How do I explain that Christianity is not a coping mechanism?

I know this sounds weird. Let me explain. A young man, about 30+ years my junior lived in our neighborhood for a few years with his military family until his parents divorced. He was an only child at the time, now has a half sister. Mom grew up in a church, but had something happen to her that she has been unable to forgive. Dad was/is Catholic. But the young man spend those years playing with my daughters. So, this young man saw something in our family that after moving away and now in college, he comes to visit when he comes back to town. This last visit turned to faith. (SO EXCITED!). But his question threw me and I did not have direct answer, though I was able to calmly describe the stark differences between Christianity and other religions…one true living God who died for our sins so that we could have eternal life. This was after he stated the he believes he was at one time agnostic and now optimistic nihilism. Then his question/statement was that he saw Christianity as a coping mechanism. Ok, I didn’t know how to respond. I know what I believe, but this believer is learning to think and I am so very thankful for this community. Any words of advice and encouragement are welcomed. Thank you.

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Hello @Malie What a great question. I hope the following links will help answer your questions and better prepare you to navigate what can be a difficult topic.

https://www.zachariastrust.org/is-christianity-just-a-crutch

Thank you for your post and we welcome any further questions or the chance to dialogue with you.

Grace and peace,
Mary Beth

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Hi @Malie. Thank you for your question and your care for this gentleman. As humans we sometime think only if they can hear the gospel they would be turned to Christ. The gospel is powerful but everyone’s reason or path to come to Christ starts from where their deep wounds are. So we have to focus on the questioner and not the question as Ravi would say. Why is optimistic nihilism attractive to him? how does he explain origin, morality, destiny, and meaning with that frame of mind. Why is he agnostic? is he looking for an evidence of God’s presence? Does he know about the resurrection? Does he doubt it actually happened? Please share with him Connect, let him come and ask any questions he has. The main thing that I try to tell people that are agnostic is to challenge them to look for the evidence for their doubt on the existence of God or the resurrection of Christ. I challenge them not to believe in Christianity if it is not founded on a concrete basis of foundation. A lot of people assume that our faith is based on just believing, a mental exercise like most religions.

I hope this helps.
God Bless.

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Great question; isn’t an ‘optimistic nihilism’ a contradiction? Atheism leads to nihilism; on which all meaning is erased.

nihilism is the belief that all values are utterly worthless, that nothing can be known or communicated. The philosophy of nihilism is also associated with extreme pessimism and deep-seated skepticism about life. It has no allegiance to anyone or anything.

Nihilism takes numerous forms. Ethical or moral nihilism rejects the existence of ethical or moral values. That which designates such values as “good” and “evil” is seen as indistinct, and values are simply a result of social and emotional pressures. Existential nihilism declares that life has no inherent meaning or purpose. Political nihilism promotes the obliteration of all existing political, social, and religious institutions as a precondition for any and all future advancements in society.

Epistemological nihilism denies any possibility that truth and knowledge even exist. This view is often associated with those who suffer from extreme skepticism. For example, the classic question “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a sound?” is carried one step further by the nihilist who asks, “Did the tree even exist?” The nihilist will contend that truth not only cannot be perceived but in fact does not exist and is not real.

Ask your friend what does he find to be optimistic about nihilism? If all meaning is erased, and there is no right and wrong; only ‘blind pitiless indifference’ (as Dawkins states).

This is a good question; and as Andy Bannister explores in his book ‘The Atheist that doesn’t exist’; this argument is just as easily turned against atheism. It’s known as ‘wish fulfilment’; and basically says my belief in God is because I want there to be meaning; and a hope for the future.

It’s easily turned around against the atheist position because an atheist wishes there is no God, because they want to live their lives for themselves, with no rules, no justice, and no-one to be accountable to at the end.

We did a book study on this on the forum a while ago:
(https://connect.rzim.org/tag/atheist-who-didnt-exist) .

The chapter on wish fulfilment is chapter 5.

So, after reading this chapter; I understand the following simple points

  • yes belief in God may give hope;
  • equally disbelief in God is equally likey to be a psychological response (a crutch) of not wanting God to exist because as the two atheists quote.

Huxley:

For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation.The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.120

Nagel:

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

Bannister, Andy. The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (p. 91). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

and one of the quotes of the chapter that really got my attention:

One of my heroes has long been the German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, arrested during the Second World War and eventually killed by the Third image for the stance that he took against them. Bonhoeffer had an unnerving knack for writing paragraphs that can make one feel profoundly uncomfortable, such as this one:

If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not immediately pleasing to my nature and which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ. And whoever would find him must go to the foot of the Cross, as the Sermon on the Mount commands.

