Humble Orthodoxy > Hating Religion

I don’t know Jefferson Bethke.  He seems like a bright guy.  There’s no denying he’s thoughtful and talented and passionate.  His video Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus has been viewed more than 3 million times on youtube in just a couple of days.  The number will probably spike much higher as more and more people spread it virally.  I’m sure if I met him in person and we could chat over coffee, we’d agree on more things than not.  I’m glad his video is blowing up and compelling people to think.  But I’d like to humbly respond.

Let me start with this: I AM RELIGIOUS.  There’s a whole lot of baggage that comes with the word but I have to be honest.  I’m a religious person.  I have been most of my life.  I’m not ashamed of it or embarrassed by it.  I relate to and manifest faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.  And thusly, according to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, I am religious.  I don’t hate it or deny it.  I embrace it.  I readily admit that religion has its limits and is clearly, in and of itself, a manmade phenomenon.  By no means do I think that God himself is confined by the boundaries of my religious tendencies or dogmas.  God is much too big for that.  If I were capable of shoving God into the neatly packaged box of my personal orthodoxy, he would cease to be a God I’d want to worship or love or devote myself to.  He would cease to be God at all.  The other night I was chatting with a good friend on a drive back from late night tacos and he was explaining to me the way in which he held his own orthodoxy.  He didn’t use words.  He simply held out an open palm.  This is the way I want to hold my own orthodoxy.  This is the way in which I envision the Church as her most beautiful self.  Humble and generous and open, acknowledging simultaneously that God’s holiness and justice cannot be denied and neither can his grace and mercy.  He is holy and just and gracious and merciful.  He is never more one than the other.  God is at all times, in all places, among all people, in all circumstances, completely holy, absolutely just, eternally gracious, and boundlessly merciful.  This is the unfathomable and scandalous reality of the kingdom of God.  It is a kingdom in which the King lays down his own life for the peasants and paupers and thieves.  This is the beautiful mess we’ve been invited into.  I do not believe that all are saved but I absolutely believe, without exception, that all are invited.

So when Jefferson Bethke says he hates religion but loves Jesus, he is painting a certain type of picture for his audience.  And while I agree with some snippets of what he’s saying here, we must be careful to express our ideas with humility and thoughtfulness.  It is far too easy to irresponsibly spew rhetoric like, “religion is the infection” or “Republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian” or “Jesus and religion are on opposite ends of the spectrum” as if these were universal realities without need for more unpacking and deeper dialogue.  But the truth is, God loves the religious just the same as everyone else.  He loves the obnoxiously devout just as much as the most casual of atheists.  His heart breaks for both the tragic failures of televangelists and the injustices suffered by the impoverished.  He is as gracious and merciful to the irrelevant turn-or-burn Bible thumpers with their megaphones as he is to the relevant and hip religion-hating-Jesus-loving youtube sensations.  In some ways, we are all religious.  We are all faithfully devoted to our own versions of what it means to be truly human in the way God designed us to be.

Religion gives me a landing spot.  It serves as a series of benches on my journey.  It gives me a place to rest and ponder and regain strength in my legs to continue trekking toward God.  Religion is never the end, only the means to an end.  So I do not hate religion.  I appreciate it and hold it with an open palm.  Bethke asks, “If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?”  Religion never started any war.  People did.  And people still do.  Wars, both literally and figuratively, both between countries and churches, happen because people like you and me encamp ourselves so firmly in the trenches of our own dogmas and orthodoxies that we become unwilling to engage honest and open dialogue with humility and vulnerability.  Wars happen because we are unwilling to admit when we’re wrong and too stubborn to acknowledge when someone else is right.  Wars happen because we pick our tribes based on beliefs and not on intrinsic human value.

So love Jesus.  Love him first and foremost.  But don’t hate religion.  And don’t hate those who are religious.  Let us be humble in our orthodoxies and generous with our love.

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25 comments

  1. Thanks for this. I was going to write something of a counterpoint, but yours is much better than mine would have been. I had 63 FB friends share it yesterday alone. I was afraid I was bothered by it just because it was popular (and it rhymed – for some reason I don’t like slam poetry that rhymes.) But I think your words here reflect more of my reaction to it.

    My first time to your blog. I’ll subscribe. thx

  2. I liked your article. It was pointed out to me, when I posted a pro-comment about this video. Interesting take. For the same word play that you point out in Jeff’s video, I’d point out in yours. Being “religious” as a personal orthodoxy (and even it’s public practice) and public religion (the practical complex that exists, not the ideal Christianity that Christ taught), are two separate and different animals. I totally agree with your personal religious orthodoxy and personal religion statements, but to compare them to public religion is a bit of the same snippet play that you point out in Jeff’s video. You even skipped the part where Jeff specifically mentions “…..I love the chuch, I love Jesus….”

    I think another thing you miss is that this isn’t an article, it’s poetry, short, sweet, and clear cut. Jeff doesn’t condemn people for being personally religious and their personal orthodoxy, or for them meeting publicly in the local church. He’s talking about public religion that goes against Christ’s teachings. Even Christ threw out the money changers, calling the public relgious leaders of his day, vipers, whited seplechures, and hypocrites. Not exactly “loving” language, Christ was angry. It’s meant to be a thought provoker.

    And given your reponse, I’d say Jeff fulfilled his purpose. He got you thinking, He got me thinking. He’s got a lot of people thinking and talking. And, in my opinion, the discourse that is resulting, is a good thing.

    Peace be with you, and may God bless you as you continue in His will.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts here David. I really appreciate them quite a bit. They’re giving me pause and pushing me to think more on the topic. I agree with much of what you’re saying. Personal orthodoxy and public religion have sadly become two very different animals as you put it. My main issue is this: Language is a powerful tool. It not only expresses our thoughts, language also has the power to shape our realities. This most often happens on a subconscious level. When we hear or read certain things, it affects us in ways that we are both aware and unaware of. When a young man says he “hates religion” but “loves Jesus”, this creates a dichotomy that can actually confuse and convolute things for many in his audience, regardless of his intentions. As I stated early on in my article, I am glad the video is getting so much viewing because, as you said, Jeff fulfilled his purpose. For this I am grateful. You and I would not be engaged in this dialogue if it weren’t for this video. Thank you again for your thoughts. I am continuing to ponder some of these ideas.

      1. The problem remains that for some of us that are trying to be a light within the religion–you can’t expect us to say “I hate religion.” Do I also agree with much of the video? Sure.

        But at the end of the day, I’d be a hypocrite for that statement.

  3. Yes, the video in question reminds me of folks who seem to be saying with their lives, “I love humanity, but I don’t like being around people.

  4. Thank you for this post. I had a weird knee-jerk reaction to that video that I hadn’t put words to yet.

    Reshared this from Kurt’s post on Facebook with this comment, “I am religious. I went through my own religion-hating, loving-Jesus anyways phase. Many of us must as we sort things out, but the fact is many of us are religious in some way, whether it was my 10-year-old self asking God to let me talk to animals if it was okay with Him of course, or my 29-year-old self finding herself wholly in love with Christ’s Church and entering Episcopal communion. I agreed with much of what the guy in that YouTube video said…but I couldn’t like it or reshare…and this post is pretty close to why.”

  5. “In some ways we are all religious. We are all faithfully devoted to our own versions of what it means to be truly human in the way God designed us to be.”

    Yes, except for those of us who aren’t. Or are speaking strictly about the Christian community?

    1. Specifically I am speaking about the Christian community. But on a larger scale, all of us have some idea about what it means to be human and the intrinsic values and rights we have because of our humanity. Thanks for asking Barry.

  6. “But the truth is, God loves the religious just the same as everyone else. He loves the obnoxiously devout just as much as the most casual of atheists.”

    If that’s the case then why bother trying? Doesn’t religion, in all aspects, preach the need for its true followers to obey a certain moral code of conduct? To follow its teachings and aspire to holy righteousness? If God loves the most devout as much as the most skeptical does God then not also love Hitler as much as Mother Teresa? Where is the motivation to do right by your fellow man here on Earth and obey your God in heaven?

