Jesus Hates Religion!

J

Every once in awhile one stumbles across a video that displays such a lack of critical thinking that it’s hardly worth even bothering to dignify it with a response. However, sometimes it is equally entertaining to engage in what might amount to a rather satisfying fisk of the aforementioned video, if not for the reader than at least for the fisker.

I ran across this video on another blog, and after about 30 seconds was ready to turn it off, but decided to suffer through the entire thing. It’s not that it isn’t well produced or that there aren’t some small kernels of truth buried in there. Rather, this video feeds upon creating absurd polarities that simply do not exist and dogmatically sets them against each other, leaving the viewer with little more than a choice between what amounts to two equally ridiculous and fuzzily sketched caricatures.

Basically, the movement is this: Identify a negative thing that can be linked to religion. Granted, ‘religion’ is never really defined as anything concrete or specific, but is left in some kind of nebulous state that serves as a catch-all for everything that is opposed to Jesus. The upshot, of course, is that anyone who identifies with religion (whatever it is actually supposed to be- an institution? rituals? something other than what the poet is?) is automatically polarized against Jesus. Be watching for this consistent tactic, which unfortunately doesn’t really give this video much meaningful content, as it pits some nebulous entity against Jesus, without really allowing for any robust engagement.

Let the fisking begin!

“What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?”

I seem to remember Jesus saying something about that in the Gospels. He said something like this:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. [1. Matthew 5:17-18 NIV]

The notion that one could be Jewish without being a part of Judaism was inconceivable in Jesus’ day. While there were certainly plenty of Jews who may not have practiced their religion, (to one degree or another, which is part and parcel of any religion) to bifurcate oneself from one’s religion in this way was simply not something that happened. This belies the video creator’s extreme individualism which was a foreign concept in Jesus’ day. But I digress.

The Law and the Prophets formed the basis of Jewish faith, belief, morality, cultic practices, culture; Judaism as a religion was not something ancillary to all of this but wholly wrapped up in one’s identity as a Jew.

If Jesus truly came to abolish religion, one might see from his life that this was the case. However, since he was Jewish, one actually sees from the Gospels that he followed the Law and Prophets like any other observant Jew. He was circumcised in accordance with the law, presented in the temple at the appropriate time, celebrated the feasts as required, worshiped and taught in the synagogues, etc. There is actually very little evidence that Jesus had difficulty with religion or Judaism per se, much less the underlying content of the Law and the Prophets.

In his establishment of the Church, Jesus again does not seem to have come to abolish religion, in that he institutes and commands an initiatory rite (baptism) complete with ceremonial content to be performed, institutes a memorial celebration (the eucharist) that not only draws from the religious rites of Judaism but even goes beyond them, enables a means of hierarchy and succession that he evidently expected his followers to carry out, and, as we can see from Paul’s writings, they actually did. They not only called councils to deal with disputes, but also expected the decisions of those councils to be followed. Within the writings of his followers we even find prescriptions for certain behavior as well as proscriptions against certain behavior which could ultimately lead to being put out from the Church. Jesus himself instituted a means for going about this.

For all the abolishing of religion that Jesus was supposed to do, the creation of the Church seems to really fly in the face of that, which St. Paul actually calls the pillar and foundation of the truth.

“What if I told you voting Republican really wasn’t his mission? What if I told you Republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian, and just because you call some people blind doesn’t automatically give you vision?”

Being mostly apathetic about politics, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. And I have no problem in the statement that voting for Republicans wasn’t part of Jesus’ mission. However, I find it interesting that the author chooses to single out a particular political party twice without bothering to juxtapose it with another, especially in a country that is somewhat polarized in this regard. I won’t presume on his intentions, and evidence from silence is hardly robust, so I’ll leave it at that. Perhaps he needed help with the meter? After all, that consonantal stop after Democrat might have ruined the flow. 🙂

“I mean, if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?”

There is some truth to that, but it is a matter of historical inquiry as to whether religion in and of itself is a greater cause of war than any other factor. Certainly many wars have been fought in the name of religion, have been precipitated by religious differences, but generally if one really digs down into the nature and precipitating factors of war it often boils down to conflicts over land, resources, money and power. Religion can certainly create a wonderful facade for the perpetration of a war, but such blanket statements don’t really offer anything valuable to this sort of discussion and merely create a nebulous idea of ‘religion’ that doesn’t have any real content beyond a scapegoat for the actions of the people who perpetuate war. It certainly does not allow for a critical examination of the various causes of specific wars that could very well offer some insight, but merely engages in generalization.

“Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor.”

This is simply an ignorant statement. The Catholic Church is actually the largest private charitable organization in the world, feeding, clothing, providing medical treatment and the like to millions of people. Other religious organizations, whether Christian or not, are often the first teams on the ground during natural disasters, national emergencies and are often the organizations that are able to provide continuing assistance long after tragedies strike.

Unfortunately, we are left with the notion that economics must be a zero-sum game, and in the process another polarization is created between one thing and another as if each cancels the other out. To perceive value only in feeding the poor but not also in art and beauty is to envision a world in which pain rather than joy is the final quotient. Rather, a more robust view of creation is that beauty and joy and service and sacrifice are part and parcel of the entire experience, and there is value to be had in both. One need not posit a contradiction between them.

“Tells single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce, but in the Old Testament God actually calls religious people whores.”

The first part of this is exactly why this sort of video is so exasperating. I have no doubt there are some very stupid Christians who have made these types of statements to single moms, and they should be ashamed for those types of statements. But here is where the subtle shift is made by this video: simply because someone, somewhere has said this type of thing, that then becomes characteristic of religion as a whole. Thus, if you are religious, you get identified with this type of sentiment. I would also like our poet to identify any Christian religious group that has this sort of idea written into a statement of faith. Sure, individual people say and do stupid things. One might expect some imperfection within a religion that has over 1 billion of these imperfect adherents.

As for God calling religious people whores in the Old Testament…God’s chastisement of his people as ‘whores’ is not simply because they were religious, but rather because they committed spiritual adultery- turning to idols, practicing violence, robbing the poor; all the vices that are common to human beings, religious or not. In James we find this same sentiment where he states:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. [2. James 4:1-3 NIV]

“Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice; tend to ridicule God’s people, they did it to John the Baptist.”

Once again, some sort of nebulous concept of ‘religion’ is being set up here, with the effect that if one can find an instance of a religious person not practicing what they preach, then all of religion gets lumped into this polarization with grace. I would be curious how not practicing what one preaches suddenly became the exclusive attribute of religion, rather than the universal experience of humanity.

In the same way, the mention of John the Baptist is interesting. The Gospels make only one mention (that I can find) of John being ridiculed, in that Jesus says that his way of living caused the Pharisees and the experts in the Law to conclude he was demon-possessed. What is especially notable to me is that Luke does not link this ridicule to their being religious per se, but rather:

But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.[3. Luke 7:30 NIV]

As Jesus will also state in John’s Gospel, no one can come to Father unless the Father draws them to himself. The point is not that the Pharisees and experts in the Law were religious and the people who were baptized by John were not (since Jesus, who was baptized by John, was as religious a Jew as any of his countrymen) but rather that their ridicule stemmed from their lack of faith and rejecting God’s purpose for themselves.

“They can’t fix their problems, and so they just mask it, not realizing religion’s like spraying perfume on a casket.”

This is in reference to Jesus’ invective against the Pharisees for being like whitewashed tombs. The difficulty is that Jesus is not linking their being full of dead bones with religion (a religion which, it bears repeating, he also practices) but rather with their hypocrisy. Again, a subtle connection is being made by the video in that if someone is a hypocrite, it is because of religion. Jesus seems to disagree, arguing that they of all people should know better, (because of their position, education, sitting in the seat of Moses, etc.) and thus their condemnation will be greater. In fact, immediately before launching into this diatribe, Jesus actually tells the crowds that they should listen to what the Pharisees and teachers of the law say in regards to their religion, with the important caveat that they actually do it, rather than live in hypocrisy:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.[4. Matthew 23:1-3]

Once again, Jesus doesn’t seem to be setting up a dichotomy between religion and whatever else is supposed to be better than religion, since he is actively telling the crowds and the disciples to follow the Law and the Prophets.

“See, the problem with religion is that it never gets to the core; it’s just behavior modification with a long list of chores.”

