Who Really Holds the Crutch?


by Rob Lundberg

It was the 19th century atheist Ludwig Feurbach (1804-1872) who stated that “Religion is a dream of the human mind…in these days, illusion is sacred, truth profane.” (Religion and Humanistic Atheism, xxxix).

And of course who can forget the famous quote of Karl Marx (1818-1883) in response to his criticism of G. W. F. Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right”, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of the soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

I introduce this posting with these quotes because one of the most popular objections coming from atheism is the charge that Christianity (vis-a-vis belief in a supernatural being called “God”) is a psychological crutch. OK, so how do we respond to this objection? Is belief in God simply what these critics claim it to be? Let me give you six principles that I believe will answer this objection and even show that it is not a healthy Christian faith that is holding the crutch as much as it is the delusion of atheism.

I.  Religion, for Some Believers, Can Indeed Be a Crutch.

What is the purpose of a crutch? An ordinary crutch is a device that allows us to stand or walk when one of our legs is broken. If our legs can’t hold us, we don’t hesitate to use a crutch. The only question that would suffice on the usefulness of the crutch would be will it do the job? That is, does it fit? Is it strong enough to hold us?

The fact that some may use religion as a crutch of course does not determine whether God actually exists or does not exist, or whether a particular religion – such as Christianity – is in fact true. Those questions still need to be argued on their own merits (as I will support in point III).

Furthermore, I want you to know that nonbelievers also use existential “crutches” on a regular basis. These can take the form of drugs or alcohol, or fantasy worlds (materialism, soap operas, virtual worlds, games, reality TV, etc.), or any number of things. So it is not just believers who may use crutches. We can all have props or crutches that we lean on – some more heavily than others. If it is not God or religion, it can be numerous other things, such as materialism, hedonism, or narcissism, etc.

The real question to ask is, can your crutch really hold you? Christians believe that many people depend on things which are not at all trustworthy, and that Jesus came to kick these false props and crutches away.

II.  A Crutch Can Prove to Be Very Handy.

Even if we were to accept this general thesis, we would still have to say more. If a person is actually lame, then a crutch is a very handy thing to possess. If a person cannot walk, is crippled or is injured, then he very much does need a crutch.

The Biblical picture of the human condition presents such a view. We are all spiritually crippled. We are all damaged by sin. So we desperately need help, and from the biblical Christian worldview, that help lies beyond ourselves. If it weren’t for God breaking into our world and intervening by giving us His grace and the faith that we need to place in what was accomplished for us at the cross of Calvary. If it were not for that intervention, we would all be lost, and forever lame and crippled. Christianity is the cure to our spiritual infirmities. In that case, what is wrong with some comfort and solace, or some supernatural help?[1]

III. The Need for a Crutch Does Not Prove the Atheists’ Objection

Even if all people have psychological needs that are helped by religion, that does not disprove the existence of God. Feurbach, Marx and others of their ilk, simply assume the nonexistence of God and use the objection to make their case about religion being a human construct.

The arguments for God’s existence must still be dealt with regardless of why certain people may believe the way they do.

IV.  The Motivation for Beliefs is Separate from the Truth of the Belief.

Related to my previous point, the motivation for a belief is a separate issue from the truth of that belief. Regardless of why people are religious, we still need to ask whether a certain religious belief is true or not. Even if some people simply use religion as some psychological crutch, the question still needs to be asked whether in fact their religious beliefs are true or not.

What is Faith?

The clearest definition comes from Hebrews 11:1. This verse says, “Faith is the assurance of thingshoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

The Christian faith carries with it the assurance that something is true. For something to be true, there must be evidence that give credence for something to be true. For the Bible believing Christian, the facts matter. You can’t have assurance for something you don’t know you’re going to get. You can only hope for it.

Being the time of year that it is, this is why the resurrection of Jesus is so important. It gives assurance to the hope of the fact that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Because of the Christian view of faith, Paul is able to say in 1 Corinthians 15 that when it comes to the resurrection, if we have only hope, but no assurance — if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead in a time/space continuum — then we are of most men to be pitied. That’s what he says what he does, “We are of most men to be pitied.”

What is a delusion?

The challenge coming from the new atheists (“faitheists”) is that belief in God is a delusion. What is a delusion? The psychological definition of “delusion” is “an erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary; a mistaken our unfounded opinion or idea.[2] Licona and Habermas’ book Case for the Resurrection define “delusion” in their chapter on handling objections as “false beliefs, when evidence to the contrary is known.” The key phrase that one must focus on here is the “when evidence to the contrary is known.”

Atheism will make the claim that Christianity is delusional, and then not acknowledge the evidence that is given by many apologists. But is Christianity is delusional? I think not for the reason in my fifth point.

V.  The Objection Coming from the Atheism is Really a Problematic One

What do we mean by “atheism“?

Depending on who you talk to, the definition of atheism is going to vary from the philosophical to the existential (the position from which most of the “new atheists” sometimes called “faitheists” want to argue.) What is the definition coming from the ‘faithiests’? Many like to say that atheism means a lack of belief in “God” or a supernatural being.

The problem with this definition is a softening of the classical definition. One can consult most of the encyclopaedias of philosophy, and find that that “atheism” (“a” – no; “theos” – God) is defined as “the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.”[3]

The Problem with the Objection

So by understanding the definition of atheism, we see that the claim that “religion is nothing but a psychological crutch” makes a dogmatic statement that is acting as an absolute truth claim. The claim commits the brute fact fallacy which makes the assumption of what it is trying to prove. Thus the objection is problematic and self-defeating.

How does Feuerbach or Marx or any of the new atheists really know that God is nothing but the projection of human imagination and longing?

No one has that much knowledge to be able to make these sorts of assertions. What it does is makes an absolute claim against a Being that is Absolute in knowledge, power, love, holiness, justice, presence, et al. Indeed, what hard evidence can the classical atheist and the “faitheist” present for these claims? What sort of evidence would even come close to proving these assertions? I have yet to see their proofs.

So where does this question really lead us?

VI.  The Real Question About Christianity is not Psychological but Historical

The real question about Christianity is not a psychological one, but an historical one. Did Jesus exist? What did he teach? What did he do? Did he really rise from the dead? These are the questions any serious inquirer must deal with.

People may have wrong or faulty reasons for believing in anything. And the game can be spun on its head. Maybe atheism is simply a projection, or an example of wish-fulfillment. As Alister McGrath puts it,

“if belief in God was a response to a human longing for security, might it not also be argued that atheism was a response to the human desire for autonomy?”

Thus atheism might just as well be an illusion, the result of what one wishes for. But if atheists reject that line of reasoning, then they are required to reject its mirror image, that religion is an illusion and the result of wishful thinking.

Thus for all their bluff and bluster, atheists who resort to these accusations certainly are not making much of a case. But for those who couldn’t be bothered with doing some critical thinking, they might seem like plausible objections. But that is simply not the case. More will be needed to disprove Christianity than this rather lame challenge.


[1] Might I add that Jesus is not a crutch, but He is a stretcher; because one cannot limp into heaven without Him (John 14:6).

[2] A delusion is believing something to be true when all evidence to the contrary proves otherwise.  

[3] Smart, J. J. C., “Atheism and Agnosticism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2003 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.); The reason many of the new atheists stay away from the classical definition is due to the fact that the fact that one cannot have an absolute negation of an Absolute Being has clobbered many atheists in the debate arena. One debate that comes to mind is the debate betweenChristian, J. P. Moreland v. Atheist, Kai Nielsen (University of Calgary), and the otherChristian, Greg Bahnsen v. Atheist, Gordon Stein




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