Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus

There is a video going around facebook and twitter you may have seen. It is called Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus. Young people resonate with this kind of thing. That is why the video has 5 million views and 60k comments. Young people don’t want a shallow faith. They don’t want to go through the motions. They want a place that is a hospital for the hurting and where you can be genuine, not “hiding my sin.” That all makes sense and is more the meat of the video. But the video isn’t all just solid, biblical meat. It has it’s issues. There were times I wanted to shout “Amen, amen!” during this video and times I wanted to shout “Oh no!”

This is nothing new:
It really isn’t anything new. This video is basically a catchy rehash of views of Christianity that have been voiced over the last 30+ years. The old saying was “I want the man, not the plan.” Dan Kimball addressed this a few years ago in curriculum called “They Like Jesus but Not the Church.”

But before all of that, God expressed some of the views of this video in Jeremiah 7. What God said there is a little lengthy but worth the read. I would encourage you to go ahead and click that link and read that chapter because it will shed light on how God views all of this so we can take His word on it. A few things stand out to me in Jeremiah 7. The first is that God hates empty religion. God hates when religion becomes an end to itself. God hates when religion is used almost like magic. You go through the motions and say the rights words to ensure something for yourself. But Jeremiah 7 never says what this video says…that religion as a whole is to be hated. In fact, God says that he gave commands and he wants them to be obeyed,

“For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. 24 But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.” – 7:22-23

I don’t think this guy hates all religion either. In a minute I am going to quote his description of the video where he brings out a few points that would have been helpful to clarify in the video itself.

The problem of broad generalization:
The big problem I have with this video is that it broad brushes religion when really the video is condemning a certain type of religion. He says he hates “religion” and that Jesus hates it too. Is that true when spoken of so generally? Is all religion to be hated and seen as evil? I don’t believe that is biblical. Instead we should be upset about false religion just like God is. Yes, Jesus was called a drunkard and a glutton by “religious” men. But that doesn’t make religion bad or evil. Those men relied on their religion and practice rather than relying on God but that doesn’t mean religious practice is wrong or evil. It just needs to be understood and practiced from the perspective of how those practices are relational with God and others. Pure religion is not about jumping through hoops. Religion is an expression of following God by following the things He has taught us. Religion is not an end to itself. Religion must be about relationship.

Jesus and Religion on Opposite Spectrums?
In the video he says that Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums. I guess that is why Jesus and Paul both went to great lengths to observe the law during their lifetimes? Maybe that is why Jesus said that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17). Hardly a statement describing the “two different clans” he says divides Jesus and religion. Also, how much of the sermon on the mount was about practicing pure religion from the heart rather than going through the motions and rationalizing sin. My point is, Jesus believed that religion could be good and lead to good things when understood from God’s perspective and true to God’s intention for religion.

If you look at the description he wrote of the video, he nails it. He just never explains this in the actual video!

“A poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion. In the scriptures Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it’s core Jesus’ gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered. This poem highlights my journey to discover this truth. Religion either ends in pride or despair. Pride because you make a list and can do it and act better than everyone, or despair because you can’t do your own list of rules and feel “not good enough” for God. With Jesus though you have humble confident joy because He represents you, you don’t represent yourself and His sacrifice is perfect putting us in perfect standing with God!”

Now that is a little better. I would add a third option to what religion ends in. Religion can end in pride, despair or in a closer relationship with God. It ends in the later when religion is understood as a part of approaching God in all of his holiness and obeying his commands out of a response to God’s grace. Once religion becomes all about earning things or about self it becomes false. But there is such a thing as pure religion. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – James 1:27. I wouldn’t call that an infection and I am sure he wouldn’t either.

To sum it up, the big problem with this video is the broad generalization of lumping all religion into a stereotype and ignoring what the Bible actually says about it. It muddies the water too much for me and lacks clarity as well as biblical support for the broad generalizations he makes. People who want to hear a Christian say things like that are going to jump on board and make it even harder to reach them.

I want to make one last point here…catchy has replaced content. If you turn on the top 40 songs in America today the content is terrible but the tunes are catchy. It all sounds good. You can dance to it. It has a nice beat. But the content is deadly. I am not putting this in the camp with all that raunch. But I think there is a similar principle here…make something catchy and people will overlook a lot and put more stock in it than it might be worth.

What is your take on this video?

HT: Philip Cunningham – Thanks Philip for mentioning this and sharing your thoughts. I would love for you to share some of them in the comments.

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

33 Responses to Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus

  1. I enjoyed your reflections, Matt.

  2. Mike Cope says:

    Excellent perspective, Matt.