Certainly there are no lack of people who go through the motions in regards to religion; that is characteristic of human nature in general in regards to anything. However, I think there is a deeper philosophical issue here, in that a bifurcation is being created between ‘the core’ (whatever that is supposed to be) and the things that we actually do, which apparently are now labeled as ‘chores’ or ‘behavior modification.’ The difficulty with this kind of understanding of human nature is that is divorces action from intention as if it is only a one-way street, when in reality as complete beings our actions and intentions flow into and out of each to determine the choices we make and the way in which we live. Disciplining oneself to do something is not merely ‘behavior modification’ or a ‘chore’ but is a catalyst through which one’s intentions, motivations and the like are transformed. The spiritual disciplines in particular, which are part of religion, have this transformative effect which is why they have been so important throughout Christian history. Jesus tells the church in Ephesus:

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.[5. Revelation 2:4-5]

Here the very means back to the love the church at Ephesus had at first is to change their behavior, to do the things they did at first. Life is never simply about intentions or feelings or desires or actions but is the culmination of all of these working in union.

So while there are indeed many who simply say the words or do the deeds by rote, the polarization which is yet again reinforced here is somewhat obnoxious.

“I mean in every other aspect of life…pornography on the weekend…I boast in my weakness.”

This section seems more of a personal testimony than anything, so I won’t critique that aspect of it. However, the same subtle link is created by virtue of him sharing this, in that if that is how he was when he was religious, then that is how religion is across the board. The difficulty is that no religion is monolithic, and the experiences of its adherents will vary considerably from person to person, which once again makes this lumping together of ‘religion’ into some non-defined entity a rather pointless exercise to juxtapose against Jesus who supposedly hates this non-descript, monolithic globule of something.

“Which is why Jesus hates religion, and for it called them fools, don’t you see it’s so much better, than just following some rules?”

The link is once again begin established between ‘religion’ and ‘rules’ as if rules are something that are completely antithetical to Jesus or his mission. The difficulty with this sort of argument is that the poet has already established his own sort of rules about what makes someone religious or not- after all, if you tell a single mom who has been divorced that God doesn’t love her, that’s against the rules. If you build a nice church, that’s against the rules. And so on and so forth. As such, it seems our poet isn’t against rules per se, but rather against the ones he hasn’t already established as being in line with what he thinks is either against religion, what Jesus would want, or whatever else. Since religion is still conceived of in a nebulous way so far (except for maybe the boogeyman of ‘rules’ that only characterize a relatively small subset of American Christianity) it is really hard to take this sort of argument seriously.

Notwithstanding that, the New Testament itself is full of ‘rules’ concerning the way Christians are supposed to live and conduct themselves. Perhaps our poet would like to use a different term, but it doesn’t change the fact that within the nascent Christian communities there were expectations of behavior. Jesus himself gave directions in the sending out of the disciples to preach, told people to follow the Law, told them to stop sinning, etc. Jesus himself followed the ‘rules’ of the Law, the exception being that he was able to do it perfectly, and thus fulfill the Law.

Paul’s letters are equally full of prescriptions and proscriptions concerning behavior, and he acts as if he actually expects his readers to follow and abide by them. Following the Council of Jerusalem, the sending of the letters to the various churches inquiring on the subject implicitly assumes that they will abide by the decision of the apostles in the matters about which they deliberated.

“Now back to the point, one thing is vital to mention; How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums. See, one’s the work of God, the other is man’s invention, one is the cure, but the other’s the infection.”

Yet again, as ‘religion’ is really given no content or definition, such a juxtaposition doesn’t really say anything meaningful. As such, the spectrum upon which Jesus and religion are supposedly set at opposite has no clearly identifiable metric. So far, all we have heard is that if someone says a divorced single mom isn’t loved by God, or is potentially a Republican, or has looked at pornography on Saturday, or has built a nice church, or hypothetically might not want Jesus in a church, or follows ‘rules’- then that is religion which is monolithically juxtaposed with Jesus, because Jesus hates that, even though the poet finished saying that Jesus said of that type of person that ‘I want that man.’

