One happy dude, grass and sunshine... does not a personal relationship make.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve read or heard from Christians that they have “a personal relationship” with Jesus Christ I would probably not be writing this on account of the unimaginable wealth I would have accumulated. You see, Christians love saying it:
I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Getting to know Christ.
Jesus is my best friend!
Yeah, OK, let’s see about that.
Right, so first stop is the dictionary to get what the words officially mean:
1. of, pertaining to, or coming as from a particular person; individual; private: a personal opinion.
2. relating to, directed to, or intended for a particular person: a personal favor; one’s personal life; a letter marked “Personal.”
3. intended for use by one person: a personal car.
4. referring or directed to a particular person in a disparaging or offensive sense or manner, usually involving character, behavior, appearance, etc.: personal remarks.
5. making personal remarks or attacks: to become personal in a dispute.
1. a connection, association, or involvement.
2. connection between persons by blood or marriage.
3. an emotional or other connection between people: the relationship between teachers and students.
4. a sexual involvement; affair.
So the dictionary definition of “personal relationship” is essentially that Christians say they believe that they have “a connection, association, or involvement” with the creator of the universe that is “of, pertaining to, or coming as from a particular person; individual;”.
Some examples of personal relationships could be between:
- a man and his wife
- a mother and her daughter
- two friends
All of the aforementioned have several things in common but one thing is crucial, without which a relationship cannot and does not exist: communication. For a relationship to be personal in nature, the communication has to be bidirectional. Both parties in the relationship must be able to take part, share ideas and convey and effect the emotional content of the communication in the relationship for it to be considered personal.
As any married man knows (or should know…), without communication a marriage disintegrates rather rapidly. If there is no (or bad) communication between a mother and a daughter, their relationship disintegrates. Can two people who do not communicate (to give or interchange thoughts, feelings, information, or the like, by writing, speaking, etc.) really be considered friends? Perhaps for a time, even a really long time, after communication ceases but to become friends there had to have been communication and interaction first – you cannot become friends with a person with whom you have never communicated in any way.
There has to be bidirectional communication, discourse, the exchange of ideas, for a relationship to be considered personal.
A person could zealously read every single article that a writer publishes without the writer ever being aware of that person’s existence. While the interaction between a writer and a reader can be considered a relationship, it cannot be considered a personal relationship. I have read a great many of Christopher Hitchens’ articles and books and while I wish that I had a personal relationship with him I cannot say that I did. The man did not know I existed.
This is not to say that every person in this kind of relationship is rational about it and accepts that an admired celebrity is not a friend of theirs.
My wife has a relationship with a woman (I hesitate to call her a friend, at least, not any more) who gets obsessed with celebrities and in some cases ends up stalking them. She’s had restraining orders taken out against her; one by a well known cricket player in particular. This is a great example of a relationship that exists and is a personal relationship in the mind of one person but most certainly is not a personal relationship in the mind of the other. Any rational person looking at the situation would agree that there most certainly is no personal relationship between my wife’s acquaintance and the celebrities that she is obsessed with.
There can’t be a personal relationship without bidirectional communication, without the ability to freely share ideas, get feedback and have shared knowledge.
A relationship between two people can be considered personal if:
- bidirectional communication occurs – both parties are transmitters as well as receivers
- thoughts and ideas are shared – the parties have shared knowledge
- both parties receive feedback to their transmissions
Personal relationships are fundamental to human beings. So important, in fact, that for the first several years of our lives personal relationships are the only way for us to learn anything at all. In the beginning of a person’s life, they learn from their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles. Family, through very personal relationships, teach you the things you need know to survive very early on. A little later – and any parent can relate to this – come a flood of ‘why’ questions from a child. A child wants to know something so it transmits its request to its parent or to another who is in a personal relationship with the child. Usually (ok, sometimes) the other party responds to the query by transmitting a response to the child and this back and forth continues and the child learns, gains knowledge it did not have before.
Happily, this interaction provides us with a simple but effective way to define and test if a relationship: a) exists and if it can be b) considered personal.
For example, let’s test if I have a personal relationship with my wife. To do that, I need to answer a couple of simple questions.
Does my wife communicate with me?
Why, yes, this morning she told me she was going to the shop and that she would be back in about half an hour. I went upstairs a couple of minutes after she told me this, to fetch a hot cross bun. I found that my wife was indeed not in the house. About half an hour later my wife came down-stairs. I asked her if she went to the shop and she replied that she had and told me what she bought.
My wife transmitted information to me. I transmitted information and a request for information to her. I received feedback on my request and gained knowledge.
Do I have a relationship with my wife? Clearly, yes I do.
My wife is studying linguistics. While watching television last night she commented on the way the narrator spoke in the program we were watching; she said the show had an interesting ‘register’. I did not know what ‘register’ meant in this context so I asked her to explain it to me. ‘Register’, she said, was the type of language that being used and how the language was used to convey something. For example, using ‘father’ in formal situations and not ‘dad’ which is more informal or how one could stick to prescribed grammar or not depending on the situation or the tone one was trying to convey.
I lacked the specific knowledge of what ‘register’ meant in that context and transmitted a request to my wife upon which I received feedback from her which added to or increased my knowledge. I verified this newly acquired knowledge that I gained from my wife by reading Wikipedia – it agrees.
Do I have a personal relationship with my wife? Undeniably, yes I do.
I could easily test this empirically. And, as it happens, people do sometimes have to prove, empirically, that they have a personal relationship with another person. Let’s say for argument’s sake that I wanted to convince an immigration official that I had a personal relationship with my wife. How would I go about that?
