God is an idea we have about ourselves. Religion gives that idea a voice, but when that voice argues with our other ideas it can become shrill and unconvincing. This creates a dissonance that seems to place our divine spirit in conflict with the stolid world of facts.

These essays reveal my struggle and resolution of this conflict.

What I finally learned is that if you really want to know God you must look not toward religion, but beyond it. God is available to you directly, without any need for filters or rules.

I am an atheist.

That label, however, does not accurately describe what I know.

For me it is not as simple as deciding not to believe in one particular religion's God, but rather having an understanding of God as being a part of us instead of something external. I want to share my thoughts on this for two reasons. First, I want people who do believe in God in a traditional way to understand that all sorts of religions in all sorts of cultures, and even atheism in some cases, are all celebrating the same core spirit that resides in us all. Second, I want to encourage other atheists to consider that there are truths that are not answered by a simple dismissal of religion and God.

Of course, simple dismissal of traditional dogma was where I started. I was in my late teens when I knew something wasn't quite right with religion's explanation of the world. At the time, I saw it as a contest between science and religion. It was rather easy, in the arrogance of youth, to think of stories about miracles and magical salvation as just so much folklore, but there was always a question that could not be so easily ignored:

If there is no God, why do so many people think that there is?

The answer to that question has brought me back to God, in a way. I'm still an atheist by any reasonable definition, but that's only a part of it. I can't help that the word atheist is both accurate and incomplete. I can't help that the image this word evokes is not who I am.

By daring to ask that question and looking for its answer, I have been able to see beyond the cultural, historic image of God, and find -- at least to my satisfaction -- what it's all about.

What is it? What is this intrinsic spirit that becomes entwined time and again in a culture's ethics and laws? Is there a God beyond the God of Abraham, beyond Jesus, beyond the quite knowing of the Buddha?

That something deeper is what I want to present to you. This is my own personal perspective. It is not a treatise on comparative religion, nor is it a dictum of new thought. Mostly, this is an explanation of why I am an atheist, what that means to me, and why that word is so lacking as a label for what I have come to know.

If there is one central idea of this work, it is that there is there need be no rift between the world we know through science and the world we know through God.

When all the myths, ritual, and other trappings are swept aside, we must face the fundamental question of whether this divine spirit is a connection to a supernatural world or a secular phenomenon. What I intend to demonstrate is that this question is mostly irrelevant. A perception of God as magical and supernatural is fundamentally no different than a perception of God as an abstraction of civilization and psychology. Both secular and supernatural images are abstractions held within our minds.

Yet some of these visions of God place us in conflict with other things that we know, and we end up choosing between faith and fact. This is wrong. There is no conflict. We should feel free to rejoice in the entire world of which we are a part, without compromise, and without denial.

Think of this as an invitation to look over your shoulder, away from the reflection of God as defined by your religion in this particular place and time, and to peer into the very heart of God.