Is God merely an imaginary friend for adults?

May 4, 2006 | By | 39 Replies More

Earlier this week, I was watching one of the Christian-content religious channels on television (there are two such ‘church channels’ in my city) and I was listening to the televangelist say that “even if you have no friends in this world, God will be your friend.”  Immediately after hearing these words, I was struck by how much “God” sounds like the imaginary friends that children sometimes invent to keep themselves company.  If your child were to tell you that she played with “Magna” all afternoon, and you know she was alone in her bedroom the whole time, you might worry about your child’s emotional well-being.  What, then, should we think when adults say they talk with “God” (or “Jesus”)?  Given that there is no more tangible proof for the existence of “God” (or “Jesus”) than there is for “Magna,” are we not justified in asking if “God” (or “Jesus”) is merely an imaginary friend for adults?  Indeed, “God” appears to serve the same purpose for adults that “Magna” serves for little children:  providing comfort and companionship when no actual human is available.

Indeed, the one unquestionable difference between “God” and “Magna” is the social cost:  “God” provides adults with an imaginary friend at a much lower social cost that “Magna” would incur.  By naming their imaginary friend “God,” adults can gain the same sort of internal emotional comfort that children gain from their imaginary friends, but without the social stigma that would otherwise arise from talking to invisible people.  Indeed, “God” provides even more emotional comfort than “Magna,” because “God” opens the door to fellowship with other adults who declare their own belief in “God.”  Perhaps this is why so many adults strongly defend their belief in “God:”  because to do otherwise would risk depriving themselves of a socially-acceptable imaginary* friend.

* Please note that I have referred to “God” herein as “imaginary” merely because there is no physical proof that “God” exists.  Thus, it is logically correct to refer to “God” as imaginary.

Postscript:  After thinking further about Erich’s comment, and watching the “What is God?” video on this website, I’ve decided to change the subject of this post from “Jesus” to “God.”  Readers are encouraged to watch the video, because it illustrates the core message of this post.


Category: American Culture, Culture, Meaning of Life, Religion

About the Author ()

Grumpypilgrim is a writer and management consultant living in Madison, WI. He has several scientific degrees, including a recent master’s degree from MIT. He has also held several professional career positions, none of which has been in a field in which he ever took a university course. Grumps is an avid cyclist and, for many years now, has traveled more annual miles by bicycle than by car…and he wishes more people (for the health of both themselves and our planet) would do the same. Grumps is an enthusiastic advocate of life-long learning, healthy living and political awareness. He is single, and provides a loving home for abused and abandoned bicycles. Grumpy’s email: grumpypilgrim(AT)@gmail(DOT).com [Erich’s note: Grumpy asked that his email be encrypted this way to deter spam. If you want to write to him, drop out the parentheticals in the above address].

Comments (39)

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  1. Spectre says:

    The belief in any deity is absurd and infantile !

  2. Lizbeth says:

    When I was a kid I had an imaginary friend. As an adult
    I now have a real friend who matches her description right
    down to the name, hair color, gender and age. Wierdly, she.
    “remembered me” too. I also
    have had the same dream before as this total stranger.

    I can’t explain it, but it made me wonder what we humans
    are sometimes experiencing that we keep calling “imaginary”.

    Sometimes real life is just strange.

  3. Jon says:

    Of course God is just an imaginary friend for adults. If someone made the EXACT same claims about a being called “Sorpax” as they did about God (invisible, performs miracles, rewards you when you die, created all of reality with magic), they would not be taken seriously and most people would think they were crazy and foolish. But for some reason, those same EXACT claims are to be held with reverence and respect when you simply call this imaginary friend “God” or “Allah”?

    Look at Scientology or Wicca. Nothing those religions claim is any less silly or proven than the claims made by mainstream religions like Christianity or Islam, yet because they don’t have a thousand years of influence to back them up, they’re not taken seriously.

    I treat the claims of a theist the same as I treat the claims of adults who think Santa exists, or leprechauns: They’re deluded and need to learn how to think critically.

