Continuing in this series on apologetics (being able to explain our faith and help it make sense to non-believers), today we come to this common theme in modern and post-modern thinking: Christianity (or religion in general) is a made-up idea created by primitive and/or weak people who would otherwise be unable to cope with the harshness of reality. Psychologist Sigmund Freud, for example, said, “Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.” Science fiction author Robert Heinlein wrote that “religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help.” Just for fun, I’ll add that self-proclaimed theologian and former pro wrestler turned governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, said, “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.”
Even the Apostle Paul seems to be supporting the case of Christianity being specifically for weak people when he says:
So what’s going on here? I mean, with all these smart and/or famous people saying these things, it must be true, right? Isn’t that the way it works these days?
Well, maybe, if all we ever do is remain in the shallow waters of social media and other breeding grounds where theories become accepted as fact with little (if any) examination. But instead of doing that, let’s dive a little deeper.
“All Religions” or “Organized Religion”
To begin with, let me address the tendency that secular people have to group together all religions (a.k.a. “organized religion”)–note that none of the above quotes mentioned any religion specifically, but rather grouped them all together. Perhaps to someone who hasn’t tried to understand any of the world religions, they may all look the same. But sweeping generalizations like these are ignorant at best or, at their worst, very dangerous. For example, if I were to make a general statement about “all red states” or “all blue states”, people would throw rotten tomatoes at me and retort with all sorts of counter-examples. Or worse, if anyone makes a general accusation about all people from a particular racial or other protected group, they would rightly be called out as a racist or bigot. So I can’t help but wonder: Why is the same logic not applied to general statements about all religions? Each religion is unique in the same way each member of an ethnic group is unique.
Anyway, let me say now that I will pick Christianity out of this pile of “all religions” and focus on it for the remainder of this post as it pertains to this notion that it was invented and perpetuated by weak people in order to deal with the harshness of reality.
Who Is God?
When a secular person disputes the validity of Christianity, they are fundamentally questioning the validity of God. While I addressed the validity of God a few posts ago (Beyond Belief – How Do We Know God Is Real?), let me add to that by wondering aloud why secular people place the burden of proof on Believers to provide evidence of God’s existence. I mean, maybe they believe we cannot empirically prove God’s existence, but neither can they empirically prove that he doesn’t exist. Science can’t prove this one way or the other. Nor can psychology or philosophy, or any other discipline.
Other than that, let’s set aside the question of whether God exists, moving instead to the question of God’s character. The assertion that God is something made up by weak people is based on an incorrect understanding of who God is. The implication is that God is a sort of good-luck charm or genie in a bottle–something we can turn to when we’re afraid or anxious or otherwise having a bad day. By doing so, we get to feel better because somehow things will turn out alright.
This fundamental attribution error comes from a lack of understanding of the God of the Bible (in last week’s post, we established the veracity of the Bible). Let’s look at some of God’s characteristics as described in the Bible:
- God created the world and everything in it
- God loves us so much that he sent his Son to earth to rescue us from our sin
- God is all powerful
- God knows everything
- God is perfectly just
- God is the same yesterday, today, and forever–so all of these characteristics have been and will always be true
Does this sound like a good-luck charm to you?
Said another way, if we were going to invent a good-luck charm God, do you really think we’d dream up that he is powerful enough to squash us like a bug? How is that supposed to be comforting?
If you are a secular person and you’ve made it this far, I invite you to dig a little deeper to really understand this God we follow. The Bible can be overwhelming for someone new to it (and even to those who have been Followers of Christ for years!), so I’d suggest the Gospel of John as a good read to explore the depths of God’s character.
Who Is Mankind?
Another problem with the assertion that God was made up by weak people is with the understanding of the human nature we all share. More specifically, it is in the definition of who are the weak people.
Maybe a good place to start this section is with a story about this little dog we have called Piglet. She is a Chihuahua/wiener dog mix who weighs 10 pounds on her best days. When we walk her around our neighborhood, though, and we see a proper-sized dog (say around 50 pounds), she’ll lunge at it and bark her high-pitched bark. It’s really rather embarrassing; the other dog walker usually smiles and the other dog usually laughs.
