Why I hate religion, but love Jesus

This video has been making the rounds, stirring up a lot of attention and commentary, and causing at least a few people to drop the f-word into some Christian discussion lists. Go and watch it now, and then come back.

I've been engaging with a few people about it, and there seems to be several different kinds of responses.

On one end, there are some traditionalists who find it really offensive. Or at best, misguided, and likely to lead people astray. They will probably ignore it, or post a biting comment.

But then there are the evangelicals, who find it captures the way they want to feel about Jesus. They are part of a religion in all the important ways, but don't feel like "religion" really defines their experience very well. So they like it and promote it.

The biggest category are the vague Christians. They don't go to church much, or do very many "Christian" things, but they apparently maintain quite strong feelings for Jesus. This video resonates with them in a real way. They probably compose the silent majority of the country, and are sincere in all the ways that Christiany Christians aren't. They love the heck out of this video.

Then there are the theology hipsters. Let's face it, these people wouldn't like the video if it agreed with every single point of their doctoral thesis. They are the ones engaging in the biggest critique, suggesting that religion is a proper human category, and that making a contrast between Jesus and religion is overly-simplistic.

And then there are the people like me. I'm very Christian. I have a lot of discussions with the theology hipsters. I'm surrounded by evangelicals, but live in the world of vague Christians. I run a website called "Christianity Against Religion".

And I'm kind of thinking that the video didn't go far enough.

What do you think?



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Comments

Thanks for sharing this, Micah. I really enjoyed his message overall, although the references to unmerited grace are a little too Calvinist for me. I'd be curious to hear your opinions on where to strike the appropriate balance between a Pelagian view (salvation depends entirely on individual works) and a Calvinist view (man is totally depraved and only saved by God's discretionary and irresistible grace).

Carl, that's a good question. I've been trying to figure that out recently, since I usually fall off the normal spectrums, and it's not always clear to me where I fit.

I guess my thinking right now is that everything we do is by grace. I have this existence because other forces decided to put together the DNA molecule, and decided to configure it to produce what we know as human beings. I drive on streets other people built, I breathe air other people didn't pollute, I have knowledge that other people acquired.

Even in a Pelagian view, everything ultimately comes from grace. But the point of grace is to enable us to live better and more unique lives. That's why the Calvinist undermining of action bothers me. It's like saying "Thanks for paying for my college education, Mom and Dad! Now I'm going to come live in your basement forever!"

The point of them assisting you was so that you would be free to live a more independent and productive life.

I think salvation isn't necessarily what happens to us after death, but the transformation that comes from no longer being afraid. So grace brings us to the point where we can stop being afraid, and then our freedom enables us to participate in the ongoing life and work of creation.

Micah, this explanation of grace is really compelling for me and helps to clarify things. We are all the beneficiaries of countless unmerited gifts. I agree that salvation is an ongoing participatory process, not something that should be thought of as finished.

Off topic, it seems like some of the theological problems in the video might partly be exacerbated by the format. The rhyming format caused him to have to compress things in ways that causes a certain degree of ambiguity. For example, when he says "It is finished," is he referring to religion, or the work of salvation, or something else entirely? If religion, then the phrase becomes an imperative instead of a fait accompli. If salvation, then I disagree. I still see many cases on earth where God's will does not seem to me to be done, "as in heaven." To the extent that we have not yet achieved this (and perhaps in other ways also), salvation is unfinished. But because the format is so terse, it is impossible to perfectly understand his meaning. And like Becca alludes to, this is undoubtedly part of the function of art.

The video definitely is limited by compression, and I would say compression is what makes art worthwhile. Music is a way of compressing and conveying intense emotions, so that other people can experience them across the low-bandwidth of human communication. Similarly, this video is an attempt to convey a lot of thoughts in a very small time frame, with mixed results.

