I advise against flimsy definitions of gods. I've heard arguments made by very intelligent people who want to redefine what gods are for one reason or another (Einstein comes to mind). The problem is... the universe isn't a god, nor are the basic underlying princples which govern the universe gods. The only thing which are gods are gods, and gods have a pretty clear definition in every religion (usually human-like, sometimes living in the sky or underground... that sort of thing). For all that you're changing the definition of gods, you might as well worship faeries and say "Well, they aren't those fairy tale faeries that flutter around gardens with wands."Great questions! A few thoughts.
I sometimes joke that my god is Truth and my religion is Justice, but I don't really see it as this. I merely use this as a metaphor to explain my philosophy. Maybe it's the English tutor in me, but I really can't stand it when people conflate words to be things they aren't. I know language is a living and changing construct, but are there no other words besides "god" for ideals or principles?
God just screams anthropomorphic being, and not only in Western culture. I assume you don't believe in such a thing. You believe in a more abstract view of what "gods" are. Except... as long as the word "god" is used, there will always be some kind of connection to the old. If I formed a new club, I wouldn't call it "The Nazis" and use the swastika as my symbol, then spend most of my time defending my use of it, claiming I'm going to redefine it.
I guess my actual question is... why is there such a lack of creativity among the spiritually non-religious who actually want religion, but lack one which represents them? By now, there has got to be enough people and the means (via the internet) to organize such a thing. I say this not because I want in or that I'm annoyed by what you're doing (I'm not, not that it should matter to you what I think), but because I think the religious landscape has become too homogenous for it's own good. Diversity is an important hallmark of a healthy society.
I can't speak for all non-religious/semi-religious/non-literal theistic types. I have a couple of my own reasons for continuing to use the word "God."
First, I think it's too powerful of a word to let fundamentalists have a monopoly on it. There are many fundamentalists who can tell that something's foul in their religion but don't want to leave God behind. I think it's important for there to be a viable middle way between completely non-religious atheism and religious fundamentalism. Given the choice between the two, I'd unquestionably choose atheism, but I am among those for whom that just doesn't feel like a whole way to live.
Second, I'm not entirely sure I'm actually redefining anything as much as I'm coming to a fuller and more accurate understanding of something I've believed in all along. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, but most Hindus understand their various gods as representations of an Ultimate Reality, a Reality we have to attach faces and images to in order to try to understand it. When trying to explain or understand something complex, you start with something concrete and simple. Think of the drawings of atoms or cells in fourth grade science textbooks versus college textbooks.
The God I'm exploring is not an ideal or a principle. I honestly think there is Something and that the mythologies and rituals that have evolved in the world's religions are gateways to understanding that Something. A friend of mine put this beautifully recently: Religion is a bridge, not a destination. People get caught up in the bridge and think that's It; they stay on the bridge instead of crossing it to where it's intended to get you. I think the anthropomorphic images are something we've attached to something much bigger and more complex, something we can't yet fully define.
The most common flimsy-ish definition of God that I've heard is that God is Love. It seems to me that in many ways, love in its myriad manifestations (self-love, romantic love, parent-child love, friendship) is as complicated and mysterious as, say, string theory. Science has yet to unlock certain other mysteries, such as how exactly life began, and what is the nature of consciousness. I'm certainly not in favor of a "GodDidIt, case closed" approach to these questions, but in the end, I won't be surprised if science reveals answers about our day-to-day living that are similar to what our religions have told us.
Religions are as imperfect as anything else that is evolved. I had experiences of holiness and sacredness within the context of a religion as flawed as Mormonism. I think I was mistaken about the images and meanings to which I attributed these experiences, but I don't think I was mistaken about the holiness. I'm aware that those experiences probably have a lot to do with some sort of chemical reaction in my brain and body, but then I want to know, Why did we evolve to have and crave those experiences? Religious practice for me was a way to cultivate and harness those experiences as a means to more effective living and loving. That's what I'm seeking to regain.
As to why we non-literal types don't make our own religion, to some extent, that's what the Unitarian Universalists are doing. For me, they're not quite what I'm looking for because I prefer something not quite so generic. One time when I visited them, they sang the familiar Christian hymn "For the Beauty of the Earth," except the word "Lord" in the chorus had been changed to "Source of all, to thee we raise/ this our hymn of grateful praise." And then everyone is free to insert whatever they want in place of Source, whether it's an anthropomorphic god, or a higher self, or a mother goddess, or the universe. I love that kind of open-mindedness, but for me, something more specific feels more potent. I also think this Something that I'm seeking to engage with and understand has too many facets for any one god(dess) to be an adequate representation. One day I might want Jesus. Another day Artemis will be closer to what I'm looking for. Other times, I need look no further than the spark of the God that is within me, as Emerson describes it. I like to think of the religions of the world as a grand buffet with all sorts of choices available, but no obligation to take everything.
Starting my own religion is actually something that has crossed my mind. I don't know if I ever will, but I like to think that in some small way, my blog is a part of gathering like-minded people who want a middle way. Andrew at God Will Be God writes a lot in the same vein as I do. I'm grateful for him and others like him that I've met since I started blogging.
So I guess to sum up, I don't throw out the word "God" despite its anthropomorphic connotations because I think anthropomorphic gods are effective though imperfect bridges to something bigger.
Related Posts: Defining Spirituality
"Why do you still like religion when you don't believe in it?"