A Personal Relationship With Jesus, Visualized

Many Christians will contend that the view presented in this video is a distortion of what it really means to have a personal relationship with Jesus. And in doing so they further prove the point. This belief is a mainstay of the faith for many Christians these days. Take this Evangelical Christian website, for example, which states:

…a “personal relationship” [is] defined as a dynamic inter-relatedness between persons, an experiential relationship between two persons that involves subjective interaction and communication, a person-to-person relationship, the connection, correlation and interaction of at least two persons in what might be better termed an interpersonal relationship.

And further,

The intrapersonal and interpersonal relationship of the Christian with Jesus Christ must be recognized as a subjective, internal, spiritual reality, whereby an individual in any age receives the living Spirit of Christ into his or her spirit (Rom. 8:9), thus becoming a Christian, a Christ-one. That relationship must involve a dynamic sense of ontological interaction and communion, a living and functional communication.

I believed that I had such a personal relationship with Jesus when I was a child and teenager immersed in the culture of Evangelicalism. It wasn’t until the early years of college when I was exposed to philosophy and psychology (at a Christian college, taught from a Christian perspective, no less) that I began to doubt. Among many other things, it was the lack of consensus amongst Christians on many fundamental tenets of the faith and critical moral issues that caused me to start to question the veracity and origins of my Christian beliefs and the notion that Christianity held any unique, cosmic, objective truth. This lack of consensus and uniform belief amongst those who claim a personal relationship with Jesus can best (and most generously) be described as the problem of miscommunication (which is closely related to the problem of evil, since so much of the “miscommunication” has resulted in untold amounts of pain and suffering throughout the ages).

Reason dictates the conclusion that the whole notion of a personal relationship with Jesus is simply a human concoction, part and parcel of the grander consoling delusion of religion¹. The danger is that people make moral judgments based on this fantasy, many judgments of which quite simply result in bigotry, oppression, and suppression of knowledge. We would all be better served to foster a personal relationship with reality.

¹I should mention the additional exacerbation caused by the Bible and the belief that God’s will is revealed in absolute terms therein. The miscommunication grows exponentially when this is factored into the equation.

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4 comments on “A Personal Relationship With Jesus, Visualized

  1. JT
    August 27, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    Nicely done, Lou – very succinct, and the video analogy makes the point in a highly relevant way. I’m glad as well that you’re being public and up front about your own views.

    As you know, I believe in the existence of a creator God, and that Jesus was the incarnation of that God, so I disagree with the conclusion drawn by your post. You claim, “Reason dictates the conclusion that the whole notion of a personal relationship with Jesus is simply a human concoction, part and parcel of the grander consoling delusion of religion.” I too wrestle, as you know, with the phenomenon of a lack of consensus among not just Christians, but among all people who ascribe to a religion for their worldview. Personally, I am often outside of the mainstream thought of the Evangelical tradition we both grew up in. However, I do not find this lack of consensus to be a “deal breaker” for theism as you do.

    A major factor in this issue for me is that I still have not found a satisfying answer from the new atheists to the question, “Why does a lack of consensus on moral or social issues necessarily reflect a fatal flaw in religion as a whole?” Specifically, I’m quite sure there are atheists in the world with whom you would disagree on particular moral or social issues. While you as an atheist and I as a theist find ourselves agreeing on the issue of gay marriage, are there no atheists out there who argue that male and female are the natural order of things, and therefore it is morally necessary for the species to prohibit homosexuality? A quick Google search found several: The Secular Case Against Gay Marriage; Julia Gillard – Prime Minister of Australia. I’ve brought up to you before such issues as the American eugenics movement, the Holocaust, Stalinism, the Khmer Rouge, etc., and your response as I recall was along the lines of, “Those don’t reflect a proper application of atheistic ideas,” or something to that effect. Please correct me if I haven’t remembered your thoughts accurately.

