Hating Religion, Loving Jesus: The Importance of Words




After reading through several comments from yesterday’s “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” post, I thought a bit of follow up was needed.

I’ll elaborate more on my issues with “sola fide” later. Today, I want to talk about the importance of words.

One comment that came up time and time again yesterday was that Jeff Behtke, the poet in the video, meant something other than the actual definition of “religion” when he said he hated religion. The idea being that “today’s generation” (of which both he and I are members) really means “legalism” when they/we say “religion.”

I agree, that the word “religion” is often used today in connection and even sometimes interchangeably with “legalism”. However, at least in the case of this video that defense is like a barrel with no bottom. It holds not water.

Here’s why….

Bethke is a poet. Whether you dabble in this art or master it like Emerson and Thoreau you don’t choose words haphazardly. So, to claim Bethke uses the word “religion” arbitrarily, or worse, that his only understanding of that word is its slang variant is to imply that he is either ignorant or illiterate. While I’m not the biggest fan of his poetry, I have to believe that Bethke is more than aware of the meaning of the words he chooses, particularly when those words are spoken in the context of a subject so obviously important to him.

Furthermore, if we try to play the “words don’t mean what everyone has agreed they mean” card, then we might as well go ahead and toss out not only the dictionary, but language itself. If words have no set, agreed upon meaning, then communication is impossible.

For example, imagine going to McDonalds and ordering a cheeseburger and french fries. If words have no set meaning, then you have no way of knowing what guy at the drive-thru is actually going to give you. Instead of a cheeseburger and french fries you’re just as likely to get a rock and ball of string if the meaning of the words “cheeseburger” and “french fries” is completely relative. (Although to be fair, sometimes the cheeseburger and fries do taste like a rock and string.) Those words might describe food to you, but if context determines definition and the drive-thru guy doesn’t share your personal context then we need to ditch the microphone/speaker setup and start handing the cashier drawings of what we would like to eat.

Either words have agreed upon meanings and limits to those meanings or words are meaningless.

Finally, the old, tired argument “you don’t know his heart” is complete and utter nonsense. It was Jesus himself who said “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart.” (Matt. 15:18) We can only “know someone’s heart” through their words and deeds. If Bethke’s heart is not displayed in this video then why in the world did he take the time to write the poem, arrange a film shoot, film his performance, edit the film, and then post it all on YouTube?

Once again, if someone speaks, but the meaning of their words can be something different than the meaning that has been attributed to those words by society, then communication through either the spoken or written word is impossible.

So, we are left to take Bethke at his word. That is to say, all we can respond to or critique are the words he chose to use.

Those words are quite clear. He hates religion. And his description of religion, that it “build[s] huge churches”, preaches things to people, and provides “behavior modification” sounds pretty spot on to the collectively held definition of the word.

No doubt the popular mythos of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is powerful. However, as others have pointed out here (and here), that phrase appears no where in the Bible.

That is not to say I think relationship is unimportant. It’s essential. For me, it is through my relationships with other Christians that my belief in a resurrected Jesus is affirmed.

It is true that Jesus didn’t come to establish a new religion. It’s also true that he didn’t come to abolish religion either. When he hung on the cross and cried “it is finished”, he wasn’t talking about religion. No biblical scholar I’ve ever heard of would support that thesis.

What was finished was Jesus’ struggle to breathe as his lungs collapsed under the weight of his own body. What was finished was his earthly life and ministry.

What was beginining was a new faith, dare I say, I new religion. The old way of Judaism wasn’t abolished, but as Jesus himself said, it was fulfilled when he walked out of the tomb on Easter Sunday.

What was beginning was a religion based on grace and a risen Savior. That religion was and continues to be a very good thing.

Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt