In case you’ve lived under a rock, you can catch the video “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus” video here.
I’m not being unique here, in fact, I’m clogging up the Internet universe with the thousands, possibly millions of responses to the recent spoken word YouTube video that praises Jesus, but hates on organized religion. Though well-meaning, the young man’s video fails to acknowledge what religion truly is.
On a side note, as an English major, I do a lot of things: read, write, read more, and evaluate. One of the most important skills I’ve developed is that of close reading, which is when I read “in between” the lines of a text. According to my friends at dictionary.com, religion is best defined as:
1. a set of beliefs, concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe; 2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices; 3. the life or state of a monk, nun (to enter religion).
I believe the best way to solve the “Jesus v. Religion” debate is to do a little close-reading, a skill that everybody can use, especially in the world of theology and religious practice. Rather than simply cast away the institution of religion, which according to video, doesn’t care for the poor and starts wars, I think it’s critical to look at the words that we use and their denotations, not just the connotations:
First and second, we (or the dictionary) recognize that religion is “a set of beliefs, concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe; a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices. ” The world is a broken place, and only took a few chapters into the book of Genesis for Adam and Eve to usher sin and brokenness into the world (Genesis 3). However, Jesus came to bring light into the world, a light that overcomes darkness (John 1:4-5). As an adherent to the Christian religion, I recognize that my purpose in this vast universe is to serve the Son of God and to allow Him to cast out the dark parts of my life. I live for “the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world,” I am constantly changing and challenging my desires in order to conform to this standard (John 1:29). Is it easy? Absolutely not, but because I have a “set of beliefs” (which can be summarized in the Apostles’ Creed), I choose to allow Christ to transform me each and every day.
Lastly, the dictionary informs us that religion is “the life or state of a monk or nun.” I’m not a nun (if only!), but the important part of this definition is in “the life or state.” This prompts me to as what is “the life or state” of someone in the fold of the Christian religion? Jesus himself tells us that “whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). The state of the Christian life, though joyful, is not always a state of pleasure. It means reaching out to those who are hurting (Mark 3:5), to give selflessly (Mark 12: 41-44), and to submit to the Lordship of Christ (Luke 9:57-62). This is hard. This is painful. This makes us rethink our allegiances. However, if religion never “feeds the poor” as the video claims, then that is not true religion. That is simply not taking the gospel of Jesus Christ seriously. As Christians, we are to be serious in our endeavors to expand the Kingdom of God. That is the “life or state” of a religious Christian.
As I conclude, I warn myself and other readers not to attack the young man in video for the sake of an argument. Jesus warned us against this in Luke 9. When John saw another man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, John was upset and wanted Jesus to stop the man because “he does not follow with us” (49). However, Jesus reminded John that “one who is not against you is for you” (50). I fear that much of the retaliation against this video may be because the young man “does not follow with [most of] us” in our beliefs about the beauty of religion. However, as a person who seeks to grow in the Christian religion, I have to warn against throwing religion out the door simply because the word’s connotation makes us feel uncomfortable. Instead, we should seek fundamental practices and pure “state of life” which displays a religion that visits “orphans and widows in their affliction” and keeps “oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
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Better yet, comment below with your loves and hates. Be polite, though.