    Perhaps one could argue that the vast majority of atheists support gay marriage, but that might only reflect the cultural and social demographics of those who claim to be atheists. Would the majority of Saudi Arabian atheists support gay marriage? Would the majority of atheists is ancient Rome (they must not have – most people were atheists and yet marriage remained a preeminent institution between men and women). Theists, on the other hand, are represented by nearly every cultural and social group of humans, presenting an easy explanation for their frequent disagreement on social or moral issues.

    My underlying question, I suppose, is what puts atheism on a different/better level than theism? Atheism’s standard for truth is the natural world and the scientific observations of it – in a word, reason. Theism’s standard is faith and reason working together. It is completely fair to point out the inconsistencies in theists’ life-decisions and moral judgments. And yet, I find it inaccurate to suggest that the new atheists are somehow united on such matters to the degree that their claim on absolute truth is a foregone conclusion. In my mind, it is far more likely that their consensus is due to the fact that they are an ideological group of like-minded people (meaning they agree there is no God), who live primarily in the West and are highly socially and culturally monolithic (very WASP-y).

    It seems to me that it is much more fair and reasonable, in this case, to compare the level of consensus amongst new atheists to a similarly monolithic group of theists (i.e., Mormons, white Evangelicals, black Baptists, urban Episcopalians, etc.), rather than comparing atheists to theists as a whole, or even to the fairly undefined mass referred to as “Evangelicalism.” Each of these select theist groups will exhibit tremendous consensus morally and socially, akin to what is found among western atheists, since each group is comprised of one dominant culture, with the occasional inconsistent outlier. For example, Mormons are almost entirely opposed to gay marriage, while urban Episcopalians almost entirely support it.

    Your thoughts on the limitations of comparison?

    • Louis
      August 28, 2010 at 2:02 am #

      Okay, new blog rule: comments may not exceed the length of the post under discussion. 😉

      You say: Atheism’s standard for truth is the natural world and the scientific observations of it – in a word, reason. Theism’s standard is faith and reason working together. I’m glad you said this because it’s the crux of the issue. The foundation of Christian theism is that God has revealed Himself to mankind. Your faith entails belief in a category of knowledge that transcends science and reason. You believe that God has revealed and continues to reveal truth in the form of scripture and a personal, ongoing relationship with Him. And it isn’t just any truth–it’s Truth with a capital “T” because it’s divine in origin. Divine revelation provides you with absolute Truth about the origin and nature of the universe: how humans ought to act, God’s purposes for his creation and mankind, how to enter into a relationship with Him and achieve salvation, and what lies beyond the grave. You believe the creator of the universe provides you with decipherable, ultimate descriptions about and prescriptions for our existence. This Truth isn’t subject to revision in the same way that all other human knowledge is, which relies completely upon observation and reason. It comes from an authoritative, outside, supernatural source.

      So what should we expect to see of His followers if God exists and reveals ultimate truth in a decipherable way to them? Agreement. What should we expect to see if the opposite is true and there is no divine origin to Christianity? Exactly what we’ve seen throughout the ages and today: rampant disagreement, much of which has resulted in vast pain, suffering, bloodshed and death, even between and amongst Christians themselves. Atheists don’t posit any such transcendent source of truth, thus disagreement and fluidity is to be expected as they rely solely upon their flawed human faculties to make sense of the world. No atheist to my knowledge claims access to absolute, ultimate, cosmic, transcendent Truth.

      Thus my conclusion is that the lack of agreement exhibited by theists makes it more likely that God has not revealed truth in a decipherable way, and the most reasonable explanation for this is that God hasn’t revealed truth at all because he doesn’t exist and religion is manmade. I never claimed that this was a “fatal flaw;” rather, this is simply another reason to believe Christianity is not divine in origin. Just like all other religions of the world, Christianity looks, smells, sounds, and feels exactly as one would expect of a human invention with no supernatural influence.

  2. Maria Diaz Schmitt
    August 29, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    You two Taylorites (sp) amaze me with your thought processes, reasoning and ability to so clearly state your views! I will stay tuned but must admit that I feel closer to Louis’ views that those of Christianity at this point in my life.

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