When 22-year-old Jefferson Bethke created “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” the now-viral video about Jesus and religion, he had no idea the response would be so fervent. As of today, the short clip has been viewed 15.8 million times on YouTube and has gained wide-spread media attention. Christians and non-believers, alike, are buzzing about it, while showering the young artist with both praise and criticism.
On Friday, Bethke spoke with the Blaze’s Editor-in-Chief Scott Baker on GBTV’s “For the Record,” addressing the controversy, his intentions and his strong faith perspective.
Scroll down to see the GBTV interview with Bethke
Here are a few of the lines from the original video that caused angst among some who felt that the artist’s insinuations about religion were too harsh and unfair:
What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion? [...]
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? [...]
Not realizing religion’s 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
Supporters claim that his lyrics were likely intended to encourage viewers to focus faith upon Jesus rather than traditions, rituals and “works.” But lines like those presented above (others, including “Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums” and “So know I hate religion, in fact I literally resent it” only added fuel to the fire) offended those who consider religious confines important to their worship experience.
For a refresher, here’s the original video:
In addressing these comments, particularly those controversial remarks at the beginning of the clip, Baker asked, ”Did you want this to be…a punch of the face to traditional religion?”
“No, not necessarily,” Bethke responded. “My hope in that beginning was trying to draw in the people who I engage with on a daily basis in my Seattle college context. And those are just some of the lines and some of the paradigms I see.”
Bethke went on to explain that he created the video so that he could share his struggles, while highlighting Jesus’ attributes. His goal, he said, was to take on the common characteristics of religion he sees in his local area.
In addressing the controversy over his words, he was candid, saying that he believes that much of the divide over his take on religion centers upon semantics.
“In my context, I’m in Seattle — religion, in shorthand, is defined as legalism, self-righteousness, self-justification,” he explained. “Once I put the video out, I realized a lot of people in the nation don’t define it as that.”
He went on to further clarify his stance, saying, “Religion as the institution and as the church — as Jesus’ bride — that is God’s plan A and there is no plan B. So I don’t want to abolish that. I don’t want to turn from that. And that’s where God is manifest.”
Watch a portion of the GBTV interview, below:
GBTV subscribers can see the full 20-minute interview with Bethke by clicking here (non-subscribers can also get a 14-day free trial!).
In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Jonathan D. Fitzgerald delved into reaction to the video:
Kevin DeYoung, a blogger at “The Gospel Coalition,” a popular Reformed Christian site, wrote that “amidst a lot of true things in this poem there is a lot that is unhelpful and misleading.”
Mr. Bethke, he notes, “perfectly captures the mood, and in my mind the confusion, of a lot of earnest, young Christians” who interpret the word religion to mean “self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy.” The problem, Mr. DeYoung notes, is this is not what religion is, and Jesus didn’t hate religion. Jesus was an observant Jew, Mr. DeYoung points out. Jesus clearly said he didn’t come to abolish the law or ignore the prophecies but to fulfill them. In fact he founded the church and instituted the sacrament of communion.
Fitzgerald went on to state his own qualms with Bethke’s video. He addresses what he sees as mischaracterizations, particularly when it comes to charity, violence and religion with no restrictions. In addition to making a case for religions and related generosity, he mentioned the fact that most prominent mass murders in the 20th century occurred for nonreligious reasons and he noted the problems that can arise when pastoral rhetoric goes unchecked.
Fitzgerald concludes, “…advocating for a kind of Christianity that is free of the ‘bondage’ of religion opens the door to dangerous theological anarchy that is all too common among young evangelicals and absolutely antithetical to biblical Christianity.”
On Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog for women, Laura Ortberg Turner also addressed these issues. While she seems to understand why some believers find frustration in the video, she offers a more moderate perspective on Bethke and his take on religion:
I’m guessing Bethke doesn’t actually hate religion. In fact, I would bet my last dollar that he loves it. As we are told in James, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” In fact, it sounds strikingly similar to where Bethke claims ‘religion’ falls short: “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?” [...]
In all of this, Bethke has remained a picture of grace and humility. He has responded, with class to those of us who have been quick to criticize and condemn. What Bethke was really protesting, it would seem, is faith without works. Empty rhetoric and selfish thinking. Building testaments to our own greatness and abandoning the widow and the orphan. What we need now is not less religion, indeed, but more than ever.
In terms of his purported “grace and humility,” Turner also noted Bethke’s response to DeYoung’s critiques. The artist responded to the blogger via e-mail and was entirely honest and open about how he’s processing the response to his video. In addition to being humble in addressing criticisms, Bethke even said that, if he could do it again, he would further elaborate on some of the more sensitive points he addressed. Bethke wrote:
I just wanted to say I really appreciate your article man. It hit me hard. I’ll even be honest and say I agree 100%. God has been working with me in the last 6 months on loving Jesus AND loving his church. For the first few years of walking with Jesus (started in ’08) I had a warped/poor paradigm of the church and it didn’t build up, unify, or glorify His wife (the Bride). If I can be brutally honest I didn’t think this video would get much over a couple thousand views maybe, and because of that, my points/theology wasn’t as air-tight as I would’ve liked. If I redid the video tomorrow, I’d keep the overall message, but would articulate, elaborate, and expand on the parts where my words and delivery were chosen poorly… My prayer is my generation would represent Christ faithfully and not swing to the other spectrum….thankful for your words and more importantly thankful for your tone and fatherly like grace on me as my elder. Humbled. Blessed. Thankful for painful growth. Blessings.
Atheists, too, got in on the criticism. A well-known non-believer who calls himself “The Amazing Atheist” posted a long-winded response, explaining why he hates both Jesus and religion. You can watch it, below (caution: strong language):
Bethke’s video, it seems, has taken Tim Tebow’s place as the most talked about contemporary faith controversy. Of course, considering the power and fury of viral news and content, this could quickly change. And on the Tebow front, well — there’s always next season (i.e. the famed football and his signature “Tebowing” will be back). For now, it’s all Bethke, all the time.