Alright, so I’ve refrained from commenting on the “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” YouTube video that has stirred up so much discussion in recent days/weeks. The reason being that I truly couldn’t have cared less about it. I’ve been championing taking back the words “religion” and “religious” for some time now, but to no avail, bumper sticker Christians keep winning the day.

In any event, the reason I mention the video today is because it has finally invaded my life. My pastor played it after service today and he was very much in favor of the overall message. For the record, I’m all for the message (as I understand it at least), but I’m not for the language. You see, “religion” functions in this video, and in much of pop evangelical Christianity, as a shorthand for “hypocrisy,” “self-righteousness,” and “works salvation.”

When I listen to what this kid is against, it’s not religion, it’s hypocrisy. So why not say hypocrisy? It’s not religion, but works based salvation, so why not say that? It’s simple. Saying, “It’s all about religion and not hypocrisy” or “It’s not about works salvation but religion” doesn’t sound good or make a good bumper sticker. You lose the alliteration between “religion” and “relationship” in the common “It’s all about relationship and not religion” or “It’s not about religion but relationship” slogans.

But it is about religion. Jesus had a religion and so do Christians—all of them! Jesus was just as religious as the Pharisees and the Sadducees; he just wasn’t a hypocrite. Read the Gospels again—especially Matthew!—and you’ll discover that Jesus never once opposed religion but he often opposed hypocrisy. Isn’t it funny that he never once called his opponents “religious” but he often called them “hypocrites?” Do a spoken word poem about that.

And as much as the kid in the video wants to talk about grace and whatnot, he sends a mixed message. On the one hand “religion says do while Jesus says done” but on the other hand religion “fails to feed the poor.” So which is it? Does religion “do” or doesn’t it? You can’t have it both ways. The truth is that this kid really loves religion too. He’s just confused about what religion is. James describes “pure religion” as doing, in particular, visiting orphans and widows in their affliction and keeping oneself unstained from the world. Sorry guy, but that’s good stuff, and Jesus (like all the prophets before him) was all about that!


13 thoughts on “Religion>Hypocrisy

  1. DITTO!

    I, too, refrained from commenting, and would have echoed ever single word you just wrote.

    When I watched the video, mainly I just rolled my eyes and thought that the kid had good intentions, but he missed the heart of what religion actually is. The video’s message smacks of an extension of Mark Driscoll / Emerging / Emergent babble that has been shoved down our throats for the last decade; and I’m still rolling my eyes.

  2. I think he has things to say, he just isn’t saying them with theological precision. Perhaps in a dialogue, he would agree to everything you say, perhaps not. But he does acknowledge, as you say, that his point is not religion per se, but hypocrisy. That he recognizes that to many his message was misunderstood shows that throwing bombs at the concept “religion” is not all that effective because it carries so much semantic and emotional value to different groups of people.

    From his FB page:
    Jefferson Bethke
    If you are using my video to bash “the church” be careful. I was in no way intending to do that. My heart came from trying to highlight and expose legalism and hypocrisy. The Church is Jesus’ bride so be careful how you speak of His wife. If a normal dude has right to get pissed when you bash His wife, it makes me tremble to think how great the weight is when we do it to Jesus’ wife. The church is His vehicle to reach a lost word. A hospital for sinners. Saying you love Jesus but hate the Church, is like a fiancé saying he loves his future bride, but hates her kids. We are all under grace. Look to Him.

  3. Good critique. On Rachel Held Evans’ blog, I read that the person who made the video had some clarifications, or second-thoughts. He said:

    “I just wanted to say I really appreciate your article man. It hit me hard. I’ll even be honest and say I agree 100%. God has been working with me in the last 6 months on loving Jesus AND loving his church. For the first few years of walking with Jesus (started in ’08) I had a warped/poor paradigm of the church and it didn’t build up, unify, or glorify His wife (the Bride). If I can be brutally honest I didn’t think this video would get much over a couple thousand views maybe, and because of that, my points/theology wasn’t as air-tight as I would’ve liked. If I redid the video tomorrow, I’d keep the overall message, but would articulate, elaborate, and expand on the parts where my words and delivery were chosen poorly… My prayer is my generation would represent Christ faithfully and not swing to the other spectrum….thankful for your words and more importantly thankful for your tone and fatherly like grace on me as my elder. Humbled. Blessed. Thankful for painful growth.”

