If you haven’t seen it, Jeffery Bethke, a 22-year old poet/performer, released a now-viral YouTube video about how he hates religion, but loves Jesus. Most folks in my Catholic circles are knocking it; to a degree, rightly so, as it jumps to some conclusions and seem to imply more than it should.
But, I really like it.
First, if you haven’t seen it. Watch it:
Yes, there are glaring issues with it. Jesus didn’t come to abolish religion; he says exactly that in Matthew 5:17. Much of what he says could be accurate. Wars, degrading people by judging their sins harshly (i.e. Scarlet Letter) , preaching poverty and serving the poor while purchasing expensive cars and other goods (Google “pastor embezzlement“), etc does happen and much of it occurs under the cloak of religion.
Religion has been abused for thousands of years by people trying to gain power, wealth, prestige. Religion has given beautiful holy texts to the world that have been twisted by people trying to convince others that they must listen to them. Religion has, at times, ignored Jesus Christ.
But not all religion. Not all religious people. Not by a long shot. This is the prime example of a bad apple leading people to throw out the whole bushel. Religion, though, has preserved the message of Jesus Christ for thousands of years.
I’ll give Jeff, the poet, this: he thinks this too.
In digging around, trying to understand this gentlemen a little more, I found a post-viral interview with him at ChurchLeaders.com. He basically admits that he didn’t mean religion, not in the way the vast majority of the world means it. His church, wrongly I say, uses “religion” as “synonymous with hypocrisy, legalism, self-righteousness, and self-justification”.
Take that in account, find/replace his usage of religion in his poem, and I think most critics would change their opinion. Even some of the seemingly obvious digs at Catholicism (nice buildings but not helping the poor) make more sense if you think of it as hypocritical Christians who really do put serving the poor far far below the physical building. The Church has done both really well—create beautiful buildings dedicated to God while supporting the poor.
He has the right heart and the right idea. He just had the wrong word. (Leadership lesson: Make sure your audience understands the message. A grabbing headline is one thing, but to use a common word by an uncommon undefined definition isn’t helpful.) You can’t take his poem at face value and, regretfully, most of his 12M+ viewers have taken it as such.
One Catholic response, made in the same style by Make A Friar, that I enjoyed: