Do I really love Jesus? No. But I thought this would be an appropriate title given the thing I’m responding to … namely, a poem by Jefferson Bethke whose YouTube video has recently gone viral, called: “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.”
Sometimes, I’m confused about how I should feel about things like this. I have lots to say about it … but I’m not sure what tone I should take. Should I be polite? Should I be a bit edgy? Should I throw some exclamation points around? Should I address this in a dry, boring, systematic way to assure that the finer dogmatic details of theology are hammered out to prevent any possible misinterpretation? Is that going to make a difference? Does anyone care?
We’ll just see. It’s probably going to be boring. And really long. I probably won’t even read it.
Now, I shall first confess that I think a person can gain legitimate inspiration from Bethke’s work, like a renewed hatred of hypocrisy, greater appreciation of God’s mercy, more humility with regard to what we can and cannot do, etc. It may do some people much good. It may attract anti-religious secularists to Christianity … and maybe from there, they might even become Catholic. On the other hand, it may act as a stepping stone for some Christians to ultimately turn their back on God.
At the very least, I think Bethke’s poem is guilty of just a few errors that ought to be pointed out.
I believe that this idea of a “non-religious Christianity” is the natural mutation that Protestantism has undergone in order to survive in an anti-religious, secular environment (especially in a college environment). Christians are constantly bombarded with the notions that religion is evil, but instead of rejecting Christianity, they have jerry-rigged a system in which they can embrace the hatred of religion given to them by their Godless culture and yet still embrace Jesus as God. They tell the secularists: “Don’t worry! We’re on your side! We hate religion too! In fact, the whole point of Jesus is that religion is evil!” … in a awkwardly enthusiastic attempt to save the Son of God. But Jesus doesn’t need saving … Bethke above all should know that. If Bethke really practiced what he preached, he wouldn’t be trying to do … anything. Jesus already did it supposedly. You’ll see what I mean.
So, what I see in this video is the somewhat ingenious but screwed-up combination of two doctrinal systems of thought, namely, that of the Protestant and the secular Modernist. Surprisingly, they have more in common than I thought.
1) Protestant Doctrine: (based on Lutheran and Calvinistic principles)
- As long as you have faith in Jesus you will be saved … your works/sins/actions are totally irrelevant (Sola Fide)
- God arbitrarily chooses who is saved and who is damned … not based on people’s choices, since our will can do nothing but evil (Sola Gratia and Unconditional Election)
- Human nature can do nothing except evil, thanks to Adam’s Fall (Total Depravity)
- When God gives a person grace, the person cannot resist it no matter how much he tries or sins (Irresistible Grace)
- Once you receive grace, you will always have it … you will necessarily be saved in the end (Perseverance of the Saints)
2) Modernist Doctrine: (that is, anti-religious secularism)
- Religion is man-made
- All religious people are hypocrites
- Religious people are insensitive
- Religion is just politically motivated
- Religion is the source of useless wars
I will plow through each verse:
“What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion”
The Catholic Encyclopedia says: (quoting St. Thomas Aquinas)
[Religion is] the virtue which prompts man to render to God the worship and reverence that is His by right.
So, if the term “religion” is thus defined, it follows that, according to Bethke, Jesus considered that “worshipping God” and even “obeying God” was evil. Hard to believe Bethke would agree.
And yet this is in the spirit of Martin Luther who seemed to say that it is prideful to think that we can do anything good. This is in contrast to the Catholic idea that God sanctifies our will, which enables us to perform truly good and meritorious acts, by which we receive more grace and secure our salvation. But Bethke and others seem to say we should let God do all the “good things” whereas humans should … do nothing … not even worship God?
But Bethke’s thesis statement all depends whether he is using “religion” in the same way that Catholic theology does. Let’s see if he hashes that detail out in the rest of the poem (keeping in mind that demanding theological clarity in a piece of poetry may be a bit unfair).
“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“
You’ll get no argument from me on this. Republicans suck. Yeah, and Democrats suck too.
“I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars”
Man, that’s a good point. If something is so great, then logically it wouldn’t start any wars, right? That’s because war is bad, and things that start wars are bad, right? Everyone knows that. I mean, come on. The only person who could possibly disagree would be someone like … Jesus, who said, “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) But who cares about Jesus? That man was a religious nutjob. That’s the kind of person we hate.
If you accept the premise “things that start wars are bad” then you would have to condemn the following as well:
- Land/Resources (more wars have been fought over this perhaps any other?)
