Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus

There’s been a lot of discussion lately around a video by evangelist Jefferson Bethke that has gone viral called “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus”. You can see the video and read an excellent critique of it by an Eastern Orthodox priest here. There is not much left to be said on the topic, but of course, I must have my two cents’ worth!

As is the case with so many debates, problems arise because the words are not defined clearly. What does ‘religion‘ actually mean? What is it that this bloke hates, exactly? Anyone who loves Jesus is bound to also love ‘true religion’, a phrase used by St James in his epistle (1:26,27). He points out the difference between religion properly practiced and religion abused. I think what the bloke in the video is rebelling against is religion abused, but he just calls it ‘religion’, hence the controversy, since people think he is using ‘religion’ in the more general sense of the word, thus hating both true and abused religion together. Of course, that controversy is probably exactly what he was aiming at. What better way for an evangelist to get his message heard by millions?

The abuse of religiion is nothing new. It happened in the Jewish faith at the time of Christ, it happened in the early Christian Church in the time of the Apostles, and, surprise, surprise, it happens today. I fully join with Bethke in rejecting the abuse of religion.

But that doesn’t mean we should toss out religion altogether. As St James points out, there is a pure and true practice of religion that is acceptable before God and which enlightens, ennobles and elevates the believer. Our task as Christians is to constantly self-review, both on a personal and individual level as well as on the community level, and ask ourselves daily whether we are following that path. If we stray, repentance and return is called for.

Religion has acquired a bad name nowadays. I can see why this video has struck such a cord with so many people. In these days of universal education where children are taught to think for themselves from a young age the old ways of “just believe what you are told” no longer work, whether in religion, or politics, or in any sphere of life. Add to that the abuses by church leaders that the media loves to sensationalise, and the general move towards flexibility rather than rigidity in our daily lives, and it’s easy to see why ‘religion’, in the sense our grandparents thought of it, has fallen well out of favour.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. After all, Christ never came to build an institution, and He never asked people to believe in Him just out of fear of or respect for authority. He wanted people to know Him as a person, and to love Him as such. Perhaps we are finally beginning to shed a constrictive skin of institutionalism that has tended to starch and stifle our true encounter with God? Imagine a day when videos like Bethke’s don’t even raise an eyebrow, because nobody practices their religion in that way, the abusive way. Personally, I don’t like to speak of Christianity as a religion, except in a technical context. Christianity is not just an institution, or a book, or a set of ideas and rules. It is a relationship with one’s Creator and one’s fellow creations. It is a way of life. It is a state of being. It is who you are, deep down inside.  All the outer stuff follows naturally from the inner stuff, and without the inner stuff, the outer stuff is worthless.

I too hate the abuse of religion. But I think I’d be lost without true religion.


SUPPLEMENTARY (23rd January 2012)

A younger person’s take on the subject: Glory and Rubbish

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8 Replies to “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus”

  1. Dear father Antonios thanks for your in depth analysis and thoughts in this issue of concern as i believe a lot of followers of Christ around todays’ turbulent world started to question those big Christian institutions and empires with different priesthood ranks and rules built as a big fence around Jesus and its Church”congregation” now over 2000 years where trust , transparency, openess and honesty started to be a unique coin . Today the only fact is that Jesus is only way of life with its great values and i believe the followers of Jesus every where today focus only in Jesus and his great values way of life . i believe that brilliant young man in his video put it very clear in his argument for and against JESUS” WAY OF LIFE” verses RELIGION”SET OF RULES etc. “. i believe today nobody likes and accepts that big fence put by religion anymore between the Church leaders and Church congregation as trust ,transparency , openess and honesty were lost . i believe it is more than abusive religion and it is worst than hypocracy . above all we must remember Jesus wants mercy and not sacrifice and HE practiced what HE preached with his first apostoles and desciples , let us go back to square one when Jesus started his mission .may the holy spirit guide us to praise the name of our lord all the time ,HE is the only way and life ,the alpha and omega ,amen .

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  2. Happy upcoming Feast of Epiphany!!

    I’m kind of going on a tangent with this post, but bare with me…
    This may or may not fall in the sphere of ‘religious practice’, and it’s a question I’ve pondered for many, many years.

    Every year in my family on the eve of Epiphany we carve lanterns out of oranges. The oranges are hollowed out and three crosses are craved through the peel/skin. They are then attached to a piece of string, and a candle is placed inside, forming a small lantern.