  4. YES! This sort of stuff really bugs me, and I’ve been hearing it for almost 25 years. I haven’t watched it (and won’t) but have “edgy” pastor (FB) friends (who really should have outgrown this phase by now) just gurgling over it (as they do every new shiny thing) and going on and on about teh evils of religion. I’m like, “Dude, you’re a pastor. You go to church constantly. You read the Bible a lot. You’re religious.” And claims to this effect really don’t impress unbelievers the way you want them to anyway.

    This one can be stuck in the same barrel as “I’m spiritual but not religious,” which usually means (and usually comes from a woman), “I sort of believe in God but am sleeping with my boyfriend.”

  5. The hearts and minds of the people of my generation are being shaped by Christian rap and hip-hop, and the glory of charismatic (the characteristic, not the denomination) American preachers….and not by a serious engagement with Church history, Christian philosophy and general, rigorous thinking.

    I always remind people who use the “Jesus Hates Religion” line of James 2, where the biblical image of religion is clearly expressed: Looking after widows and orphans in their distress, and from keeping oneself from being polluted by the world. Sure it is not human institution, but it is the deep, internal hunger to be holy and express God’s love.

  6. This one can be stuck in the same barrel as “I’m spiritual but not religious,” which usually means (and usually comes from a woman), “I sort of believe in God but am sleeping with my boyfriend.”

    Ha ha ha! Exactly. The whole ” I’m spiritual but not religious” saying is ridiculous. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used outside the context of someone trying to justify a sinful lifestyle.

  7. Billy: Same here. And for the record, this kid just brought something to the forefront recently that has bugged me for years. I hear the same kinds of things in my own church all the time. It annoys me then too.

    Mike: Thanks for the quotation. It was obvious that he was mad at the right kinds of things. He was just calling them something else. Theological precision is nice; but he’s really just echoing a ubiquitous misunderstanding in popular evangelicalism. If he hadn’t made this video I’m sure someone else would have made one similar to it.

    James: Thanks for the added quotation. It seems obvious that his heart was in the right place. I honestly think that the reason he didn’t think he’d be so misunderstood (if he really even has been) is because the pejorative use of “religion” is so common amongst evangelicals (especially young ones) that he didn’t count on folks understanding the term in a positive way.

    Sean: Exactly! And your last sentence might be the single best thing I’ve read all year!

    B. P.: I’m with you. It’s sad to say it, but many Christians like what I call a “bumper sticker gospel.” Rather than spend some time articulating the finer points of the Bible’s message we opt for gimmicks and slogans. We’ve turned Jesus into a product to be sold rather than a savior to be proclaimed. Marketing is the new evangelism.

    Dorian: Thanks! I’m glad you agree.

    EDH: Same here. It always seems to boil down to wanting some kind of assurance without having to sacrifice anything.

  8. I am sorry, but I think this is nitpicking over semantics. This guy is writing to an audience who identify with his language and the use of such terms. I agree with your interpretation of what he is trying to say. My generation wouldn’t use such terms but at the same time we need to be accommodating to the disillusionment of this generation with today’s practice of religion.

  9. Nick, maybe if you got the time and take an interest, perhaps you could respond to this muslim attacking Christ and Christian orthodoxy. If nothing else, it would get more viewers to you blog. Blessings.

  10. Charles: This is nitpicking over semantics. That’s exactly my problem. My issue is with using the word “religion” pejoratively when religion (the Christian religion at least) is in fact good.

    Troy: Not interested, sorry. Apparently, James White is though. The only thing I’ll say about this video is that it lacks the production value and flow of the one it’s seeking to mimic.

  11. It’s also an example of the “euphemism treadmill.” I’ve been reading works from the 19/early 20C lately & they use the word “religion” much like we would use “relationship” or “spirituality.” Eventually the latter will fall out of favor too and a new word will be preferred. It’s hard to keep up with this stuff.

    Also also: it’s annoying because of the somewhat arrogant implication that the current generation was the first to discover the possibility of a personal relationship with Jesus, unlike those stuffy old people who only know legalistic church stuff.

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