- Ideas (not just religion, but wars have been fought simply on the grounds of differing non-religious ideologies)
- People (in the end, people are the ones who start wars … so maybe we should just get rid of people)
So-called “religious wars” in history have really been more motivated by land disputes and resources, using religion sometimes in some way as an extra incentive. So, the premise that “all things that start wars are bad” is ridiculous.
But what also seems to be at the heart of this Voltairian argument is that people should not fight for what they think is right. There is, of course, a good and bad way to go about fighting for good. But to dismiss war entirely as one of those acceptable ways is something not immediately obvious to me.
“Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor”
This seems to stem from the following Protestant beliefs (all which are opposed by Catholicism):
- Building churches symbolize that prideful, futile attempt of man trying to reach God
- Churches are connected with art, but art is evil (or at least, sort of evil) since it is enjoyed by the emotions, which are part of human nature and thus evil
- Churches never benefitted the poor (whereas, in fact, they often housed them and inspired people to be more generous with their money toward them)
In any case, the Catholic Church does an excellent job feeding the poor, and I don’t see non-religious Cathedral-hating Christians doing any better. I’m not even sure if such people (like Bethke) even believe feeding the poor is good because he seems to think that trying to do good is, in fact, bad. So we are left with a mystery as to what his point is here.
“Tells single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce”
Yes. Especially with us Catholics, we all know those sermons every Sunday that tell us how single moms are the spawn of Satan. I make an effort to kick one every time I see one on the street. Uh, disgusting creatures. Oh man! I get so mad even thinking about them! Dang them all! But lo! This is how “religion” has brainwashed me! I repent and reject it … and will now profess the true religion … I mean … thing … you know what I mean.
The good point he seems to be making is that we should not condemn people, despite their sins. We don’t know how culpable a person is no matter what they have objectively done. If we don’t treat the sinner with love and compassion, then we’re not going to help them at all … nay, we shall push them away from the Church even further.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t pretend that sins are not sins. We shouldn’t pretend that divorce is okay and that it doesn’t cause unhappiness in society. Is Bethke saying that divorce is not a sin? Or is he saying that it is a sin but that it doesn’t matter, since we can sin as much as we want and yet still be saved (and so criticizing the sinner is useless)? I’m not sure. Both interpretations are unacceptable.
“But in the old testament God actually calls religious people whores”
That’s right, Matthew 666:42: “And Jesus said unto them, ‘You religious people are nothing but a bunch of whores’.” Can’t argue with Scripture. It’s right there. It’s amazing that I’ve never seen that verse before.
Well, it is true that Jesus criticizes the Pharisees the most in the Gospels. But this is not because they were the farthest from the truth. On the contrary, they were the closest to the truth, the most educated in God’s Scripture. However, your sins become more grievous the more knowledge you have, since you are less able to hide behind your ignorance. Furthermore, those in positions of religious and spiritual authority are more able to lead others astray by their sins, since lay people rightly look to such people for guidance. Religious leaders, therefore, have the greatest potential for causing harm when they sin, not because they lack the truth, but because they have it. Jesus, thus, fittingly, criticized the Pharisees because their religion brought them to a higher standard which, incidentally, they failed at living up to. It doesn’t mean the standard (i.e. the religion) is evil.
“Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice”
Perhaps he doesn’t fancy himself a hypocrite since he actually preaches that sin shouldn’t be avoided, and he, in turn, faithfully doesn’t avoid sin. That’s the only possible way I can make sense of what he’s saying. It’s kind of disturbing. Hopefully I’ve misinterpreted him.
“Tend to ridicule God’s people, they did it to John The Baptist”
It seems quite clear that John the Baptist was religious. I say this because he looked as if he was trying to do God’s will. Bethke, however, says such a thing is actually offensive to God, since we can do no good and it’s presumptuous to think we can. So I don’t see why he would call John the Baptist one of God’s people. He was a religious “fanatic” as far as I can see.
“They can’t fix their problems, and so they just mask it / Not realizing religions 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 lets dress up the outside make look nice and neat / But it’s funny that’s what they use to do to mummies while the corpse rots underneath”
And everyone knows that following rules is completely worthless. If you impose rules on children, for example, that won’t do anything. They will still grow up to be messy, self-seeking, disordered human beings … every time. Rules suck.
While rules are not the end goal of Christianity, they are one of its means. To say, for example, that “to avoid raping little girls” is useless in attaining the ultimate goal of Christianity is a bit weird. But under Bethke’s ideology, it seems that not even rape hinders one from being saved. Because once again, it’s all about Jesus’s doings, not yours.