Bonhoeffer is making the point that the heart of Christianity lies not in the idea that we invent, project, create, or choose God – if we did that, what we would have would be a God of our own making, one who looks suspiciously like us.

Bannister, Andy. The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (p. 95). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

there was also the quote which I’ve heard Lennox use; “Christians are afraid of the dark”; and the similar response “atheists are afraid of the light”.

Perhaps purchase a copy of this book for your friend? It’s well worth a read; and uses both humor and apologetics for an intriguing read.

hope that helps… :slight_smile:

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Great resource you’ve brought up here, @matthew.western. Sounds like @Andy_Bannister’s book is particularly relevant for this conversation—thanks for sharing!

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Hello @Malie :slightly_smiling_face: and that is great that you and your family were able to include this young guy in your lives and model your faith before him over the years. It can be very exciting when the conversation does go to deeper topics about faith and religion. To his question about Christianity being a coping mechanism, I probably would have responded in agreement with him. Just because Christianity helps Christians to cope with life and have hope for the future, does in no way shows that it is false. In actual fact, it would be a worse sign of the validity of the religious view of a God who is supposed to be good and loving, if our belief in this God and relationship with Him actually made us feel worse and have less hope.

Let me try to give a further example. If I am stressed and depressed and then decide to sit back and start imagining that I am relaxing on a beautiful beach in the sunshine, and then all of a sudden I feel better and less stressed, all that proves is that the coping mechanism was a valid one. It achieved what the coping mechanism was meant to achieve- me feeling more relaxed. Likewise, Christians can say how our relationship with God has made such a positive difference in our lives and in our hope, which gives validity at least to what we would hope to see if Christianity was true. So the fact that millions of Christians find life more bearable since becoming Christian, does not in anyway invalidate the truth of Christianity. It in actual fact helps to give support to our beliefs.

So I would first agree with your friend that you see no trouble with him viewing Christianity as a coping mechanism, but then I would ask why he thinks that it in anyway invalidates whether your belief is true? You could even posit that maybe the reason he does not believe in Christianity is out of a coping mechanism to avoid challenging his worldview. You can see that unless the discussion goes to questions of truth, it ultimately will just stay in the realm of personal opinion.

I hope that will be of some help to your question Marie.

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Excellent question, and excellent responses. Thank you all! Very interested in this thread.

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@Brian_Upsher Yes. I could not deny that my faith was/is my coping mechanism, after all it fits that void that so many others seek to fill with addictions of so many sorts. So I am addicted to Christ, it does not invalidate my faith. Thank you for sharing and encouraging.

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@MaryBeth1 Excellent! Thank you for the resource. I look forward to reading it. Thank you for sharing and encourage.

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Yes, @Danageze, I realize with my lack of knowing how to respond, I am finding myself concerned for the person not just focusing on recited knowledge. The Spirit allows me to fall silent and listen. Then I found this community. I am moved to compassion for the person and seem to see the hurt. I have asked for his email to send an invite to ask him to bring his questions here. Thus far, it has been an encouraging community. Thank you for the thought provoking questions that I might pose.

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Thank you @matthew.western, this information is very encouraging to challenge this believer to think and help my thinker friend move prayerfully in the direction of believing. Thank you for your thoughtful diligent response . I appreciate your time and input.

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Thank you @matthew.western Enjoyed your post! Will have to add that book to my (long) list of “want to read”.

I have some questions as a result.

Don’t you have to have a starting point of something of worth for that idea to be valid? Doesn’t worth determine what is worthless?

Is there a taste of Hinduism here?

Which doctrine came before? Existentialism or nihilism? In other words, did existentialism lead to nihilism or vice versa?

Thank you!

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Hello Marie,
thank you for sharing. Firstly I had to look up what “optimistic nihilism” is, it sounds a bit contradictive, but thank you for the learning opportunity.
I have to agree with Dan, introduce this young man to Connect and let him ask questions. If he really wants to find truth then he will challenge himself into thought by means of searching for truth. He will learn that we do not serve a make-believe “god of the Gaps” (as John Lennox stated once that in the old days, when mankind had knowledge-gaps and couldn’t explain something we would assign a god to the unexplainable, ie. Thor the god of lighting etc.).
You could challenge him into thought by means of logical reasoning. You may have heard Ravi’s exquisite logical argument, which goes like this:

  1. Convince the person of admitting to existence of good vs. evil.
  2. Convince the person of admitting the existence of a moral law.
  3. Convince the person admitting of the existence of a moral law-giver = God.