  4. Jim says:

    Yes he is imaginary for religious people but I don’t think they think of him as a friend. Because of the weight of education, logic and reason are slowly taking their toll on religion and faith. So how is it that intelligent well-educated people could still believe that they have an invisible friend living in the sky? I believe the answer to this question is not that people need an invisible friend to help them through life but more likely it is fear that was put into their minds when they were children. They were told that unbelievers would live in hell and burn for eternity, talk about child abuse, is this not the ultimate terror story? Intelligent people are not religious because they have a strong belief in god’s existence, it’s because they think that if they don’t believe look at the consequences. These consequences were placed in their minds when they were young and impressionable and make them think what if I’m wrong? When something is placed in a child’s mind it is hard for them to disregard it later in life and when it comes to religion they’re not going to take any chances because of this fear. As for the people who are not intelligent, they are the ones who have a strong belief in God because they are too stupid to question it. These are the fools that keep the farce alive and pass it on to their children and their grandchildren. So one might ask what harm will it do if we let these people have their silly beliefs? It’s ok as long as they don’t harm anyone or try to keep other people with different beliefs from expressing their opinion. However since the 911 world trade center destruction, their simpleminded beliefs can no longer be considered harmless and we must take a look at what they are teaching their children. We can’t stop people from filling the minds of their children with dangerous nonsense, but we can at least get the word out as often as we can and hopefully some day education will eradicate this mental virus on humanity forever.

  5. grumpypilgrim says:

    Jon’s comment reminds me of the fact that history is filled with self-described messiahs who claimed to perform miracles. Even in Jesus’ time, people who claimed to talk to god, walk on water, or heal the sick were a dime a dozen. Mormonism, with its supposed reliance on miraculous translations of golden tablets (that were conveniently taken back to heaven before anyone else could see them), is another good example.

  6. grumpypilgrim says:

    As Jim points out, the fear of eternal damnation seems to be a key reason why many people claim to believe in the god-of-the-Bible. I have a family member who fits that category. Another fear, though one that very few believers would admit, is the (very earthly) fear of community condemnation. Believers are part of a congregation. In some parts of the country (e.g., small towns, the Deep South, etc.), believers undoubtedly face massive social pressure to toe the religious line. Religion as a hard-to-fake sign of commitment has been mentioned on this website and elsewhere (; Publicly ejecting such beliefs is banned by most organized religions, and probably is too great a risk for many self-proclaimed believers.

  7. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Religion has always served to bolster a specific social structure, Multi theism generally supports caste- cultures, and monotheism supports monarchy.
    Beyond that, I realized that the Judea-Christian faiths also promote a slave mentality among the followers.

  8. Tim Hogan says:

    “slave mentality?” How?

  9. Mike M. says:

    Tim – I’ll take a stab at this one. The “One God” religions, by their very nature, require a Master-Creator/Slave-Creation dichotomy, much like the medieval Lord/Serf relationship. The One God issues the Rules/Laws/Commandments that the Followers must…well, follow.
    He tells you where you must go on Sunday (or Saturday), what not to eat on Fridays or certain other designated special days, when to kneel before the Master and how to hold your hands while doing so, what to say and when to say it (while in His house), what you may think (“Righteous” and “Holy” thoughts) and what you may not think (“unholy” or “impure” thoughts), how to cut your son’s penis after birth, what type of building you must get married in to be “legitimate”, who you may or may not marry, how your corpse is to be treated after death, etc, etc. Most of these rules and rituals were just made up by the religious authorities as history went along (cultural control icons handed down from On High), and many of them are found in THE BOOK (Koran, Bible Torah). The ONE BOOK with ALL THE ANSWERS. Of course one can look at this all as the rules of the game, but I doubt if the followers see ther religions as games. On the contrary, I suspect followers consider their religions as Serious and True, which creates the effect of a lifetime of indentured servitude (unless they can break their mental chains and free themselves–always a possibility)
    And what fate awaits those who disobey the Laws of the One God and His Book? Eternal Hellfire or some other such savage punishment. The slaves, if they conform dutifully, are “saved” in the end.
    If this isn’t slavery, then what is?

