Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Crutch

I actually don’t know anyone who calls religion a “crutch”.

That may seem surprising. A Google search produces a list of close to 200,000 references in articles, social media comments and blog posts that begin with words along the lines of “People often say Christianity is a crutch …”

So I’m sure people say it. They just don’t say it to me.

Freud and Wish-Fulfillment

They say similar things, of course: Sigmund Freud saw religion as wish-fulfillment; posited that man feels a need for security and forgiveness and consequently invented God as a source for them. That seems a fairly crutch-like concept.

So, though I don’t actually read about people who refer to Christianity as a “crutch”, when I read about people who refer to people who refer to it that way, I feel like replying, “Yes, thank you, it certainly is. Couldn’t make it through life without it myself. If you like, you may be the judge as to how well I’m hobbling along”.

You know, just in case anyone actually does say it.

Except, of course, that makes it sound like all the Christian will ever do is hobble, and I’m fairly sure that’s neither good theology nor terribly accurate.

Self-Reliance and Strength

Anyway, I hope the line is not just a ubiquitous straw man employed by apologists (can’t we call them “apologeticists” instead?). Because one of the things I find most compelling about the Christian faith is the fact that it answers to very evident human need.

There are many, of course, who don’t feel that way. Needs are not their thing, and they do their best to let you know they don’t have any: spiritually, personally, emotionally. If they secretly harbour concerns that their worldview is inadequate to the job of getting them through life, they are not about to come out and say it. In fact, the whole “crutch” issue was being batted around on another blog recently, and one self-described atheist replied to a believer this way (along with a few colourful adjectives nobody really needs to get the message):
“Even your moral and mental strength is not yours; it comes from your god. At least an atheist has only himself to rely on, his moral compass to follow …”
To all appearances, he’s pretty sure of his own moral compass and where it points.

The Road We’re On

The atheist sees it as a positive trait to make up one’s own morality and a negative trait to rely on the strength or guidance of God.

No evident sense of need there.

In fact, western affluence and other factors cause many to profess complete confidence in the road they’re currently on and where it ultimately leads. Their lives are relatively comfortable and busy; their moments in crisis few, far between and easily forgotten.

But it is not as if scripture neglects to address those who think this way: the Lord speaks of those who say relax, eat, drink and be merry. He says that ultimately their soul will be required of them. But he also recognizes that among the well-off, this is not a message that gets a lot of traction.

The Need for Need

The Lord also tells us he came not to call the righteous but sinners.

That verse is actually one of the very few instances in scripture when “righteous” is used to mean “self-righteous”, though the word is frequently employed to mean that today in modern speech. The religiously-untrained ear now hears the word “righteousness” as an insult, not a compliment. On one level, the verse could legitimately be understood to mean that the Lord actually came to call everyone, since as the psalmist said and the apostle Paul repeated, there ARE no “righteous”. Not even one. But it seems to me from context that the Lord is talking about those who know they are in need, as opposed to those who don’t. Those who don’t know their need may be simply ignorant or worse, self-righteous. The Lord is not suggesting that anyone is actually “made righteous” with God by his or her works, whatever their motivation may be.

At any rate, if there is truth to be found beyond the material world, it is safe to say that it cannot be found without first experiencing a sense of need for it.

As for Freud’s wish-fulfillment theory, one of the better responses comes from Alister McGrath:
“... the wish is a father to the thought ... the New Atheism is really a form of wish fulfillment. We don’t want to there to be a God. It’s inconvenient. So, there isn’t one.”

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