Some months ago I was directed to a viral video making its way through the social networking universes, titled Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus (http://youtu.be/1IAhDGYlpqY). It was a Christian attack on “religion”, or at least, how the author portrays religion. I have to say, what makes his message so appealing, is the means by which it is packaged. Like it or not, we live in the modern world. Like it or not, the folks that need the Gospel message the most are not those who are already “well”, that is, those who already know Jesus and His message, but those that don’t, and perhaps don’t even want to hear it (Luke 5:31-32). I think this guy speaks a language or dialect if you wish that most Christians probably can’t or refuse to speak. It is in a similar sense that I think the Holy Ghost gave the apostles gifts of tongues to be able to preach the Gospel to others in their own languages (Acts 2:6). Some may argue it is “dumbing” it down; some will say it is taking sacred things and profaning it to the level of the streets. The way I see it, if it touches the heart of man, and moves him to seek further, then I will not be the judge of that approach. For me the real issue is not the medium, it is the content of the message. So, spoken word, rap, rock, hip hop, I really don’t care (outside of Holy Mass). The issue for me is: what are you saying?
So, I just want to examine his claims and maybe offer some bit of explanation for why religion is not to be hated, but the very means by which Jesus set up the salvation program in New Testament times.
1) Jesus came to abolish religion. Jesus came to abolish the Old Testament religious system of offering animal sacrifices for sins, which never took away sins anyway (Hebrews 8-10). He did not come to abolish religion, first of all because you will never find in the pages of Scripture that Jesus came to abolish “religion”. The Greek word “threskeia” (religion) occurs in the NT only 5 times, not once indicating an intended abolishment of religion (Acts 26:5; Galatians 1:13,14; James 1:26,27). The first three are
recounting his practice of the Jewish religion, fighting the St. Paul , which by that time was the new and only legitimate religion, the Christian religion. We should not be afraid of the term “religion”, though many modern Christian apologists use it to distance themselves from “organized Christianity”, most often Catholicism. They will say things like, “Christianity is not religion, but relationship”. Those who major in languages will appreciate the exposition of the senselessness of such a statement since the word “religion” comes from “religare” which means “to bind” or “to fasten”. It is the way in which man “binds” or “fastens” to God. Religion is therefore a relationship between man and God. Old Testament religion, when it was legitimate, was the means by which the faithful man bound or fastened himself to God. Likewise, in the new covenantal administration, that is, by the Blood of Jesus, comes a new means of binding and fastening the faithful to Almighty God. One obvious religious observance that clearly permeates the New Testament is Baptism. Baptism is an act of religion, whether you like the term or not. It is ceremonial, required, and binding upon all would-be Christians. In fact, it is so much an act of religion, that it is said that it replaces circumcision, an Old Testament religious observance (Colossians 2:11-12). Furthermore, James 1:26-27 clearly says what true religion is: “Religion (threskeia) that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” And so, the Bible, which you say you love, doesn’t seem to have a problem with the term “religion”. I suspect your real beef is not with “religion”, but with religious hypocrisy. If that’s the case, I am with you. But, just remember, every time any of us sins, we become the hypocrites, just as much as anyone else (Hebrews -27) Church of God
2) Religion is not great because it starts so many wars. Read the Old Testament. The religion of God does not necessarily exclude the idea of war. However, many “religious wars” are not so much wars on the basis of religion, but on the basis of fear of the “other”, nationalistic, or cultural. The point is Christianity does not exclude the possibility of war. Christianity is not pacifistic.
3) Religion builds huge churches, but fails to feed the poor. The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world. The magnificent churches in
Europe were not built only for the rich, but for the poor. They were first and foremost built for God. The Catholic Church is probably one of the few churches in the world that you will see no socio-economic divisions in the pew.
4) Religion tells single mothers that God does not love them if they ever had a divorce. This is an unfair generalization. Religion doesn’t say that. If the message is that “religion” is against divorce, then so is the Bible (Matthew 19). Being against divorce is very different from being against the divorced person. If any single mother is treated so poorly, it is not the fault of religion, but the fault of individual men who claim to practice the true religion.
