There is a video that has taken off on the web and been seen by tens of millions of people. It has generated much controversy among religious groups. The title causes controversy from the very beginning: “Why I Hate Religion and Love Jesus.” In it, a young man, Jefferson Bethke, shares through a poetic rap he wrote his view of a great contrast between Jesus’ perfection and religion‘s hypocrisy. His contention seems to be that because religion is man made and Jesus is divine, the two are totally incompatible: See the video here.
As you would expect, I do not agree with that contention, which is not consistent
throughout his poem. He strongly advocates Christianity, but misses that it is a religion.
But I do find the video to be of great merit and not deserving of all of the defensive responses it has received from advocates of various religious traditions. Alternative videos have been made with titles like: “Why I hate your poem and love religion.”
The original video, if seen as a call to religions to evaluate themselves in light of the Gospel alone, is right on target with its declamation of all the unchristian positions and teachings of those calling themselves Christians. So it is the corruption of Christianity that Mr. Bethke really decries. We know that great sin has been committed in the name of religion and by religious people, including religious leadership, making it very hard to disagree with much of what he says while not endorsing all off the ways he says it.
The video’s merit is that it is the cry of a young person to move beyond hypocrisy to honesty and truth. In time, like us, he will learn that the human condition is not that simple, but the call to repentance is nonetheless valid. We do need to help our world move from hypocrisy to truth; from partisanship to collaboration; from isolation and elitism to community.
The roll of religion in that process is to make clear that we cannot make these
movements on our own. Bethke’s poem ends: And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans Religion is man searching for God Christianity is God searching for man.
In context, it is clear that he thinks only the second activity is of merit: God’s search for man. We know, as we hope he will as he ages, that it is both, and they are intertwined.
We are not called to a dependency relationship with God. We are called to believe that as much as we need God to be fully human, God needs us to be fully divine. We search for God, God searches for us, and the two of us meet in the person of Jesus the Christ, who God is and we are called to become.
Religion is the structure through which we seek and find. If any of us feels that we alone, without others, can do the seeking and the finding, our pride alone would prohibit us from doing either. We need each other to find the source of our being. Call it community. Call it Church.