This article was sent to me after I said that faith, at best is a crutch. The original article can be found at gotquestions.org. In the usual fashion, I will put the article here as it appeared on 01 January 2015, and my comments will be in red ink.
Question: “Is faith in God a crutch?”
Answer:Jesse Ventura, former governor of Minnesota, once said, “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.” Agreeing with him is pornographer Larry Flynt, who commented, “There’s nothing good I can say about it [religion]. People use it as a crutch.” Ted Turner once simply said, “Christianity is a religion for losers!” Ventura, Flynt, Turner, and others who think like them view Christians as being emotionally feeble and in need of imaginary support to get through life. Their insinuation is that they themselves are strong and in no need of a supposed God to help them with their lives.
Such statements bring a number of questions: Where did such thinking start? Is there any truth to it? And how does the Bible respond to such assertions? Again here is the common tactic of using the bible to refute an argument. Where this becomes a problem, is that to the theist, their sacred texts are unquestionable, and infallible. To the non-believer, they are just fiction. What this means is that if a theist wants to put forth an argument it must not be scripture based, as the scriptures have no rational authority. The scriptures only have authority for the congregation, not those outside of it.
Is faith in God a crutch? – The Impact of Freud
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was an Austrian neurologist who founded the practice of psychoanalysis, a system espousing the theory that unconscious motives dictate much of human behavior. Though championing atheism, Freud admitted that the truth of religion could not be disproved and that religious faith has provided comfort for untold numbers of people through history. However, Freud thought the concept of God was illusionary. In one of his religious works,The Future of an Illusion, he wrote, “They [believers] give the name of ‘God’ to some vague abstraction which they have created for themselves.”
As to the motivation for creating such illusions, Freud believed two basic things: (1) people of faith create a god because they have strong wishes and hopes within them that act as comfort against the harshness of life; (2) The idea of God comes from the need for an idyllic father figure that eclipses either a non-existent or imperfect real father in the life of a religiously-minded person. Speaking of the supposed wish-fulfillment factor in religion, Freud wrote, “They [religious beliefs] are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind. We call belief an illusion when a wish-fulfillment is a prominent factor in its motivation and in doing so we disregard its relation to reality, just as the illusion itself sets no store by verification.”
For Freud, God was nothing more than a psychological projection that served to shield an individual from a reality he does not want to face and cannot cope with on his own. After Freud came other scientists and philosophers who asserted the same thing and said that religion is just an illusion/delusion of the mind. Robert Pirsig, an American writer and philosopher who typifies Freud’s followers, has said, “When one person suffers from a delusion, it’s called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it’s called religion.”
What we have here is the build up of a classic straw man. Freud new little if nothing of archaeology or anthropology as they were primarily new fields of study in Freud’s lifetime. Thus, Freud based his views on his own flawed research into psychoanalysis. Freud is often attacked for the God is a crutch argument, because his is the easiest to build an argument against. This is so, because Freud’s argument is that the Christi-Muslim concept of an all powerful God is a fairly recent development in human history.
The history of religion begins with mythological explanations for natural occurrences. Along the way, the idea of a spirit comes into play. This is due to how human conscience works. We are able to not only distinguish ourselves from, say, a lamp but our sense of spacial separation (or self) is so great that it is flawed. It is flawed in that we can separate “our self” from our body. It doesn’t take a great imaginary leap to conclude that animals, rocks, trees and the sky have these “souls” or “spirits” too.
I’m actually surprised that the author didn’t include Karl Marx’s claim that religion is the opiate of the masses. Instead, he quotes Robert Pirsig, a practicing Buddhist author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Where the author gets that Pirsig was a “follower” of Freud, I don’t know. I can’t find any information on that.
Below is a simple illustration as to how religions can evolve over time.
Why does it rain? The sky-god sweats. Why isn’t it raining now? We must have pissed off the sky-god. What does he want? A new bride! Ok, let’s sacrifice a virgin to send her spirit to the sky-god. There are no virgins, except for small children. Then let’s make some rules that girls cannot have sex until they take a husband. They’ll never go for that. Then tell them that the sky-god commands it! They will be rewarded by the sky-god if they stay a virgin until marriage, and punished if they do not. But if they have premarital sex and are not punished, won’t that give up the game? Hmmm. I know! We’ll tell them that the rewards and punishment are for their soul and come after they die. Brilliant!
What about the above charges? Is there any truth to the assertions made by Freud and others?
Examining the Claims of the “Crutch Crowd”
When making an honest examination of these claims, the first thing to recognize is what those making the assertions are claiming about themselves. Deriders of religion are saying that Christians are prone to psychological and wish-fulfillment factors that they, the skeptics, are not. Not at all. Any person is prone to flights of fancy, and wishful thinking. A skeptic is one how uses the tools of reason, science and logic, to keep their own flights of fancy in check. Occasionally, Skeptics have to keep an eye out for those who wish to force their flights of fancy on others: such a priests, ideologues, quacks, and other con-men. But how do they know that? For example, Freud saw the need for a Father God as an outworking of emotionally needy people desiring a father figure, but could it be that Freud himself had an emotional need for no father figure to exist? And perhaps Freud had an outworking of wish-fulfillment that manifested in not wanting a Holy God and judgment in the afterlife to exist, a wish for hell not to be real. Demonstrating the plausibility of such thinking is the writing of Freud himself who once said, “The bad part of it, especially for me, lies in the fact that science of all things seems to demand the existence of a God.” Again, more build up of a straw man. Freud was a shrink, and a bad one at that. He wasn’t a philosopher and really didn’t follow the scientific method. Consider that he is the one who turned everything cylindrical into a phallic symbol, yet said that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Freud is easily picked on because he has no credible defenders.