He must be brought to accept the first cause = God exist, before anything else can happen. Only then can he see that Christianity is not a coping mechanism. Maybe he is afraid to learn that God is real because then he would be responsible for knowledge gained. However, he is already attracted to the light and life of Christ, which shines through you and your family, thus he still comes to visit.
Keep on letting Christ’s light and love shine through you and your family and keep sowing seeds, as somebody else will water, as somebody else will bring in the harvest.
All the best

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@ahoyte. Yes and yes!!! Thank you for succinct thoughts and the encouragement.

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@MaryBeth1 Thought provoking. Thank you.

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Hi @MaryBeth1, I’m glad it was a little helpful.

Yes, my ‘want to read’ list is long too. I have to discipline myself to read the books Ive bought before I buy more. Currently I’m just enjoying Ravi’s ‘Logic of God’ devotional thoughts; and then I’d like to read Lennox’s new book ‘2048’ about AI. Sometimes my brain is overloaded and I need to take a rest for a while before a new book. :slight_smile:

yes, I suppose you need a fixed starting point for any idea to be based upon: a point of reference. (The highlighted block quote above was from the gotquestions.org article about nihilism).

so if someone that subscribes to a nihilistic worldview, states: ‘nihilism is the belief that all values are worthless’; you could ask them ‘is nihilism also worthless as a belief, based on your nihilistic worldview’ (ie; suddenly they are trapped in a circular logic problem, and upon what basis are they so sure of anything). To clarify, one could ask “Upon what solid basis can nihilism say all values are worthless?”.

I think you have hit it spot on; worth determines what is worthless, and what is valuable. I suppose that leads to the thought of ‘who determines what something is worth’. If God has stated that humans, created in his image are intrinsically valuable and have worth, enough worth that, though fallen and sinners; “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will have everlasting life”, and "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’; then there is great hope because God who made us states our worth, and proved it by Christ’s love on the Cross in order to redeem us to Himself…

If we take Dawkins’ quote below; we end up with ‘blind pitiless indifference’ which is quite a contrast and speaks for itself;

“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

Good question; I’m not a Hinduism expert, so I divert to @Lakshmismehta who gives brilliant answers to Hinduism questions.

not sure exactly; there are so many ‘isms’ to try and keep track of. :slight_smile: according to this summary existentialism seems to reject human reason alone as capable of progress :slight_smile:

Existentialism is not so much a formal system of philosophy as it is a general orientation to philosophical issues. It was most popular in Europe in the early twentieth century. It was a reaction to the Enlightenment’s overconfidence in human reason. Some of the influences that likely made it attractive include Kierkegaard’s insight that Christian faith cannot be reduced to a set of rational propositions but that it also includes wider emotional and relational implications. Even more significantly, historical events such as the devastation of World War I, the economic collapses of the 1920s and 1930s, and the horrors of World War II displayed the false hope of modernism that human reason can overcome all problems.

Existentialism, accordingly, downplays the ability of human reason. It despairs of finding individual and communal significance in reference to one’s place in a rational, ordered cosmos. Rational order itself is suspect for existentialists. Therefore, rational explanation takes a back seat to other approaches for finding meaning. Some existentialists express meaning in terms of an individual’s achievements in transcending his or her circumstances. Others express it in terms of the meaning that comes from connecting and communicating with others about human experience. The experience of being is the focus. Rational explanation is put aside.

If I were to hazard a guess to the connection i would say

  • honest atheism leads to nihilism
  • existentialism seems to vaguely relate more to experience; the feelings etc, rather than reason. it seems to be the worship of the god of self still.
  • i’m not sure but it seems to be different to Hinduism / Buddhism ; which (according to the RZIM core module we did) is aiming to extinguish personal desire

what are you thoughts? I’ve really only looked properly at atheism, as we seem to have more agnostics in western society; and looked at the religion of the latter day saints (LDS/Mormon church), in an effort to try to reach mormon missionaries for Christ (who seem to have a works based salvation). I like the ‘gotquestions’ site as a quick reference for all the different ‘isms’.

God bless and have a great week ahead. :slight_smile:

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@matthew.western , those were some great insights on this topic! The quotes you cited will be helpful in responding to a relativistic mindset as well. @MaryBeth1 does bring up an interesting question on the relationship between Hinduism and nihilism. Appreciate your kind remarks Matthew, though I dont consider myself an expert in Hinduism either! :slightly_smiling_face: However, of all the ‘-isms’ out there , I have had to wrestle with the ideas in Hinduism the most.

