Have you seen the video yet? It is Jefferson Bethke’s poem about how Jesus hates religion. It went viral about a week ago and speaks a message that the country is ripe to hear. I’m not hating on it either. What he created is a good work and filled with very important ideas, ideas that strike deep to many who hear it.
If you haven’t seen it please direct yourself here before continuing on to view it. Otherwise most of this article won’t make sense. If you are up on your viral media and are now ready for my lecture please continue.
As I mentioned before, the poet Jefferson Bethke has captured some very important key points about the nature of Jesus and the church, and also what he calls religion. Before I start on the relationship between Jesus and the Church, I would like to point out another issue that many may have missed when they watched the video. This is also an important time in America’s development to be hearing this particular message. We are part of a generation that seems to be raging out against any form of authority we see unfit, and by unfit I mean anything that isn’t perfect.
We have seen decades of leaders, for many of us for as long as we have lived, fall horribly short of expectations. Many are resentful of political leaders who have let us down, like a President who had affairs in the oval office, or the one that sent us to wars we understood little about and couldn’t get us out of, or the President who didn’t give us back the jobs he said he would. Senators exposing themselves doesn’t shock us anymore, it is just time for a joke. But the failure in leadership doesn’t end there, and this where I think Bethke’s words hit most of us close to home. Our spiritual leaders have failed us too. Our generation has seen people kill thousands “In the name of God.” We also know that during the Crusades, reformation and inquisitions, Christians did much worse to far more people, even fellow Christians. Fanatics have spread hate in the name of God, like Fred Phelps who has led his cult/clan outside of fallen veteran funerals with slogans like “God Hates Fags” and “God Brought Down the Towers”. Christians have made war on science without considering the flaws in their own interpretation of the universe, leaving the enlightened members of our society with no place left to go but to feel shunned by God. Jokes about Catholic priests and alter boys don’t even get a reaction any more because we have heard it so many times. Major leaders in the Promise Keepers movement drove it to obscurity when they themselves committed adultery (a rare yet powerful blow to Christians and Politicians, thanks Mr. Ensign). Young people in the church see the older leaders acting against christian teachings. They see women gossiping and men telling dirty jokes as they frequent topless bars, all the while only a few actually still visit the widows, the orphans, the sick and the elderly. Even some of the most celebrated Christian leaders like Rev. Billy Graham are viewed by some as just a hoax dealer selling grace for as much as you can put in the bucket. How is it that, in a world of near infinite information, a young person should be expected to have such blind faith in the presence of such blatant hypocrisy?
They can’t. Young people are distancing themselves from the church. They are joining movements of self actualization in their own spirituality, making the path a solitary one. They are making statements like “I am spiritual, but not religious.” A few years ago, a religious person would laugh at such a statement, “How could someone know and understand God by themself?” but now we can see the divide clearly. People want to know and discover meaning in their life while not being part of a church that imposes rules, regulations, dogmas and passing judgements while making some feel welcome and ostracizing others. And the whole time many seeing them not living the lives they demand of others. Do you believe you are part of a perfect church? If you think you don’t, then why do you think others would want to join it? What good can they get from a less than perfect body? The conclusion… This is not perfect, it must have nothing to do with Jesus.
And there you see it. Our generation, with its abundance of information and its command of knowledge, are striking out against the “old ways” of religion. We are having a harder and harder time dealing with the dissonance between the idea of a perfect church made from imperfect people. This is why you see the individuals forming and leading themselves in spirituality. This is why you are seeing poems about how Jesus hates Religion and why you see so many openly denying the very existence of God. Christians today are personified in the world as self-righteous and condesending, hypocrites and ignorant. The world seems to hate us, and I can’t really say I blame them. We have been bad Christians, and now our families, our communities and our world are judging their walk because of us.
Up to this point you may or may not believe in what I have said. I do want you however to consider it and use it to focus on one point. Jesus is greater than religion. Religion is a construct of people to help learn about, understand, and communicate our faith. Jesus himself doesn’t need religion. Jesus does not hate religion, because he knows we as humans need it. What the author of the poem mentioned was that he loved the church, yet hated religion. This is what religion is. A community of believers, who teach the newcomers and the young the traditions and beliefs of their faith. This is called guidance to those in a community and indoctrination to those from outside. We teach the deep theology to our members when they have studied enough to receive it, such as the fundamental differences between sects of Christianity, the true nature of God and man. These ideas took thousands of years to develop and can not be arrived at by an individual without the guidance and leadership of a strong church. For example, it took the early church more than 300 years to arrive at the conclusion of the trinity, a deep and very complex philosophy about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit that still leaves many Christians confused about their own faith. And people must practice the rituals of worship, they must repeat them over and over. This part is a mental exercise, a meditation, on why the act you are performing is practiced. Outsiders call this dogma with a self-righteous scowl, but these rituals, if done with a meditative mind, remind us of our promises, our commitments and the commitments that have been made to us. Without religion, being the acts, traditions, fellowship, and knowledge of a good church, how could a person truly come to know God? And if they do come to know God, how will their children? If this continues, what will become of our nation in the, void of religion?
I will put it to you this way. What happens when a person goes out and seeks spiritual understanding without religious guidance? I think about people who pray and don’t receive the answer they want quickly fall from faith because God either doesn’t exist or hates them. I think of people who wear a cross on their neck or get Jesus tattoos “because it brings me luck.” I also think of an episode of the popular show Glee. The episode was called “Cheesus Christ Superstar”, (don’t expect enlightenment here.) The episode grew around the students’ belief systems or lack of such, and centered on one of the characters discovering that he had grilled a sandwich into an image of Jesus. From that point on he prayed to “Grilled Cheesus” and when his prayers weren’t answered it supported the idea that God is either not there or doesn’t care. Many other topics were touched, but in general the entire episode is offensive to anyone who believes anything. My point here is that, though this is a dramatized and humorous account, it represents a real journey young people take on. They want to understand, but without good guidance in faith they are just as likely to worship a cellophane wrapped savior.
Many believers stand to idea that none of this matters because Jesus is coming back and the evil will get their come-up-ins’. If you believe this, you know it hasn’t happened in the last 2000 years, what makes you think it won’t be another 2000? Or more perhaps. Christians need to take a deep personal ownership of the religion. We need people willing to build it into something that can last another 2000 years in the way leaders like Peter, Paul, Marcus Aquinas and Martin Luther did. What religion needs is a new generation of true followers. Teachers to lead the young Christians in meditation and thought on their faith. To stop carelessly repeating the same lessons and get to the deep thoughts of the belief. End the hypocrisy that has grown rampant in the eyes of the world and be leaders of their church as they carry on the tradition that Jesus set forth.
I will close with this, I doubt Jesus hates religion. He knows it is a necessary part of the human spiritual experience. He built the early church and laid down the doctrines that would lead them after he was gone. Kevin Deyoung expounds on this idea in a similarly themed work where he said, “He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). He founded the church (Matt. 16:18). He established church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). He instituted a ritual meal (Matt. 26:26-28). He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). He insisted that people believe in him and believe certain things about him (John 3:16-18; 8:24). ”