Should Have Kept My Mouth Shut (aka Thoughts on “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”)

This is a “lightly” edited version of a post I did when this video first came out. I’m kind of a jerk, but usually I try to hide it a little better. If you are feeling cheated because I’ve toned down the rhetoric, then that probably says as much about you as it does me. If you think I haven’t toned it down enough, then get a life… Like I said, I’m a jerk.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t want anyone fine-tooth combing my teaching. But when I get things wrong, I really would love for someone to care enough to engage me over it. 

So maybe you’ve seen this video that has gone viral on YouTube in the past couple days…

Not really sure what to say. Probably saying nothing would have been the best thing. I really don’t like to criticize people. Especially a person so obviously sincere in their efforts to promote Christ. Honestly, there are dozens of things that I find more interesting that I could spend a few minutes commenting on. However, due to the wildly popular response to this video, my “religion” compels me to make a couple observations.

Before I wade into the mess, let me go ahead and get my proverbial cards on the table.

1) I’m obviously part of the “religion” problem of which he speaks. I am a pastor. I work at a church. And while I consider my church to be as counter-cultural a church as one might find, others who are more-so will obviously beg to differ. Therefore, my role as a “religion” peddler will make my response predictable and easy to dismiss.

2) I am also a cynic-realist-devil’s-advocate. I’ve fought the label for years, but to no avail. It is in my DNA. If this guy had come preaching the virtues of organized religion then I would have poked holes in it too. It doesn’t make my cynicism a good thing, but Jesus loves me anyway… right? But who are we kidding? The chances of someone promoting organized religion these days is as likely as someone advocating a diet rich in saturated fats. Oh wait.

3) While it might appear that I’m leveling a critique of this fella, I’m really far more concerned with what the uncritical imbibing of this sort of thing says about the state of Evangelical Christianity in our country. We have a problem, but it ain’t religion. It is our obsessive need to define insiders and outsiders – people who get it, and people who don’t – and as will become clear soon enough, I think the kind of thing going on in this video is as much the problem as it is the solution.

So where to start? Maybe it would be helpful to point out some of the really admirable things about what’s going on here.

To all my friends that I really do value and care about, I know why you like this video. There is lots to like. I like the heart of what he’s trying to do here. I dislike religiosity as much as the next guy and gal. He’s dead on in his Jesus-like critique of white-washed tombs. I would simply like to encourage pushing back just a little.

This guy seems to be a sincere Jesus-lover. He obviously “feels” strongly about the gospel he’s promoting, so what’s not to like about that? To say anything against a person’s “authentic religious experience” these days is tantamount to aligning oneself with the Spanish Inquisition. At any rate, his passion is admirable.

Great production quality. Really beautiful location. Solid filming and editing. Creative and compelling material. I’m not trying to be in the least bit sarcastic. Really great job on all that.

Again, as far as content is concerned, so much with which to agree! Who wouldn’t love to see the church taking a greater interest in the plight of the poor and oppressed. “Why does it build huge churches? But fail to feed the poor? Tell single moms God doesn’t love them if they have ever had a divorce?” Let’s make no mistake about it, all that is truly crappy stuff. When any church is more concerned with self-preservation than the world that Jesus came to redeem, it upsets me too. But probably not upset enough to make a really cool video.

“The problem with religion is that it never gets to the core?” Once again, agreed. Certain forms of Christian faith and practice are far more concerned with externals than what is happening in the heart. Yet, my experience has been that these sorts of groups tend to be more on the fringe and don’t represent the “average” Jesus-loving church-goer.

Ok, now let’s break it down a little more.

“But if grace is water, the church should be an ocean.” Isn’t there some catchy Christian worship song that used those lyrics already? “If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.” Borderline plagiarism aside, it is the strange juxtaposition of strong statements about “grace” immediately after some equally strong condemnations of people’s behavior on Facebook and what they do on the weekends.

“Not a museum for good people, but a hospital for the broken.” I may be mistaken, but I’m of the opinion that the vast majority of people who go to church recognize they are broken. Even at really “religious” churches, I would want to extend people the benefit of the doubt and assume the best about them. I know I’m a cynic, but I sort of think people are people, and I don’t want make the mistake of too quickly jumping to the conclusion that they are self-righteous. And if I did, wouldn’t that make me the arrogant one?

“He looked down at me and said I want that man.” / “While he was dangling on that Cross, he was thinking of you.” He’s saying things that get thrown around pretty routinely in American evangelical churches, and while I think they are true I think it too strongly promotes a way of framing Christianity that is more about “me” and less about Him.

“Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums.” In line with the rest of the poem, this is another either-or, false dichotomy. I guess that is to be expected, the entire format is “not this, but that.” However, in lambasting the provincialism of conservative American evangelical Christianity, he sets up his own tribunal of “right” belief/practice… which is, of course, a religion.

Alrighty, I’ve sort of positioned myself as the ultimate religious gatekeeper here. I can take a punch. I could have and should have kept my big mouth shut, but I didn’t.

Have at me.

8 Replies to “Should Have Kept My Mouth Shut (aka Thoughts on “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus”)”

  1. It is an error of youth to regard institutions, infrastructures, the old and the established as the enemy. This is why it’s popular on facebook. Challenge *motives* like Jesus did. God is concerned with the heart, not outward appearances. Religion isn’t the sickness, sin is. Religion is the most dangerous place to hide your sin though.

    Hopefully the good of this video (the glory of Christ) will be remembered, and the controversy caused by his youthful errors make truth to shine all the more brightly. That’s my prayer.

