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!