Is Christianity a Psychological Crutch?

by Randy Everist

Sometimes people claim, “Christianity is a psychological crutch. You believe it because you need it to get through life!” I like to take a Plantingian approach to this claim: So what? What exactly is the problem here? At this point, people stumble through a response. I am wondering, however, if we can make the objection stronger. What follows will be these attempts, and answers to them.

Attempt #1: Christianity is just a psychological crutch.

The idea here is to claim that the Christian has no other reason he holds to Christianity besides the idea of a psychological crutch, because he is too weak to get through life without it. But that’s not true of a great many individuals. There are people who are quite psychologically healthy who believe in Christianity, and there are people who are raised in a Christian home and believe, at least in part, due to their upbringing. But even if there are (and there might be) people who believe solely for psychological crutch reasons, what is the problem? We need to strengthen the claim a little for anything to follow.

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Attempt #2: Christianity believed mostly or solely on the basis of a psychological crutch is less likely to be true.

This holds the idea that whatever is believed for psychological crutch reasons is less likely to be true than those beliefs that are held for non-psychological crutch reasons. First, I think this confuses ontology with epistemology. Something can be true independently of one’s reasons for holding it. But more importantly, I think it’s not quite true. Suppose someone has been physically or verbally abused his entire life. As an adult, he wants to deal with the mental issues that accompany such a horrific existence. He believes, solely for psychological crutch reasons, that seeing a counselor will help him work through these issues. He has no experience in this area, and he doesn’t think that others experiences give any indicators as to how his will turn out (perhaps because he doesn’t know anyone who has experienced his type and degree of mental wounds, or perhaps because of those he did know the rate of success was 50%, etc.). It helps him to believe that counseling will help him work through the issues, and so he does. It seems that, nonetheless, the belief that counseling will help is true (or at least none the worse for wear). Which brings us to our next formulation…

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