Response to Viral Video on Hating Religion and Loving Jesus

This video has been making the rounds on facebook, and while expressing a healthy frustration with religion as an institution, it unfortunately makes several broad claims, and one central claim that is blatantly false.

It is simply not true that Jesus was opposed to religion. Jesus was an observant Jew whose followers met in the synagogue. He was certainly a religious reformer, and because most of the Gospel authors are not careful about identifying Jesus as part of the ongoing internal debate within Judaism Jesus can sometimes appear to be arguing against religion. In reality, though, he is arguing against the Sadducees and against the Pharisees who follow the school of thought started by the Rabbi Shammai, but he is mostly in line with the pharisaic tradition that followed the Rabbi Hillel. Regardless of the nuances of his position, the point is that the arguments presented in the gospels are arguments within a religious tradition, and not between someone who came to abolish religion and those who defend it.

Second, the poet is correct to say that religion is a human project, but so too is spirituality. In fact, the basic problem of spirituality without religion is that it lacks accountability. Community was central to the mission of Jesus, and Jesus constantly called people to live in right relationships with each other. Christianity cannot be practiced without community; Jesus is explicit in saying that he is present wherever two or three are gathered. Spirituality is individualistic in a way that would have been foreign to the 1st century Hebrew mind.

Third, the poet is simply too broad in describing religion. There are religions and churches that do exactly what he believes they should. Condemning all religion because not all churches live up to his interpretation of Jesus’ mission is simply lazy theology.

There are certainly some good lines in the poem. This is my personal favorite: “If grace was water then the church should be an ocean, it’s not a museum for good people it’s a hospital for the broken.”

I appreciate (and share) the frustration with institutional religion, but a meaningful critique needs to start with factual information about Jesus, and to be more nuanced in its characterization of religion.

 

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