Jesus is an Imaginary Friend

buddy_jesusPrayer is just another kind of friendly conversation, says Uffe Schjodt who did MRIs on 20 devout Christians.  This may not prove that devout Christians are not talking to a real spirit, but it does show they are putting their hearts into some sort of “conversation”, some sort of “relationship”.

When my daughter was little, she had two invisible friends (geese, actually) but they are gone now–she has grown up.  But she used to talked to them all the time and was always embarrassed when I asked her who she was talking to.  Why was she shy — well, I think part of her always knew her friends were imaginary.  And likewise, I think this is why many Christians are also shy to talk about their chats with Jesus because they also realize that they are really talking to an imaginary friend.

Jesus certainly qualifies as imaginary when you consider that:  you can’t see him, you can’t hear him, you can’t smell him, you can’t feel him.   These are all traits shared with my daughter’s imaginary talking geese. Thus, Jesus only exists is in your imagination — OR, in some special invisible spirit realm, but he is not “real” in any normal sense of the word. People may say they can hear Jesus but they are not using the word “hear” in the normal sense either.  What they mean by “hear” is that they talk to their imaginary friend and then wait for a nice warm fuzzy feeling and then they call that “the voice of the Lord”.  That is what I did when I was a devout Christian.

When Evangelicals ask, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”, they don’t mean “personal relationship” in any normal sense either.  We all know what the phrase “personal relationship” means in usual conversation.  If I pointed at someone across a room and said, “Do you have a personal relationship with that person?”  You would say “No!” if you hadn’t done things with that person like had long personal conversations  (using words of course) where you share information with each other. Or if you had not eaten, drank, danced, laughed, played baseball or stuff like that with that person.  We never use “personal relationship” in normal conversation to mean that you squint your eyes and talked to yourself and imagined someone was listening — that is called “having an imaginary friend”.

Now, if you do this silly activity along with a group of people who believe the same things, it is less embarrassing.  Why do you think few people don’t want to say grace at big gatherings of strangers.  Because everyone knows it is a speech contest and has nothing about talking to a real person — so the invisible-friend game feels silly. They feel better doing it at a church where everyone agrees to suspend rationality in the building and allow each other to talk out loud to a common imaginary friend. They make this sacrifice of rationality to gain community, comfort, friends, status and lots of other benefits.  But they don’t do it because they really hear someone talking back — come on, admit it.  I am an ex-Christian, I know the game.

Jesus is an imaginary friend.  This was one of the major self-confessions I made to myself during my Christian years — I realized that I certainly did not have a “personal relationship” with Jesus.  This insight was a large part of my deconversion.  Later I came to see that some forms of Christianity do not indulge in the “personal, emotional relationship with Jesus” theme — but my Christianity did.  Later I explored these other forms, but could not abide by them either — but that will have to wait for other posts.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

19 responses to “Jesus is an Imaginary Friend

  1. Ouch, reading that makes me glad I stopped talking to my imaginary friend. Really perceptive, pointing out the way Christians use regular words like “hear” and “relationship” when it means something else entirely.

    This sentence is too funny:
    “We never use “personal relationship” in normal conversation to mean that you squint your eyes and talked to yourself and imagined someone was listening — that is called “having an imaginary friend”.”

  2. Thank you. It sounds like you felt it the way I intended. Self-honesty was a big part of my deconversion.

  3. LB13

    Nicely presented. The whole “personal
    God,” concept, with it’s obvious emotional
    hook/crutch can be very strong. I was once such a person.

  4. Thank you. And thanks for the grammar fix (which I deleted from the comment). Send me an e-mail anytime you have edit changes — thank you kindly.

  5. Ollie Wallflower

    Here’s an attempt to dissect your argument: 1) Having an imaginary friend is childish. Agreed. 2) A relationship with an imaginary friend is one-sided. Agreed. 3) A relationship with Jesus is one-sided, therefore it must be imaginary. This is where I disagree, on two counts. Firstly, many claim that this relationship is *not* one-sided. In my case, I would say it’s 99% one-sided, in the sense that I pray often and only rarely get what appears to be a direct answer. But that 1% is significant to me, because it consists largely of what I perceived as miraculous or unexplainable responses to requests that I had made only to God. Secondly, even a completely one-sided relationship is not necessarily imaginary. Even in the case of a physical being (as opposed to a spirit) who does not communicate back to you–imagine someone who pretends not to understand English–the absence of verbal communication doesn’t necessarily imply that there is no relationship there. If that person chose to write you into his will at the end of his life and give you all that he had, I think that would be evidence that there *was* a relationship there, even though it didn’t appear as such. At the very least it would show that he thought about you and cared about you.

    I’m not trying to start a big debate on this subject. I actually think you have a fairly strong argument, and I really like how you point out the hypocrisy of Christians who pray as if it’s a speech contest (as so many of them do). Just giving you some food for thought. PS–I found your blog through “The Wise Fool’s” blog. PSS–Your second-to-last paragraph has a typo (“in” should be “it”).

  6. Pingback: What happens in church, stays in church « coming of age

  7. Brilliant take. Hosed myself laughing.
    I am busy working my way through your blog. It is a lot of fun so far.
    May I ask, do you believe that Jesus existed, or do you believe he was a mythical figure?
    Whatever the answer could you provide reasons? Thank you.
    BTW, appreciated your responses to warrior.

  8. Hey, Arkenaten, great to have you visiting. Hope to hear from you more.

    I don’t have enough invested (almost nothing) in Jesus to care if he was real or not. Likewise with the Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed or others.

