Western religion has traditionally taught the concept of a personal God in which he (and God is invariably seen as male), is taught to be a spiritual entity of unlimited power that transcends his creation but is still capable of interacting with it. Additionally, this entity exhibits emotions like jealousy, wrath, sorrow, compassion, mercy, judgment, and even uncertainty, making it in all ways a "person" complete with a unique personality, a specific set of moral beliefs, and a will of its own. Finally, in being omnipotent and omniscient, this being is believed to be incapable of error and so must be obeyed without question; a belief that has been a foundational tenet of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism for thousands of years and continues to be believed by billions of people today.

The Problem with the Personal God
The problem in perceiving God as a "person," however, is in trying to figure out what this entity wants. While the Bible, Koran and Torah have no problem addressing this issue at some length, their answers don't always agree, thereby creating a picture of God who appears very different based upon one's faith tradition. For example, the God of Islam demands pure obedience to the teachings of His greatest prophet, Mohammad, while the God of Judaism expects His laws and sacraments to be observed with scrupulous precision. The God of Christianity, in contrast, promises salvation only to those who embrace Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross as a substitute payment for humanities' many sins. Each deity even has their own names: Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim, Father, God, Abba, The One Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken, etc. Naturally, these differences in discerning "God's will" has been a source of considerable tension between the three faiths that has frequently resulted in considerable blood being shed over the centuries, despite the fact that all three belief structures supposedly worship the same God.

To those outside these belief systems, it appears obvious that each faith has simply created an idea of what God is like based upon their own cultural prerequisites and fears, which they then try to market as the only "true" God. Of course, this is where the problem comes in: when one worships the only "real" God, all other gods must be, by default, frauds and pretenders whose followers must be repressed, exiled, or, if necessary, even killed to protect the one true faith. (In fact, it is even taught by some that God encourages the destruction of these non-believers, seeing it as an act of divinely sanctioned retribution.) It could be argued, then, that the entire idea of God being a distinct, unique, and individualized "person" has done great damage not only to humanity, but to the very concept of God itself.

Another Path
Eastern religion in general-and its Western counterpart in the New Thought movement-takes a very different approach to the whole idea of divinity. Instead of seeing God as a spirit being separate from its creation, it sees God as a life force that permeates all matter and indwells the cosmos with a universal, collective consciousness. In other words, it turns God from a noun into a verb and makes it simply a euphemism for life itself. Naturally, this eliminates all the haggling over who's God is the one true God by replacing the pantheon of deities with something more closely approaching "the Force" of Star Wars fame: a nameless, impersonal force of great power that binds the very cosmos itself together. Unfortunately, that only creates a new set of problems, the most obvious being the difficulty of just how does one go about having a relationship with what is, in essence, formless, nameless energy? It's like trying to befriend electricity or gravity. One can appreciate the power of such forces, but how does one seek solace from them, or ask for wisdom, or feel their love? That's something only a personal God can provide.

Enter the Individualized God
So what's the solution? It's actually quite simple. One only needs to create an image of God that corresponds to their personal needs and individual personality. In other words, a person needs only to visualize an imaginary being that can serve as a conduit between themselves and the universal consciousness that understands them intimately, loves unconditionally, and is always there for them. It can be made to be either male or female-or neither-and can be made to speak to us in a language we understand, using our vocabulary and mirroring our own prejudices and desires. It can even change, evolve, and grow as we do, echoing our own psyche in ways no externally objective spirit being ever could. In fact, if you think about it, this would be the only way a universal consciousness could interact with us on a personal level.

While such a being may sound a little bit like an imaginary friend from childhood, the important thing to remember is that while this entity itself may be imaginary, the love and wisdom it reflects is not. It's as real as any human love or wisdom, but in being fashioned to our particular sensibilities, it becomes something we can identify with at our current level of spiritual understanding. This permits us to interact with divine consciousness directly by, in effect, reducing God to a size we can comprehend.

In fact, this is exactly what humans who have developed a relationship with a personal God have been doing for thousands of years. They may believe they are fellowshipping with an external, spiritual entity but in fact they are interacting with a product of their own creative intelligence. That's why one person's concept of what God is like so seldom corresponds to another person's perspective; just as you have different personalities, so you perceive a different God.

The Danger of an Individualized God
Of course, this idea of a "designer" God doesn't sit well with some people. Many prefer something more solid or substantial and not so subjective. We want a God that is doesn't change but is stable, static and, as such, predictable. The idea of a self-idealized God whose morals, beliefs, and perspective is capable of morphing is frightening to many, which is why the concept is not readily embraced by a majority of people. An imaginary God sounds too much like no God, which is a line in the sand few people are willing to cross. Better to stick with the ancient concept of God as a transcendent spirit being than take a chance on angering such a potential entity to wrath, as it is imagined many have done over the eons to their own folly.

This concept of a transcendent God, however, is exactly what prevents many from truly coming to know God in a personal sense. As long as God is "out there" somewhere, we never need to draw too close. It is enough to simply obey and worship such an entity. It's the safest choice.

But what if the God "out there" is also imaginary, as many contend it to be? What if one has merely exchanged an internalized fictional God for an externalized one; the only difference being that the former is created by the individual and the latter by the collective? A God that reflects the mores and perspective of the culture that fashions it is no more "real" than any God we could ever imagine inside our own mind. In fact, such a collective creation is far more dangerous, for it carries the authority of the collective consciousness of the culture that created it and can use that authority to crush any challenge to it, whereas our individualized concept of deity carries only the authority we give it. In essence, the God inside my head can't hurt anyone, but the God of my faith can kill millions.

In the end, we are all left with a choice. Worship a God we can keep at arm's length but which we can never really know in any meaningful way, or permit the divine light of consciousness into our lives through the unique gift of our imagination, and in so doing create a symbiotic relationship with Spirit itself. The second option may not be "safe" and could even be fraught with danger-much as is the case with white supremacists who imagine God to be male, white, and as bigoted as they are-but it may be the only way to come to know God in all its beauty and light. The choice, as it has been from the dawn of time, is all up to us.