Saturday, February 04, 2012

Did Jesus Hate Religion?

That is a question that Jefferson Bethke addressed in his "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus" video that went viral. When I watched it, I found myself agreeing with a lot of Bethke's assertions, but was uneasy with the way in which it was expressed. It seemed like he wasn't getting to the root of the problem that I see in religious institutions.

Then I saw David Brooks' fascinating article on how Bethke caved to his critics; people like Kevin DeYoung, who "corrected" Bethke, saying that Jesus, although he hates self-righteousness, doesn't really hate religion because he observed Jewish holy days, went to the Temple, founded the church, instituted church discipline, initiated communion and baptism, and didn't abolish Jewish law. Bethke apparently wrote DeYoung in an email exchange and admitted to him that he actually "agrees 100 percent." Ahh, so this is perhaps why I was uneasy about the video. The "religion" Bethke critiqued was not the same as the one that DeYoung defends. But it's the religion that DeYoung defends that needs the critique!

In my book I make the case, based on historical analysis by people like Garry Wills, that Jesus in fact did not found a church, perpetuate Jewish law, and insitute a set of rituals to be followed to the letter. These ideas are read into the New Testament, not derived from a fair, exegetical reading of them. When Jesus taught on the church, he did not have our modern churches in mind, particuarly ones that promote spiritual abuse in the name of "church discipline," he is widely misunderstood on Jewish law (that's why Paul says "we have been released from the law" and "we are not under its supervision"), and in fact, not only was he opposed to this type of religion, but confronted the corruption of the Temple and accurately predicted it would be destroyed!

David Brook argues that disaffected youth and protestors have to do more than just cry injustice. They have to come up with an appropriate alternative, preferably based on an already establshed counter traditional school of thought, or else their critiques are vague and ineffectual. Excellent point.

On the other hand, in my mind, the answer to the "religion" Bethke ranted about is not DeYoung's view of Jesus' religion. Jesus' religion was a religion of the heart, where love is the only law. It wasn't a religion of unquestioned institutions and ecclesiastical authority. The alternative to DeYoung's "religion" (and the issues Bethke addressed) is Jesus' established but misunderstood philosophy of the loving reign of God. I appreciate your comments and thoughts.


Kerry Miller-Whalen said...

I am absolutely with you, that Jesus' "religion" was a religion of the heart. Having a "rhythm", habits or practices that help keep you focused is not a bad thing - in fact, can be very valuable. However once such practices become ossified and performed for their own sake, they actually get in the way.

"They have to come up with an appropriate alternative, preferably based on an already establshed counter traditional school of thought, or else their critiques are vague and ineffectual. "

I have a love/hate relationship with words, ideas and critiques - so don't misunderstand me, if I didn't value them, I wouldn't blog!

However I think the only truly "appropriate alternative" is to actually live out, Jesus' "religion of the heart". If it doesn't have skin on, it is valueless!

Michael Camp said...

Kerry, Right on both counts. Regular practices can help you, but get in the way when they become the end, not the means.

You are spot on with the "actually live it out" being the alternative. Can't be merely a philosophy or teaching, but must be put into practice. Trouble is, religionists tend to deem the "practices and habits" and doctrines and rituals as proof of faith, rather than the "heart religion" of love. They put law over love.