    I did a piece on that, did you read it?
    And no, I won’t supply my reasons. Not my thing. I haven’t examined all the arguments — nor do I really care to. If Jesus was real, I feel he is fine to ignore and if he is fictional, all the more fine to ignore. But when discussing with Christians, I don’t mind assuming he was real to some degree. Again, see my Jesus Pie post. You can further address the issue there if you wish.

  9. Atheistic_Theist

    Ever read Joseph Campbell? He put mythology in a way that has always inspired me, and he put religion one way that always stuck, most early religions and even transubstantiation has a sort of half believe half not, requirement, that if you approach religion like it is completely wrong, you miss the point, or completely right, you miss the point. It is the half way point that brings it on. Tribal dancers know that it is their fellows underneath the masks, and that does not matter religiously in the least, it is what they represent

    . My prayer is almost always me talking to myself, always has been. But prayer is an outloud introspection, which is why the Lord’s Prayer is so stressed. Saying something everyday and thinking about it helps you grow sometimes, or reaffirms an idea. Tell yourself something enough times and you will believe it, which is why so many religions, including Christianity, has a pre wrote prayer. SAying something enough times every day or introspection with a outside, predisposed judge, helps people. I would also argue most people pray incorrectly as well. Saying please make Johnny well, only does so much, as does please give me a convertible. Those prayers only mean so much about you, not God, IMO.

    By outside judge I mean with a personality we give other people, like saying I want a cookie, and then thinking, mom will say it will spoil my dinner. Mom is not there but applying a personality outside yours on your own thoughts can add another layer of introspection. The key note here is that the kid will still probably have a cookie anyway, which puts the way most people believe in a nutshell.

  10. @ Ollie Wallflower :
    Ooops, sorry I missed your comment — as I did “Atheistic_Theist”. Thanx for the typo correction. Let me try to reply now to your two points:

    (1) One-Sided:
    You said,

    even a completely one-sided relationship is not necessarily imaginary.

    If communication is two way, they are relating — I relate to my dog, of course. I am not contending that it has to be verbal. Either way, I won’t debate the one-sided issue. For when most Christians talk about a “relationship” with Jesus, they are referring exactly to that 1% you tell me. So that takes me to #2

    (2)Does Prayer Work

    Though you may feel you get an answer 1% of the time, we would have to explore what you mean by an “answer”. But I won’t go into detail here since I have written short posts elsewhere saying Magic Prayer (prayer for sick …) does not work but Self-Prayer (talking to yourself) does work. Here are some of my posts I suggest you read to understand my point, even if you disagree:

    (a) Praying for the Sick does not work
    (b) Self-Talk Prayer DOES Work
    (c) Where god lives and how he listens

    @ Atheistic_Theist :
    If you read my blog, you will see that I don’t “treat religion as it is completely wrong” — instead, it works but not in the ways believers often think it does. It can offer comfort, status, meaning and more.

  11. Andrew Preston Walters

    Well you did a good job of writing about this subject. I recently reached this same insight after being legally forced to attend regular alchoholics anonymous meetings. As a fellowship group their common focus revolves around social values and almost every body has their own personalized devine social member.They have real sponsors and imaginary ones as well. Usually referred to as a higher power of your own understanding.

  12. Sabio Lantz

    Yes, imaginary friends can be great help, as long as both the believer and hopefully a few others buy into it. Always curious just how “high” that power needs to be — is a football team, a rap star or a dictator high enough. Seems like humans are always looking to identify with something that makes them feel bigger! LOL

  13. David Powell

    You say that you don’t care whether Jesus existed or not. I don’t understand how you can pontificate as though you are an expert on whether faith is real or not when you won’t expend any energy or brain power on determining whether the author of faith has any validity. Everyone has thoughts of eternity, “is it real, is there life after death?” etc. so an honest dialogue should be something you would want to engage in. No?

  14. @ David,
    Your comment has so much believer jargon, it is difficult to respond meaningfully to you.
    If you read much much more on this blog, you will see I have addressed much of not only what you wonder about but also about the methods you use to wonder. Remember, I am a former Christian who talked to Jesus too.
    If you continue commenting, try addressing specific things I say and try not to be too predictably evangelical please.

  15. gruntled66

    My mother dragged me to Sunday School every Sunday without fail. One bright Sunday I was sitting there quietly when it just washed over me like a revelation: “This is all beyond ridiculous!”. I still went to church to keep my mother happy, though.
    I’m still waiting for Believers to give some sort of credible answer to these:
    1) Where is Heaven, exactly?
    2) Where is Hell, exactly?
    3) Who made God, and/or where did He come from?
    4) Why did God (supposedly All-powerful) create a VERY imperfect world?

  16. As a young child had an imaginary friend that I chose after seeing a drawing of Jesus with children in a bible my family swore we never had, was raised atheist. I remember seeing him and his visits teaching me about energy and how the world worked. As an adult I am wondering if anyone else had something similar happen. Think this is an isolated, traumatized child’s brain healing with universal consciousness support. Would love to connect with another person who understands. Thank you.

  17. @Maja: I no more believe in an all-human-loving sky father, than I do in a “universal consciousness” that cares for humans any more than an amoeba. Good luck in connecting with those folks.

  18. Maja

    Interesting thread
    Did resilience create the experience as it connected to all those other people whose focus is on the story of Jesus?
    Campbell does talk about the connection of thought and myth and its ability to manifest visual imagery through which we share the experience of living
    I did not share my experience as a child to adults either, was told any thought of religion was a sign of a weak mind
    Wondering what the motivation is in all this, why we need to expand beyond what we know and then disagree?

  19. @ Maja: Sorry, I could not understand what you wrote.

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