Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus
What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?
What if I told you getting you to vote republican really wasn’t his mission?
What if I told you religious right doesn’t automatically mean Christian?
And just because you call some people blind, doesn’t automatically give you vision.
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?
Tell single moms God doesn’t love them, if they’ve ever had a divorce?
Yet God in the Old Testament actually calls the religious people whores.
A little sharp, I know. When I first wrote those lines, I didn’t think so, but when almost seven million people heard me say those words on YouTube in less than forty-eight hours, I realized they resonated with more than just a few people.
My best friend makes professional videos, and we thought it would be fun to shoot a spoken-word poem I had written. To our surprise it went viral overnight. At first I was excited. I was now in the blessed company of “David After the Dentist” and “Charlie Bit My Finger.” Then there was panic.
The number of e-mails, messages, and requests became almost unbearable. For about a solid week, everywhere I looked, I was there: Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Yahoo News, Washington Post, New York Times, CBS Morning Show, Glenn Beck, and others either interviewed me or had a significant piece highlighting the video. One of the YouTube staff even mentioned that something this serious or this explicit about Jesus hardly ever goes viral. In fact #jesushatesreligion was even trending on Twitter for a while. Immediately e-mails started to come in:
Hello, Jeff. My name is Laura. I just wanted to say thank you sooo much for your videos. I have struggled with drugs, sex, and suicide. I always thought that I wasn’t good enough and didn’t belong anywhere ever since I was raped when I was seven. I knew God growing up, but I thought he was just some mythical figure everyone worshiped. One day I was fed up with all of it and decided that was all I could take—I was going to kill myself after school. All day I went through my head saying, It’s finally going to be done, I don’t have to worry. On my way home I got on Facebook one last time and my friend had posted your video “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.” I figured I might as well watch it because I’m going to end it all anyway. I immediately started crying because the video made me realize that it’s okay that I’m not perfect. There is a place where I belong. Your video gave me the courage to move on and say that I can make it through life. You are my biggest role model . . . besides God. lol When I get so low that I can’t think straight, I just watch your videos over and over. They bring me peace in my mind that God still loves me even if I’ve screwed up.
As I moved away to college, I also moved away from the church, attempting to find my own path. When I stumbled upon your video, I was lost after being disowned by my family for moving away from the Catholic faith. Watching it opened my eyes to Jesus again and made me realize that Jesus isn’t what I grew up with every day in the church but rather loving and pouring with grace. I started going to the Christian services located on my campus and got back on the right track in life, learning that no matter what anyone else would say about my past, present, or future sins that God will still love me and Jesus is truly everything.
E-mails like these flooded in by the hundreds. What had I said in my video that struck such a chord? Why were these people sharing these things with me? To be honest, I was overwhelmed at first. I’m not a counselor. I’m not a pastor. I’m a messed-up twenty-three-year-old who just graduated from college. I was being messaged, e-mailed, and tweeted by thousands of people who were sharing their raw testimonies with me, a complete stranger. Many even stated that it was the first time they had shared their secrets with anyone. I was wondering, What did I say? What was it about the poem that was so different? Isn’t this just the good news of Jesus that’s been preached for the last two thousand years?
I realized the e-mails were showing just how right the original poem that sparked it all in the first place was. Many people had been sold religion with a nice Jesus sticker slapped on it. Many people had been burned by so-called Christians. Many people had been abused, hurt, mistreated, and maligned all in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But what their souls were craving was the true Jesus. The one who heals. The one who redeems. The one who gives life.
Let me be straight with you: I’m not really qualified to write this book. I don’t have a Bible or seminary degree. I’m not a pastor or a counselor. I don’t know biblical languages and don’t know how to do exegesis—whatever that even is. Again, I’m just a messed up twenty-three-year-old guy. But I know that God has quite the sense of humor.
We’ve lost the real Jesus—or at least exchanged him for a newer, safer, sanitized, ineffectual one. We’ve created a Christian subculture that comes with its own set of customs, rules, rituals, paradigms, and products that are nowhere near the rugged, revolutionary faith of biblical Christianity. In our subculture Jesus would have never been crucified—he’s too nice.
