This skeleton key helps us think about God, by telling us whether or not we are thinking about God in the first place, or about some lesser thing. The test presupposes that God, properly so called, can only be that being than whom there can be no other who is more worthy of worship: that he is the maximal being, the ultimate being. In helping us think about God, the Maximality Test shapes and directs, informs, orders and corrects our worship, our responses to our world, and thus our culture.
To run the Test on a particular notion about God is fairly simple: one merely asks whether another notion of God would make him nobler, greater, more perfect, or better, along any dimension of excellence, than the notion under test.
To take an extreme and so easy answer: which would be greater, along any dimension of excellence: a divine being who requires the sacrifice of millions of children, or a divine being who requires no such thing? The question answers itself. Take it a step further: along any dimension of excellence, which would be greater: a divine being who does not require the sacrifice of children, or a divine being who abhors it? Again, simple. In each of these examples, it is easy to see which notion indicates a thing unworthy of worship.
Alright then, let’s apply the Test to a trickier notion: which would be greater, along any dimension of excellence: a divine being who is one among many like him, or a divine being who is infinitely and categorically more powerful than all and any other beings there might be? Obviously, the latter.
Or try this: which would be greater, along any dimension of excellence: a divine being who had risen to divinity from humanity, such as the diligent among us shall do, or a divine being who is divine by his original nature? Again, obviously the latter.
It is apt to worry that the Test evaluates notions of God according to our human understandings of excellence, and so is bound to arrive at a more or less anthropomorphic notion of God. Fair enough; we must be careful about that, as theologians have warned for thousands of years. But in the first place, our human understandings are the only sort we can possibly employ in any event. And in the second, incomprehensibly great greatness is a notion often deployed in human thought – as of, e.g., infinities. We can denote infinity, but there is no way we can comprehend it completely. So it is routine for theologians and mystics to point out that while God is good, e.g., his perfect, maximal goodness is so much better than any goodness we can comprehend that it far outpasses our best understanding. An analogy might be light too bright to bear looking at: we can tell it is light, but we can’t take it in. Bearing that caveat in mind, we can avoid such categoreal confusions as thinking that God is larger than anything else in the same way that the solar system is larger than Earth, or that he is like a man that is magnified above all men, or the like.
Now, thinking properly about God is small beer compared to worshipping him, and a fortiori to apprehending him. But it does help us worship him accurately – in truth – and, so, in spirit. If on account of your errors of thought you are worshipping and serving some spirit who is less than God, you are in terrible risk of big trouble – as a person, and as a culture – for, to worship a being is to pledge fealty to him, of some sort; and by subjecting yourself to him, it is therefore to invite him to order you and your acts according to his lights. That can turn out badly.
Viz., the Aztecs and the Phoenicians. Their faulty notions of God shaped their horrible rituals, in which they immolated hundreds of thousands of people, and that motivated their neighbours to destroy them utterly, lest their vicious cults spread their pollution. I could adduce also in likewise the modern cult of abortion.
The spirits can’t come unless you call them. But when you call them, they do come. So, it is important to call upon the best spirit you can think of. And that is why it is important to think about God as well and as carefully as you can. The Maximality Test is a tool that can help with that.