Happily, immigration officials of the United States of America (and many other countries) do this kind of thing every single day of the week. They check to make sure that when people claim that they are married, that they really do have a personal relationship with that person; that they are telling the truth. In fact, the legality of immigration by marriage rests almost entirely on this principle: being able to prove you have a personal relationship with another person.
For those who don’t know how this works, it’s pretty simple: get a bunch of photos of them together, get some legal documents, preferably financial that show their names together, some documents that show they’ve lived together and get the two people who claim to have a personal relationship in two separate rooms, ask them the same questions about each other and see if they come up with the same answers. It’s depressingly easy to test. In the end, all they are doing is checking if a reasonable amount of reasonably exclusive shared knowledge exists and that each person really knows the things they should know if the relationship is real.
So, how do we apply these widely accepted standards to test if a personal relationship exists between a Christian and the alleged super being they worship?
First, we need to define some of the properties of this super being, Jesus Christ. Happily and fortunately, Christians have done the job for us many times over. Here are the properties of Jesus Christ as described by a Christian website backed up by the Christian Bible that was allegedly written by the Christian’s creator of the universe himself:
Omniscience (all-knowing) – John 16:30 the apostle John affirms of Jesus, “Now we can see that you know all things.
Omnipresence (all-present) – Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Omnipotence (all-powerful) – All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Jesus said in Matthew 28:18
Eternality (no beginning or end) – John 1:1declares of Jesus, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Immutability (unchanging) – Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Can’t argue with that right?
So Jesus is omniscient, he knows everything. This is excellent news! Let’s test this relationship thing!
One might have a conversation with a Christians that goes something like this…
A note for Jesus to read...
If you happen to be a Christian, please speak to this Jesus Christ, who is omniscient and all-powerful by your own admission, and ask him to tell you what the sentence is that I wrote on a folded piece of paper that is on my desk marked “For Jesus Christ 0x001”. It should be a breeze. Write the sentence in the comments below.
Ah, but it doesn’t work like that, I hear a Christian snort. Why not? Can’t test the almighty like that, even to save the soul of an atheist? Ok. Fine.
How about asking Jesus Christ, omniscient son of the almighty creator of the universe how to cure cancer and save millions from dying unimaginably horrible deaths? No?
Then, ask Jesus Christ for a way we can get rid of Malaria without irreversibly damaging the environment? No? Cure for HIV? No?
How about asking Jesus Christ how to fit gravity into the Standard Model of Particle Physics? No? The solution to Goldbach’s conjecture perhaps? No?
But you have a personal relationship with this omniscience being? If you can’t get this being who, by your own definition knows the answers to these questions, to answer any of them, how do you know you have a relationship with it? How do you know? Something other than gaining useful knowledge that you didn’t have before must have convinced you then? What is that thing? You speak to Jesus Christ and he speaks back to you (except he can’t actually answer any useful questions)? Fine, I’ll go with that.
What does Jesus Christ sound like? What accent does he have? What is the tone of his voice? He spoke English to you? American English, Australian English, New Zealand English, South African English, British English, which one? What were the exact words he used when he spoke to you, quote them, verbatim.
Oh, I see, it doesn’t work like that either. Fine, I have one last test, one that no Christian can possibly deny is appropriate since it’s what they do every day of their lives and go to church for.
Speak to Jesus and ask him what he wants. Simple right? Surely he can communicate to you what he actually wants you to do? I mean, that’s pretty basic right? Jesus surely is able to let you, his follower and friend know what it is that he wants you do to?
I ask because not so long ago there were some inter-Christian issues at a church in Auckland city. One Christian sect put up a Christmas poster showing Mary with a pregnancy test. Another Christian sect thought this was terrible blasphemy and tore the poster down. Once sect didn’t believe it was blasphemy, the other did believe it most definitely was blasphemy. Both sects claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Pray to Jesus now and get him to tell you which sect what right and which sect was wrong. Write the answer in the comments below. Preferably quote the actual words used by Jesus Christ to tell you this.
Ok, take three Christians (hell, take three from the same Church) and put them in three separate rooms and ask each of them the same set of questions to ask Jesus Christ with whom all three have ‘a personal relationship’ and see if the answers match.
They won’t. Do you know why? Because Christians do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, whether he exists or not. They do not have shared knowledge. Not even a functionally retarded immigration official would be convinced.
You can’t get knowledge you didn’t have from Jesus Christ by asking him a specific question with a specific answer, you can’t say what he sounds like, which words he uses in which context and two Christians asking the same vague question don’t even get the same vague answer.
Even when the alleged communication is about a fundamental part of Christianity and the answer only has to be a vague guidance feeling, an internal yes or no feeling, a completely unprovable hunch or an urge, it is still inconsistent and different even between a small group of similar Christians. How, after all, can there be 38,000 denominations of Christianity if they all speak to the same deity and have the same manual as reference? Does Jesus have the worst case of split personality the universe has ever seen? A terrible memory perhaps?
‘But the Bible’ one might say.
No, even if Jesus exists and the Bible happens to be true, one does not have a personal relationship with somebody from a one way transmission, especially a single book at least a thousand seven hundred years old. I don’t think I have a personal relationship with William Shakespeare, do you? I don’t believe I have a personal relationship with any author that I’ve never met, at all. Who does? The insane? Those who are on drugs? Does any normal, well-adjusted person think they have a relationship with another person who does not take part in any communication what so ever, aside from a single book written nigh on two millennia ago (that contradicts itself hundreds of times, has fabrications, provably so and isn’t supported by modern archeology performed by people who have a vested interest in proving the book true with empirical evidence)?
I have bad news for those who believe they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Science, reason and empirical evidence say no.
They, empirically, do not.