It would seem reasonable to conclude, as Freud and his followers have argued in their position, that the only way a person could overcome “demanding” black-and-white evidence of something is by creating an illusionary hope that overpowers the verifications of God’s existence, and yet they do not consider this a possibility for them. Some atheists, however, have honestly and openly admitted this likelihood. Serving as one example, atheist Professor/Philosopher Thomas Nagel once said, “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and naturally hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope that there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
Most Atheists who hope there is no God are referring specifically to the God of Abraham. The God depicted in the Torah (that’s Old Testament to you gentiles), is a horrible god. He is a boastfully jealous, petty, misogynistic, genocidal bully that has a fascination with genitals. On the other hand, the Hindu Brahman, or even Spinoza’s God do not scare the Atheist, and if such a being were real, an Atheist would want to know about it!
Another consideration to keep in mind is that not all aspects of Christianity are comforting. For example, the doctrine of hell, the recognition of humankind as sinners who are unable to please God on their own, and other similar teachings are not of the warm-and-fuzzy kind. How does Freud explain the creation of these doctrines?
Ah, the doctrine of Hell, and sin. The original Hell can be found in Zoroastrian writings, as they have a version of it. The same is true of Hades’s realm, some parts of it can be considered a hell. As far as sin, what is considered sin is a crime against God. If you do not do what he says then you sin. Judeo-Christi-Muslim religions aren’t the first to conceive of a hell, or even sin. But I think they may be the first to ABUSE their children by telling their kids that they are evil.
The idea of inventing an illness that only you have a cure for is an old con. This is precisely what snake-oil salesmen do. Have a bloated tummy? It’s too much gluten, by my over priced bread to ease your weight! Have subluxations? I’m the only one who can even see them, and with a quick snapping of your neck I can cure them! Have sin? Then do everything I say and they’ll go away after you die, and it is all for the low low price of 10% of your income!
An additional thought that springs from the above question is why, if humankind merely invents the concept of God to make itself feel better, would people fabricate a God who is holy? Social control. Refer to my example above. It is a fictitious illustration, but one that took little imagination on my part. It is hard for a ruler to justify sending young men into combat to be killed for royal glory and the ruler’s personal gain. However, if the ruler can convince his subjects that God commanded them to do so, then they will much more easily. Why so many regulations? Some are to keep communal order, some are to make a sense of tribalistic community (like rules on how long to grow your beard) and others are to keep control of family planning in the hands of those who are in control in the social hierarchy. Such a God would seem to be at odds with people’s natural desires and practices. In fact, such a God would seem to be the last type of god they would come up with. Instead, one would expect people to create a god who agrees with the things they naturally want to do instead of opposing the practices that they themselves (for some reason yet to be explained) label as “sinful.” What the author is trying to do is confuse the reader. Here the “they” is supposed to be ALL of the followers who crafted the religion. However, in reality, the “they” were the few in power. And let’s not forget that those in power mostly did not follow their own rules. In biblical times, most kings were either held as gods, (like the Pharaoh, or Caesar), or were seen as direct voices of the gods. Thus they got to make their own rules, and were not typically forced to keep them.
One last question is how do the “crutch” claims explain people who initially were hostile to religion and did not want to believe? Such people seemingly had no wish or desire for Christianity to be true, yet after an honest examination of the evidence and an acknowledgement of its “realness,” they became believers. What is meant by “realness”? I have to say, that I find it amusing that the author had to put “realness” in quotes. English scholar C. S. Lewis is one such person. Lewis is famous for saying there was no more reluctant convert in all of England than himself, that he was literally dragged kicking and screaming into the faith, which is hardly a statement that one would expect from a person engaged in a wish-fulfillment fantasy.
The crutch outlook has nothing to do with whether there is or is not a god.
These issues and questions seem to be at odds with the claims of the “crutch” crowd and are conveniently ignored by them. But what does the Bible have to say about their claims? How does it answer their charges?
I’ve omitted the biblical section, which would go here as it is not necessary for the rest of this post. Again the author tries to use the bible to prove god. Again, the bible would only have authority of god exists, so using the bible to prove god is a circular argument. One quickly tires of spinning of biblical proportions.
Is faith in God a crutch? – Conclusion
Jesse Ventura was wrong when he said that religion is nothing more than a crutch. Such a statement speaks to the prideful nature of man and epitomizes the type of people rebuked by Jesus in the book of Revelation: “You say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
The wish-fulfillment claims of Freud, Ventura, and others only act as an indictment against themselves and showcase their desire to reject God and His claim to their lives, which is exactly what the Bible says fallen humankind does. But to these same people, God asks that they recognize their true desires and offers Himself in the place of the false hope of humanism that they cling to.
The Bible’s statements regarding the fact and evidence of Christ’s resurrection bring comfort and real hope—hope that does not disappoint—and instruct us to walk in a way that trusts God and recognizes our true “weak” position before Him. Once that is done, we become strong, just as Paul said, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
I have stated that this article is a straw man argument because the author is trying to refute the claim that since religion is a crutch, god does not exist. That is not the claim at all. To say that religion is a crutch is not to imply that those who are religious are weak and stupid. At least not always. Picture this, you see a man with no legs in a wheel chair. Do you consider the man weak and stupid? Of course not. What about a girl with a leg cast, moving about on a crutch? Nope, neither stupid nor weak, just hurt. And that is how religion is a crutch. There are times we need someone to lean on, and at times, a group to lean on. Those you lean on act as a crutch to keep you from falling… to keep you on your own two feet. And this is what is meant by religion is a crutch. It is also what Karl Marx meant by religion being the “opiate of the masses”.