When I first started seriously questioning the validity and truth of my now past faith, I created a list of hard questions. These were questions that I didn’t have the answer to, and most, if not all of them, held the potential to dislodge my world view. One of those questions was:
“What’s the difference between Jesus and an imaginary friend?”
The question at first seemed absurd, but I knew it had to be answered. When I initially researched it, I found out that the official psychological term for it was “imaginary companion.” I thought companion was a fitting word for how I and most Christians view their relationship with Jesus.
The more I pondered my own belief in Jesus, and what it meant to have an imaginary companion, the more it looked exactly the same. I would constantly ask myself how this could be. How could so many people have the same imaginary friend? Not only that, how could rational adults believe in an imaginary friend, let alone, the same one?
Imaginary friends, which are usually experienced by children to combat loneliness or an emotional deficit in their lives, have names, unique characteristics, and most of all, provide companionship. Even though imaginary friends can’t be seen by the person who is imagining them (except in some rare hallucinatory cases), the person fully believes in their existence. They talk to them, depend on them, and often love them. The alternative to life without them is loneliness, and in some cases, despair.
In Christianity, if you bring together groupthink, a tendency to be superstitious (which includes every human being), religious doctrine, and the desperate need for hope and meaning in your life, then congratulations, you’ll be getting a new imaginary friend named Jesus.
The idea that everyone perceives Jesus in the same way is a fallacy. Jesus is experienced differently by everyone, even for those who are indoctrinated in the most homogeneous of religious sects. While the experience of Jesus may appear identical, that illusion comes from a religious group’s structured archetype of Jesus. The who and what of Jesus is a well defined social construct. The rest is completely up to your mind’s imagination. That’s why Jesus talks to people in different ways, and why they ultimately experience their relationship with him in very unique ways.
During my journey into becoming a rational, logical freethinker, I had the opportunity to meet with a very popular Christian author. This person is very intelligent, has a background in psychology, and is someone who I continue to have great respect for. We met privately, and I presented him with my list of questions. As with most of the questions I presented to him, he didn’t have a reasonable answer for it. When I asked him what the difference was between an imaginary friend and the belief in a relationship with Jesus, he quickly conceded that there wasn’t any difference.