One of my favorite and most impressional lessons from my religious education was the story of the sisters, Martha and Mary where Jesus comes over as a dinner guest. Mary spends her time at "Jesus feet" listening to him, while Martha is getting (rightfully) upset that she is the only one making all the preparations for dinner. (Luke 10:38 - 41.
) While Jesus' lesson to Martha is that listening to him and his wisdom is much better than fulfilling the duties of a host, I was instructed that Martha was the misguided materialist and that Mary had done the right thing. Mary had a personal relationship with Jesus and wasn't concerned with material distractions. We were to be like Mary and not Martha.
My experience with Jesus to that point had been either what I thought or I felt, what I had read or was told to take away from the Bible by priest and later pastor, and by Sunday School teachers. Who – let's face it, do most of the hard work indoctrinating youth into Christianity. So I was impressed by this story and I really wanted to have a relationship with Jesus like Mary did. We were instructed that we, as young Christians, must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Only, Jesus never came to dinner, and as child I always felt immensely let down.
Reflecting on the recent ARIS study, showing that organized religion, namely Christianity, had lost adherents to more personal, individual forms of religious devotion, I can't help to wonder the "it's not a religion, it's relationship" meme of Christianity has come to bite the pushers of this meme in the as s. Why bother with tedious, time consuming Sundays, when you, in the privacy and convenience of your home or office, can have this relationship with Jesus yourself without any interlopers? And not just any Jesus, or the Jesus of your pastor or priest, but a Jesus who is as individual as you are. I have a suspicion that many people who left organized religion to pursue, to "freelance" more individual forms of spirituality have taken this meme not only to heart, but to practice. In many cases they've dropped pretty much all that is Christianity to the devotion and belief in a generic "higher-power
Since my early experience and the significance that I found in the Lukian dinner story, I've have come to wonder just exactly what people are talking about when they say they have a "personal relationship with Jesus." Martha and Mary had one. Why couldn't I? I was aware from the NT that Jesus made plenty of posthumous appearances after he was tortured and killed to appease his father. He even went out of his way to convince Thomas that he was alive. So where is Jesus today? Why has he stop making post-resurrection house calls?
Imagine for a moment that you are married, and perhaps you probably are. You love your spouse. Your spouse loves you. You and your spouse have a mutual stake in each others futures and not only do you collectively provide for finances together, but emotional support as well. You have a mortgage together. You buy food together. You have each others cell phone numbers and you regularly go to the gym together and encourage each other to maintain their health.
Any observer would conclude that you and your spouse do indeed have a relationship.
Now imagine that your spouse lives in another state or country. You are unable to communicate to your spouse because they have no email, no phone, or address and they are not homeless or otherwise transient. Later, you tell us that the name of your spouse wasn't really their name, but two appellations put together. There are no pictures of the ceremony because you were never married. Your spouse doesn't contribute to your mortgage and you cover all expenses by yourself. You also inform us that the emotional support you receive and the conversations you have with your spouse is directly transmitted inside your head. But you tell us not to worry, you have a personal relationship with your spouse and that is as real as their personal relationship to you.
Now imagine you are this person's friend. What would you think? Would you doubt the existence of your friend's spouse? What about the sanity, or at least how accurate your friend perceives reality? Would you, perhaps, think that your friend is a reasonably sane person?
Incredibly, this is the the type of relationship that many, many Christians report when they report of having a "personal relationship with Jesus
." And this is the type of relationship that our religious leaders encourage us to have with Jesus also. Incidentally, I have to wonder if Christians are now embarrassed by religion and opt out for something seemingly less dogmatic and socially backward and intolerant.
What "personal relationship with Jesus
" amounts to is a delusion. Popular and shared, yes.
A delusion shared is a delusion nevertheless.
Content reposted from my blog, The Hypatian Shore.