  2. i’m enjoying the dialogue that’s taking place in cyberspace (more or less). i came across this post today (via facebook, of course!). i thought it was an interesting one as they are excerpts of an email exchange of one critic with the youtuber. in any case, i was encouraged by the dialogue and the critiques that have come out mostly because (what i’ve read) has been fairly respectful. and if we who are a part of this can be this respectful and humble, that’s a huge step forward from some other critiques we’ve seen in the past.

    1. Funny timing, Jerm. As you were commenting, I was revising. Pretty sure my tone wasn’t (and probably still isn’t) near humble enough. I toyed with taking the whole thing down, but as I said in the post I’m more troubled by the way this reflects the current religious mood in our culture than by what he’s actually saying. I think some might enthusiastically take this video in as the gospel, and not be diligent enough to take a harder look at what is being promoted. Hope all is well!

  3. Taido,
    Just curious about who you are targeting with your interpretation of “the video”? I see “the video” from the view of people who have lived it, been there and saw things, and have walked though so called religious experiences.


    1. Hey Laurie,

      I think you are asking who my reflections are meant for, and the short answer is anyone. Christian, non-Christian, hypocritical Christians, Christians who have been hurt by hypocritical Christians. Really, anyone. But as you can probably guess, I rarely have only a short answer.

      So here’s the blog-length answer… More specifically, I’m addressing a group of Christians who see something like this and perhaps too quickly jump on the religion-is-bad bandwagon. In my own Christian journey, I’ve been conditioned to automatically assume the word “religion” is a negative thing. Likewise, I think when you say “religious experiences,” you mean something similar to what the guy in the video was describing… fake, self-righteous, hypocritical religious people. And true enough, I guess there is plenty of that to go around. More on that in a bit. The problem comes when we start using it as a blanket term to cover a whole range of “religious experiences” some of which may be authentic and some not. Or even worse to assume that anything connected to religion (in the neutral sense of the word) must be wrong or bad.

      I think that’s maybe where some of the misunderstanding lies. The guy in the video was probably trying to address “fake” Christians (again, we’re going to need to come back to that). However, because of the tone and broad ranging statements, I think it could very easily be misconstrued to include anyone who is involved in a church that doesn’t fit his definition of an “authentic” Christian church. Again, I’m guessing he didn’t intend to communicate that, but judging from how people have responded to it, it sounds like “the Church” is “the man” and therefore anyone associated with it is playing for the wrong team.

      Then there is the problem of who gets to determine who is the real deal and who isn’t. He seems to be slamming fake Christians. But honestly aren’t there times when any of us might fit into that category? Don’t we all on occasion pretend to be something we aren’t? Pretend to be better than we are? Even those who flaunt their anti-religiosity are really only constructing a new definition of what it means to be one of God’s “good” guys and gals. As I suggest in the original post, I think we all have a tendency to make-up what we believe a “really” spiritual person looks like, and sadly it often ends up simply looking like “me.”

      Even what I’m writing here might suggest that I have the corner on the market of right thinking. Trust me, I’m well aware that I don’t. And I’m wary when anyone might suggest that they do. I’m concerned that our society has so rejected the idea of “religion/church” as a good thing, that they would view this video and feel like we’ve all been given license to create Christianity (and therefore Christ) in our own image. It is one reason I take church tradition fairly seriously. It is far from perfect, but I’m not ready to discount the “religious” experience (and wisdom) of mostly well-meaning Christians over the last two-thousand years.

      And without trying to come off as arrogant, I’m not sure this man realizes that he is the product of that church tradition. Specifically a certain brand of Christianity that one might call a post-modern American evangelical experience which (by definition) has strong ties to Pietism, fundamentalism, individualism, Romanticism, probably half a dozen more “-isms,” and yes, even Jesus-ism. By the way, I realize that I too stand within a certain (nearly identical) religious stream, but I want to mindful of the broad range of Christian experience. What’s a person going to do with Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Messianic Jews, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc…? My guess is something along the lines of “if they really love Jesus, then they are ok.” Which begs the question what does it mean to really love Jesus? Which one typically defines according to their own experience and tradition. Then we’re back where we started.

      Again for clarity’s sake… I think this guy was trying to isolate “fake” Christians. But even in that, when Jesus exposes fake religiosity, I don’t think it was so that everyone else could look at it and say, “that’s right… you’re fake. And we aren’t. We are better than you.” Typically, when I think about fake religiosity, my immediate response is to turn inward with it and examine myself. Not others. I think that’s the intent of what Jesus had in mind… maybe 🙂

      I had no idea when this video-thing got started that it would generate the sort of buzz that it has. I guess that maybe the best thing to hope for is that the now nearly 12,000,000 viewers would use this as an opportunity to examine our own hearts. I want to believe that was the intent of the video all along.

  4. Nice analysis, Taido. And as others have mentioned, I’m glad something like this is making the rounds instead of say, a cat video. At least it’s provoking interesting conversations between Christians and a healthy bit of introspection. I agree that the video is far from perfect, but if the poet meant to provoke discussion and thought about our own hypocrisies, then I can respect that despite my own cynicism / misgivings. 😉

    1. Honestly, I wrote this before I had come across any negative feedback. Then there was a bunch. Then I thought, “dang, that sucks. I’m one of those negative feedback guys.”
      Still doesn’t change much how I feel about the video. And things done in the public arena (even my things) open themselves up to critique and pushback. I guess my hope is that there would be more humility to go around. From others… and myself.

      On a somewhat related note, your comment about perfection and art reminded me of something I read today in a graphic novel someone wrote about my father’s relationship with Jobs. Interestingly, my father apparently wasn’t all that committed to “perfection” while Steve was relentlessly so. This dialectical of Perfect vs. Adequate can find varied expression in many other arenas of thought, art, and life. Not just Buddhism and technology, but YouTube as well.

      And yes, it is much better than a cat video.

Leave a Reply