The atheist letters: My imaginary friend, Jesus

by Don Hartness

De-converted Christians often speak about the moment when they realized that all of their prayers were nothing but empty words to an invisible friend named Jesus. In a painful epiphany, the de-converted realizes that there is nobody on the other end of the “God phone”. The proof is always either a lack of answers or a failure to receive.

Yes, the truth is oftentimes painful.

It’s easy to see how it happens. Raised in the church from infancy, the Christian observes everybody talking to this Jesus character, either privately or corporately. Not wishing to be excluded (or even ostracized), the young Christian mimics what (s)he sees with only a dim sense of comprehension. Eventually, vain repetition becomes a plea due to some personal crisis. When expectations are not met, the conclusion is a simple one: there’s nobody there.

So, when de-converted Christians tell me that they were talking to an imaginary friend, I believe them. For me, it wasn’t even talking. As a Catholic, my prayers were repetitious, mechanical utterances. For what purpose, I wasn’t sure. Everything else in my life seemed to be a system of work and rewards; hence, I had some vague sense that if I put in the work with those rosary beads, I would receive a deposit in my account on file in heaven.

The subject of prayer, including the many misconceptions of prayer now practiced in Christendom, is not a subject for this series. For now, I will simply say that the average Christian’s conception of prayer would be  laughable if it weren’t so sad. Nevertheless, when de-converted Christians told me that I, too, was only talking to an invisible friend (and too delusional to realize it), I took the suggestion into consideration.

If Jesus is just an imaginary friend, what does this mean for me?

As I have described elsewhere, my faith is not some compartment of my life that I visit on a Sunday. I’ve put those red letters to the test. When I started this journey, I pulled a Solomon without knowing who Solomon was. Mark 10:29-30 is not just a hypothesis for me: it is in beta testing (with results still pending). My entire life has been a spiritual game of Marco Polo…

“Jesus”… “(Christ)” … “Jesus” … “(Christ)” …

That inner voice inspired me to go left (when others said right), stay (when everyone said go), and to go when those who loved me pleaded with me to stay (with caring, but misguided, intentions). That whisper on the wind has led me from churches to cults, and from halfway houses to drug houses. I have experienced love and loss, loyalty and betrayal, abundance and scarcity, and wonderful companionship to bitter isolation. Even when I saw the dangers and refused to go further, that voice insisted until I had no choice but to follow. The result was a furthering of my education in the subtleties of knowledge and wisdom. The validation has come from those around me.

So what does it mean if Jesus is an imaginary friend? It means that I am an insane genius.

If Jesus is an imaginary friend, then that inner voice is me (and only me) talking. It means:

1)      I secretly know, on some sort of subconscious level, which character lessons I need to know, all while keeping that knowledge hidden from my consciousness.

2)      That I recognize certain situations and circumstances for the character lessons they contain (even if it took years for those lessons to manifest themselves)

3)      That I propel myself into those situations through an imaginary inner voice I label as Jesus, even though…

4)      As I mentioned before, those circumstances and situations were dangerous to the point that no sane man would have gone where I went.

It also means:

5)      I did this in spite of my conscious misgivings (meaning that I was arguing with myself).

6)      All with the results of becoming a better version of me than I was when I started, as attested to by those who know me.

Note what I am saying here. Everybody has the capacity to learn from their experience (even if many refuse too), but this is not what I am talking about. What I am saying is that I am capable of discovering my own character flaws (even while successfully hiding from them) and correcting them, all while attributing the corrections to an invisible friend.

I don’t know about you, but I would label that as  both “insane” and “genius”.

Just in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not insane (you can subject me to any test you want) and, no, although I am smarter than the average bear, I am not a genius. Even if I were, who is brilliant enough to achieve what I just described?  How else do I explain my life and everything I have been through? It was this last question that left me thunderstruck: the alternative explanation is even more ridiculous than claiming it was God.

But let’s suspend all this for a moment. Let us suppose that I am either an insane genius, or that there is some alternative explanation for this phenomena. Let us suppose for a moment that you are right: that God is a superstition (although I never claimed the gift of prophecy).

In my next post, I’ll explore the ugly implications behind such a statement.