A few years before I met my husband, Ginny had a stroke that left her unable to use her left leg. Flex your leg and point your toes to the sky right now. Yep, that's what it is like for her--day in and day out. Though this is a huge challenge for her, Ginny is able to walk with a cane. Her "crutch" if you will, is a daily reminder that a part of her is physically unwell.
A Thanksgiving photo of Ginny, Nana, and yours truly. FYI--cameras add ten pounds and three people were taking photos so I'm actually a size 0 (not that you can tell in this photo)!
Why did I tell you this? I have a point.
In the world of academia I've been confronted with people who believe me weak or feeble minded because I believe in God. To them, my faith is a crutch.
The idea of religion as a crutch is that people use religion to reassure themselves that their difficult circumstances are worth what will be received in the afterlife (this is the "opiate of the masses" idea).
The other argument is that people do not want to think for themselves and religion gives them simple philosophy, morality, and instructions for daily life.
Both of these arguments have a point. People do lead difficult lives. People do lean on hope that something better is coming. I believe in heaven and an afterlife but for arguments sake, let's say I'm wrong (and the real beauty is that you can never prove me wrong or prove yourself right. As Yan Martel wrote in The Life of Pi, "And so it goes with God.").
If I am wrong and all this afterlife stuff is merely self-delusional, what's the problem with that? If people need to use "fantasy" to help get through tough circumstances, who am I to rob them of that need? It would sort of be like telling Ginny, "Hey, I know it's hard to walk but that's life. Stumble along and get used to it!" Pretty harsh.
If you think religion is a delusional crutch--what's it to you? Let people be delusional.
The other argument I think stems from the fact that religion can be used to control. Sometimes religion is used as a cage to institute a hierarchy and I'm willing to admit that I've seen religions, including my own, do this.
Though that may be the case, it is also equally true that religions have freed people abused by other systemic power structures that are non-religiously based--like socio-economic status, race, gender, nationality, etc. (FYI--power-based abuse happens in countries with an required absence of faith so blaming religion as the only culprit is a gross over-simplification).
Think of the multitude of ways religious people have reached out to the poor, the dying, the parentless ... Clearly those laid out rules for moral living aren't all bad.
Finally, I don't think religious/spiritual people are all non-thinking idiots.
I firmly believe that a relationship with a loving God pushes people into life outside the norm. It pushes people: to question mindless obedience and imperfect authority, to challenge hegemonic powers, to defend the oppressed, to fight injustice even if it is done in the name of one's very own religion, or nation. It causes people to fight against the powers of greed, power, and lies, no matter what guise they take (and trust me, they often take on the guise of "The American Dream).
Religion can free others and ourselves.
Whether you like it or not, religion can promote positive change. For example, faith encourages persistence even when the future doesn't look bright. Faith can teach humility, patience, and gratitude (just ask Ginny about this one). Faith can inspire us to reach out and care for the hungry, the lonely, the sick, and suffering.
When people confront me about my "spritiual" crutch, I often want to tell them about Ginny.
I'd want to know if they think she is a bumbling idiot for using the crutch to walk.
If they said no, I want to know if they think she is weak for using her crutch.
If they said no again I'd love to explain all the ways crutches can be beneficial to people.
I'd love to point out that it takes incredible humility and trust to use a crutch regardless of what those around you think or say.
Okay what I'd **really** love is to show people that crutches take many forms. Ginny has a cane (well, she is a believer so she has a physical and spiritual crutch); my crutch is spiritual. What these in your face "religion is a crutch" people need to know is that their pride in science and even their own intellects is their crutch.
And they probably shouldn't belittle my crutch while leaning on their own.
And that's what I think about religion as a crutch.