As far as what Jesus meant, I suspect he was thinking of his own efforts and mission. They were completed, and he kind of let himself go, knowing he could rest. I kind of wonder if he might have also been thinking of God finishing creation, and resting on the seventh day. I would tend to avoid thinking of too many grandiose things here though: this was a real guy dying in a really painful way. There's a limit to how abstract you want to get in that situation.

Although, as evidenced by the video, events like these lend themselves to all kinds of thoughts and literary uses.

What a great summation of the responses that seem to be coming to the surface from this video. Theology Hipsters might be a brilliant term that sums up the root of many reactions of post-modern Christians; we don't want to be boxed in by religion...yet we don't want to be boxed in by someone else's declaration of the uselessness of religion-especially if they get it wrong.

I felt about this video the way I do about most slam or spoken word poetry: a little uncomfortable with some of the statements, slightly embarrassed to like it, and in recognizing that it's someone's piece of art, I felt exposed. Art is risky, and when you mix theology or religion with it, it becomes iconic, blasphemous, or awkward. This piece might have accomplished all three.

There are definitely Calvinistic undertones to his statements about sin and grace, and it seems like the author is trying to reconcile his view of Jesus and grace with his experience with religion and sin.

His closing statement "When he said 'It is finished', I believe he meant it." is shocking because it proposes the theological argument of acceptance. Accepting what Jesus said as truth and not as a figurative statement on the eternal battle between good and evil. But simply as a comment on how every attempt religion has made to close the gap between God and humanity is done, finished, because the struggle is no longer needed. Although, if that were truly his point and his beliefs I doubt he would have spent time on how one approaches the cross.

When it comes down to it, though, this is a piece of artistic work that tries to do what art does best: heal. It seems that it's his attempt at healing the rift he sees between religion on the message and life Jesus lived; and no matter what, artistic expression is always valid.

I was surprised that the poet's realization about Jesus' mission was right in line with Christian propagation, though he believes he does not buy into religion. When a concept of Christianity is mentioned, I want to know how it is backed up by the remembered teachings of Jesus (both official and unofficial, since the creation of the Bible has political ties, and therefore, human intention). Otherwise, it could be just commentary. The commentary can be a good reference, but the essence of Jesus' teaching is my focus in learning from the way of a saint. Was Jesus remembered to have mentioned "saving grace”? I'm not too sure.

My argument regarding saving grace has been, if Jesus came only to save humanity from all past and future sin in dying, then why waste time teaching humanity about cause and effect, becoming like a child (purifying and diminishing ego), and the importance of diminishing self-centeredness (perhaps the essence of his teaching on love and neighborliness).

Reviewing not just the accepted English translations, but delving further back towards the source, and learning about the known history at the time of Jesus life, one may come to a different conclusion regarding the meaning of Jesus' sacrifice than "saving grace".

At the time Jesus came to be born, people were profiting from the sale and killing of animals in order to be “saved from sin”. In fact, the temple priests would encourage the people to bring the best of their flocks, and “in order not to waste”, would partake of the flesh of these animals.

So, if people wanted to believe that sin/karma could be easily wiped out through the sacrifice of another, Jesus was willing to be that sacrifice, just to stop all that killing, even if it didn’t resolve the deeper issue: that people want an easy out, they don’t want to be subject to the harvest of the seeds that they sow.

It was a step in the right direction, but the full enlightenment/uplifting of all humanity? Not so sure. This is why I agree with Micah on "it is finished". He completed his mission to the best of his ability, and it did cause a shift in humanity's perception of the "wages of sin". But if all our past and future sin was wiped out in Jesus’ sacrifice, we would not be confused about the meaning of life nor about what is proper to do according to the situation, and we also would not be confused or fearful of death, even when the moment is upon us.

Sin (karma) could be seen as that which has been done out of alignment with what is peaceful and good, whether we call that our conscience, our God within, our Original Nature or any of its many other names in different cultures and religions. It is the dust which covers our Original Nature.

