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Karl Marx declared religion to be “the opiate of the people.” Marx’s declaration reflects the view of many people today that religion is nothing more than a drug people use to avoid having to face two realties:
- There is no God who can protect or deliver them from tragedy, harm or discomfort;
- Life in this randomly existing universe is ultimately meaningless.
Was Marx right? Is belief in God nothing but a crutch for emotionally and psychologically weak people who can’t accept the reality of living in an ultimately helpless and meaningless universe? This article examines the responses Christian apologists make to such charges.
Suppose there is no hope. Suppose there is no justice. Suppose there is nothing but misery and darkness and bleakness. Suppose there is nothing that we would wish for, nothing that we would hope for. Too bad! [Fixed Point Foundation Hour, Introduction (aired on NRB in 2012)]
Instead of facing the realities of a godless life head-on and making the best of it, many skeptics allege that people who believe in God foolishly take false comfort in a supernatural being who does not exist. In their view, belief in God is foolishness — nothing but an emotional crutch.
Actually, in 1 Corinthians 15:13-18, the apostle Paul recognized that if the claims of Christianity are false, Christians are indeed foolish. Paul specifically states that if Christ really died like a man (i.e., if Christ was not raised from the dead) then the hope of Christians is in vain and they are fools to be pitied. If God does not exist, then Christians really are pitiful because they are depriving themselves of the only fun they could ever experience in this life by naively devoting themselves to a non-existent moral Lawgiver (God) and the teachings of a man (Jesus) who has been dead for 2,000 years. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, “Defending Your Faith: Vanity of Vanity”, NRB 7/13/09].
Responding to the Claim that Belief in God is Nothing More than an Emotional or Psychological Crutch
In response to the allegation that Christianity is nothing more than an emotional crutch for people who can’t face the reality of living in a godless and hopeless universe, Christian apologists raise the following two points:
Point No. 1: There Are Good Intellectual Reasons for Believing God Exists and the Fact that Some People May Believe in God for Emotional or Psychological Reasons, Does Not Prove God Doesn’t Exist
Christian apologists reject the allegation that Christians only believe in God for emotional and/or psychological reasons. Although some people may believe in God for emotional and psychological reasons, Christian apologists maintain there are good intellectual reasons to believe God exists including:
- God’s existence best explains why anything exists rather than nothing (an argument for the existence of a “first uncaused cause”) (more>>)
- God’s existence best explains the cause of the universe coming into existence (the Kalam Cosmological Argument) (more>>)
- God’s existence best explains all the mind-boggling, just-right design features scientists have discovered exist throughout the universe which make it possible for life to exist in the universe (the Intelligent Design aka Teleological Argument) (more>>)
- God’s existence best explains the existence of objective morality
- God’s existence best explains man’s search for, and innate belief in, meaning, purpose and significance
In the view of Christian apologists, not only do each of the above lines of reasoning present a persuasive case for the existence of God but when considered together, the arguments provide a cohesive and convincing case that belief in the God of the Bible (who is described as eternal, self-existent, transcendent, righteous and purposeful) is the most rational belief possible. :
Moreover, as explained by Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, even if it could be proved that people began to believe in God as a way of comforting themselves from feelings of despair and anxiety, such proof would only show how the belief originated; it would not prove God doesn’t exist.
Because of the totality of the evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible, Christians maintain that belief in that God is reasonable and intellectually satisfying. Further, if the transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient, personal, loving and merciful God described in the Bible really does exist, then one would expect him to sovereignly meet mans’ intellectual, emotional and psychological needs and the fact that Christians believe God can and will meet their needs in accordance with His ultimate will doesn’t prove God’s non-existence.