Nonetheless, if you simply follow rules and neglect to foster a positive love for God, then yes, you will fail at Christianity. However, if you try to foster love for God and yet neglect His rules, then you will also fail. That would be like saying you love your wife while beating her mercilessly everyday. I don’t buy it.
Rules, therefore, assist us in loving God … but I’m not sure if Bethke even says we need to love God, let alone obey his rules.
“Now I ain’t judging, I’m just saying quit putting on a fake look”
That’s right. He’s not judging religious people, even though he said they’re like well-decorated rotting mummies. But, hey, dude, he’s not judging. So quite judging.
“Cause there’s a problem if people only know you’re a 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”
It is a naive but understandable assumption that many traumatized young people make … that is, “Since the religious people I know aren’t perfect, therefore religion is evil.” I’m sorry, you know that logic’s unworthy.
But we can expect more people to make this assumption if religious people continue to fail at living out their religion. So, I don’t blame Bethke for saying this … much.
“You 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 Saturday getting faded / Acting if I was simply created just to have sex and get wasted”
One may ask … is Bethke here condemning pornography, promiscuity, and drunkenness? Or is he condemning how his church was condemning those things? Or is he condemning both?
If one follows his logic, it seems that he is criticizing churches for condemning sins since our sins have no effect on our salvation and that we are going to sin anyway … Jesus saves us, thus don’t worry about sinning, and shame on religions who say otherwise.
“See I spent my whole life building this facade of neatness / But now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness”
Once again, it seems that now Bethke admits to looking at porn, sleeping around, and getting plastered with pride. Because Jesus has freed him from religion which had been telling him to try and do otherwise. I’m not sure what else he could be saying.
“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”
This is an important point to realize that the Church was founded for sinners, not for saints (because if people were already saints, the Church would be useless).
On the other hand, this is rather odd that Bethke seems to imply that religion tells people they aren’t sinners, after endlessly criticizing religion for telling people that they are. It is also curious that he calls the Church a “hospital” when he seemed to say that being sinful (being spiritually sick) is irrelevant to salvation (so why would the Church try and “cure” us of it?). In his view, sin really isn’t so much a sickness to be cured but really just a debt to be paid or something (which Jesus paid for). The Church is nothing like a hospital in Protestantism. I’m not sure what it is. But it certainly is in Catholicism (hence, confession, which cures the soul of sin).
“Which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin / Because it doesn’t depend on me it depends on him”
A kernel of truth here, of course, is that our salvation is ultimately God’s doing. But here again we see Bethke presenting the Lutheran/Calvinist belief that our salvation is utterly irrelevant to anything we choose to do. Jesus is the hero come to save us, yes, but we have a choice whether to grab his hand and be saved or not. Hence, our salvation is dependent on Him … but also on us.
But such an assertion is blasphemy to many Protestants. Too bad, I say.
“See because when I was God’s enemy and 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 just following some rules”
Irrefutable logic, once again. Since God wanted Bethke, it follows that God hates religion. Powerful stuff.
“Now let me clarify, I love the church, I love the bible, and yes I believe in sin”
That clarifies a lot of things actually. I thought Bethke might actually have been serious when he were condemning religion. But if he believes in the Church, Bible, sin … oh … wait, he’s still condemning religion? Oh.
I’d like to ask Bethke whether it’s required that one loves the Church and the Bible (or even believe in sin) in order to be saved. If Jesus’ obedience is all that is necessary, it seems those things would be superfluous. If not, then it begins to take on a religious character, since it then involves man’s role in doing something with regard to the divine. So, which is it Bethke?
“But if Jesus came to your church would they actually let him in”
I can say from experience that my church would not let him in. Jesus literally showed up one day, and my priest was like, “What? Jesus? Oh, you’re not getting in here, pal! Not on my watch, you ain’t!” And shut the door on him. It really never struck me how hypocritical that was until I heard Bethke’s poem.
“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”
I knew that God didn’t support self-righteousness then … but He doesn’t even support it now? That’s crazy.
I wonder if Bethke thinks God even supports righteousness. Probably not. Once again, our salvation is only affected by God, not man. So righteousness in men is worthless. So Bethke might say.
“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, but one’s a man made invention / See one is the cure, but the other’s the infection”
I thought sin was the infection … but religion and sin are the same thing! Oh, got it. Whew. That was close. I thought that may have been a weakness in Bethke’s argument.
“See because religion says do, Jesus says done”
So, Christians, the moral of the story is … don’t do anything. Jesus already done it! It’s a pretty sweet deal actually. I’m not sure why anyone would complain about it.