The reason we aren’t sure what is good to do, what will benefit all sentient life at all times, and if this is a worthwhile direction for life, is because our Original Nature is covered, which means that we still have sin (karma). This is why Jesus mentioned one has to become like a Child again in order to enter Heaven-- one must purify and diminish the ego that covers the Original Nature, the Child of our Original Parent, in order to be at peace.

While it may seem good to think we don't have to worry about sin anymore because we have been saved through the actions of another, Jesus' teachings seem to indicate otherwise: "Calling me, Lord, lord, will not get you into Heaven--only doing the will of God; i.e. believing in the saving grace of my sacrifice will not help you help you realize peace, only aligning oneself with one's conscience." Jesus didn't want us to think he was so great, but that we were, that we all have the potential to be as pure and wise and selfless as he was.

The true message of Jesus sacrifice to me is this: to kill an animal to save oneself is the same as to kill a saint--neither will offset karma. The essence of Jesus' teaching is to purify oneself, or reveal that original, bright, benevolent (loving) and upright nature. It is up to each of us. We have to "carry our own cross daily".

"I was surprised that the poet's realization about Jesus' mission was right in line with Christian propagation, though he believes he does not buy into religion."

This was my reaction as well, Jennifer.

This is part of the reason why I say he does not go far enough.

It is appreciated that you share these kinds of things as topics for review and discussion. I have often spent several hours reflecting on them, but my comments are most often too long, so I don't always share them. Really looking forward to our Conversations resuming soon!

Do you think if he had gone a bit further that the reaction would have been less drastic? Seems like if he had taken it to the logical conclusion that it would be dismissed by most of Christianity, and thus not outraged so many.

Yeah, and actually I just mean I would go farther, not that he should have done something different.

Becca and Micah, what would the logical conclusion have been for each of you? I don't have one, so am trying to steal someone else's. :-)

Amanda, my conclusion is this one:
http://micahredding.com/blog/2011/10/02/christianity-against-religion
- summed up in points #9 and #10.

So I take parts of his line of thought all the way through the rejection of organized religion. What I keep are some core perspectives (or beliefs, I guess).

It's hard to share one's understanding with others when one will likely make both Christians and atheists angry. Thanks for the vote of support, even if you don't agree with the rest of it! : ) I'd love to hear more about your perspective on it.

Jennifer, thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts. You are unlikely to make me angry. :)

Here is something I wanted to run by you. In my study of the collision between Eastern religion and Christianity (see below for some examples), Jesus usually seems to be interpreted as an individual who can help break the karmic wheel, not one who continues it, or teaches it. This resonates with me, though it seems kind of opposite to your suggestion.

I believe it was a book on the Jesus Sutras where I first saw this. Apparently, these ancient documents had interpreted Jesus as coming in to break the cycle of rebirth and karmic debt, bringing about immediate liberation and nirvana (or equivalent).

How do you feel about this?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Sutras
http://www.christianityinchina.org/Common/Admin/showNews_auto.jsp?Nid=30...
http://www.seattlebetsuin.com/Is_Shin_Buddhism_the_same_as_Christianity.htm

Amanda,

I'd love to your thoughts on this in more depth, when you have a moment.

Jennifer

Jennifer,

To be honest, I really haven't given it a lot of thought, but you have a good point that we should always look back at what the texts say, as opposed to what we want them to say ... or what everyone around us says they say.

This is what bothers me about the video. I love it as a form of art and expression, but it really just repeats what I've heard all my life ... "Christianity is a relationship, not a religion." (Said in a high, whiny, mimicky voice on days when I'm in fine form.) :-)

If millions of evangelicals, or even theology hipsters, feel that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion, that sounds like a religion to me.

By the way, thanks to you and everyone for all the great comment (and to Micah for bringing this up). I am buried under work and school, so don't always have time to respond, but have read each comment.

