Monday, January 23, 2012

Viral Semantics

Recently, my daily social media feed has been cluttered with reposts of a viral video of Jefferson Bethke's entitled "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus: (VIDEO HERE)

The sentiments expressed in this poem seem to be common among the modern day non denominational Christian, mainly that we should use Jesus' message as inspiration to do good and reject the nasty extremism of religious group-think. While this is generally a message I like to hear from the faithful (at least in contrast with the extremists), religion being replaced with Jesus doesn't change the fact that a religion is indeed still being practiced.

Before I'm accused of completely missing the point of the video, let's pull back and examine each part of this video.

What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion.
What if I told you voting republican really wasn’t his mission.
What if I told you republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian.
And just because you call some people blind.
Doesn’t automatically give you vision.

Right off the bat, the first sentence doesn't seem accurate. Did he not come to build a church? Did he not instruct his disciples to follow him? Most of Jesus' instructions to his followers seem right in line with the very definition of religion. If defining the word "religion" is the problem, I'd like to hear some clarity on the matter. In spite of the semantics, it seems clear from the bible and the legacy of Christianity that if Jesus did come to abolish religion, he not only failed miserably, but did not demonstrate any desire to remove the faithful life from the people of his time. Of course, this is all assuming he existed at all. The rest of that stanza seems fine, if a bit obvious.

I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars.
Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor.
Tells single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce.
But in the old testament God actually calls religious people whores.
Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice.
Tend to ridicule God’s people, they did it to John The Baptist.
 He's right about one thing, the Old Testament sure didn't contain much love the for the flock. In any case, using parts of the bible to dispute other parts of the bible seems to be a bit of a self contradicting exercise, as is most of the sentiment in this video.

They can’t fix their problems, and so they just mask it.
Not realizing religions like spraying perfume on a casket.
See the problem with religion, is it never gets to the core.
It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores.
Like lets dress up the outside make look nice and neat.
But it’s funny that’s what they use to do to mummies.
While the corps rots underneath.
Not much to argue with here. Still waiting on exactly where the difference lies in Jesus the Religion vs. Jesus the Non-Religion.

Now I ain’t judgin.
I’m just saying quit putting on a fake look, Cause there’s a problem.
If people only know you’re a Christian by your Facebook.
I mean in every other aspect of life, you know that logic’s unworthy.
It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey.
You see this was me too, but no one seemed to be on to me.
Acting like a church kid, while addicted to pornography.
See on Sunday I’d go to church, but Saturday getting faded.
Acting if I was simply created just to have sex and get wasted.
See I spent my whole life building this facade of neatness.
But now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness.
 Here we come to our first problem. In this Stanza, Bethke seems to be painting "religion" with a brush of hypocrisy, and using Jesus as an influence for moral consistency. He seems to imply that religion itself is simply a routine, and that living life through Christ is a much better way. With this description, I would probably say that he's more religious than the ones just going through the motions, and the argument is once again going back to confusing semantics. Furthermore, boasting in weakness is probably not a very good thing to do, in my opinion. We should be acknowledging our weaknesses, and striving to improve them. Perhaps I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that's what he meant.

Because if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean.
It’s not a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken.
Which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin.
Because it doesn’t depend on me it depends on him.
See because when I was God’s enemy and certainly not a fan.
He looked down and said I want, that, man.
Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools.
Don’t you see so much better than just following some rules.
Now let me clarify, I love the church, I love the bible, and yes I believe in sin.
But if Jesus came to your church would they actually let him in.
See remember he was called a glutton, and a drunkard by religious men.
But the son of God never supports self righteousness not now, not then.

This part of the poem is loaded with all the things I dislike about Christianity in the moderate sense, at least personally. Since when do your sins and your failures not depend on you? Vicarious redemption through human sacrifice is one of the most immoral lessons in the bible, as it poses that you can be stripped of your responsibility. He goes on to say that following Jesus is better than following some rules, and again, I wonder what the difference is.

From wikipedia: Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.

Seems like it all fits so far.

Now back to the point, one thing is vital to mention.
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrum’s.
See one’s the work of God, but one’s a man made invention.
See one is the cure, but the other’s the infection.
See because religion says do, Jesus says done.
Religion says slave, Jesus says son.
Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free.
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see.

Okay, now we're getting somewhere besides semantics... turns out he's just wrong. One's the work of god, and one's a man made invention, eh? Turns out they're both man made inventions. Most of the scholarly research suggests that Jesus, as he's most often described, was merely a legend. Bart Ehrman is one of the best New Testament scholars out there, and I'd suggest looking into some of his work if it peaks your curiosity, but even without corroborating sources, the gospels alone make it quite clear that his story is dubious. The amount of contradiction in the gospels about when and where Jesus was born, how he interacted with the people, when he died, and whether he was born of a virgin should be enough for anyone to question whether or not one or any of the accounts is true.

On top of that, considering oneself free by replacing one ideology with another seems faulty to me -- freedom is breaking away from ideology, and interpreting reality as it presents itself.

And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans.
Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man.
Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own.
Not based on my merits but Jesus’s obedience alone.
Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face.
He took what we all deserved, I guess that’s why you call it grace.
And while being murdered he yelled. “Father forgive them they know not what they do.”
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you.
And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb.
Which is why I’m kneeling at the cross, saying come on there’s room.
So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it.
Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it.

Bethke neglects to mention Hell in all of this, and it seems pretty integral to the idea of "salvation." All in all, that doesn't sound so free to me, especially if you believe the stories.

The idea of a god that duplicates himself and sacrifices himself in order to solve a problem that he himself created is not only ridiculous, but immoral at the face of it. Even if you buy the premise that this is actually a sacrifice (since Jesus did not actually die, one could argue that no sacrifice was made at all), the fact that the torture and murder of a Palestinian Jew  could somehow save human beings from themselves is a fantastical claim without any evidence to support it -- religion in a nutshell.

Overall, the sentiments expressed in the video, in spite of my criticisms, seem to be mostly positive. When an immoral idea is expressed, it's clearly framed in the kind of language that makes it seem humble, honest and good, and that is the danger of religion. It's the very thing he criticizes in the first half of his poem.

Jefferson has a lot of good ideas and criticisms, and while I can't agree with most of what he says, I still kind of like that this is the video being spread around by the faithful. Just because I agree with his tone, however, does not mean I can agree with his religion. Or should I use a different word? I guess it doesn't matter, it would mean the same thing.

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