My friend Nevin sent me a link to an article in the Guardian about the psychological effects of the Santa myth. The article was inconclusive, but it started an interesting train of thought.
Personally, I find the idea of lying to children sort of distasteful, but I find it plausible that such fibs are at most harmless, and maybe even beneficial. It could be that these fibs prepare us for the social games we'll play in adulthood. However, there's another side-effect. When, as children, we realize that we've been scammed by the old Santa ploy, I think we develop a distaste for false myths. No one wants to be fooled by parlor tricks or Wizard of Oz illusions. When we leave Santa and the Tooth Fairy behind, we set a higher standard for "true" deities. True deities don't use technology to play tricks on us. True deities have something beyond technology: magic.
Alas, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, so it would be impossible for us to distinguish between advanced technology and the divine. In other words, we wouldn't know we had really met God even if he beamed us up to his heavenly throne room. It could just be Klingon holodeck technology.
For advocates of magic, this poses a bit of a problem. Propositions about magic have nothing to do with experience because no experience can tell the difference between magic and technological trickery, and propositions about undetectable things are just piffle.
All this got me thinking about the alternative: what if God uses technology?
It seems to me that a superbeing that uses technology to do its works could easily inspire love and awe. Even mortal humans can do this. However, should technological prowess inspire worship and willing submission? Technology (or for that matter, magic) cannot do this alone. A being must possess some other attributes before it is regarded as divine. A divine being must have moral virtues to which we aspire. Also, we must feel that sacrificing ourselves for such a being serves the greater good.
As an aside, there are millions of humans who meet these criteria for divinity. Most of us see divine virtues like innocence and compassion in those we love, and most of us are willing to sacrifice our own lives to save theirs. We willingly submit, but the relationship is mutual.
My contention is that, unlike our loved ones, official deities qualify for neither reverence nor worship.
Let's say that the one true deity is actually the Devil, and he intervenes in our world in a barely perceptible way, e.g., by planting suggestions or causing the occasional natural disaster. Suppose that, by revelation, you know that the Devil exists. Suppose also that the Devil orders you to torment and kill anyone who doesn't believe in him (despite the fact that his existence cannot be proven). Like all standard deities, the Devil agrees to give you eternal life in paradise if you comply, eternity in hell if you disobey. Should you resist the Devil even if your resistance is futile? Or, does the fact that the Devil is the one true (effectively omnipotent) god change your morality, permitting you to happily commit mass murder?
According to my definition, the Devil isn't divine because he possesses no attributes to which we aspire. Manipulation and cruelty aren't objectives for us. Furthermore, for any being with the infinite power of the Devil, nothing we humans do is of any great consequence, so the greater good isn't a factor.
Of course, I wouldn't be making this argument if the gods of the Bible and the Koran didn't suffer from these same defects. First, we don't aspire to their values. These gods were all invented to satisfy Bronze Age moralities that are no longer acceptable. Take the story of Abraham. In Genesis, Abraham is ordered by God to kill his child to prove his obedience. Abraham almost does this, but is stopped by God's angel at the last minute. In today's more humane and civilized culture, we clearly see this God as evil. (Does anyone else remember that Norm McDonald routine about the guy who does the devil's bidding only to realize that the devil is really his buddy wearing a devil costume?)
Secondly, in comparison to the monotheistic gods, we're too small and weak to contribute to the greater good. God could snap his fingers and make the entire universe a paradise, yet we struggle and die pointlessly.
The might of a being with superior technology/magic doesn't make that being morally right (even if that being created our universe). Only we can determine what is right and wrong. It is our own internal moral compass that selects our religion, not the other way around. Religion inhibits our ability to make good decisions by promoting the idea that morality is given to us and not subject to reason.