Humanity has a tendency towards what is known as wishful thinking (WT). WT is, as has been pointed out, the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality, or reality.
The most clear of examples can be seen in the case of funerals. People often say that “Sam is in a better place now,” usually to soothe the pain of those suffering. However, the problems with this innocent statement are quite apparent. Sam is in a “better place” according to who? On Christianity & Islam hell exists, and what if Sam wasn’t a believer? On atheism nothing exists post death and Sam’s atoms some billions of years from now will be bobbing about in Messier 51. According to Hinduism Sam isn’t even Sam after he dies. In fact, reincarnated “Sam” has forgotten who Sam once was. This considered, we have a clear example of WT.
The same applies to the common quip that “everything happens for a reason.” Of course this is quite undefined. “For a reason,” according to who? Whose reason? The Bible’s or the Bhagavad Gita’s? On atheism life is purposeless, life happened for no reason and events within the universe are simply random accidents. I speculate that it is probably out of the fear of the unknown and the fragility of human life that urges people to make this statement. Like the above example statements like these are usually just said to comfort rather than being critically thought through. However, for our purposes how does WT relate to belief in God and religion? A few things can be said.
I believe the concept of reincarnation in the West is WT. Should one go to the East where it is actually embraced he will get an altogether experience, and probably a negative one. In the West I speculate that reincarnation is often believed because it sounds nice. This is because it gives people another shot at life. There is not God to send people to hell so if you messed up you can try again. This, I believe, is the packaged Westernized version. Karma too. If people are angry because someone aggrieved them then “karma will get her back.” “What goes around comes around.” Of course, no evidence actually shows that there is any correlation between one’s activities and the mysterious cosmic force of karma. Sure, if one shortchanges many people then there is a far higher chance someone will return the favour. But that doesn’t make room for karma.
I also believe wishful thinking is very prevalent in Christian believers too. I hear it all the time. For example, that if one prays hard and long enough they will safely reach their destination via aeroplane because God heard the prayers. However, I don’t think it is unlikely that of the 227 passages on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 someone may have prayed, or received prayer from someone not on board. And we all know what happened there. This can be extrapolated beyond this sole example. Here I think critics have done well to identify that for many Christians their belief is an emotional crutch. Some Christians are unable to deal with the reality of life without God. There are, however, considerations to be had here.
The objection is not exclusive to Christianity. For the atheist this objection can apply to him just as it does to believers in God. Many atheists do not want God to exist, and them not wanting him to exist doesn’t make it so. Christianity is also not all rainbows and butterflies. Hell, evil, suffering, sin are all in the mix; Christianity certainly isn’t the most comforting religion. Subsequently, as has been pointed out, many Christians would clearly disagree that their belief is an emotional crutch. This Christian will probably produce historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection as an apologetic to show that her belief is grounded in facts and reality.
And finally, for critics to argue along these lines commits a fallacy. It is a poor way to make decisions and arguments. Although I argued that reincarnation is a product of WT in the west that doesn’t make it false. Reincarnation could be purely WT yet still be true. It’s the same with prayer; perhaps many of the faithful pray to God out of WT, but that does not mean God does not exist to hear those prayers. To argue that a proposition must be false because it is a product of WT is rendered a non-sequitur.