Notes From Day Seven: The real Jesus "hates religion"
The four-minute clip has gone viral and has spawned video variations such as "Why I hate religion and Jesus too," and "Why I love Jesus and religion too." Heavy hitters in North American media such as CNN have been paying attention to it too.
So have critics. Fr. Dwight Longenecker writes in an online article for First Things that trying to cut Jesus away from religion is a lost cause. For example, as he notes, it is almost impossible to know anything about Jesus except from the New Testament (part of the Christian Bible), and the New Testament was written, collected, printed and reprinted by the church, a religious community.
What exactly is Bethke's beef? In the first part of the video he tells us. The church has started religious wars. It builds huge buildings while neglecting the poor. It claims to be affiliated with the U.S.'s Republican Party. And it allowed him, once a church kid, to parade his righteousness while hiding his regular use of porn.
Well, what about these complaints? First, Bethke equates church with religion. That's a problem, as we've already seen. But let that pass for now.
Okay, what about the wars thing? Yes, wars in Europe during the 1600s were fueled by different understandings of Christianity or church — that is, religion. On the other hand, the strongest proponents of pacifism are Christians. Canada's James Loney, for example, practices his pacifism as a member of Christian Peacemakers. And Christian pacifism is promoted by officially recognized Christian groups, "religious" bodies, such as the Mennonite Church.
What about constructing expensive buildings versus taking care of the poor? Well, sure, there are expensive church buildings. The other day I visited St. Patrick's Catholic Cathedral in Manhattan. Big. Opulent, sort of. Expensive, no doubt. And within a few blocks I saw a poor woman, crumpled up on the sidewalk, alive, but barely. A clear example of the church's neglect of the poor and its greed.
But really? That same church, I'll bet my Starbucks Christmas gift card, funds outreach to the poor of New York just as the churches of London are helping the poor of this city, providing food, volunteers and space. You don't have to look very hard to see that the church is a leading — perhaps the leading — provider of assistance to the poor in the Third World.
And of course, Bethke's use of porn when he was a teen was not good and hopefully he's off that. It seems a little odd, though, for him to blame his church for his teenage double standard.
Still, I credit Bethke for trying to show what Jesus was all about. Definitely he was against the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders of his day who, while talking up the law of God, were plotting to kill him. Incidentally, the fact that Jesus and most of his original followers were Jewish means that discrimination against Jews has no place among Christians; admiration would be more fitting. Jesus did not reject the poor or people found to be in sexual or relational difficulties. He sought them out, welcomed them, and gave them a new path. He did not ask his followers to build buildings but he did show the way for people to love each other even though such love can be very risky, very costly.
Bethke is off base about some things. But he is right to try cutting through some layers of confusion to get to the real Jesus. Jesus is the one to watch and the controversial video may help spark some needed clarification.