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Jesus vs. religion?

January 19, 2012

Jefferson Bethke

The night Jefferson Bethke, 22, posted his “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” video on YouTube, he made a bet with his mates about how many views the video would get by morning.

The highest bet was 6,000.

By the time Bethke woke up the next day, the video had more than 100,000 views. Eight days after the video was posted, it had been watched more than 14 million times. The number continues to skyrocket.

The video, Bethke said, was an attempt “to write a poem against legalism, self righteousness, self-justification and hypocrisy”. It contains catchy lines like: “The problem with religion is it never gets to the core / It’s just behaviour modification, like a long list of chores” and “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”.

The video has been discussed by both religious scholars and armchair theologians. Some point out that pitching Jesus against all religion is too sweeping: Jesus, after all, was a religious Jew. Bethke himself says “You have to get back to my definition of religion. Jesus was coming to abolish self righteousness, justification and hypocrisy.”

In fact, the New Testament’s definition of Jesus’ kind of religion is pretty punchy: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:27, NLT).

Defending and helping the defenceless, the marginalised? Refusing to swallow the lies of the surrounding culture? That’s the kind of religion Jesus taught and modelled.

Revolutionary religion like that means selling possessions, living simply, sharing with those in need. It means opening your heart and life to others. It means refusing the lie that says “Live for number one”.  It means going beyond the pain barrier, learning to love, committing yourself to working for justice and sticking at it over the long haul.

For me, it meant giving up my own home and sharing it with others, and not having a penny to my name because I share my cash with others, too.

For Jesus, it meant dying for what was right. He calls us to follow Him.

I believe there may be a sequel waiting to be made: “I Love Jesus And I Love The Religion He Loves” – to lay down my life for the marginalized and see through the lies of the mainstream.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2012 11:58 pm

    the problem I have with the video is that in my experience, the people who live the way you talk about are usually sustained by some communal habit of worship.
    That is, pitting ‘Jesus’ against ‘religion’ is often (in my limited experience), simply an excuse for a privatised faith that goes along with the market’s vision of being human.

  2. January 20, 2012 9:52 am

    Yes. If abandoning religion means abandoning community then I’m sticking with religion! In fairness, I don’t think this is what Jefferson Bethke was saying – he claims love for the church and so on – but it can still be the message people take away with them. Individualism is the ‘religion’ of the secular west; prophetic voices must call us away from that. (Which brings me back to the point that the answer to wrong religion is not no religion, but Jesus religion!)

    • February 18, 2012 5:59 pm

      James – I am assuming that you are the author of the blog post. Did you actually give up your possessions and start living with others? I ask this because I am in the process of making just such a change in my life and wondered how things turned out for you.

      • February 18, 2012 6:00 pm

        Please reply to this message. I noticed that I forgot to enable the automatic notification emails if there are any followup comments.

  3. February 27, 2012 4:52 pm

    Hi pkphilip,
    Yes, I do live in a residential Christian community and we share all our money and most of our possessions. For more on this see my previous Breathe post
    If you want to know any more, you can email me at

  4. April 19, 2012 11:00 pm

    Yes, interesting thoughts on this video. You may enjoy this reply from a Catholic priest.


  1. The Difference Between Religion and Relationship « Reviewed Thought
  2. Why I love Jesus! « The Good News
  3. Revisiting Jefferson Bethke And Our Concept of “Religion” « catholicboyrichard

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