    I think it’s incredibly important to let this voice register in our minds. I’ve heard it—right or wrong, fair or unfair—many times over the past couple years. What can we learn from people who are so upset with “religion,” but who are drawn to the teaching of Jesus?

    But thanks for your reminder: just because this is someone’s perspective doesn’t mean it’s entirely true!

    A parallel video could be shot talking about all the amazing ways Christ-followers are seeking to join him in loving the world!

    • mattdabbs says:

      Mike,

      When someone says something we disagree with our gut reaction might be to get defensive. Instead, it is important that we ask ourselves what about it made us react like that? Was it the tone? Was it the content? Was it that it poked at our own insecurity? This is an important part of the process of learning from disagreements. Often what we will find is that the root of it is inside ourselves and not inside the other person. So when I hear something like this two things happen, I analyze it to death. Second, I try to learn something from it.

      “What can we learn from people who are so upset with “religion,” but who are drawn to the teaching of Jesus?”

      Great question and one worth evaluating. One thing that comes to mind is that if we are teaching tradition rather than or over scripture we can start expecting the room to get emptier and emptier.

  3. Luke says:

    Matt, this is a great post—I was about to blog some very similar thoughts, but you saved me the trouble!

    The degree to which so many of my facebook friends are willing to embrace such broad generalizations makes me uncomfortable.

  4. Mark says:

    Great post, Matt. And since you’re asking for our thoughts about it, I’ll just mention that I shared mine here. I think this is the video that launched a thousand theological blog posts. I’ve gotten tickled watching as all of my ministry friends have sort of resisted the urge to make snide comments on our friends’ postings of this, but have all felt compelled to offer some corrections on our blogs.

  5. James says:

    Well said, Matt, and I especially appreciate that you brought up James’s perspective. I think the the whole “Jesus vs. Religion” meme always forgets that “religion” isn’t the problem, false religion that misses the point and loses sight of the mission of the kingdom is the problem. What Christ-follower could possibly against the religion James describes? I’d prefer to redeem the word than to bash it, but these days that’s been an uphill battle, to say the least.

    One other thing that jumped out at me was the juxtaposition of building vs. feeding the poor. These are hardly mutually exclusive, though I know we may all be guilty of this same generalization.

    You’re right that this isn’t really a new message, just a new medium. It’s pretty much the theme of half the youth rallies I attended as a kid in the 80s.

  6. I see lots of ministers in social media trying to rebuke the message as they link it. I think this might be the most fascinating element of this whole episode here. Because I sense the urge within myself to scold the message/messenger also. And I wonder what it is that moves me in that direction.

    Could be a number of things that urge us to do this, really. Could be jealousy that THIS guy is gaining popularity but our message(s) have never gained such a wide & respected hearing. Could be finickiness over a couple minor points of theological disagreement. Could just be insecurity & wanting to prove how much smarter they are than that guy / everyone else.

    Obviously this guy has connected with deep urgings of young people. Rather than carp over all the things we find troublesome, I wonder if it would be more wise to temper our own urgings to rebuke & incorporate what’s working into our own teaching.

    Sometimes I listen to the way we ministers talk about Max Lucado, Rick Warren, & Rob Bell and wonder if we’re not all a bunch of player haters. I get the sense that the hip-hop community would recognize this behavior pretty easily.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Philip,

      To be perfectly honest, popularity didn’t even cross my mind except that 5 million views told me he was hitting a nerve. Now that you have reminded me that he is more popular than I am, I am really going to scold him! Kidding!

      I don’t know if you read my comment to Mike but I mentioned that sometimes being uncomfortable with something says more about me than it does about the other person. I agree there is much to be learned from this video. There are many healthy things stated in this video. I even think this guy would agree with the critique that he is really talking about false religion and not all religion. His video description even says as much.

      I just think this video is the best poorly communicated thing I have seen in a long time. What I mean by that is he is a skilled communicator but by leaving out that he is talking about “false” religion as opposed to religion in general he stumbles all over himself and presents something that is unbiblical on many points.

      Last, we all have to be open to critique. I welcome it even though sometimes I don’t like it and some times I resist it. We just don’t want to become critics and cynics in the process. That’s when we become practitioners of false religion ourselves.

  7. mattdabbs says:

    So here are the relevant questions so far:
    1 – What do we learn from this that might actually be useful in connecting with 20 somethings?
    2 – How do we correct without becoming critics?
    3 – Do we communicate tradition on par with scripture? If so, should we expect people to put up with that?
    4 – What is the proper place of tradition, how can it be helpful/useful in developing a relationship with God and connecting with our past?
    5 – How do we become more missional without creating more consumers? What I mean by creating more consumers is that young people want a ton more service and to live out the mission. Yes, yes, yes…but if we aren’t careful we teach/show them that even those activities are more about them than about loving God or anything else. So we have to make sure that we are creating disciples and not consumers. Some of the action looks the same on the outside. It is what is on the inside that makes the difference between the two. Leadership needs to be aware of that and help lead people into a healthy relationship with God and others.

