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I read this in a collection of SF short stories in the 90s, but it could date from several decades before then.

I thought it was by Aldiss or Ballard, but I can't find any of their works that seem to match.

In the story, at some point God decides to manifest simultaneously in booths in the homes of everybody in the world, and remains there permanently. His purpose is just to stand there while people complain about their lives, and he just listens, and possibly apologises for what's been happening. Obviously, the tone of the story was dry humour.

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"Amen and Out", a short story by Brian Aldiss, first published in New Worlds, August 1966, available at the Luminist archives. It has been reprinted in some anthologies and collections.

At length, Otto rolled over and snapped open his portable shrine. The light failed to glow behind the altar.

"What's matter? You lot feeling dim too? Expecting me to pray when you can't even light up like you used to? Gods? I spit 'em!"

"Son, you know you sold your good shrine for this poor cheap one that has never worked properly. But as we come to you through an imperfect instrument, so you are the imperfect instrument for the performance of our will."

"Hell, I know, I sinned! Look, you know me, Gods, not the best of men but not the worst either. Leave me alone, can't you? Did I ever exploit anyone? Remember what it used to say in the pre-Gods book: 'Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth'. How about that, then?"

The Gods made a noise not unlike a human snort. "Meek! Otto Pommy, you are the most conceited old man that ever inflicted prayer upon us! Try to behave a little less arrogantly today."

"Okay, okay, but all I want is to go and see Father at the project. Amen."

"And buy a new battery for this altar. Have you no reverence?"

"Amen, I said: Amen and out."

However, the household "Gods" (plural) in this story are not manifestations of the Almighty, they are a manmade artificial intelligence. The inventor explains:

"The Gods were more or less in existence. Vast computers were running everything, comsats supplied instantaneous communication, beamed power was possible, psychology was a strict science. Mankind had always regarded computers half-prayerfully, right from their inception. All I did was think of hooking them all up, giving everyone a free communicator or shrine, and there was a new power in the world: the Gods. It worked at once, thanks to the ancient human needs for gods—which never died even in scientific societies like ours."

"Not mine, dad-o!" one of the men cried. "I'm no robot-bugger! And say, if you invented the Gods, who invented the theology to go with them? Did you serve that too?"

"No. That came naturally. When the computers spoke, each of the old relligions fell into step and adapted their forms. They had to survive: like none of them ever could stand up against personalised answer to prayers. Cranky notion . . . but war's died since the Gods ruled."

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  • I've just read it now. It's a bit less irreverent than I had vaguely remembered, but it must surely be the story I was thinking of. It looks like there's some other great stories of his in the link you supplied, as well. Many thanks! Apr 1, 2021 at 22:35
  • You're welcome!
    – user14111
    Apr 1, 2021 at 23:05
  • By the way, have you figured out what compilation you might have read it in? Does any of those cover pictures (or the corresponding contents) look familiar?
    – user14111
    Apr 1, 2021 at 23:23
  • I'm not positive, but the red edition of New Arrivals, Old Encounters looks very familiar! Apr 2, 2021 at 0:16
  • @DavidW Yes, it matches. You remember well. Lady space pilot's name is Gemyn. Crazy Eddie's Kingdom is space habitat orbiting Jupiter. Owner/bartender/narrator is Crazy Eddie King.
    – user14111
    Apr 2, 2021 at 21:31

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