Jefferson Bethke has recently launched himself into the spotlight because of a YouTube video in which he stars. The video has gone viral, with over 12 million views (pretty good, considering it’s been up less than a month). From the title, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” you can pretty much guess what it’s about.
I admire Bethke for taking a stance, and being a witness of his beliefs. Certainly standing for something means standing against something else – you can’t pick up one end of the stick without picking up another – and that takes courage.
That being said, there are some serious theological missteps in this video. I’ll admit, I do agree with some of what Bethke says; yet, most of his comments are representative of a popular (and dangerous) sub-cultural movement in Christianity, and as such I thought they merited closer examination. While I can admire Bethke for taking a stance, I cannot admire his theology (which he wraps up emotionally in rhymes, fancy direction, and moving music). Bethke wrests the scriptures to fit his meaning (2 Peter 3:16). His thesis, that Jesus came to abolish religion, is a wild claim that he fails to substantiate.
Did Jesus come to abolish religion? We’ll look at (Part 1) some important guiding principles to keep in mind while discussing the poem; (Part 2) some of my own thoughts; and (Part 3) some thoughts of others who have responded to this video.
- Political Neutrality
- The Wars of Men
- Temporal and Spiritual Needs
This is one of Bethke’s good points. It is inappropriate to tie a governmental system to the gospel of him who said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
This is why the LDS Church takes political neutrality so seriously. In an official Church statement, Church leaders write,
“The Church’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics.”
Is it true that, generally, Christian social moral values sometimes fall more closely in line with conservative politics than liberal politics? Sure. But this is far from a mandate to vote only Republican.
The Wars of Men
Is religion really the cause of so many wars? I won’t deny that religious belief has played a part, and that people of similar religious beliefs line up on the same side of the line, but it’s improper to personify, and then vilify, an ethereal “religion”. Who is the real cause of war? Men – flawed, imperfect, sinful men. Many men have gone on violent, bloody conquests in the name of religious belief, but none who have done so were ever acting in line with the gospel of the Prince of Peace.
This is a gross oversimplification that the author uses as a straw man.
Temporal and Spiritual Needs
Bethke’s criticism of churches that don’t care for the temporal needs of the poor and needy isn’t the first such recorded criticism. In the New Testament, when Mary uses a very costly ointment to anoint the feet of the Savior, Judas criticizes her. He asks,
“Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?”
The Savior responds,
“Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (see John 12:1-8).
In this case, there was a spiritual matter that was given precedence over the immediate temporal needs of those with physical needs.
Nor was this the only such case when this occurred. Are you familiar with the story of Mary and Martha? The Savior visited the home of Mary and Martha, and while Mary sat and listened to his words, Martha busied herself with serving. When she chided Mary for not being more helpful, the Savior chastened,
“Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
He gave a similar chastening to the scribes and Pharisees:
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23).
The principle is clear. While attending to temporal needs is important, spiritual needs take precedence. If churches were to forgo their building and preaching to set up soup kitchens, the body might be taken care of, but what of the soul?
After his experience with the woman at the well, the Savior told his apostles, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of” (see John 4:32). This was the meat of the soul, and how precious that meat is.
Now, all of this does not excuse churches for not attending to the temporal needs of God’s children, but what churches really ignore them? Of the larger denominations (I intentionally exclude smaller congregations with more limited resources), none that I’m familiar with. Take, for example, the LDS Church. Have you heard of Mormon Helping Hands? Humanitarian aid is a vital facet of my religion (James 1:27).
“Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” Transcript
What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?
What if I told you voting Republican really wasn’t His mission?
What if I told you “Republican” doesn’t automatically mean “Christian”?
And [what if I told you that] just because you call some people “blind” doesn’t automatically give you vision?
I mean, if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?
Why does [religion] build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor?
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
Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice
[They] Tend to ridicule God’s people – they did it to John the Baptist
They can’t fix their problems, and so they just mask it
Not realizing religion’s like spraying perfume on a casket
See, the problem with religion is it never gets to the core
It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores
Like, let’s dress up the outside, make it look nice and neat
But it’s funny, that’s what they used to do to mummies while the corpse rots underneath
Now, I ain’t judging, I’m just saying, quit putting on a fake look
Cause there’s a problem if people only know you’re Christian by your Facebook
I mean, in every other aspect of life you know that logic’s unworthy
It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey
See, this was me too, but no one seemed to be on to me
Acting like a church kid, while addicted to pornography
See, on Sunday I’d go to church but on Saturday getting faded
Acting if I was simply created to just have sex and get wasted
See, I spent my whole life building this facade of neatness
But now that I know Jesus I boast in my weakness
Because if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean
It’s not a museum for good people; it’s a hospital for the broken
Which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin
‘Cause it doesn’t depend on me – it depends on Him
See, because when I was God’s enemy I was certainly not a fan
He looked down and said I want that man
Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools
Don’t you see so much better than following some rules?
Now let me clarify: I love the church, I love the Bible, and yes, I believe in sin
But if Jesus came to your church, would they actually let him in?
See, remember he was called a glutton and a drunkard by religious men
But the son of God never supports self-righteousness – not now, not then
Now back to the point, one thing is vital to mention
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrum’s
See, one’s the work of God, but one’s a man made invention
See, one is the cure, but the other’s the infection
See, because religion says “Do”, Jesus says “Done”
Religion says “Slave”, Jesus says “Son”
Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see
And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans
Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man
Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgivemess is my own
Not based on my merits, but Jesus’ obedience alone
Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face
He took what we all deserve – I guess that’s why they call it grace
And while being murdered, he yelled “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you
And he absorbed all your sin and he buried it in the tomb
Which is why I’m kneeling at the cross saying “Come on, there’s room”
So for religion, I hate it; in fact I literally resent it
Because when Jesus said “It is finished,” I believe he meant it
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5)