    What do you think?

    • charliesohm says:

      1. 20 somethings, like the rest of us, need to focus on the solution, not the problem.
      2. Point out the punchlist that we could derive from his rant and try to be constructive
      3. Probably. And we should be honest about them. Traditions are a way of communicating the truths of scripture that have been around a while. They are meant to be shaped, improved, replaced, and reshaped to help the gospel spread. Is there any other way to reach people than some method that eventually becomes repeated?
      4. Tradition is a vessel for meaning. Your second question is self-answering.
      5. Great question! To be honest, I’m afraid that every set of new believers contains people who just aren’t going to survive. The parable of the sower prepares us for this sad fact. You do what you can, use tradition or non-tradition, or felt-needs, or kindness, or sternness, or fellowship, or intellectual depth or mystery, or simplicity, or the promise of marriage to win people to Christ; but ultimately, they either grasp Christ or they don’t. They might take your bait, but if they don’t take Christ then they will wither or choke. It’s not the fault of the seed or the water if the soil is bad. Planting and watering simply won’t yield a crop no matter how clever your poem is.

    • I like these questions.

      Sounds like the launching point for an upcoming blog series

  8. geoffcocanower says:

    As a 25-year old pastor who saw this blow up my facebook page, I was concerned and almost did the unthinkable. That is, to post the video with my own concerns. Your thoughts are well balanced and I appreciate them.

  9. charliesohm says:

    I chuckled when he said “I’m not judging.” I frowned when he said that religion “builds cathedrals but doesn’t feed the hungry”. I rolled my eyes when he said, “I love my church.”

    What does that say about me? Lots of things, I’m sure. I think what I want it to say is that, if you have something constructive to contribute, I’ll put your ideas on my to do list. But if you just want to point the finger and think yourself superior because you think you follow Jesus better than everybody else, I’ll throw you right on the pile with all the people you just said you weren’t judging.

    “Some say, ‘I follow Paul’, or ‘I follow Cephas’, or ‘I follow Jesus” Boasting about your discipleship is not discipleship unless you happen to follow a self-righteous braggart.

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  11. The English word religion has a Latin background of indefinite origin. There is good reason to believe that this word referred to the rituals associated with the worship of the gods. The Greek word translated religion also has a varied background. It appears in the New Testament a scant four times: three times as religion and once as worship of angels. The passages are Acts 26:5; James 1:26, 27; and Colossians 2:18.

    It is interesting to me that three of the four verses speak of religion of the Jews, particularly the Pharisees, the worship (or religion) of angels, and the vain religion of one who seems religious (a cognate word) but does not bridle his tongue. The only instance of religion being in a good sense is James 1:27 where James makes the same sort of contrast with religion of a bad sort with that which is pure that Jefferson makes in his poem.

    Real religion that is pure, James indicates, does not consist in rituals of the Jews, even in their strictest sect, nor the hypocrisy of one who seemed “religious,” nor the false humility of one who worshiped angels. Rather, it is in caring for weak, hurting people in their misery. This is what Jesus did – and what he calls us to do as well.

    I may be dense, but I did not see hidden Calvinism in the poem. Rather, I heard a passionate plea similar to that of Amos or Hosea. Those prophets cried out against the pretentiousness of Israel because they neglected the poor while observing the rituals of religion in a perverted way. Strangely (to us, anyway), they did not condemn the sin of worshiping the golden calf as much as they did the sins of abusing the poor while living in idle self-indulgence.

    Maybe we all need to get down on our knees and listen again – and then go out with a message that at least some people are yearning to hear, though I’m sure that many of the 5,000,000 viewers of this video watched with glee that someone was “telling those hypocritical Christians a thing or two.” Our refocused message should focus more on the heart of Jesus than it does on the rituals of the church. I suspect that most who are reading this blog will agree that this is the message the world desperately needs.

  12. Finious says:

    I think what he means by this, is that Christians don’t have to worry about getting into God’s good graces because Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for them and released them from that duty. As he says in the video “Because when Jesus said IT IS FINISHED,Romans 8:2 – He died for our(christian) sins. Just believe that he died for sins and they are saved. That is nothing less then organized-atheism.

