“Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers,” said then-Minnesota governor and ex-professional wrestler Jesse Ventura in 1999. It’s a common idea. Atheism’s point man Richard Dawkins has called even disorganized religion a crutch, author Robert Heinlein expressed this secular tenet through one of his characters, and heavy metal band Iced Earth screamed the thought in a song. In fact, the notion is expressed so much, it could occur to one that the idea religion is a crutch is a crutch.
Now, you could think the world’s Dawkinses should be taken just as seriously as the late Robin Williams was when, expressing a sentiment Iced Earth might agree with, he quipped, “Reality is just a crutch for people who can’t cope with drugs.” But since the issue here is no laughing matter, let us start with a very serious acknowledgment about religion being a crutch: It certainly can be.
Not true, however, is what the religion-as-crutch theory invariably implies and is commonly taken to mean: Since faith’s supposed crutch status would indicate it is embraced out of convenience, religion must be false and destructive and God must not exist. Playwright Tom Stoppard could be correct in saying, “Atheism is a crutch for those who cannot bear the reality of God,” but I doubt this would make unbelievers question the reality of atheism. A young child may instinctively use his father as a crutch — deriving a feeling of security and stability from him — but that is not why he believes his father exists; it just gives him another good reason to be happy his father does. Nothing is a truer crutch than an actual crutch, and it not only exists but is the most necessary thing when needed temporarily to buttress a broken bone. And the same can be said of faith, that it is needed for a broken race and is required only temporarily, during that transitional phase between birth and death.
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