“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”
Searching for God is a sin. Good insight. Or rather, not.
If you’re not searching for God, or at least not searching for a closer relationship with God, there is something wrong. Don’t feel guilty about trying to get to know Jesus better. Don’t let Bethke tell you otherwise.
“Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own / Not based on my merits but Jesus’s obedience alone”
Yep. That’s right. Once again, salvation has nothing to do with our obedience to God. Disobey him to your heart’s content. You’re still saved. Awesome.
- Condign Merit: When the service rendered is equal in terms of commutative justice to the claimed reward (e.g. an employee rightly deserves a certain amount of money from his employer for the work done at his job)
- Congruent Merit: When the service rendered is not equal to the claimed reward (perhaps being of an entirely different nature) but the reward is given for the service nonetheless, based on the kindness and generosity of the giver (e.g. a child is rewarded with a toy for doing his chores well … not because he deserves the toy by strict justice but because his parent perhaps promised him that reward out of their generosity)
Trent says that humans cannot condignly merit grace/salvation, since nothing we do measures up to something like eternal, supernatural happiness. However, we can congruently merit grace/salvation, by doing little acts of charity that God asks us to do, to which then God liberally gives reward. God gives us heaven if we do such-and-such based on his generosity (not on our own efforts alone) … hence, we are still in control of our destiny. Protestants do not have this distinction. They, in effect, only acknowledged condign merit and thus dismiss meritorious acts regarding grace altogether. The result is that we have no say whether we are saved or not.
“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 / And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb / Which is why I’m kneeling at the cross, saying come on there’s room”
Yes, Jesus atoned for all our sins. But what does this mean? Does that mean that we don’t have to do anything? Will we be saved no matter what? Catholicism teaches that while all the grace needed for salvation was made available by Christ, the grace only actually gets applied to individuals souls based on the actions (and even suffering) of individual souls. An analogy is that Christ bought us all the food we need, but we still need to go to the refrigerator and actually start eating it. Otherwise, we’ll starve (despite the infinite food bought for us).
Lest you think that members of Christ’s body do not need to have these graces (won by Jesus’s suffering) to be applied to them by their own suffering, I will invoke my friend, St. Paul, for your consideration: “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)
Hence, Christ’s afflictions actually will not save us by themselves. We need to suffer too … and then the grace will flow from Christ to us. When push comes to shove, it seems that Lutherans and Calvinists subtly admit this. While they claim Christ’s sacrifice was enough, they still believe it’s only applied to individual souls upon a soul’s acceptance of faith. So, really, the person has to do something in order to be saved … hence, it is also dependent on us, not just Jesus.
“So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it”
Hardcore, man. This is no pansy allegorical resentment we’re talking about. This is the real deal.
“Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it”
And what on earth does that pronoun “it” stand for, Bethke? You sure you know what you’re talking about?
It thus seems to keep coming back to free will. At best, this poem is just hopelessly ambiguous with its deviations from traditional theological terminology. At worst, it is an attack on man’s dignity to say “yes” or “no” to God. Unfortunately, I think it is the latter. It is an ode to Christian irresponsibility … asserting that no matter how naughty we are, we can rightly expect to be rewarded … something our prodigal, affluent modern society has seemed to instill into the younger generations. And this has been perversely “Christianized” by people like Bethke.
It also creates a very one-sided Christianity, in which God only acts on us, while we do nothing in response. A friend once characterized Luther’s soteriology with the phrase: “Find the nearest couch, and lounge.” This kind of Christian could even get away with being an atheist. If Christ has already done everything worth doing, what good is it to even believe in God?
I do hope this is the swan song of Protestantism. I think Bethke’s work shows that the Protestant and Modernist heresies are converging ever closer, revealing that they have been two sides of the same coin the whole time. It will become ever clearer that there are only two options: the Catholic Church … and not the Catholic Church. The pseudo-Christian clothing on the supposed alternatives will soon fall completely off.
Nonetheless, I have a feeling that this guy is better than me. He actually loves Jesus. I, on the other hand, possess more of the truth than he does (yes, I’m going to shamelessly admit that … criticize me to your heart’s content). So, I’m exactly the kind of hypocrite he’s referring to. If we are to debunk heretics like him, we might actually need to love Jesus.
However, if Bethke was really consistent with his theology, and we didn’t have to do anything, he should have actually stopped trying to love Jesus. The title of his poem, therefore, should have been something like, “I Hate Jesus, Because I Hate Religion.”