    “Religion never started any war. People did. And people still do. Wars, both literally and figuratively, both between countries and churches, happen because people like you and me encamp ourselves so firmly in the trenches of our own dogmas and orthodoxies that we become unwilling to engage honest and open dialogue with humility and vulnerability. Wars happen because we are unwilling to admit when we’re wrong and too stubborn to acknowledge when someone else is right. Wars happen because we pick our tribes based on beliefs and not on intrinsic human value.”

    Pretty well put, but is religion merely the product of man, even if that product was inspired by the belief in God…or is it the word of God, merely put down in writing by man? Herein lies my problem…either way there are pitfalls. Those who believe in a literal interpretation of their religion, one that is often beyond their intellectual grasp to begin with I might add, are openly preaching that the set of tenants as ascribed by their holy document are not up for interpretation and revision. Reading the Bible, or worse the Koran, one see’s any number of morally and socially unacceptable verses/passages unfit for modern world sensibility. Strict adherence to these set of codes would, in theory, be a recipe for mass genocide amongst other evils (I’ll share some of my biblical greatest hits if you don’t believe me!). Fortunately most people in the civilized world, even the self proclaimed devout who hold to a “literal” meaning of their Bible’s, typically hedge when confronted by those particular passages that acquiesce to violence and hatred or when they even call for it some instances. But then of course that typically makes them appear hypocritical, which brings us to our second set of religious followers…those who believe in God’s omnipotence but consider their Bible’s to be something of an allegory. The problem with allegories is that they naturally create a sort of dissention because now everything can be brought up for interpretation. This too leads to frustration and confusion amongst many followers. Is God then talking to us in code? The splendors of the natural world and universe would suggest that already. But what use, other than for amusement, would God have to create a world inhabited by those created in his likeness who now may suffer via the subjugation of their peers by religious doctrines that are “supposedly” written to spread the word of the Lord and his glories unto man and nature? Doesn’t sound like a loving God certainly! A God constantly testing our resolve…or perhaps just a religion that ends up as more divisive, not just to the non-believers or other religious groups but to its own followers, than uniting.

    Alas I believe “fact” does us much more good in society than “faith”. Faith being the firm belief for something of which there is no proof is often dangerous. It’s the suspension of rationale thought and promotes, inadvertently or not, intellectual laziness by convincing people that a list of ancient codes & scripture can adequately describe the secrets of the universe and their own purpose here on earth. On the contrary I believe it is a thirst for knowledge, pragmatism, intellectual curiosity and a heavy dose of skepticism, all well within the grasp of many typically religious souls, that bring us far closer to reaching the glory of God…

    1. Thanks for your response Erik. It’s quite thorough and thoughtful.

      In regards to your question about God’s love and its connection to the obedience of certain moral codes of conduct and aspirations to holy righteousness, my understanding is that obedience and the pursuit of righteousness both ought to be chosen responses to the love of God, not the other way around. Yes, I believe God loved Mother Teresa and Hitler the same. The responses Mother Teresa and Hitler chose were drastically different but God’s love toward them was the same. Your question, “Where is the motivation to do right by your fellow man?” assumes that God’s love is dictated by our actions. If we could dictate anything of God, he would cease to be God. God’s love is his choice alone. This is the nature of love. It cannot be forced or coerced. God loves us regardless of right or wrong behavior. This is not to say that there are not consequences for wrong behavior; only to say that God’s love in the midst of it all does not change.

      I agree wholeheartedly with your statement, “It’s the suspension of rationale thought and promotes, inadvertently or not, intellectual laziness by convincing people that a list of ancient codes & scripture can adequately describe the secrets of the universe and their own purpose here on earth.” I don’t think that a list of ancient codes and scripture can adequately describe the secrets of the universe and the purpose of human beings here on earth. I believe that thoughtful reflection and study is necessary to read the Bible responsibly and effectively. We Christians have done much harm with our irresponsible reading and interpreting of the Bible over the centuries. But while you propose that the Bible must be either be taken literally or allegorically, I would assert here that the Bible is a collection of stories that work to form a mosaic, which tells us the large, sweeping, overarching story of God and humanity. I believe the Bible ought to be read this way, as a story. While there isn’t enough space to go in depth here, I’d love to chat with you about it some time. You can email me at misterjaykim@gmail.com or find me on facebook with the email address.

