A Response to “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus”

I’ve come across this video several times this weekend, and with almost 10 million views in not even four days, I think it’s fair to say that it has gone viral:

Taking the Path Most Traveled

I appreciate those of you who have shared this with me. It’s a great conversation starter.

I have a couple of concerns though.

First of all, at points Jefferson Bathke (the poet in question) is not correct.

I contend (quite strongly) that

  • Jesus did not come to abolish religion. It’s not possible to separate “religion” from “way of life” 2,000 years ago. Religion apart from our everyday life is something that we’ve perfected, but was not the case back then. I believe Jesus came to lead us in the way we live our lives. Change it? Sure. Abolish it? That’s a stretch lie.
  • God did not call people whores. Not even “religious people.”
  • In the first two points, Mr. Bethke might be referring to those who worshipped false idols. Now if he wants to accuse many religions of worshipping false idols, now, he has my attention. But I never heard him get that far.

It’s not that I don’t think our poet raised a few good points.

I think these points are acknowledged very articulately by Nadia Bolz Weber, an ELCA pastor in Denver Colorado:

“I totally get it. I hate the way in which the church is more of a behavior modification program and a purity system than a place where we hear the truth of who God is and the truth of who we are because of who God is.

I also resent the way in which the term “Christian” has become synonomous with a conservative social agenda and exclusion of the weak the poor and the outcast (namely the people Jesus chose to hang out with)

I too reject religion that does little more than prop up an identity of sanctification and righteousness based in the successful adoption a particular affect, style, personality and way of speaking.

I too think that Jesus is about grace and being with those on the margins and the unbounded way in which God is always coming TO us.”

But…

Concern Number Two

It sure does seem to be taking the easy way out.

Believe me, nobody has tried to do the God thing while sneaking in/out the backdoor of religion more than me. I used to introduce occupation as a “Youth Programming Consultant with Religious Undertones.” There are plenty of reasons to not be proud of the way religion (so-called religious people, so-called religious leaders) are acting/talking living.

But it’s impossible to change the system from the outside. Literally.

Do you know what we would call a group of people who agreed that religions were evil and that the only true way to live was to follow Jesus?

A religion.

I like Tony Jones’ response and I especially appreciate his definition of religion: “Religion is simply the social and psychological framework by which human beings organize their experience of the Divine.”

It just drives me nuts when someone asserts the problems of humanity as being a problem of religion.

Duh!

It’s the Transitive Property all over again.

People, People, People

People start wars. People can be hypocritical. People can spend their (our) lives doing anything to avoid the real issues in life. People can be dishonest with others and with themselves. And religions are made of people.

But people can be generous. People can be loving. People can rebuild houses and feed the poor. People can advocate for those less fortunate. People can model peace. People can provide great windows into the experiencing and understanding of God. And religion can too.

Let’s talk about changing, adapting, cleansing, enhancing, healing, and empowering our religion to be more inline with what we think our Christian call is supposed to be.

And let’s encourage other leaders of other faith communities to challenge the way their religions have manifested further and further apart from the God of peace – something that we really should be able to agree upon.

But getting rid of religion? Well, aside from being grammatically and mathematically impossible… it’s just throwing the baby Jesus out with the 2,000 year-old bath water.

A closing from the much less defensive and much more articulate than me, Nadia Bolz Weber:

“I believe in Religion AND Jesus. I believe in the Gospel. I believe in the transformative, knock you on your (butt) truth of what God has done in Christ. I believe that I can only know what this following Jesus thing is about when I learn it from people I would never choose out of a catalog when we all gather together as the broken and blessed Body of Christ around the Eucharistic meal. I believe that I am the problem at least as often as I am the solution. I believe in participating in sacred traditions that have a whole lot more integrity than anything I could come up with myself. I believe I need someone else to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to me because I cannot create that for myself. I believe that Jesus is truly present in the breaking of the bread and that where 2 or more are gathered he is there. That’s religion AND Jesus. May God make us worthy of it all.”

Comments

  1. I have to say you illustrated Jefferson’s point perfectly. First, people haven’t changed at all since Jesus day as far as religion goes. This is why Jesus says, “They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament. This shows that Old testament time, New Testament time and present time…people’s default setting is religion…is works righteousness. Look at all your comments and quotes. The focus is not on Jesus and his work but on people and their work, their understanding, and their experience with the divine. Think about it every religion ever, both now and in the past has always said the same thing, they just spun it a little different. They all boil down to a person being, in some form, dependent on their own effort/works in order to attain heaven, nirvana, vahalla, break the karmetic cycle, hook their atman up with the brahman, to become one with the universal consciousness, become enlightened , and so on…but then their is Jesus. In the Bible we read that it’s all grace! It wasn’t our plan of salvation but our heavenly Fathers plan. It’s not our work/effort but that of Jesus in his humble birth, perfect life, his obedient suffering and death, his powerful resurrection, and victorious proclamation that sin and death have been conquered. It’s not our choosing Jesus but Jesus choosing us. It’s not our faith or sanctified life but the powerful work of the Holy Spirit creating faith in our heart and then empowering us to work, motivated by the grace of God in Jesus…not because we have to in order to go to heaven but because are place in heaven is already secure in Jesus. The Gospel is completly different than religion.

  2. Neal says:

    Joshua,

    Thank you for commenting, I appreciate your feedback.

    I understand your intent to defend Jeff, especially on the grounds that religion and the gospel are two completely different things – a point that you and I agree on.

    However, it seems that my concerns/contentions aren’t clear to you. I tried to use quotes of other humans to identify their importance of their religion. As I said, religions ARE people. Thus making it two things: #1) not the gospel of Christ, and 2) impossible to not have (anytime you have people discussing their faiths, you have “religion”).

    Having read much more about Jeff, it seems his true intention was to remind us of the Grace of Christ as opposed to the Works of Man, and again I agree with him.

    However, I still contend that Jesus did not come to abolish “religion” as again, “religion” was nothing separate from “life”, and I get the sense that you would agree that in today’s world “religion” and our religious practices is often and unfortunately isolated from our everyday “life.”

    Under other logic, using “It is finished” as a termination of religion negates all the ways that Christ, and later the apostle Paul would lift up the gathered body of Christ.

    To Jeff’s credit, he clarified his intention and admitted that in what became way bigger than he ever anticipated he “had a warped/poor paradigm of the church and it didn’t build up, unify, or glorify His wife (the Bride).” (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2012/01/14/following-up-on-the-jesusreligion-video/)

    Was I too hard on Jeff? Yeah. He did a great thing with great talent to get us talking about what the “point” is.
    But, I think as we clarify Christ’s grace, we not throw the Bride out with the bathwater. Ya know?

  3. [...] So a few weeks ago, when I saw Jefferson Bethke’s Video “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus”, I took the chance to have the fight I’ve been waiting for. [...]