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  14. mattdabbs says:

    Really, this video is fighting a stereotyped Christianity. Does this exist somewhere? Sure, it probably exists in a few people who attend in just about every congregation out there. Does that mean it is the norm, not at all. Does that mean we accept “false religion?” Of course not. In fact, if we were really honest we have probably all practiced one or two or all of these things at some point in time or did things just for show. We aren’t to be the critics of others. If we are critical of anyone it starts with ourselves.

    Straw men don’t put up a very good fight.

  15. This video stirred up a lot of heat in my church circles. People seemed to be either really for it, or really against it. The observation made generally by critics is that it presents a false dichotomy. It’s an evangelical myth that “all religion is bad.” We’ve all heard “it’s a relationship, not a religion.”

    Try telling that to any atheist.

    There is pure and perfect religion, as James 1:27 tells us. Looking after the least of these and keeping ourselves pure. Actions related to these objectives cannot save us (only Jesus can), but they are religious expressions born from a heart of faith. True religion is the fruit of a transformed life. False religion makes a show of godliness but is ineffectual or even harmful.

    At the very least, this video got people talking about the issue, and perhaps the young man who made it will take the feedback and further hone his biblical understanding.

    It saddened me a little, though, to see teenagers I know to be at-risk sharing this video on Facebook with comments that includes swears and affirmations that this is why they reject “organized religion.” Bethke says in the video that he isn’t against the Bible or church, but that isn’t what a lot of people are taking away from it.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Adam,

      Good stuff brother. I hope he does get some feedback on this and is willing to listen to more than just how shout his praises. That is the hard part about feedback. It is tempting to only listen to those who confirm you are right.

  16. Matt wrote about things he learned at the recent Gulf Coast Getaway:

    Young people are hungrier for scripture and spiritual meat than I had imagined. They want this. They don’t just want it in Panama City. They want this at home. They want to read the Bible and understand it. Often they will need a guide. Will we provide that for them?

    How does this observation relate to this thread of discussion?

    • mattdabbs says:

      If there are any criticisms that need to be made of the church or Christianity we know the solution comes through seeking out God. Much of that seeking is done through studying the Bible. I think if we really start digging and trying to understand it will make things better, inform our conversation, and humble us all. If we just use scripture as a jumping off point to talk about whatever in our classes and sermons then we get into trouble.

  17. Matt,

    I heard the young man decrying hypocrisy and calling for authenticity. Did he paint with too broad a brush? Yes, but I suspect all of us do at times. Did he have a “faith only” approach to theology? Yes, but probably not more so than many evangelicals. Did he express a desire for something better from those who follow Jesus? Yes, he did.

    Can we deconstruct what he said and say that he should have said something else? Obviously. Yet it heard in his impassioned diatribe some of the same things that I hear coming from the lips of Jesus.

    In your comments about the Gulf Coast Get-away, you noted how hungry young people are for something solid – that they are not getting in most of our churches. That is why I asked how that comment might possibly relate to the thread on this post. Just something to think about.

    Of course, our answers will have to come, ultimately, from the Word of God. Yet, are we able to open our hearts to what God really says there or will we persist in only justifying ourselves?

    • mattdabbs says:

      Like I said above, or at least I thought I said, there is much to learn from this video. If you want to reach someone you have to know where they are starting from. If you want to reclaim those who have left, you have to know what turned them off. If their grievances are valid they must be rejected. If they reject the church because the church was being holy and they want to be worldly then we stand our ground and realize that is going to happen. That is not, by the way, what I see happening in this video. I agree, he does make some valid points. We shouldn’t be so prideful as to overlook any valid points made in that video. We should never fail to listen. If we do then shame on us.

      • Do you see any comparison between what he said and the hunger for something more solid that you saw at Gulf Coast? I may be making too much of what I see as some commonality – but I was not there. I’m depending on your observation. And, I watched the video only once. I have not yet gone back to review it for a second impression. When (if) I do, I may see something I just did not see in the first look. Part of my problem is that it is so easy for us to be thin-skinned when someone points out things such as he has done. We are so close to the situation and have been for so long, that it all appears normal to us. This reminds me of an observations I once heard, I do not remember where: “If a first century Christian were to suddenly be transported into our midst, he would have to back-slide to be accepted by us.” Overstated? Likely. Is it true? That is the question we need to answer for ourselves, isn’t it?

  18. mattdabbs says:

    We have already analyzed this thing to death. One thing is true, his sentiment is the same as the sentiment of many out there. It needs to be addressed and the church needs to move to action to re-engage in the mission. If there are any accurate criticisms we would be foolish to dismiss them.

    You can read the lyrics here…makes it easier to get through the content – http://rapgenius.com/Jefferson-bethke-why-i-hate-religion-but-love-jesus-spoken-word-lyrics

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