      Thanks for your thoughts. I really appreciate that you took the time to read and thoughtfully respond. I hope to continue our conversation some time. Peace.

  7. Yeah dude, I think it’s really hard when you study the Bible, church, etc. and take it very seriously then someone makes a “viral video” like this. I think what’s entirely endemic of a culture that promotes the erosion of intellectual analysis and discussion is seen in this video, to a degree. If all this dude is trying to say is, “you can’t earn sacrifice” that’s fine, and it’s been said before. Most of what I see is people posting the video and being like, “<3jesus." There was no discussion on what "religion" means, which seems to be the main point. To post something that says you "hate" another thing is quite provoking, but it seemed to be done willy-nilly. He seems to be attacking the Church, its history, its rituals, and its culture. If loving Jesus is just about you sitting in your room praying…blah blah blah.

    You said it better than me, well done.

  8. This is probably the exact issue I was struggling with this weekend Jay.

    True that the guy was probably a little more careless with his word choice, diction, tones, and overlays and all that,

    and it’s likely that your initial post was more responsively replying to this outer dressing he has over the outside/top of his video, but the point remains, as even you had mentioned, his intention’s indeed clear. regardless of his come-off and maybe lower levels of consideration covering everyone watching and might watch.

    At the end of the day, I think all he’s trying to say is that religion isn’t bad per say, like ultimatum-ly or anything,

    but it’s just detrimental to human communication, or even on a deeper level,
    detrimental to effectively mixing into&with&together with each other,
    when held to at a specifically emptily-held manner,

    like without the

    experiential-glue contexting and big-picturing the individual concepts, instances, and data

    for true God-speaking, beyond literal and greater conceptual understanding;

    I think that’s what he’s really trying to get at .. but definitely I’d agree the less carefully artistry-ed nature of his word choice, delivery, and all that, definitely can contribute to closing off -ness of many or most of the listeners that that stuff stirs up reactions and meaningful emotions in.

    God speaking, or wisdom, to me, is me going to a retreat, being told something by my dad my entire life, searching for it at the retreat, after it suddenly began making sense a week or two before, deciding to go several weeks before it even made sense, running into the speaker in the most socially unusual interaction – it being fine and straight forward, following up with him on Facebook, and reading in his blog saying exactly the things I have been looking for, after ungoalingly deciding to meet him for coffee the next week without knowing what to even really connect on? — and hearing in his blog that he may be exactly the person I am sent to meet for that my half of things.

    – that’s not that I “hate” religion, nor that I “denounce” religion, nor really even that I “love Jesus” either. but it’s just that hey, looks like God’s speaking to me, and I’m gonna keep following. whether there’s a label of who’s doing it, how it’s happening, etc etc, or not

    I think that’s what he’s trying to get at, and he’s definitely not saying

    religion or religiousness or public religion or personal religion or anything and every concept here and there

    is right or wrong or confines God or any religious concept or belief into boxes or compartments, but I think he’s trying to say Jesus’s life is his message, — just like this guy’s video is his message — and to steal your words or most of them:

    I think that

    this video is a collection of stories that work to form a mosaic, which tells us the large, sweeping, overarching story of Jefferson Bethke’s realizations and wisdom.

    What he stirred up in me is the comparison between overanalysis and humanly understanding things, versus divinely being gifted the grace to vessel this divine wisdom beyond superunderstanding, and everything making complete sense without even making really any sense at all once we see it.

    word!!!!??? =)

    Alvin

  9. Sorry, I feel like my post may have been a little bit hastily said on my part, and I apologize if it was. In line with everything that’s already been said, I’m sorry if it comes off as me pushing my opinion aggressively as if it’s the only fact. Hope it doesn’t come off that way.

    -Alvin

  10. Lovely response and I appreciate your putting these thoughts together. Kurt put me on to your article.
    Having said that, I loved the poem, and like previous commenters, I believe that there is room for artistry in a poem. That language has room for beauty as well as truth. That there can be a deeper truth in the feeling of the poem that might be lost if we look strictly at the literal. But that might just be me being a touchy, feely kinda guy.
    I love that we are as believers entering into a dialogue about these things, and again. I appreciate you, and your well thought through response.

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