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.