, or perceived maliciousness.
To give an example of a very common misattribution of a human characteristic to God, one frequently reads in this or that holy book about God’s wrath, or that God became angry at an instance of human disobedience. But anger is strictly an attribute of certain kinds of animals. Plants, for example, do not become angry, since emotions generally are not part of their behavioural repertoire. Even if one attacks a tree with an axe and proceeds to chop it down, the tree will not become angry, as many animals would if one threatened them, such as by attacking them with a weapon or trying to kill them.
Those who wrote supposedly holy works like the Bible did not make the mistake of attributing fear to God. One never reads passages like “Then God became fearful or terrified,” “God’s fear was manifest,” or “God quaked to learn that…” And yet, what are the functions of the two emotions of fear and anger? As most people know, they are physiological responses to dangerous situations that could result in harm or death either to ourselves or to someone that we love or care about. Both emotions make humans, and animals in general, physically stronger – anger to confront the source of danger, while fear makes us capable of running or climbing faster, and for a longer period of time, than we normally can in order to escape the danger. But since God cannot be harmed and cannot die, it is just as ridiculous to attribute anger to God as it is to attribute fear.
If one considers the behavioural responses that are attributed to God in religious works like the Bible, one will see that God has been cast in the mold of an all-powerful human ruler. For it is common for human rulers to become angry at instances of disobedience and punish the transgressors, while they reward those who obey them and remain loyal or faithful to them, such as by rendering them homage and sacrifices. This humanized conception of God has led to the common belief that God punishes those who transgress Its rules, which is merely another example of the projection of human values and systems onto God. In most societies, there are rules – whether written formally as laws, or unwritten in the form of social taboos and restrictions, whose violation may be punished by exclusion or in other ways, such as imprisonment – that its members are expected to follow. Modern societies have devised elaborate judicial systems, complete with courts of law, judges and juries, prisons, and police officers who enforce society’s rules in order to prevent serious violations of them. In a similar manner, many religious people believe that God rewards those who obey Its rules, while It punishes those who disobey these rules. The ultimate reward and punishment are either eternal life in Paradise, or eternal damnation in Hell, after death.
Love is another animal emotion that many humans have mistakenly attributed to God. What is the biological function of love? Its function is to bring together two sexually-reproducing creatures of the opposite sex in order to get them to procreate, reproduce their kind, and then raise their offspring, whether singly or together. But since God cannot die, God has no need to reproduce Itself. Hence, the many attributions of love to God, especially in the Christian religion, are just as mistaken as the attributions of divine anger.
I am aware that there are probably many Christian theologians who have explained that God’s love is different from man’s love, primarily in that it is wholly purged of any taint of sexual desire. God’s love for Its creations, and for humanity in particular, since most Christians have arrogantly elevated themselves above the rest of God’s Creation, is said to resemble a mother’s love for her child. But this common comparison is also wrong, since God designed life so that all the animal forms of life must feed on other kinds of life. And there is no mother, except one who is thoroughly depraved or deranged, that would allow her child to be killed and eaten by another animal, which – the act of one animal killing and consuming another animal – is a very common occurrence in the natural world.
Although I believe that God cares about Its creations, it is not in the same way that a mother cares about her child, in the sense that she has an overriding concern to preserve the child at all costs, because her child is the most important thing in the world to her. Rather, since there are other similarities between God’s ability to create Life and the Universe, and our much humbler human ability to create new things that didn’t exist prior to their creation, I believe that God’s concern for Its creations is more similar to a human creator’s concern for one’s creations. For example, human creators will produce many different models, but many creators also have no qualms about destroying or modifying old models in order to improve them, or when they have been superseded by newer models or examples. This is exemplified by the common practice of destroying old buildings to make way for new ones.
Another important fact is that the human creator is usually very different from the things one creates. To give an obvious example, although Mozart created a great many different musical compositions, many of which are still performed today, he himself was not a musical composition. Similarly, it is important to recognize that, in all likelihood, God is very different from the things that It has created, which are all the different things that exist in the Universe. And the same observation holds true for Life. Although God created Life and, considering how long it has endured, seems to want to ensure the continued success of what I have called Its Life Project, it is important not to confound God with any of the different forms of biological life, for, in all likelihood, God probably does not possess the properties and characteristics of terrestrial life.
Those who wrote sacred works like the Bible sought to understand God according to the human conceptions and models that they were familiar with, because this is what human beings do in general. Considering their extremely limited experiences of the world and their frequently erroneous beliefs about the nature and workings of the Universe, it is not surprising that they should have made so many blunders. What is more remarkable is that so many people continue to believe their many blunders. Of course, this result is due to our imitative nature, the fact that we imitate those whom we admire, while we conform to the behaviour of those who are in our realm of influence, including instances where people believe things that are wrong or do things that are foolish or harmful.
In many ways, God is the creature that we humans would like to be if we could be whatever we wanted to be. Hence, we have attributed all manner of qualities and powers to God: omniscience, omnipotence, immortality, benevolence, justice, and so on. Included in this common human attribution to God of omniscience is the ability to foresee the future. Because we humans would so greatly like to foresee the future, we believe that God, who, according to us, is capable of anything and everything, must therefore be able to foresee the future. But what evidence do we have for this naive belief?