What’s the point of this Piglet story, you may ask. It is this: mankind–that is, you and I and everyone in the world–has a tendency to think more of ourselves than we should. We think we’re a 75-pound dog, when in reality we only crack 10 pounds when we need to go on a diet.
Here’s how it applies: We tend to think we don’t need help, when in reality, we all do. In one way or another, we are all weak, regardless of whether you recognize or admit it. The amount of weakness varies for each of us, sometimes day-by-day, or even moment-by-moment. But we all carry around baggage of various flavors of weakness. Fear of the dark or spiders or open space. The inability to say no to cake or alcohol or drugs or your neighbor’s spouse. Delight in gossip. Lying. Darker rivers of the heart that I don’t even want to mention. We all are weak–who among us has the strength to admit it?
This is a good time to look back at Paul’s statement about strength and weakness from 2 Corinthians 12:10, which I quoted above. What he’s getting at here is that the only way to be strong is to recognize your weakness, for in doing so is the only way to move from strength to weakness.
There are some people I care deeply about who have a tendency to deflect their weakness with a “Nope, I’m good” mindset. For example, when it comes time for prayer requests in our small Bible study group, even though I know they have things that would benefit from being lifted up in prayer by their fellow prayer warriors, they will often say, “Nope, I’m good.” This show of “strength” actually causes them to remain in their weakness, carrying their burdens alone.
There’s another analogy I want to use here, but to do so, I have to admit that I’m a little bit of a chess nerd. When I was younger, I played in several tournaments. One thing I learned at some point in my development was that it’s considered bad form to lose a game by being check-mated. The easiest way to briefly explain why is to say that it means you weren’t clever enough to see that you were beaten before the final blow came. Thus, it is considered better to resign the game the moment you realize there is no hope of winning or even achieving a draw. And so it is that your final show of strength is to recognize and admit your weakness in the form of a lost game.
The Harshness of Reality: A Fallen, Broken World
There’s one last aspect of this that’s also worth addressing here. That is the term I’ve mentioned a couple times: “the harshness of reality.” What is it that causes the harshness of our reality?
The reason this is important is because your answer will inform how you deal with this harshness.
If you’re a Follower of Christ, your answer to the question of cause would boil down to something like this: sin. We are called to deal with this in a couple different ways. First, we take the long view that eventually, Christ will come again and defeat sin forever. We can ride that hope through our darkest days. Secondly, in the short term, we can turn to God in prayer, not only to deal with the situation at hand, but also to guide and comfort us as we move through it.
Aha!, you might say. See, there it is. Something you made up to help you escape reality!
To this I would reply that there is no escaping going on here. We are walking through it. How does this compare to worldly coping mechanisms, like alcohol, drugs, work, extra-marital affairs, and so many other addictions? This is not to say that Christians are immune from falling into these same traps, but the point is that everyone has various ways of dealing with the harshness of reality–we have to. There would just be no way to deal with all the badness in the world without some way of processing it. Why should one way be considered to be contrived by man yet the others considered as perfectly natural?
Only the Sick Need a Doctor
To close, I’ll mention this quote from Jesus:
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”Mark 2:17 (NIV)
One atheist pointed to this verse and said, “I’m one of those who doesn’t need a doctor.”
But here’s the thing. Jesus is saying this ironically. As I alluded to earlier, we are all weak, we are all sick. We are all sinners. We all need a doctor. Paul says as much in his letter to the Romans:
And so we come back to the idea that the only way to be strong is to admit this weakness. Paul describes this transformation in the next verse:
Those who refuse to admit their weakness, or who refuse the grace God so freely offers, are destined to remain in their weakness.
Which would you rather be–the weak who admit their weakness, thereby transforming to strength, or the weak who remain weak by refusing to admit their weakness? There is no other choice.