Micah, thank you for your question. It has inspired a day of research and review, as my schedule currently allows. I need more time to dig into the references you have shared. But would you clarify how these references relate to the question of Jesus’ teaching in relation to cause & effect or karma, from your understanding?

I don't disagree that Jesus can break and did break the karmic wheel--Jesus' karmic wheel. From one perspective, one person breaking the karmic wheel is everyone breaking the karmic wheel. On the other side, as long as there is one who has not broke the karmic wheel, no one is fully enlightened. This is because all sentient life is connected by something common to all. We must each of us purify what we have done to pollute or cover that common connection. But one person showing it can be done means every person can do it.

Jesus did show us the Way. As did all the Enlightened Saints. They uplifted themselves by purifying their hearts, and devoting themselves to others. I think the error in interpreting Jesus' teachings comes from taking Jesus' use of "I" and "Me" too literally, forgetting Jesus mentioned several times the words spoken were not Jesus' words. Well, if not Jesus' words, then whose? This was a hint Jesus gave to help us realize the levels of nature within a human being.

Jesus was not speaking from human nature, the person Jesus, but from True Nature, that which is common, the Father [Parent/Origin] which resides in the kingdom of heaven [eternal] within. Taking this understand further, it follows that such teachings as "I am the Way..." and "Believe in Me" might broaden beyond popular interpretation. What if that "Me" is not referring to Jesus, but to our origin? How do we follow the will of our origin, when we aren't really sure what that is, much less where is "within"?

Actually, whatever ultimate reality is, belief can only make it so in regards to this world. In regards to true reality, it lies beyond mind, and belief only exists in the realm of mind.
Well, at least, that's what my understanding is limited to at this moment. But it could change--understanding is also limited to the mind, and my mind is limited!

Respectfully,

Jennifer

Jennifer, thanks for the comments. I was not actually referring to anything specific in those links - I was using those links to indicate some of the ways in which Christianity and Buddhism and Taoism have intermingled, and interpreted each other. Years ago I read a book about the Jesus Sutras, and they apparently explained Jesus as the one who helped people escape from the karmic wheel, a "shortcut" as it were.

Micah,

I think I understand, but I'm not sure the "Jesus Sutras" are the best way to find how the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha and Lao Zi intersect. Your references talk about the religious influence of Christianity in the East. But if we want to focus on how the teachings intersect, we need to look at them, not in accepted religious context, but of their own merit, understanding they are what is remembered of teaching, and may not be the actual words. Thus, to focus on the essence. And then we actually need to apply them, to see if they help us realize something or not.

Actually, Martin's book on the "Jesus Sutras" was on my reading list at one time, but I think I removed them once I found out they didn't have as much to do with Jesus' teachings as with the propagation of Christianity to the East. However, I did look into them a bit yesterday, and in doing so learned some new terms, such as Sinicization, which is the "making Chinese" of something (in doing so, taking the chance the original meaning is changed or muddied). Jesus breaking the karmic wheel for those who believe in the religion of Christianity is the Sinicization of Jesus wiping out sin for believers, but my point is maybe Jesus' perspective has been misunderstood.

However, I found some bits of the text http://japanese-religions.jp/publications/assets/JR31_2_a_Deeg.pdf, to be meaningful and applicable, but that is because my perspective may not be a scholar's perspective. I review whether a text contains references how to cultivate the heart and remove attachments that is in alignment with a long-lasting positive result for humanity, a scholar is concerned with a text's authenticity in a given context.

Your second reference contains some interesting information regarding the timing of the propagation of Christianity in China, but it is from a Christian website and shows the author's bias. Yet, I found the discussion of the symbolism intriguing.

The third reference was focused on comparing religions and religious concepts of the teachings. If we really are interested in how the teachings intermingle, in order to realize a common source or root, then we need to set aside the religious belief temporarily. Then our mind is more free to see them in a new light--one which any human being can apply if they so choose, not just believers.

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