Friday, January 13, 2012

The Problem with Saying "I Hate Religion"

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.


  1. Like your view on this video - I both agree and disagree with your assessment.

    My agreement is with everything you said pretty much. Your points are valid. You word them and defend them well. (other than you don't seem to take into account that in the relationship aspect God is perfect - so equating it to human relationships falls short there)

    However, I think the theme of "I hate religion" (at least for me) is more of the necessary give and take people assume from God.

    Example: my brother just got married. His bride got sick at the wedding and had to miss a lot of the festivities. Then he rolled his ankle badly right before they left for their honeymoon. I must have heard him a dozen times say "I think God must be mad at us."

    For real? Just because you had a couple minor misfortunes God must be angry at you? That is religion. That is not a Biblical mindset, and this is a guy who has been raised in Church, Christian School, Bible College with a Bible Major, worked at a church, etc.

    Now this is just one of literally scores of times I hear issues such as this constantly. So on top of the issues you stated here - this is the biggie for me. People truly believe their relationship hinges on these issues.

    This is not only religion, this is totally self-serving and scary.

    1. Hey Tony, thanks for commenting!
      I am still not sure what you mean by religion except that includes "If bad things happen to you then its because God is angry." That might be part of a bad religion, or bad theology, but how does equate to religion in general.

      I would try to change your brother's conception of God's providence, not convince him to abandon "religion"

    2. what I mean, and I have to assume most others who argue this point, is what the word "religion" has come to mean in today's society.

      I think what our society sees as christian religion is the "Sunday Christian" mentality tied in with works-based morality.

      Maybe we should be fighting to win these terms back - but that is another post probably

  2. It's always so fascinating to me how this topic is like a pendulum. One generation is "religious" and the next can't stand it. It will likely go the other way again in the future.. I think you pose great points. The challenge is going to be redefining this word for this generation. It won't be an easy task. And thank you for combating the phrase, "Jesus is my homeboy." Ive always disliked that!! Good work Raymond. -Andrea

    1. Thanks Andrea! It's also interesting how the term "religious" does not seem to have as much baggage here in Scotland as it does in the States.

  3. You cannot equate a relationship with God the same way we function in relationships on earth- its an entirely different dimension! I understand your analogies about rules in a relationship but they don't pertain to the relationship with God because the relationship with God in itself is so miraculous. The essence of the divine relationship IS that is has nothing to do with us- nothing- there's nothing that seperates us from the love of GOD- that's the point. The whole relationship is God reaching to man ... You know religion is us reaching to God but Jesus represents God reaching to man. There are no demands/rules on our part because it's just about accepting what He's done for us. That's the entire difference between religion and the divine relationship. I don't think that the word "relationship" captures what Salvation is at all because it really has nothing to do with us. It's not a reciprocal action with God- all we have to do is accept the knowledge of what He's done.

    I completely agree with the statement "I hate religion" being judgmental. That's just dumb lol

    ‎... And we can't be "more righteous" or "better" or "more loving." We either have salvation or do not. We are all equal in God's eyes whether we have accepted Him or not so to think of ourselves as better people once receiving salvation doesn't make sense. We can feel better about ourselves coz now we're saved (!) but we aren't better than anyone else.

    1. Hey Rach, sorry for not responding sooner!

      First of all, I agree with what I understand to be the spirit behind what you are saying.

      On the other hand, I definitely think that "relationship" is the correct way of speaking about how we interact with God. He talks about us in relational terms; Christians are called slaves, sons, friends, etc. These are all relationships. Also, I also think that because of that we have something to do with the relationship. I can think of several ways: 1. We are God's image bearers and so something about our very nature makes it possible to know and relate to God. 2. Our saving relationship with God is established by faith. You put this as "accepting what God has done." It might be uncomfortable to call this a "reciprocal" relationship, but you acknowledge that there is something on our side of the equation. 3. Our actions can grieve or please God. This has nothing to do with a separation from God's love. Hebrews tells us that God will discipline those who loves. God is not content to leave us as we are! He responds to our weaknesses and shortcomings by helping us grow and mature.

      Finally, I understand your discomfort with language of "being better than others" and I share that discomfort. Its not a pleasant way to think about it. But, I think the Bible is pretty clear that we ought to grow and mature and become stronger, etc. as we move forward in life. Writers of the New Testament routinely rebuke their readers for not being better than they currently are. Salvation isn't something that takes place outside of us. Salvation is a change in our nature, our very being. Paul calls us New Creations! Which is better the old creation or the new?

      Once again, I largely agree with the sentiment you are communicating and I love the spirit in which it is given.

  4. Ray, well said. I love your critique of the video.

    Jordan K