Over the last week I have seen the same video pop up on my Facebook feed over and over again. You can find it here: Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus
If you take the time to watch some of his other videos a picture emerges of a man deeply committed to Christ who wants to bring others into that relationship. Literally millions of people are being exposed to gospel truths through his spoken-word. He correctly identifies hypocrisy as a huge problem within Christianity. In this I highly commend him, and I don't want what I have to say next to color that positive assessment.
I have a problem with "I hate religion" language. There was a time when I used to state that I hated religion passionately. I grew up in a Christianity where "It's not a religion, it's a relationship" was the defining mantra.
The problem, though, that I realized I had was that I didn't really understand what I meant by religion, and I don't really know what bball1989, the man who made the video, means either. As I began to think about that question I realized that my own thinking was filled with inconsistencies, and those inconsistencies were actually destroying the relationship aspect as well.
There are some of things that I think we are getting at when we say "I hate religion."
1. We hate judgmental thinking.
2. We hate self-righteousness, meaning we hate it when people think they are better than others.
3. We hate when God is "put in a box" by doctrines or dogmas.
4. We hate legalism, which means we hate hearing that our actions may affect our standing with God.
The list could go on... but I think there is now ground for some important thoughts.
First of all, it continues to frustrate me that those who wish to be rewarded by God, and wish to see others rewarded by God, are uncomfortable with language of judgment. We forget that judgment always moves in two ways. Judges acquit and condemn, merit and demerit. No one gets a gold medal without first being judged.
You can’t be someone’s best-friend unless there is such a thing as not-friends. If you want God to say "Well done, my friend!" you want God to judge you. If God doesn't judge us then there is no reward or friendship for anyone. Relationship is not possible without judgment.
"I hate religion" is a statement of judgment.
"Religious people are whores," a statement from the video, is a statement of judgment about religious people and whores.
The point is that judgment is necessary, good, and... inevitable. The problem is not judging but judging poorly.
Second, there is good reason to avoid comparing ourselves to others. In our cultural setting is it very impolite, and probably unwise, to say "I am a better person than you." But if you are a Christian ask yourself this:
Are you a better person because you have a relationship with God?
Is it better to be a Christian than a non-Christian?
If the answer to either question is no, then why bother with the relationship at all? If knowing God makes no difference in your life then why share, why post videos about it, why try to persuade anyone to join you?
The fact is that having a relationship with God ought to make you a better person than you would be without Him, and if that is true than part of our testimony is that we are better, more righteous, more relationally connected to God, more loving, joyful, caring, etc., etc., than those who don't have that relationship.
To say that we need God implies that others who don't have Him are lacking something fundamental. In other words, those who have relationship with God are better off than those who don't.
Third, doctrine and dogma are very convenient whipping boys in the current discussion. We have all met someone who seemed to be more concerned with having all their doctrinal points in a row than living them out. Granted. But let me ask:
Have you ever known a person who didn't "get" you?
Worse, have you ever known someone who believed false things about you and told them to others?
What kind of relationship did you have with that person? Is relationship even possible when one person doesn't know the other, or believes lies about them? Of course not! And that's the rub for the "relationship not religion (doctrine, dogma, etc...)" mantra: You can't have a relationship without knowledge. True knowledge of another is foundational to a real, lasting relationship.
In many ways our deepest relationships are defined by depth and sincerity of knowledge.
Our greatest friends know us and we know them. No one can claim to be in a relationship with God who does not know Him truly, and this is why doctrine and dogma are so critically important.
Fourth, in Protestant circles especially we are very uncomfortable to talk about how what we do effects our standing before God, but if we are to take the Bible seriously we have to accept the fact that they do. I am not talking about “losing salvation,” but, again, relationship.
Imagine you have a “friend” who knows that certain things offend and hurt you. On top of that, the things they do hurt the people you love. Suppose this person seduced your son, or sold drugs to your friends, or told lies about you in public. You have assured this person that you love them and forgive them when they make mistakes and their reaction is apathetic: “Relationship is not about rules” they might say. What kind of relationship would you have with such a “friend?” Would their actions affect your relationship? Of course they would.
It greatly troubles me that I hear so many people saying something like, “It’s not about ‘behavior modification, or a long list of chores’ but about having a relationship with God.” My response is this: If you pursue that line of reasoning you will be a terrible friend.
On top of that, and at rock-bottom, is the fact that our fundamental, defining relationships with God are that of Lordship and Fatherhood. I didn’t pass from death to life, darkness to light, by simply declaring that “Jesus is my homeboy.” Our relationship with God will never be one between equals; we would be the wiser for remembering that.
So after working through these thoughts I hope we realize that the kinds of things we mean when we say “I hate religion” are actually things that are absolutely necessary for relationship. We can’t have relationship with God without the four things discussed above. God can’t be my friend without judgment. I am a better person because I know God. I need to believe true things about God to really know him and be His friend. My actions affect my relationship with God.
If these things are “religion” then I need religion and I am religious and I embrace religion.
I alluded at the beginning to the problem with hypocrisy. I will write a separate blog topic on how that is to be dealt with.