The word "God" has a strong hold on people. So strong, even atheists sometimes use it, as in "God damn it!" Or "God bless you" after a sneeze.
So I've come to believe that we atheists need to appropriate "God" for our own purpose -- living without superstition, supernatural fantasy, and blind faith.
There's nothing wrong with that word, just as there's nothing wrong with any word.
A word is simply made up of letters. The meaning those letters represent is entirely in the hands of humans. Unlike "gravity," say, there is no objective reality that the usual meaning of "God" points to: a divine being who created our universe and takes an interest in what people do.
Given that thousands of religions exist, each with a different understanding of what "God" refers to, it makes sense for atheists to define that word in a fashion that makes sense to us.
More specifically, me, since naturally I don't claim to speak for all atheists.
My preference is to view "God" as referring to all that exists. Yes, this is close to pantheism. However, I reject the theism part of pantheism. My notion is both simpler and more radical.
In addition to referring to the universe, or the cosmos, as all that exists, I like the idea of being able to use God as shorthand for the same concept. God is reality. The reality that we know now, plus whatever additions to reality become known in the future.
Obviously this includes the laws of nature.
Thus "God willing" is equivalent to saying "if the laws of nature bring this about;" "I pray to God that..." is the same as saying "I hope that..."; "Thank you, God" becomes "Thank you, reality"; "God is good" means "I see goodness in what exists."
Now, I realize that most people would see no point in repurposing "God" in this fashion. I agree in large part. But not entirely.
Like I said, the word "God" is impossible to ignore. From an early age children are exposed to the various meanings of this word. As we grow older, we choose whether to embrace a traditional religious view of God or some other view. Yet just as pantheism includes the term "theism," so does "atheism."
Not believing in God still brings up the notion of God, in much the same way someone who dislikes country music has to cite what is abhorred in saying "I hate country music."
This is one reason I've become fond of the idea that there is a God atheists can embrace. When God means everything that exists, I can say, "Yes, I believe in God."
True, this is the same as saying "I believe in reality." But that goes without saying, really. Who doesn't? Even psychotic people believe in the reality of their own deluded thoughts.
I just don't want religious believers to be the only ones who decide what "God" means. For several weeks I've enjoyed playing around with using this word in the sense I've described. It's working for me.
When something goes well in my life, at times I say to myself "Thank you, God." I'm affirming that reality, or existence, has brought about a condition that is pleasing to me. I don't expect any response from reality, since the God I'm thanking isn't a conscious being.
Instead, I'm redefining a familiar word in a way that fits with how I've come to understand life and the world: as a vastly complex interconnected web of causes and effects that extend back to the big bang and forward into a possibly infinite future.
Here I am, a very small cog in the machinery of the cosmos. Or, of God. My actions have some small effect on the rest of reality, but mostly I'm under the sway of causes and conditions that are hugely vaster and more powerful.
Calling all that "God" feels good to me. And like Janis Joplin sang, feeling good is good enough for me.