Can a "personal god" exist?
There are many examples throughout history of people who have been absolutely certain that God has spoken directly to them, either as a voice or via some messenger such as an angel. The Bible is crammed full of such events, and Joan of Arc was far from being the only saint who believed that they had received instructions directly from Heaven to do what they did.
Indeed, many Christians will say that they have been “born again” as a result of receiving a “call” that was every bit as strong as a direct voice speaking to them, even if this fell short of an angelic visitation.
So do these examples not prove that God is a real being that speaks directly to individuals?
Voices in the head
I think not. We have long known that there is a phenomenon known as “auditory hallucination”, in which the sufferer is convinced that they are being spoken to by somebody who is not present or communicating with them by normal means. Apart from being a regular symptom of psychotic illness, there is a very wide range of mental conditions that can include auditory hallucination to a greater or lesser extent.
At its extreme, this phenomenon can lead people to commit terrible acts, including mass murder, because they were convinced that the “voices” were telling them to do so. Although most people who hear voices recognise that they are not real, there are unfortunately some who are unable to tell the difference and act on what they believe they have been told to do.
Auditory hallucinations are so common – and not necessarily connected with mental illness – that it would not be at all surprising to learn that the vast majority of “born again” episodes were the result of such events. This would be especially true in cases where the person was already associating with others who were religiously inclined and were therefore half expecting such a “call” to come their way.
I therefore take the view that one’s “personal God” is highly likely to be a product of brain function that is slightly out of alignment.