Since Jesus in fact founded the church, it would seem that since Jesus is God, then the establishment of the church (which is the basis of the Christian religion) would seem to be the work of God, rather than an infection. Jesus went so far as to use metaphors like ‘light of the world’ and ‘leaven’ and ‘fishers of men’ which don’t really seem to describe an infection. Rather, the only kinds of infections that are mentioned in the scriptures in regards to religion are in regards to false teachers who spread untruths that deviate from the teachings passed down from Jesus and the apostles, a scenario which happens within a religious context in which there are established norms of belief and praxis. For example:

Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth.[6. 2 Timothy 2:16-18 NIV]

“Religion says do, Jesus says done. Religion says slave, Jesus says son. Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus makes you free. Religion makes you blind, while Jesus makes you see.”

Without any sort of way to determine exactly what this kind of ethereal religion is, it makes these sorts of statements sort of fluffy and ambiguous. In what way does religion tell one to ‘do’ that Jesus doesn’t? After all, Jesus (and his followers) told people to stop sinning, to give away their possessions to the poor, to love God and to love their neighbor, to avoid sexual immorality, to submit to one another, to pay one’s taxes, to not forsake assembling with other believers, etc. These are all part and parcel of the Christian ethos, and it’s difficult to find the distinction that is being drawn between religion and Jesus here. If the things that Jesus and the writers of the scriptures prescribed and proscribed for religious practice and ethical behavior within the context of the church are things that say ‘do’ or make you a slave (interestingly, Paul talks as often about being a slave of Jesus as much as being a son…) or put you in bondage or make you blind, then where exactly is the juxtaposition being created between Jesus and religion? In fact, in at least one instance James mentions how religion is pleasing in God’s sight:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.[7. James 1:26-27 NIV]

James’ point is not that being religious is somehow opposed to the faith, but rather, much like Jesus’ invective against the Pharisees, unless one practices it it has no value. Yet within religion there is both the practical aspect of love for one’s fellow man as well as an ethical aspect in keeping oneself from sin. Again, more ‘rules’, whether one wants to call them that or not, but James sets them up as forming the criteria for whether religion is acceptable to God or not, the implication being that it is given the right circumstances. In such cases, it seems quite a stretch to say that Jesus hates religion when God seems to be able to accept it as pure and faultless.

As far as Jesus saying ‘done’… I’m not exactly sure what that is supposed to mean.

“That’s why Jesus and religion are two different claims. Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man.”

I’m not sure this is entirely accurate, at least in the way it’s presented. If one looks at the way in which God revealed himself in the Old Testament, the entire project begins with the promise subsequent to the fall that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. This points to God breaking into the world to some extent in search of humanity. God initiates his contact with Abraham, leading to the establishment of the nation of Israel and the eventual institution of its religion through Moses.

Further, Paul seems to indicate in several places that the search for God through religion is not merely man searching for God on his own, but is something inherent to humanity as part of the created order through which God reveals himself. (Paul speaks in Acts 17 about how God’s purpose in bringing about the nations was so that they might perhaps reach out and find him.) The problem is not religion per se, since Paul seems to see it as a universal experience among humanity, but rather that what Paul considers the obvious content of faith- that God can be known through his power in creation- has been corrupted by sin and sinful desires. It’s not simply an either/or movement. In his conversation with the Aeropagus, Paul actually commends them for their piety, even though many of the philosophers to whom he was talking were probably not religious in the sense that they belonged to a religion, Stoics and Epicureans being far more free-ranging thinkers. He chides them for ignorance that they would allow their minds to be darkened to think that the divine nature could be captured in stone, but offers hope that the true nature of God has been revealed so they can lay aside their ignorance.

“Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own, not based on my merits, but on Jesus’ obedience alone. Because he took the crown of thorns and the blood dripped down his face, he took what we all deserved, I guess that’s why you call it grace. And while being murdered he yelled Father, forgive them, they know not what they do, because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you.”

This is probably the most valuable part of this video, making one wish it had been limited to this section. The whole idea that ‘forgiveness is my own’ once again underlies the sheer individualism of this piece, but I won’t quibble too much over that.

“And he absorbed all your sin and buried it in the tomb, which is why I’m kneeling at the cross, saying come on, there’s room.”

The notion that Jesus ‘absorbed all your sin’ is a rather interesting notion that could stand to parsed out a little bit, as if sin is some kind of blob that could be absorbed and buried. Sin, being a privation of good, is not something that can be buried or absorbed. Rather, the drama of redemption is that God assumes our nature and heals it from its tendency towards non-being, bringing us into union with him. The defeat of sin is not to bury but rather to heal it. Probably wouldn’t have rhymed as well though.