The correct answer, I believe, is that we do not have much evidence that God can foresee the future, and certainly not in the precise, detailed manner in which many religious people believe It can. In fact, many religious people have continued to believe that God can foresee the future despite all the evidence to the contrary, which often includes numerous personal tragedies and disappointments. There are several consequences of what I have called the Humanity Experiment – God’s attempt to create a species of organisms that are able to understand the workings of the Universe in the detailed way that God understands them – that, in my opinion, clearly demonstrate that God cannot foresee everything that will happen in the future: first, God did not foresee that this knowledge of the regularities that are observable in the Universe would make many fallible humans erroneously conclude that there is no God; and second, It did not foresee just how destructive this knowledge would make our species.
We say that God is mysterious and unknowable, but then we declare that God is this or that – omniscient, omnipotent, infinite, all-knowing, all-wise, all-good, and so forth. In doing so, our feeble human brains are so addled by our human beliefs about God’s presumed nature that we fail to see that we have contradicted ourselves. For in attributing certain traits like omnipotence and omniscience to our conception of God, including the ability to foresee the future in minute detail, we are saying that in fact we do know what God is like and what God is capable of doing. Is it any wonder, then, that, given these widespread beliefs about God’s unlimited benevolence, power, understanding, compassion, and so forth – traits that we human beings have merely attributed to God, in many cases without any evidence for doing so – that we are disappointed, dejected, or angry when things do not go the way we want them to go? When, for example, we are financially ruined or afflicted by a fatal illness, or when a close relative or friend dies before one has reached old age, or a beloved child of ours is not spared from death’s implacable grasp?
We say, in a perfect world, that this or that bad thing would not have occurred, and since God knows everything and, moreover, is capable of doing anything and everything, if God truly were good, then He would not have allowed this bad thing to occur that I did not want to happen. Hence, it follows from the rules of human logic that either God is not perfect, or God is not all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-good.
Those who engage in this kind of selfish reasoning fail to recognize several things: first, what would be considered a calamity from our point of view – when, for example, we or a person we love dies prematurely or incurs a serious injury – is only bad when considered from our very narrow human point of view. From the point of view of microbes and other animals that would eagerly consume our bodily remains, our death cannot in any sense be considered bad. After all, who is there that regards the success of humans in taming and butchering other animals and their young in order to feed us as an unjust catastrophe for them? And yet, seen from their point of view, that is precisely what it is. If cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens believed in God, they would regard their situation as one of unspeakably horrific injustice, when literally billions and billions of their kind are raised in captivity and slaughtered each year by those ravenous and diabolically devious hairless primates. We regard it as an event of the greatest horror when another animal – a bear, lion, tiger, shark, or snake – dares to presume to kill and devour one of our kind, but we think nothing of slaughtering other animals in huge numbers in order to satisfy our appetites. But considered from the natural – meaning non-human – perspective, which is probably closer to God’s perspective, since God created all living things, whether directly or indirectly, what is the difference?
Second, these selfish individuals fail to realize that, in asking and expecting God to intervene in order to make their lives better, they have reduced God to the role of their personal servant or slave. After all, most people, when they pray, ask God to grant them special favours. In the Arabic tales of djinns, or jinns, which word is the origin of the English word “genie”, the servile nature of these magical creatures is clear from the fact that, having been imprisoned in a bottle or lamp as punishment for their misdeeds, they must grant three wishes to the person who frees them from their captivity. If we could eavesdrop on their prayers, we would find that many religious people’s conception of God is essentially that of a powerful, personal, wish-fulfilling genie.
There are studies that show that very young children assume that everyone else knows the things they know, likes the things they like, and sees the world in exactly the same way that they see it. Only after repeated contradictory experiences, as we grow older, do we gradually learn that these childish beliefs are not true. In regard to God, however, most humans continue to behave like immature children, for they believe that God is as preoccupied with their personal lives as they are, that God sees and judges everything that happens to them as they see and experience it, and that God cares as much about their fate and well-being, as well as the fate and well-being of those persons they care about, as they do. And yet, these same adults will also readily admit that the Universe is a very big place, meaning that God has an awful lot of other things to attend to, especially if there exist devout creatures on other planets who also believe in God and ask It for special favours, interventions, exemptions, and dispensations in their lives, just as many humans frequently do.
 This prohibition also exists in Islam, which extends it to include depictions of Mohammed, who is believed by Muslims to be God’s Holy Prophet.
 One reason for this difference is that, whereas any animal would die from being cut through its middle, a tree is not necessarily killed by being cut down, since many kinds of trees can regenerate themselves by sending out new growths. Only if it is also completely uprooted will the tree die. Even if plants lose much of their leaves and branches, such as when these parts are eaten, they have an amazing ability to regenerate themselves that animals do not possess. There are very few animals, and certainly no large animals, that could survive if they lost half or more of their bodies. And yet, there are many plants that are not fatally harmed by losing more than half of their above-ground mass, and even a significant part of their roots. These regenerative features are due to the fact that trees, and plants in general, are stationary, meaning they cannot flee their predators in the way that animals can, and so they have had to develop other adaptive means to survive the potential loss of a significant part of their total living mass.
 The most important fact to remember about God is that God is not human. However, the common practice of using the male human pronouns “He,” “His,” and “Him” to refer to God clearly contradicts this fundamental fact, and encourages people to view God anthropomorphically, as if God were merely a more powerful and loving human being. It is for this reason that I prefer to use the capitalized pronouns “It” and “Its” when referring to God, to make clear this important fact about God and how different it is from human beings.