I love George Carlin, and on one level, I agree. But I also happen to think he kind of missed the point: Religion isn’t God — in fact, probably nowhere near it.
Religion usually starts like this: Someone has a mystical, transcendent experience through any variety of means (spontaneous, meditation or prayer-induced, drug-induced) that shares the common qualities described by William James in his seminal work, “The Varieties of Religious Experience”:
1. Ineffability.- The handiest of the marks by which I classify a state of mind as mystical is negative. The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. It follows from this that its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others. In this peculiarity mystical states are more like states of feeling than like states of intellect. No one can make clear to another who has never had a certain feeling, in what the quality or worth of it consists. One must have musical ears to know the value of a symphony; one must have been in love one’s self to understand a lover’s state of mind. Lacking the heart or ear, we cannot interpret the musician or the lover justly, and are even likely to consider him weak-minded or absurd. The mystic finds that most of us accord to his experiences an equally incompetent treatment.
2. Noetic quality.- Although so similar to states of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time.
So what happens is, someone has this ineffable experience, attempts to describe it, and if the mystic is persuasive, might attempt to influence others to see in this new, changed way.
That’s where the trouble begins.
What you see of modern religion is as far away from the mystics as you can possibly get. Instead of a visceral experience of oneness and compassion, we try to codify it. We set up walls. Then we set up the rules to stay within those walls. Then we either try to get everyone else to follow those rules, or we try to punish them for not wanting to be inside the walls with us.
Religion isn’t God. The western version of God isn’t God. (The eastern version might be a little closer, because some of them say that God is within you.)