Psychology and the Christian faith
There are many who argue that Christianity, as with all religions, is just psychological illusion, a product of conditioning or poor intellectual reasoning. Such a view is easily demolished.
1. Humans create God in their mind - thus God is nothing more than an illusion. A wish fulfillment.
Probably the originator of this type of thinking was the psychologist, Freud. He based his conclusions upon the study of neurotic patients and the narrow views of Charles Darwin.
His theory is as follows. Humans originally got around in "monkey-type" herds. Slowly, to maintain some sort of order in the group, individual instincts had to be curbed by rules and laws of association. This suppressing of instinctive urges produced frustrations. We then rationalized the problem, ie. came to terms with our fate, by creating a superhuman force - an angry God who dictates his will, a father-image. This picture gave some meaning to our fear of the environment, of the unknown. Catastrophes were not the result of blind natural forces, but the acts of a God angry at our sinful ways, our anti social behaviour. We therefore sought to placate God, ie. turn aside his wrath toward another (child, animal ...). Accidents and chance verified this illusion. Initially we imagined many little gods and later one Father-God.
i] The theory is based upon the case-studies of neurotic people.
ii] The theory is based upon a narrow view of pre-history.
iii] It is true that many primitive religions centre on placating the divine, but this is not a Biblical view.
The Biblical view is as follows:
i] The Bible records God acting in history to seek after lost humanity. The clearest demonstration of his movement toward mankind is seen in the person of Jesus Christ whose existence is a solid fact of history. The Christian does not believe in some blurry Father Christmas figure who lives away out there, but a personal God who has intervened in history on behalf of mankind. Heb.1
ii] The picture of God in the Bible is not of some angry being who has to be placated. In fact, the Biblical picture is something we could scarcely have invented. Although the world is a place of chaos, pain etc., the Bible says that God is a God of love.
When it is argued that belief in a God is a wish fulfillment, we need to stress that our belief is based on the solid foundation of objective facts in history, especially the resurrection of Jesus.
2. People become Christians because of what they can get out of it, ie. Group rewards, group pressures. This is a social psychological criticism.
We would have to admit that this is true in some cases. At times people seem to be Christians on the outside, but in actual fact are really not committed. They may not even be aware of it. It may be a crutch to them, something to hang on to when everything else fails.
Is every Christian a psychological cripple? There are too many well-adjusted Christians from every walk of life who are Christian, not because of some advantage they may gain for themselves, but because they believe that God has acted in history to seek out humanity.
There are so-called Christians who act out a part so they may find acceptance in a caring group, or release from guilt complexes. They are attracted to Christianity because they find that Christians are the only people who accept them. Many are obviously psychological cripples and may end up in a psychiatric hospital driving the doctors insane with their Christian obsessions. Obviously their existence doesn't disprove the objectivity of the Christian faith.
3. People are Christians because they have been conditioned to it from early childhood.
It is true that some Christians have been "brain-washed" into the faith, especially those who have received some fairly heavy "conditioning" at church schools or in a "religious" family. Yet it is obvious that very few fall into this category. The majority who get such treatment are turned off religion for life.
Most Christians come to a point of commitment as adults. Many have had little or no contact with the Christian faith in childhood. Those that did attend Sunday School can testify to its very minimal influence upon them. People become Christians, not because of pre-conditioning, but because they have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ that transforms their life.
A simple answer to the question, "is Christianity just a psychological illusion?" can be given by pointing to two pieces of evidence:
i] Christian belief is based on objective evidence. Christians believe that God has sought after mankind in Jesus Christ, who through his death and resurrection, has made it possible for us to enter into an eternal relationship with him. If Jesus did not exist, or if his body is still in a tomb in Palestine, then our belief is without substance. Only then could a person suggest that our faith is a psychological illusion.
ii] People from all walks of life profess to be Christians. It is not possible to argue that we are a group of socially maladjusted freaks or mentally handicapped morons. Too many people of differing social status and mental capacity follow Jesus and so demonstrate Christian objectivity.
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