5) In the Old Testament God calls religious people “whores”. The Hebrew word “zanah” is used 11 times in the Old Testament, not any of them used to describe the “religious”.
6) Religion is like behavior modification, like a long list of chores. Jesus calls for “behavior modification”, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." (John 14:21). Also, “Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4). Ironically, the author suggests a behavior change as well, from being “religious” to relying solely on what God does. Christianity is all about behavior modification.
7) Religion dresses up the outside, but does not get at the core. No, that’s not religion, that’s hypocrisy. The Pharisee is self-righteous. The Christian, who practices the true religion, humbles himself, recognizing he is a sinner who needs a savior, and cooperates with God’s grace to do the will and work of God, and sanctifying his soul in the process.
8) Religion is a man-made invention. No, it is the system by which God facilitates the relationship between man and Himself. God invented religion.
9) Religion says do, Jesus says done. Jesus says do as well: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19). Jesus never said that he did it all. He never said we no longer have a part to play in the plan of salvation. In fact, he gave one clear command, go forth and baptize (Matthew 28:19).
10) Religion says slave, Jesus says son. God calls us by many names: servant, slave, soldier, son, etc. The Greek word “doulos” which can be translated as servant or slave, is used 118 times in the New Testament and many times used in the context of man’s relationship to God, for example, “For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 7:22). They all have their significance in context.
11) Religion is bondage, Jesus sets you free. He sets us free from the bondage of sin (Romans ), and makes us His children, which in turn has responsibilities, which some may call “bondage”. Consider, Martin Luther’s “De Servo Arbitrio”-On the Bondage of the Will. Our wills must be subject to the will of God. That is a free act of the will to submit to all that God demands of us.
12) Religion is man searching for God, and Christianity is God searching for man. Man can never seek God without God first calling man to Himself (Ephesians 2). So, God calls man to Himself (prevenient grace; 1 Timothy 2:3-4), man freely responds to that call (conversion), seeks out the Church and Her Sacraments (justification; sanctifying grace), and continues to strive towards Christian perfection thereafter (sanctification; 1 Peter ).
13) Not based on my merits, but Jesus obedience alone. In John when Jesus says “teleo”, translated as “it is finished”, it is left rather ambiguous at face value what Jesus is referring to here. Protestants have tended to use this passage to justify the position of “once saved always saved”, or the belief that Jesus paid the debt of sin and so, nothing more needs to be done other than accepting the credit paid by Jesus’ sacrifice on our own spiritual account. But it is clear that we have a role to play, otherwise the converted
would not have anything to worry about, and yet he was concerned of losing his salvation when he says, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27). The Greek word there translated as “disqualified” is “adokimos” which means “unapproved/rejected/reprobate”. Salvation requires our obedience as well. St. Paul
14) Religion is to be hated because Jesus meant it when he said “It is finished”. “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:26-27). It depends on what you mean by “it is finished”. If you mean that nothing more needs to be done after Christ’s sacrifice, then you would be hard-pressed to figure out how the merits of the Cross are applied to the individual without any further work or activity on our part, at the very least to accept it.
In the end, I believe it is quite clear, that the author of the very popular spoken word poem above has his heart in the right place. He wants to serve God in the best way he knows how. But, he doesn’t seem to understand the important distinctions that need to be made to understand how religion and Jesus are not on opposite sides of the spectrum, but that Jesus Himself revitalized a dying religion, and ushered in the New Covenant in His Blood at the Cross. Jesus doesn’t hate or is opposed to religion, He is the author of the only true religion, the only religion that can truly bind and fasten man to God, and that is the historical and universal Christian religion, known by her four marks of authenticity: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.
+Feast of St. Josemaria Escriva, 2012
PS – Here is are some links to some great spoken word responses to the one above:
1) Why I Love Religion, And Love Jesus || Spoken Word : http://youtu.be/Ru_tC4fv6FE
2) Why I Love Religion, and Love Jesus || Spoken Word (Response Video) : http://youtu.be/_AFoIDsBTcc