“So for religion, I hate it, no I literally resent it. Because when Jesus said ‘It is Finished, I believe he meant it.”

Here we are at the end, and we have still yet to come to any sort of understanding of what is meant by ‘religion’ besides some nebulous entity that encompasses whatever negative things one might find in the world or religion or religious people. It’s fairly easy to hate or resent a concept that has no specific or determinative content, and it certainly makes a convenient scapegoat for whatever ills one might perceive in that with which one does not agree. The difficulty is that positing such a content-less boogeyman makes any kind of discussion impossible, as the target is always moving. The juxtaposition set up between Jesus and religion never has a place in which one might discover if there is some sort of commonality or actual contradiction; rather, an absolute polarization has been established a priori that pits one undefined thing against another.

The viewer is thus left with two relatively undefined things being locked in irreconcilable conflict with each other: either Jesus or religion. Even though religion is never actually defined, people know that there are things such as religions; they have names and adherents. And thus the die is cast and it is clear that Jesus hates religion, and to be part of a religion is to be a part of something that Jesus hates. And who wants that?

This is the sort of sleight of hand I mentioned at the beginning, in which our poet creates an absolute polarity between two things that are only vaguely and fuzzily defined. Since there is no breathing room between the two, as both Jesus and our poet hate religion, all that’s left is to make your choice.

The irony, of course, is that our poet- in determining that religion is opposed to Jesus and is hated by him- has already established parameters by which he can adjudicate what belongs to Jesus and what belongs to religion. In doing do one gets the sense of a system of doctrine (grace is water, so church should be an ocean, etc.) praxis (feed the poor) and ethics, (don’t build big churches) all of which are, of course, definitional of something called religion.

Perhaps he doesn’t hate it that much.

6 comments

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  • But it rhymes.

    Excellent thoughts, and this is the first time I’ve been able to bring myself to watch the video. I have a lot of thoughts as well, so I’m going to be crafting a response on my blog sometime tonight.

  • Thank you so much for posting this, Watson. I was exasperated by the video as well, but could not articulate my thoughts nearly as well as you. Thank you for writing what so many of us were feeling.

  • What if I told you that “religion” when used in reference to Jesus’s life and times, is an anachronism?

    This is an incredibly long post, Jason, and you make many good points. I happen to think our poet, in this instance, is using religion when he means legalism, which is common to both Jesus’s day and our own. The Bible does make one positive reference to “religion” (James 1:27), but other than that does not mention it at all. Rituals and sacrifices and “forms” yes, but religion, as we define it today, is a rather late concept–one religious studies scholars do not have a consensus definition for, as of today.

    Keep up the good work. I so enjoy reading your stuff.

  • Hi Ben, thanks for reading and thanks for your comments.

    While I agree that ‘religion’ in reference to Jesus’ life and times may indeed be an anachronism (although, since as as you state, there is no consensus definition about what even constitutes religion, it makes it hard to see how one might actually go about determining the amount of anachronization in the first place) in comparison to how many moderns may perceive religion, I guess my biggest difficulty with this whole video is that if our poet really only means legalism, then why even bandy about the term ‘religion?’ Jesus at least was more explicit by using the term ‘hypocrite.’ If our poet holds any conceptual distinction between the two, then all it seems to amount to is an equivocation.

    Ultimately, what I find so disappointing is it seems that all this video really does it sets up an easy caricature to be knocked down. I mean, if you go to a big church, it means you don’t care about the poor. If you vote Republican you automatically think Jesus is all about that. If you go to church on Sunday, you look at porn on Saturday. If you follow rules, rather than potentially attempting to love Jesus by following his commands you are trying to make your way to God. And you think God doesn’t love single moms.

    These kinds of over-generalizations don’t really seem to serve any purpose other than to ultimately create unnecessary polarizations that create more damage. It certainly doesn’t seem to create any room for critically engaging the topic, which I guess it what makes this video so disappointing for me, since it has gotten so many hits yet is mostly vacuous in its message.

    But that’s just my opinion. 🙂

    Thanks again!

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Jason Watson

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