Before you read this node, please note the following:
  • this node is not intended to be insulting or incite a flamewar
  • I am not religious nor anti-religious - I am someone who is thinking the whole thing through and this is one of my thoughts - I welcome people to discuss it merits or failings
  • if you disagree with what I have written, please take the time to write a reply explaining why I am wrong - I would much rather hear counter-arguments than simply be downvoted

Is religion nothing more than an emotional crutch?

Let's go back several centuries ... higher beings (God(s) if you will) have always been used to explain that which people did not understand. Why has there been so little rain recently (ie a drought) ... oh, the rain god is unhappy with us. Or, why did little Johnny have to die in the car accident ... it's not for us to question God's will.

Is that all religion is? To help people cope with uncertainty, to cope with things that they don't understand, cannot control? My theory is that people have great difficulty taking responsibility for their own actions. In much the same was as a kid seeks approval from their parents, so to do people seek approval from higher beings.

I've had people tell me that when they come to make a decision on which they are unsure, they pray to God and ask for guidance. Do they actually receive guidance, or are they seeking to shirk the ultimate responsibility of making the final decision? After all, once they 'feel' God give guidance, they can feel secure that responsibility of making the decision has been passed to God. And if the decision was a bad one ... well, God works in mysterious way and it's not their place to question why ... religion is an emotional crutch.

Religion has also always preached to those less well off. Census statistics have shown that on a per capita basis, there is a much higher percentage of people who subscribe to some form of religion in lower socio-economic groups than in higher socio-economic groups. In plain English, what this means is that less well off people are more likely to be religious than richer people. Why is this? Surely something so profound as religion would not be so heavily influenced by economic factors.

My theory for this is that the 'richer' people in society feel more in control over their lives. They probably have better job security, are wealthier, can afford more luxuries etc. For them, if they wanted that bigger house, they would work a little harder, a little bit more overtime and ta da, they can afford that bigger house. For the 'poor' person in a much lesser paid job, there probably isn't job security, they get less paid, and they struggle more. For them, working longer won't help much - quite simply, they can never afford that larger house. From their perspective, how can that be fair - after all, they work the same if not longer hours than the rich person, they are just as honest and hard working. It hardly seems fair - there must be a reason why ... ahhh, it's Gods will ... religion makes it easier to explain/justify their place in society ... it is an emotional crutch.

There seems to be two questions here. First is: is religion an emotional crutch?

If you mean by emotional crutch something that helps you deal with emotional crises, then yes, I believe so. It should be much easier to deal with the death of a loved one, for example, if you believe in some sort of afterlife. Even my favorite humanist, Kurt Vonnegut likes to say of his friends that have passed on: "He is in heaven now."

In times of economic hardship we are comforted with the fact that God1 loves us, even if we a poor. When our good actions are met with unkindness, we persevere, because we know that God is pleased with us, even when others are not.

So yes, in that way, religion is an emotional crutch.

On the other hand the question in bold face is: Is religion nothing more than an emotional crutch?

I believe it is not.

I believe religion not only supports us emotionally, but challenges us. Challenges us to be better people, by setting high moral standards. Now, I am Catholic (a cursory glance at my nodes list will confirm that), and I believe, along with Aquinas that moral standards, the right thing to can be reasoned out without "divine revelation." But it is religion that constantly reminds us of it, even if we do not think about it. In a sense then, it is also an intellectual crutch.

I do believe that religion challenges you to be responsible for your own actions. Isn't this what the Last Judgement2 is all about? And confession3, isn't that what it's about? Admitting to someone: "it is my fault." In a sense, religion is also a moral crutch.

Religion then, is a crutch -- it is most effective when we are at our weakest.

1 for theists. Whizkid would argue -correctly - that not all religions believe in a God, or many gods.
2 for most Christians.
2 for Catholics. What can I say, using particular examples to explain the general case. Sue me.

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