In every religion that believes in a personal God, there's a connection between the divine and the human. A personal God created life, and he (or she) cherishes his creation. No love is more intense than divine love. No anger is more intense than divine wrath. As relationships go, the one with God poses the most difficulties, for an obvious reason. God is invisible and leaves no evidence about his existence in the physical world.
All religions who demand the worship of a personal God must overcome the same obstacle. There are various ways around it. You can ask people to have faith in God, with the promise that the faithful will meet him one day in heaven. You can depict the sufferings of Hell if faith fails. You can examine the triumphs and tragedies of everyday life and say that God is behind them, expressing approval when things go well and disapproval when things go badly. In short, there are many strategies for keeping a personal God viable.
Atheists complain that none of these strategies has a basis in reality. They simply play on human credulity, on our love of myth and superstition. Religion exploits all that is primitive, child-like, and irrational in human nature. If you subscribe to this view -- and most modern people at least flirt with it -- then unbelief is the same as progress. In the vast Darwinian scheme of evolution, atheists see themselves at the cutting edge of the curve while the devout bring up the rear. In the not too distant future, they will simply be anachronisms on the verge of extinction.
I don't remotely subscribe to this view, and in a forthcoming book, The Future of God, I do my best to dismantle it piece by piece. Keeping up with the vitriol and chop logic of militant atheists would require constant vigilance, however. As soon as Richard Dawkins's message of "religion is the root of all evil" loses shock value, there is Sam Harris on HBO declaring that Islam originated with all its present bad tendencies -- jihad, intolerance, mistreatment of women, and conversion through violence -- already present in the cradle. What's needed isn't a blow-by-blow opposition to atheism but a revision of God.
One can't explain such a revision in a single post, but here's a crucial element. A personal God shouldn't be seen as human. The atheists have a point when they say that believers are projecting their own psychology on the God they worship. On Earth we have fathers and mothers, so God is projected as the ultimate parent. On Earth we care for the people we relate to, therefore God must be caring for everyone. To humanize God comes so naturally, it's hard to conceive of an alternative.
What if God doesn't care, not out of indifference, callousness, or malice (doubters worry about all of these) but out of an infinite capacity to accept. If God is infinite, by definition nothing is foreign to him. Nor is there any reason to separate divine reality from everyday reality. God permeates both. If that's the case, then God is doing something much better than caring for us. He is the source of everything and remains present in everything.
Love and care aren't present in everything. To think so would be delusional. The world is filled with sorrow, pain, and suffering. It occurs to all of us that we must deal with that on our own. God didn't intervene in the Holocaust or the famine in China under Mao that wiped out countless millions. On this basis alone we have to discard the traditional image of a loving parent sitting above the clouds watching over us.
Instead, God can be lived as the source of life in its most valuable but hidden qualities. The first of these is consciousness, the existence of mind. The second is our love and compassion for each other. We can care for one another without looking to divine intervention. The third is creativity, the ability to renew existence through invention, discovery, and beauty. The fourth is evolution, the capacity to grow into higher levels of perception, understanding, and self-awareness. These qualities have their source in God, or a cosmic mind. I'm not stating an article of faith. Each person can undertake an inward journey back to the source, and in doing that, the reality of God becomes more and more evident.
In this conception God becomes far more personal than the projection of a loving parent. You discover the God within, which allows for the merging of yourself with a divine Self that is also you, but on a higher plane. I don't mean the plane of Heaven. "Higher" points to a state of being that transcends the conflict and confusion of our present existence. By going beyond you don't escape earthly life or wish it away. If God is real, going beyond means that you find your true self at the level of being, and this true self in turn transforms who you are, here and now.
In a word, the personal God has a future only if we are willing to transform who we are. The longing for transformation is universal -- no one is satisfied with the mixture of pleasure and pain, success and failure, love and hate, peace and violence that defines life in separation. Seeking God will occupy the human mind for as long as it takes to resolve our dual nature, the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. So in saying that God doesn't care what you do, one door is shut while another is open. A God who sustains existence from the level of pure Being will transform life in a way that the old image of God never could.
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain, co-authored with Rudi Tanzi, PhD. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Coming soon, The Future of God (Harmony, November 11, 2014)