A couple of weeks ago, this guy named Jefferson Bethke posted a video to his Youtube channel called “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” It opened a firestorm. Bethke had previously gone viral with a spoken word piece called “Sexual Healing” advocating abstinence. A good looking 20-something guy pushing abstinence? The social media world swooned.
But then his follow-up came in the “Why I Hate…” video. Initially, it was just as popular, but then people began to challenge it. There was backlash. Why was Bethke so mad at the church? The church did wonderful things. Atheists got in on the madness. If Christ came to abolish religion, then what exactly do you call Christianity? It was a very complicated thing.
Typically, I don’t like writing about controversial things unless I feel like I can be very honest and open about it. But a friend of mine asked for a post about it, and I thought it might be good to do so. So, before we go any further, let’s take a moment to watch the video.
I only have two things to say about this video.
This video is poetry, not philosophic theology. Poetry and prose serve different purposes. Poetry is about emotion. Its words are meant to incite, to make the audience happy or sad or in love. And in doing so, poetry takes all of these seemingly non-truths and illuminates a truth that is normally difficult to articulate. In this case, the truth is that sometimes people forget that Jesus and His love are at the center of Christian spirituality, not religiosity or the church. That’s true. And people need to be aware of that truth. Sometimes Catholics and Baptists and Methodists and the Orthodox fight over who is right and who is doing the best job of showing God’s love. And the answer, when they are arguing, is none of them. God’s love is about peace and grace and about people working together and loving each other. That’s what this video is (mostly) about.
It was not meant to be a philosophic treatise. It was not meant to be an argument to be picked apart by theologians and atheists. Typically, things that rhyme or have rhythm aren’t supposed to be full arguments. Rhyme and rhythm limit the number of words you have to work with. Why would anyone trying to make a full-proof argument use these techniques?
It’s easy to criticize something. It’s much harder to support something. Yeah, the Church is imperfect and God is perfect, but that’s not really an original thought. The Church is made up of people. And people need God. But that doesn’t mean we should destroy the Church. The Church is important. God loves it. He talks about it a lot.
There are a lot of people who are fed up with the Church who call for the dissolution of it, and quite honestly, that’s annoying. Because what then? Who would organize community service on a large scale? Who would raise large sums of money for third-world countries to get clean water? Who would provide stable after-school groups for a large portion of our nation’s youth? People come together and organize because sometimes it is easier for them to do so. I think sometimes we forget that. We wrongly think that if everyone just left us alone, we would be happier. I don’t think that’s true, and the Church is one of those organizations that keeps us as part of a community.
I would love to start listening to people and reading writers who worked on making the Church better. How can we work within systems to make them better? I think that’s where the most radical change comes. How would the Civil Rights Movement have been different if African Americans had all emigrated to Libya?
Both sides are right. The critics and the supporters are both correct. This video is both true and mistakenly inflammatory.
You’re right about the video – it’s a poetry 😀 I’m a poet, too, and the words in my poems aren’t necessarily meant to be some form of teaching. Poetry is meant to express, not to teach. I’m still for what he’s trying to point out in his poem, even if many people have different interpretations about it.
Reblogged this on Steven Tucker's Blog and commented:
Wow. There isn’t a better way to say this!
Wow. You did an amazing job at articulating this in words.
I seems that the reason the video went viral in the first place is that a hit a rather raw nerve with many people. I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years and I too feel there must be a radical shift in Christianity. Everyone has seen Christianity as a religion which it isn’t, however we have turned it into one; complete with all the rituals, rites of passage (so-to-speak), and rules. Meanwhile, the world is suffering violence, fear, illness and disease, poverty…well, you’re aware of the list, I’m sure. What I’m saying is Jesus Himself defined true religion as looking after the widows and orphans and caring for the poor. Yet He refuted the Pharisees and teachers of the law who continued to justify their rules (imposed on others but not necessarily kept themselves) as righteousness.
When we realize why we are followers of Christ, Christians, Believers etc, then we will realize that Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil” and that He also left that job up to us as well. That would take care of the previously mentioned list (sickness, disease, fear etc).
We don’t “go” to Church, we ARE the Church. There is a difference. It’s time for a change in our thinking.
Thanks for calling attention to this. Excellent post! God bless. Keep writing!!
Thanks so much for taking time to comment. The pastor at my church actually just spoke on this today. People who follow Jesus are the Church. That’s pretty nifty.
Dear Spencer, excellent thoughts on the video. You appear to have a very balanced logical mind. You showed both sides of the issue and allowed readers to decide for themselves if they will choose a side.
I see the video as a wake-up call. Bethke was not railing against the social justice aspects of Church membership. I also don’t believe he was advocating abolition of the Church, but opening a window into those aspects of religion that he sees as hypocritical. If Church leaders were a little less focused on ultimate control of the faithful it would be helpful. Appearances are important, but they can’t be so important that they eclipse areas like social justice.
As you mentioned in the beginning of your blog post, religious leaders are all too willing to go “all-in” when they like what they see. Appearances can be deceiving. If religion were more tolerant and accepting of people who don’t fit the mold it would be less hypocritical.
Thank you so much for your response. I think Bethke meant this piece as a wake up call, too.
EDIT: The allusion in the end to African American immigration should be to Liberia. Not Libya. Silly me. Geography is not a strong suit.