    Slave: a person who has lost control of himself and is dominated by something or someone.
    Slavery: submission to a dominating influence.
    Webster’s Dictionary

  10. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    That actually scratches the surface.
    So much of the teachings of the Abrahamic religions promote the acceptance of subservience of the masses. Depending on the particular dogma of sectarian interpretations of holy scriptures, arguments are made favoring a ruling class that is forever closed to the poor, that pain suffering and a short life are part of a grand manifest destiny, and the ruling class have, by birthright knowledge of that plan.

    The slave class are promised, as reward for a lifetime of pain, poverty and suffering, a guaranteed place in paradise, heaven, San Tropez .. what ever after they die from a life of serving the ruling class, or an eternity of pain and punishment if they show a hint of defiance.
    Churches refer to their congregations as the “flock” and the leaders as benevolent “shepherds”, never mentioning that eventually sheep are sheared and occasionally killed for the benefit of the shepherd.
    This group of religions provide a strong framework for the rulers to control the “sheeple”.

  11. Tim Hogan says:

    Few of the priests, nuns, religious and faithful I know are “slaves.” In Catholicism we share common core beliefs which may be identified in the Nicean Creed, and the two “ex cathedra” teachings of the Church: that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was concieved without sin; and, that Mary did not die but, was assumed into heaven.

    There are wide and varied discussions on what is allowed to Catholics in many aspects of life. There are developments, which often take centuries, which reform the Church. I see some of the “slavishness” discussed as being part of American political life among Catholics with the recent attacks on the Democratic Party (I am a Democrat) and President Obama (I am a supporter). I have written extensively on this in the past but, am no longer allowed to do so here.

    The next bit of “slavishness” I expect from the Church is an insistence upon adherence to overt political positions and action to repeal the Roe v. Wade decision of the US Supreme Court and to mandate support for some sort of Human Life Amendment as though those two strictly political actions, if completed, would somehow advance the teachings of the Catholic Church as a whole. The Pope has apparently already said this to the Catholic nuns. The Catholic Bishops will tell us that we must accept their teaching on these issues as “fact” and that anything else is mere “opinion” which contradicts the “teaching” of the Church and places souls in peril. I think that’s hogwash! If a celibate prelate can tell every person of the Catholic faith in the US what political “facts” are without any such telling being able to be disputed, there will be a revolt. The Bishops will have to rescind their thoughtful document on “Faithful Citizenship” and denounce that “prudential consciences” may disagree and to simply tell everyone what to do what to do–with the resulting peril to their non-profit status.

    Look at the document and see if betokens a “slavish” mnentality or provides a basis for diverse views informed by many consciences.

    P.S. Catholics should vote for Obama in 2012!

    Change “McCain” to “Romney” below but, Romney’s worse!

  12. Mike M. says:

    Tim: We were ALL conceived without sin, not just Mary. Anyone who has ever witnessed the birth of their child should realize that the child has come into this world as an original blessing, untarnished by any guilt or sin or fallen nature. It should be self-evident. Instead, what has Christianity given us? Centuries of horrors and abuses unleashed in part by Saint Augustine with his invention of that nasty anti-human doctrine of Original Sin (not found in any of Jesus’s teachings or any Jewish scriptures). Unnatural, misguided, devolutionary and evil nonsense. And you should keep that junk out of politics (which is corrupt enough on it’s own).

  13. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    The reason I stated that Abrahamic religions are slave religions is from a practical assessment of how certain facets of the religions work in a master-slave society.

    These faiths support monarchy as the preferred government with a king, a supreme cleric or in some cases both as the indisputable lawgiver.
    They provide supernatural rationalizations that maintain class divisions.
    The psychology of gambling has shown that the promise of great is in and of itself a most powerful reward. These faiths promise a place in paradise / heaven after you die. So the faithful can be treated like crap by the masters and not complain.
    Of course, the concept of hell is also used as an aversive, but it also hold a promise to the slave class that if they die and go to heaven, their masters will surely go to hell, promoting heaven as a place of true freedom.
    Masters generally don’t want the slaves to be too smart. Most religions support some form of censorship. Some go as far as restricting the followers to only a specific translation of their holy tome.
    many sects teach that no one has any control over their own life, that their future is set in stone and that nothing they do matters. This concept of divine predestination is dehumanizing, particularly during adversity. It also keeps the slave class from aspiring to rise into the ranks of the masters.

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