Point No. 2: Skeptics May Deny the Existence of God Due to their Own Need for an Emotional or Psychological Crutch
Just as it is alleged that believers may have a bias in favor of belief in God because they don’t want to face the helplessness and meaninglessness of life without God, it can likewise be argued that a skeptic’s disbelief in God is based on their own personal biases. For example, skeptics (consciously or subconsciously) may have a bias against believing in God because they want to live their lives the way they wish without have to worrying about being held accountable before a holy, just and omniscient God. Skeptics may simply value their autonomy more than they value living a life that isn’t helpless or meaningless. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, “Defending Your Faith: The Psychology of Atheism”, NRB 7/13/09]
Although there are many things that skeptics and believers cannot agree on, they can agree that if God does not exist then life is utterly meaningless. In his book entitled Being in Nothingness, the French existentialist and atheist, John Paul Sartre, concluded: “All of life is an empty bubble on the sea of nothingness.” In the Book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon came to a similar conclusion when he described life without God (life under the sun) as an ultimately meaningless cycle.
Recognizing the total despair of atheism, some people attempt to construct a worldview in which there is no God to hold them accountable, yet, their lives still have great meaning and significance. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, “Defending Your Faith: Vanity of Vanity”, NRB 7/13/09] However, if God does not exist and the universe arose from some unknown purposeless natural process, then there simply is no objective meaning or purpose to anyone’s life. When men die, they simply cease to exist without an objectively purposeful past or future. The only significance that can attach to one’s life is whatever significance a person can subjectively manufacture for himself. In the end, if there is no God to whom man is accountable, then it really doesn’t matter if a man leads “good” life or “bad” life, regardless of how one chooses to define those terms. At some point, the universe will run out of energy, all life will cease to exist and there will be no ultimate meaning or purpose to any man’s life. Even though some people propose that life in a universe without God still has meaning because everyone’s life impacts the course of history in some way, it still remains that when the universe eventually runs out of energy and comes to an end even the events of history will be meaningless.
In Romans 1:18-32, the apostle Paul contended that not only can men know God exists but because of the evidence of God’s existence that is exhibited in creation, God will not excuse man’s disbelief. Paul argues that, at its core, man’s disbelief isn’t an intellectual problem but a moral one. It’s not that man cannot know God; it’s that some men don’t want to know God. Because of their bias of preferring to worship the creation (themselves, material things, etc.) instead of the Creator, men choose to suppress the truth of God’s existence and exchange the truth for a lie. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, “Defending Your Faith: The Psychology of Atheism”, NRB 7/13/09]
A world without God with its attendant lack of moral accountability may sound good to those who wish to live their lives without any imposed moral constraints; but, it comes at a high cost – the loss of any ultimate meaning or purpose to life. On the other hand, if the God of the Bible exists, then everyone’s life has ultimate meaning and purpose, no matter how short or simple a life that is led. Although one’s physical body will die, every man’s spirit lives on and will have an eternal significance. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, “Defending Your Faith: The Psychology of Atheism”, NRB 7/13/09]
The emotional crutch argument can be alleged by the Christian as well as the skeptic. There are cogent and brilliant thinkers on both sides of the dispute and the disagreement cannot be whittled down to a matter of intellect. Subjective factors will always be involved because everyone has a bias and that bias affects what they think about God. [See, R.C. Sproul, Renewing Your Mind, “Defending Your Faith: The Psychology of Atheism”, NRB 7/13/09]
© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson
Published: March 12, 2012 / Last Updated: May 19, 2013
SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists: Discover Why Believing In God Makes so Much Sense(River Oak Publishing, 2002)
Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics(IVP Academic; 1St Edition, 1994)
Alister McGrath, Foundations of Apologetics, “The Existence of God” (RZIM, 2007) DVDs available at http://rzim.christianbook.com/foundations-of-apologetics-all-digital-version/9781612562124/pd/1314BD
Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God(Navpress; 2 edition, 1995)
R.C. Sproul “Defending Your Faith” DVD series (2001) available at http://www.ligonier.org/store/defending-your-faith-dvd
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Tags: 1 Cor. 15, 1 Corinthians 15, bias, Bible, Christian, Christianity, crutch, Ecclesiastes, emotional crutch, God, God’s existence, hopelessness, John Paul Sarte, Karl Marx, Marx, meaningless, meaninglessness, psychological crutch, R.C. Sproul, Richard Dawkins, Rom. 1, Romans 1, Solomon, William Lane Craig