    All the lights in the house are then switched off and the whole family goes around the house singing a hymn/song in Arabic while shining the crosses (illuminating through the orange by the candle) on all the walls of the house. The whole of the house is subsequently filled with the frangrance of the burning citrus. The flesh of the orange is then eaten and the lanterns are hung to dry and kept for a year until Epiphany comes around again.

    The hymn/song recounts how on the night of Epiphany a mother gave birth to a lantern, she gave it the name ‘light’, and it enlightens the dark alleyway (excuse the very poor translation, the hymn is made up of some words I do not understand).

    No one has ever been able to tell me why we do this, where it originated from or what it exactly means, and yet we do it every year. I have spoken to some Coptic friends about this practice, but none had any idea what I was talking about, and I have never seen it done in church before.
    I can only assume that it is a practice common to those of Upper Egypt, out of which my family is from.

    I don’t know why we do it and yet it is something we have always looked forward to every year since we were children, similar to how we always look forward to the eve of Palm Sunday when we take home the palm branches and make little crafts out of them.

    I guess before Epiphany comes around at the end of this week I’m hoping for some kind of answer before I go out and buy the oranges.

    Does anybody else practice this or something similar, or know what it means?

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  3. Happy Epiphany feast father , Nathan and all…mate seems interesting ritual aspect the way Epiphany celebrated by old Egyptians ..i believe originated from the eastern Orthodox church … anyhow back to what i want to share , that i used to enjoy the celebration of Epiphany feast in Greece “Greek church” for a lot of years when i was a young student .Greeks call it as well the “blessing of the waters”,celebrated on 6th January every year where the priest bless a cross and throw it in the Meditarean sea and here all the young men jump in the chilli water”winter over there at this time” looking for the cross and who finds it will have good luck for the rest of the year ..all is done in the sea shore with a lot of prayers and big gathering of people in a festive spirit .. after that people enjoy the Greek dance ,music and food ,oh i smell the Greek pasteries till now in my nose ,old good days …Last Sunday i felt excited to attend for the first time in our church and in my life the ritual aspect of the “Circumcision feast “, done by our Father Antonios “the wrapped bible “as a symbol of Jesus ,interesting mate, thanks for that …hope we get some answers about the old Egyptian way of this great ritual aspect feast of the anniversary of the Baptism of our lord Jesus Christ .Focus in Jesus ,HE is the onlw way and life ,amen .

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  4. Dear father and all, enclosed a video in response to the above video , interesting views going around by millions of followers of Jesus in this argument for and against , just here i would like to highlight my understanding of the definition of the Church, i believe a lot of misunderstanding in this definition ????!! The Church is ” we the congregation of the Church in the body of Jesus and Jesus its head “… i believe Jesus is looking after his people by three ways , his Grace “church and its sacraments”, his holy spirit and his angels .. so Jesus and the Church”congregation” is one whole body.. so we simultaneously focus in both …i wonder if we can get a simple definition of RELIGION for more clarification ???!!! may the holy spirit guide us all amen .


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  5. I refused to watch this video on YouTube so as to not add to the “views” and subsequently the fame of an ignorant man. So I searched for a transcript instead.

    I’ve just one comment…

    There was one thing I liked, where he says “Just because you call someone blind, it doesn’t automatically give you vision”.

    True and fair statement!

    But the hypocrite he describes himself to once have been; the one that was “acting like a church kid”, is obviously still alive because he’s doing the exact opposite of this statement which is the header of his argument. He is calling religion (even if he is just referring to the institution, which I think he is) blind, thinking that he solely is the one who is seeing straight.

    Recall John 9:39-41
    And Jesus said to them, “For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind”.
    Then some of the Pharisees who were with him heard these words, and said to him, “Are we blind also?”
    Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin, but now you say, ‘We see’, therefore your sin remains”.

    I needn’t say anymore that says it all…

    No, I lie, one more thing further… His argument is just stupid! He calls it, “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus”. It should be called, “Why I hate Christianity, but love Jesus”, because his whole argument is attacking the Christian institution. Apart from where he says, “Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man”, which threw me out when I read it because it makes no sense in the scheme of the rest of his argument, and just renders his whole argument invalid.

    That is all…

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  6. hey ppl like it on facebook share it with your friends make it go viral

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  7. I have met Jeff myself and asked him about that abouna. He told me it is just an attention grabber, that’s all. He never intended for this to go viral and He really is deeply in love with God, his message was stronger and more sincere than that poem. He wanted to tell the hypocritical christian are just by title that is not just a set of laws, or a show to put on; there is more depth in Christ than just the title of “religion”

    Just wanted to share..

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