I know I wrote about this before, but I was reminded again of this pertinent question about a month ago during my exams, when one of my non-Christian friends asked: ‘You appear more relaxed now that you have put your trust in God for your exams. So is Christianity your psychological crutch?’
Indeed, it is a very good question, and one I had been grappling with because I never felt that the answer I had gotten from the talk from the Durham Christian Union was sufficient. It seemed to sort of go around the question, but didn’t tackle the essence of the accusation head on. For my previous post on this, click here: https://ihaveareasontosing.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/the-psychological-projection-of-god-versus-faith-%E2%89%A0-blindness/
However, I slowly began to realise that I had been tackling the question in the wrong way. The accusation that Christianity, or religion for that matter, is a psychological crutch, can easily lead people to assume certain things and make various preconceptions.
So firstly, I would like to point out and debunk a myth about psychological crutches, and then argue that Christianity is not a psychological crutch.
1. Myth: Psychological crutches are rare.
Very often, when people criticise religion as a psychological crutch, there seems to be a negative aspect to the notion of a psychological crutch. However, I think everyone has a psychological crutch! Simply defined, a psychological crutch is some kind of hope, aspiration or idea that gets us through life, and it sustains us through our problems. In a way, our very own dreams could be considered a psychological crutch, because it allows us to place our hopes on a better future or potential reality. Therefore, psychological crutches are not rare – in fact, they have been academically argued as natural. Everyone, I repeat, everyone, has a psychological crutch. So why can’t Christianity be one too?
Interestingly, there have also been arguments put forward that atheism is a religion. Anti-religion is a psychological crutch as well because it is something they can’t live without. How would atheists react if Jesus did come back? If they saw Jesus coming back on the clouds, would they be angry? Would they deny it? Why? I don’t have in-depth knowledge about the arguments for and against atheism as a religion, but I suppose that since there are still essays and university topics concerning this area, there is still debate on this question.
2. Myth: psychological crutches are bad.
Does it matter whether Christianity is a psychological crutch? After all, Christianity is about mercy, grace and love! It’s about a God who cares about us and wants us to cast our cares and burdens onto Him because He loves us. Christianity affects us in a way that gives us a hope and a future, that’s why it’s a religion. Religions are psychological crutches – and does it matter that it is one?
3. Christianity is not a psychological crutch.
Why do I say so? Because there is suffering as a Christian. Christianity cannot be a psychological crutch if it puts you through suffering and pain.
Part of the core of Christianity is sharing the suffering of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 16:24: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Note, there are three key aspects to being a Christian:
a) Denial of one’s self. There must be a recognition that we are no longer our own. We deny our worldly identity. As a Christian, earthly possessions and credentials no longer define us. Rather, God defines us. We are who we are in God’s eyes and we no longer set ourselves according to the standards of the world.
b) Taking up our cross.
c) Following Jesus.
In fact, Paul understands that the call of Christianity involves suffering, and he writes a lot about it in the book of Philippians. Philippians 1:29 states that ‘For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.’ Paul finds that when we become Christians, suffering will be given to us. We should rejoice in our suffering because we become stronger through suffering and we become more Christ-like in terms of selflessness, grace, love and wisdom as we go through trials and tribulations. So, Christianity is not a psychological crutch, because it puts us through suffering.
Arguably, it seems like the suffering of a Christian like in Paul’s time is no longer relevant. Gone are the days of the Roman empire, where Christians were thrown into arenas full of hungry beasts, or were dipped in oil and set alight as human torches. This kind of physical suffering no longer seems to occur anymore because many legal systems have begun to accommodate religious freedom and democracy. However, there are still stark remnants of such persecution, like the Sudanese Christian woman condemned to death for not renouncing her faith.
Nevertheless, do we really need to use such obvious examples of suffering? In today’s world, we are plagued by many negative ideas propagated by the media. We see so much of gender fluidity, sexual immorality etc to the point that morality now has a new standard, if there even is one at all. Everywhere, there is psychological bombardment that it is difficult to stay pure. It is difficult to live as a Christian when all these funny ideas are flying around.
So, we have new challenges; new sufferings. We may not have physical persecution, but we are still very much ridiculed and verbally abused for being a Christian. We are challenged by the world for our seemingly rigid values. In this age of liberalism, confusion and volatility, it is not easy to openly proclaim that we are Christians and that these are the values we live by.
Hence, in a sense, Christianity is not a psychological crutch. The identity, values and mindset that we take on as a Christian are easily criticised and mocked. If we go through such suffering for our religion, is it actually easy to assume that it is a psychological crutch?