Is God a Crutch?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Critics of Christianity and of religion, in general, like to take a page from Sigmund Freud and accuse believers of forming their beliefs for purely psychological reasons.  Freud held that believers are projecting their need for a father figure on God.  God is merely a psychological projection of the ideal father.  God, in other words, is just a crutch for those who can’t face the difficulties of life.  Larry King once asked a Christian pastor if Christianity was a crutch, and the pastor replied, “No, I see it as more of a hospital.  We are all in serious condition and desperately need help!”

Are there psychological reasons for belief in God?  Of course there are.  There are psychological reasons for everything we do and everything we believe, but this fact has nothing to say about whether God really exists.  That, my friends, is an entirely different question.

I may very much want to believe that my wife loves me, for psychological reasons, but does the fact that I have this need prove my wife does not love me?  No.  It just doesn’t follow.  Likewise, I may yearn for a heavenly father, but does my yearning prove he doesn’t exist.  Obviously not.

Christians may have their psychological reasons for wanting God to exist, but atheists have their psychological reasons for wanting God to not exist.  According to Paul Vitz, a psychologist who has extensively studied the psychology of atheism, many atheists don’t believe in God because they have unresolved hatred for their earthly father figure.  I have seen this in my friends who are atheists.  Philosopher J. P. Moreland recounts his experience: “I have spoken on more than 200 college campuses and in more than 40 states in the last 40 years, and it has become apparent to me that atheists regularly have deep-seated, unresolved emotional conflicts with their father figures.”

Moreland continues to explain a second psychological reason for atheism.  “People want to be liberated from traditional morality so they can engage in any sexual behavior that satisfies them without guilt, shame, or condemnation.”  If you are a person who is engaged in all sorts of illicit sexual activity, it is absolutely in your interest to reject God.  A few atheists that have visited this blog have admitted that they enjoy sexual pursuits that Christians would find objectionable.  They argue that what they are doing is harmless, and that any religion which tells them the opposite cannot be true.

There are undoubtedly other reasons for denying God’s existence, but the point is that atheists, like believers, have psychological motives.  We all do.

What do we do with this information?  Well, first of all, we should all look within ourselves and reflect on what our motivations are.  Let’s face them and not deny them.

But let’s all remember that at the end of the day, all of these psychological reasons are not ultimately why we should believe or disbelieve.  Our view of God should be based on solid, rational arguments.  We should all know why we believe what we believe and we should stop accusing those who disagree with us of being completely irrational.  It gets us nowhere.

Debating psychology will never determine whether God exists or not, or whether Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  Psychology can only tell us some of the motives for our beliefs.  While that is interesting, it is not the most important question.

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  • This one is funny, “Our view of God should be based on solid, rational arguments.” Why the confidence in reason? Luther correctly observed that logic did little but harm Christian doctrine and said about reason that we should, “Tear it out” from ourselves.

    The faculty of reason is not necessarily stronger or better than that of sight, hearing or any others.

    Personally, I like the idea of reason, but it torpedoes Christian doctrine out of the water.

    Desim or pantheism may be the closest to reason a theist can get. The other approach could be to forget reason and look at religion from a pragmatic point of view. Also, as many grow tired of the fruitless speculations of religious minds, simply moving away from myth-based, superstition-reliant doctrines may be best.

    I used to be a conservative Free Methodist that was very committed, but later switched to Zen after many painful months (even years) of “faith crisis.” Christian stories just appeared as an impossibility. Plus, the anger and violence of God in the Old Testament really convinced me that the Bible, or it’s God, was not so moral or good as I’d been taught.

    I don’t believe it any more than the Hobbit, now, but it was pretty painful at the time. Probably like finding out your wife never loved you and was paid by somebody to marry you or something…except worse on an existential level.

    I’m not a typical Buddhist, though, since most don’t argue or dialogue with people of other faiths. Putting down another religion is not considered good. Guess I straddle the fence still, realizing that the West (Christian) world may stay in darkness if they are not dialogued on these topics of religion vigorously.

    I will say, though, that I support every person of all religions who sincerely wish to live a life of love and happiness for others and self.

  • Bill Pratt

    What are your Buddhist beliefs?

  • Most could be found looking up Zen on Wikipedia for ease, but ultimately in Zen their is the point of liberation from views. The goal is direct perception without the veil of views and ultimately delusion caused by distortions. Zen, from the point of view of the average way of thinking, seems full of paradox, confusion and no clear answers. I have not realized all the Buddhist doctrines, so I cannot really say they are mine. I start with the notion that reality is fundamentally whole and right by default. This I see as self-definition, but cannot say for sure. No external source, such as a Bible, is seen as authoritative for Zen since the goal is to understand the truths directly, not secondhand. The truths may be described differently by each person. This is often the cause of argumentation over differing views and convictions. Freedom from delusion is seen as the best remedy for avoidable suffering.
    The position of “no views” may no be better than one of views for another person. Each person and situation may require a different approach. Nevertheless, in this vehicle (my body) I may harbor views and much delusion even in refuting some religious point regarding Christian doctrine or any other.
    Not identifying with Methodism anymore, one may assume I have the view that Methodism is not “the Way.” At this point, it seems it is not the way for me, but may well be ideal for someone else now. Growth, kindness and enlightenment may occur under many circumstances. None of this will likely give you a clear answer to your question…my apologies as words are so difficult to use to explain Zen.

  • Bill Pratt

    Thanks, Steve. What you say is interesting and raises several questions for me. I know very little about Zen, so I am just trying to resolve in my mind some of the things you said.

    Does it bother you that Zen is difficult to explain in words or propositions? Zen teachings must come from some written or oral source, so wouldn’t that source be authoritative for you? For example, you said the goal is to understand truths directly, but how do you know that’s the goal? Didn’t you have to learn this from an authority?

  • Robin

    God Bless you, keep it up.

  • Charlie

    I am an atheist Not because I had a bad relationship with father(I am closer to him than anyone else in my family), not because I am into illicit sexual behavior( I am rather conservative), but because I never found a single good reason to believe in a god.

    – And on the topic of sexual behavior recent studies have shown that religious people are involved in just as much illicit sexual behavior as non religious people – in fact they actually watch from 5-10% more porn. The real difference is: Religious people fell more guilty about it.

  • “If you are a person who is engaged in all sorts of illicit sexual activity, it is absolutely in your interest to reject God”

    No, such people just rationalise it away, or believe in the sort of God who doesn’t mind them doing that stuff. As Charlie points out, Christians get divorced and go to prison in just as great a number as atheists. In fact, they actually have the edge over the atheists.

    You might as well say if you’re a person who likes eating bacon then it’s in your interest not to be Muslim or Jewish.

    “They argue that what they are doing is harmless, and that any religion which tells them the opposite cannot be true.”

    That’s not at all the same as saying you refuse to believe in it so you can continue doing it. In fact, it’s the direct opposite: “It’s harmless so a God couldn’t object to it”, rather than “There’s no God to object to it, therefore it must be harmless”.