Christians who hate religion

This video has been extremely popular on the internet over the last several months.

It’s the kind of thing many people would probably expect me to agree with wholeheartedly. But I don’t. It’s simplistic (a pejorative term that means naive, or simple to a ridiculous extent). It makes some good points but throws a precious baby out with the bath water. It also demonstrates some poor thinking skills.

Religion is simply the form we give to our worship of God. There’s nothing wrong with religion itself. In fact, when religion is terrible and abusive, it comes from spirituality that is also horrific and malformed. Bad spirituality leads to bad religion. The best spirituality does not and cannot abandon religion but will instead lead to the best religion. It cannot work any other way.

A person can say all he wants, “forget religion, just give me Jesus.” This sounds good, and certainly plays on a sentiment that is becoming increasingly popular in our society. But once a person has Jesus, they must decide how to worship him. That is religion. By the way, because this is true, that is why another phrase Christians like to use is also false. “Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship.” This is absurd. Of course Christianity is a religion. Certainly Christianity promotes a relationship (with God), but the way a person chooses to act in relationship to a deity is called “religion.” I’m not splitting hairs here. Christians should not attempt to distinguish themselves by making claims that are false. It is unfortunate that I even have to mention this, but the response I frequently get is “well, it may not be true, but it’s not hurting anything.” I say anytime we knowingly say something false, we have hurt ourselves and those around us.

I realize some Christians are desperate to point out the uniqueness of Christianity among the world religions. I get it. There clearly are some ways in which Christianity is unique. But it is definitely not unique because it is not actually a religion at all! If you’ve read more than one or two of my blog posts, you know I’m a pretty fierce critic of the church. We have embraced an anti-intellectualism that is stunning in it’s breadth. We are growing increasingly content with sappy, feel-good-ism in in our faith, and simply do not require our teachers and leaders to be, above all, truthful. Most of us do not question videos like this, but respond emotionally to them and put them up on Facebook without ever really asking if they are truthful, that is, whether or not they correspond to reality. If you claim to follow and worship Jesus, you are religious. If you openly disdain religion while being religious yourself, you are either a hypocrite or you don’t know what religion is. I am convinced that it’s overwhelmingly the latter. Rather than rejecting religion, we should be learning to think carefully so we can spot the kind of shallow stuff we see in this video.

If you claim to follow and worship Jesus, you are religious. Denying that you are religious does not make you less religious, but it does make you a whole lot less credible when you open your mouth about religious matters in the future, and perhaps most other matters as well. After all, if a person cannot see the simple fact that he is religious, what other basic truths about himself or the world might he be unaware of?

Update: Micah Murray linked to his post on this topic in the comments below, and I hope you will zip over and read his as well.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • I agree with you a lot, about how religion and Jesus kinda go together. But I know Bethke has a good heart, and the idea behind the poem is solid.

    I as well refrain from saying “Jesus isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship”, because here in white America it seems like parsing and double-speak. However, I’ve spent a bit of time with a ministry team in Native America, and when they say “Jesus isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship” it helps the Native people understand the contrast between Jesus and the Native spirit-worship (or between Jesus and the religious “Christianity” brought by the conquering catholics.) So the phrase does have it’s place, I suppose.

    I wrote about it once too: http://redemptionpictures.com/2012/03/27/religion-or-relationship/

    • Fantastic comment, Micah, that adds some excellent nuance and dimension to my post. Thank you! I’ll check yours out as well. And there is no doubt in my mind that Bethke has a good heart. That comes through in the video loud and clear.