After reading the different definitions for Nihilism on the ‘Got questions’ link, the short answer to the question is that Hinduism is not nihilistic.

Nihilism is a non-Christian belief that, in the end, “nothingness” prevails in a world that is totally meaningless. Nihilism teaches that God does not exist or that He is dead. Nihilism says there is no higher purpose in life, that life is simply futile.

Thus, nihilism is the belief that all values are utterly worthless, that nothing can be known or communicated.

Contrary to the idea of denying a purpose for human existence, Hinduism teaches sanatana dharma (eternal duty) to God and man, it’s about balancing the moral law of karma, it’s about transcending the material world to unite with God and the ultimate reality is approached through the worship of the different avatars. So unlike nihilism, where nothing has meaning, in Hinduism, everything has meaning, everything is ‘Brahman’ or ‘God’.

The nihilistic concept however seems to be present in the later offshoots of Hinduism, such as Buddhism. In Buddhism as I understand, there is no permanent self, nor a permanent world where all the injustices are dealt with, there is no enduring soul, but just five aggregates of experience and nirvana is the extinction of the (false) idea of self, where all human passions cease. In Mahayana Buddhism, there is the concept of Sunyata which refers to the idea that “all things are empty of intrinsic existence and nature”. While most Buddhists reject the idea of nirvana being “nothingness”, the purpose in Buddhism seems to be to experience that “nothingness”, a dissociation from the knowledge of personhood, the goal thus seems nihilistic.

Though some ascetic practices in Hinduism can remind one of Buddhism, it differs from it by maintaining the concept of a permanent spiritual world and the idea of an individual soul which I think allow for a higher purpose beyond this life, excluding the idea of nihilism.

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Hi @Malie. Thank you so much for posting your experience. I would go with what @Brian_Upsher posted, especially, “You could even posit that maybe the reason he does not believe in Christianity is out of a coping mechanism to avoid challenging his worldview.”

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Wow Marie, You have been given so much to glean from by the responses written here.

My response is not so academic, but rather simple as I have faced this question before.
“Your belief in God is a crutch.” Or a coping mechanism.
My response to that is:

I am not always correct in my behaviour, my words, my thoughts. Sometimes they are not always kind.
Therefore I need forgiveness and mercy.

I am not always strong and am sometimes in danger of yielding to temptation.
Therefore I need strength.

Sometimes I fall into temptation and need help to get out of what has a strong hold on me.
That’s when I need deliverance.

I need to see my life as special, sacred; with a purpose and a destiny.
That’s when I need salvation.

So I could ask the person telling me my faith is a crutch if they ever need these things.

My God and Saviour answers all of my needs for mercy and forgiveness - for strength beyond my own - for deliverance when I feel captive - for salvation - for meaning and a hope for my ultimate future.
So if you call that a crutch, or a coping mechanism, then you are absolutely correct.

2 Thessalonians 3:3 “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” NIV

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Malie, so many ways to answer this, difficult to know where to start and then any answer seems to come out of Ravi’s mouth.
When someone says ‘it’s just a coping mechanism’ what are they saying? - ‘what you believe is not real or true or based in fact - it’s just you’re imaginary friend’.
So, the real proposition becomes ‘God does not exist and you have no valid reason to believe he does’, Could you counter that posit?

My God is is real because —————-
There are a whole raft of reasonable arguments to God - The ontological, the Cosmological, the teleological arguments are three most well known. Not that they are irrefutable but that they are wholly coherent, rational and reasonable
My God is real because ———————
Because I have personal experience of him and that experience corresponds with the experience of many others and the God described in the bible
Because I live in relationship with him and he responds to my questions, prayers and requests, And doubts and complaints
My God is real because—————
He is the most reasonable and fulfilling answer to my most basic questions of being
Origin, meaning, purpose, morality and destiny
Where do I come from?, why do I exist? What should I do? How should I do it, where will this lead to? Materialistic naturalism has no answer or any system to answer these questions.
The answer to these questions give me identity, I know who I am.
My God is real because —————
He is the solid foundation of truth
He is truth
Ultimately, ultimate truth Can only be a person
Any other ‘so called’ truth will be axiomatic, circular, or infinite regress and will always be confronted with systemic contradiction
My God is real because —————-
He changes lives
My God is real because —————-
Jesus!

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