(Photo: © Budimir Jevtic - Fotolia.com)
once read an account of a student who challenged his teacher by stating
that the teacher’s reliance on Christianity was a crutch. The teacher
responded by admitting that Christ was his crutch, adding that he is a
very good crutch, and then asking the student, “What is your crutch?”
One dictionary definition of crutch is, “Anything depended upon for support”.
I’ve lived my own life, observed those around me, and read and heard
about other lives, I have come to the conclusion that everyone has
crutches, even those who project self-sufficiency. Some of these
crutches are obvious; many are hidden from public view, with hidden
crutches sometimes erupting into public scandals.
The question is
not whether a person has a crutch, but whether this crutch is
constructed of straw, of false hardwood, or of genuine hardwood.
crutches are known to be made of straw, even though many continue to
rely on them: alcohol or food in excess; drugs; sexual compulsions and
obsessions; greed to possess things and status; a long list.
insist they have no crutches. Often, atheists who reject belief in the
existence of God claim that science and reason are their sole guides.
These too are crutches. So, are they good crutches?
on which people rely include the prominent “isms”: communism,
nationalism, socialism, capitalism, epicureanism, stoicism, even
feminism as an end in itself. Passionate cases have been made for each
of these political, economic, and/or philosophical systems.
problem with reliance on these “isms”, and even science, is that they
are subject to human limitations, including the pervasive concupiscence
that muddles and corrupts our thinking. For illustration, these
intellectual ideals can be compared to mathematician and philosopher
Kurt Gödel’s incompleteness theorem; that is, a consistent mathematical
(computable) system cannot be complete, and the consistency of its
self-evident principles (axioms) cannot be proven within the system. Not
an easy concept for me, or most of us, to comprehend. Suffice it to say
that applying Gödel’s logic to the matter of intellectual crutches, one
would have to resort to something outside the “system” to prove that
they are reliable.
As for science, things that are “settled” in
one century are often unsettled in the next; for example, descriptions
of the physical universe per Aristotle, then Newton, then Einstein, and
now Hawking and his contemporaries. Tenets of science that were once
thought to be “settled”, and were later disproven, are too many to
mention, something that honest scientists accept as an inevitable
consequence of scientific investigation.
This isn’t to say that
the scientific method is invalid, only that science is restricted by its
areas of competence and our human understanding of the phenomenon being
described. Scientismrather than authentic science that recognizes
limitsis used in our age to suggest that if our understanding of
science, the Earth, and the universe is constantly changing, evolving,
why shouldn't our understanding of ethics evolve too? As biochemistry,
genetics, physics, psychology, and sociology tell us more about man, why
shouldn't we modify our ethical views? No ethical principles should be
fixed, so this perspective goes. Everything should be malleable as we
Not all who ascribe to malleable ethics are atheists,
but adapters have been convinced, or indoctrinated, into believing that
malleable ethics are supported by science and reason, while some are
merely attracted to the expedient behavior that malleable ethics
Where can a reliable crutch be found, a crutch that is
not subject to human limitations, the limitations of the physical
universe, or mere expediency?
Christians say that Jesus is the
only reliable crutch, so to speak. As God, he is not “trapped” within a
dimensional universe and not subject to human limitations; in a poetic
sense, he is outside of, and above, the systems constrained by Gödel’s
incompleteness theorem. In “The Divine Comedy”, Dante relies on
crutches, Virgil and Beatrice, on his journey through hell, purgatory,
and paradise, but he, Virgil, and Beatrice ultimately rely on Christ,
the crutch that takes the poet to his good end.
Kolbe had been imprisoned in Auschwitz for several months before he made
a conscious choice to trade places with a condemned man. He could have
had no illusions about what awaited him. Only his reliance on the Divine
Crutch could sustain him in the dark hole where the Nazis put him to
starve. Saint John Paul II encountered enough hardship and burden for
ten men but his crutch made him a heroic witness to hope, solidarity,
Which brings us to false hardwood. Human beings are
tempted to create a Christ according to their human preferences rather
than striving to re-create themselves in Christ’s image. This is what
happens when we select Scripture passages that reinforce our preferences
and ignore those that challenge us, or when we rely on false prophets
with their own agendas or delusions. The true hardwood crutch is the
Christ of Scripture in its entirety, especially those passages that most
trouble and challenge us, and as revealed to us by and through the
Church, chock full of fragile human beings but still supported by the
That teacher responding to his student possessed
the self-knowledge that allowed him to reveal, and even celebrate, his
human weakness, something most of us strive to avoid at all costs. If we
are going to use a crutchand we all need onewe ought to seek the very
best, and then hang on for dear life.