We claim Jesus is our homeboy, but sometimes we look more like the people Jesus railed against. The same scathing indictments Jesus brought against the religious leaders of his day—the scribes and Pharisees—he could bring down on many of America’s Christian leaders. No wonder the world hates us. Most of the time we’re persecuted not because we love Jesus, but because we’re prideful, arrogant jerks who don’t love the real Jesus. We’re often judgmental, hypocritical, and legalistic while claiming to follow a Jesus who is forgiving, authentic, and loving.
Sometimes people will hate us because we preach the same gospel Jesus preached, and sometimes people will hate us because we’re jerks. Let’s not do the second one and blame it on the first. If we honestly reflected on Scripture and the state of American Christianity today, we’d be hard pressed to say we haven’t exchanged the real Jesus for one of our own invention.
God didn’t create us to work at the food bank once a year and feel good about ourselves. He didn’t create us to say looking at porn only once a month is a victory. He didn’t create us to walk by a homeless guy begging for money and think, He’ll probably just buy some beer. God didn’t create us to come to him only when we need him—like he’s our eternal dentist or something.
The Jesus of the Bible is a radical man with a radical message, changing people’s lives in a radical way. In the Scriptures, Jesus isn’t safe. No one knew what to do with him. The liberals called him too conservative, and the conservatives called him too liberal. I mean, think about it: His first miracle was turning water into wine. He made a whip of leather and went UFC on people who’d pimped out his father’s temple. He completely disregarded any social, gender, or racial boundary his society imposed. He called himself the Son of God. He called himself the judge over everyone, determining who goes to heaven and hell. He said things like, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” That’s dangerous—and weird.
I don’t care what church you grew up in, that sounds less like the Jesus we think we know and more like Hannibal Lector. Jesus also forgives sins, which is dangerous because only God can forgive sins, yet the religious people claimed Jesus was just a man.
But we don’t like a dangerous Jesus because a dangerous Jesus isn’t a profitable Jesus. So, we’ve made a safe Jesus:
We don’t celebrate the gift of Jesus on Christmas.
We celebrate the gifts we get.
We don’t celebrate his triumphant resurrection and victory over Satan, sin, and death on Easter. We talk about the brunch.
We don’t call Jesus God. We call him good.
We don’t tell people they’re sinners in need of a savior, because they might stop coming—and giving—to church.
In many ways, Christianity has become all about those green pieces of paper with dead presidents on them. In 2010 Americans spent a little over $135 billion on Christmas and another $13 billion on Easter.6 Who would have thought a little baby born in a filthy animal barn some two thousand years ago would be such a great excuse to feed our material addictions?
We have branded Jesus beyond recognition. Church has become a business. Jesus is our marketing scheme. We create bookstores, T-shirts, bracelets, bumper stickers, and board games all in the name of Jesus. In 2007 some woman even made national news for selling a pancake with Jesus’ face on it on eBay.
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s a degree to which that stuff is okay. I mean, chances are you bought the book you’re reading right now. I know I buy my fair share of Christian books—in fact, my wife says I buy too many, and I’m going to make us broke. But questions continue coming back to me: Are we really getting it? Have we made that stuff more important than Jesus? How come American Christianity is so different from the Bible’s vibrant, uncontrollable, and unpredictable Christianity?
The reason we aren’t fulfilled or satisfied by our version of Christianity is because it isn’t Christianity.
We have religion, but we don’t have Jesus.
We have a good role model, but we don’t have God.
We have theological debates, but we don’t have the living Word.
We have good works, but we don’t have the source of good works.
We have love, but not the God who is love.
We have completely neutered grace (my good works save me, but we still call it grace), made God a math equation (God will like me if I’m good), and turned Jesus into Mr. Rogers. “Howdy, neighbor.” But Jesus isn’t rocking a cardigan, and he doesn’t talk softly through his nose. He’s a roaring lion.
In author C. S. Lewis’s classic book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the kids ask if the lion Aslan—who represents God—is safe. “‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’”
That’s what the real Jesus is like. He isn’t safe. His words, his life, and his cross completely destroy the notion of him being safe. His grace is dangerous, ferocious, violent, and uncontrollable. It can’t be tamed. Does it bother anyone else that seemingly the first, and sometimes only, prayer people pray when they go on mission trips is that they’d stay “safe”?
It’s important that we discover the real Jesus by seeing what the Bible says about him. I think you might be as surprised as I was.