Saturday, January 14, 2012

Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus: A Beer with Jeff Bethke

This video has been making the rounds and causing a lot of hubbub. There are a lot of bloggers out there calling Jeff Bethke, the poet, an idiot and tearing apart his argument. But I am not going to join in the fray. Jeff is touching on a sentiment that has been prowling around our culture for some time and resounds with many people and it needs to be taken seriously.

There are valid reasons why this video and his point of view resounds with people.

Jeff is not really speaking out against religion. It's pretty plain to see that he is no theologian. He says he "loves the Church and the Bible" indicating that he does adhere to a certain set of beliefs but he does not consider this religion. I don't agree with this assessment but I am not going to call him an idiot for believing this. In fact, he is joined by many, many people in today's culture who describe themselves as "spiritual" but not "religious."

In a recent study 72% of the millenial generation describe themselves as "more spiritual than religious." What this means is not exactly clear (to them or to us most likely). Describing oneself as "spiritual" used to be synonymous with "religious." Spirituality used to refer to the inner experience of faith while religion was the outer expression of this faith - liturgy, common prayer, etc.

So, what does it mean that younger generations are rejecting "religion" but are still asserting that they are spiritual?

I think it means several things for Christians:

1. Mainstream Christianity has failed to engage youth on a level that speaks to them. We do not take kids seriously - the condescending reaction to Jeff's video illustrates this.

2. Young kids are sick of hypocrisy. When they see scandal and sin in their own church leadership they want  real answers and they are looking for humility. (For Catholics, Pope Benedict's response to the sex scandal is an example of this)

3. Social Justice is important to young people. They are sick of people insisting that we must uphold one set of issues, rather than another, or we are not Christian. Christians need to be more insistent that neither platform (Democrat/Republican) reflects the totality of the Gospel message. We need to show young people that real religion transcends the world of politics.

4. Even though they are rejecting "religion" young people are still thirsting for God, hence the "Christian but not religious" line. Young people recognize the power of the person of Jesus.

As Christians are we listening to these kids? Are we responding to their concerns? This spirituality without religion view is represented not only among young people but among many adults. We cannot just continue to roll our eyes and call people who hold these views idiots.

I will close with just a few questions or concepts I would talk about with Jeff over a beer if given the chance:

1. Gnosticism - I think this old heresy is seeping back into Christianity through popular culture. We are body and spirit. We need rituals, liturgy and structure. It is part of being human. We need to stop pretending we can transcend our humanity and the limits of our creaturehood and still maintain a grip on to reality. We are not gods, we are embodied souls. Our souls need our bodies and our religion needs to be lived out bodily.

2. Authority - If a person rejects the authority of a man-made institution then whose authority does he or she replace it with? Scripture does not speak to us about many modern issues facing our world so whose authority should a person follow in those cases? Individual conscience? What is forming our conscience in this world of media and noise? I don't trust my conscience to figure things out all by itself. When we refuse to submit to any kind of authority it starts to smell a lot like that rotten apple in the Garden of Eden.

3. Sin & Community - In the video, Jeff says he believes in sin. I do too. But that is why I do not trust my own judgement. Because I really really believe that I am a sinner. I cannot do this alone. I need Tradition and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, lived out in the Church and in the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

4. Individualism and Relativism - These are the diseases of our culture and they are killing us spiritually. If we give up "religion" and replace it with the dictatorship of individual conscience, often malformed conscience, we are not getting rid of religion, we are replacing one religion with as many religions as there are people. As much as part of me would love to establish the Church of Theresa, I'm not sure that would be the best thing for my soul. God is not whatever we want God to be. He is much bigger than that.

I would love to hear what all of you thought of this video also.

Peace to all of you! 


Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP said...

Well done, Theresa! I'll be linking to it on Pauline Faithways tomorrow.
Sr. Margaret

tagnes said...

Thanks Sr. Margaret, I am honored!

J said...

I like your comments. It seems to me that mainstream Christianity might be failing to provide appropriate spaces for (young) people to share their own thoughts about religion/spirituality, so Jeff felt the need to take it upon himself to find this space.

There is always going to be a tension between authority and individualism but while I think it is important to be humble and respect the proper authorities, it is also important to acknowledge were we are as individuals and not simply pretend that we all agree.

Finally, I thought it was interesting that Jeff said Jesus came to destroy religion. 'Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them.' (Matthew 5:17)

tagnes said...

Definitely agree with you J that we should not all pretend to agree. I don't think God wants anyone to submit to the Truth mindlessly.

When I returned to the Church, I had a lot of views shaped by modern culture. But since God showed me how far I had strayed from the Truth without Him in my own personal life, I realized that I held opinions on many issues that may have been influenced by things other than the Spirit of Truth.

It was this grace that allowed me to research issues humbly and be open to being transformed to see things more as God sees them, our God whose ways are so far above our ways.

Thanks for commenting J!

Peace in Jesus,


Nicholas Hardesty said...

"tagnes" ... just wanted you to know that I added this post to my collection of Catholic responses to Bethke's video:

Peace of Christ to you!

tagnes said...

Cool - thanks Nicholas!

OneTimothyThreeFifteen said...

Mainstream Christianity (and modernist Catholicism) has failed to engage because it’s trying to be like the culture. It’s the religious equivalent of transsexualism – ‘where all odd-ball doctrines, and none’, are embraced.

Evangelicalism is more like a brothel, where going to Church on Sunday is like relieving sexual frustration. ‘I feel much better/My weeks goes better, if I’ve been to church’, as I hear them say. It’s certainly more attractive. :)

That’s why real Catholicism can never be mainstream, because it’s radically spousal.
It’s totally committed to it’s bride. It is a Father and Mother. It requires discipline. It argues over the pettiest of things; has to put up with difficult relatives and ancestors who’ve given the family a bad name, yet it never leaves you, however bad things get.

As to the young people, I think they’re attracted to neither, but for different reasons.

1. Young people fail to engage Catholicism because they think they know better and rebel.

2. They’re sick of hypocrisy whilst calling everyone else hypocrites.

3. They’re into ‘Social Justice’ – which is ‘out there’ at a safe distance – whilst they’re anti-social to all those closest to them.

4. We’re all thirsting for God, because we’re all children in his eyes. ‘Young people’ are no special case. They’re spiteful, violent, and nasty, even at an early age. Just like adults.

Lastly, however idealistic young people are, try getting them out of bed in the morning to actually do something... :)

tagnes said...

Interesting take on things Timothy but stunningly negative in my opinion. I think it makes more sense to approach young people by affirming what is positive in their outlook on life and then asking them questions to help them to see where their outlook has holes.

And I also disagree with your assertion that Catholicism does not have mainstream appeal. Jesus came for us all, therefore on a fundamental level Catholicism should appeal to young people if as Christians we are able to communicate it to them as Jesus would have.

God bless you!

Dan said...

I like this post!

I am running my mind here but it seems that there is a profound grace of realizing the Church's universality. I can't help but think of the Church in poverty, as well as Asia and Africa!

After experiences outside of Her (something mystically spousal about this.. maybe) I can say that I was stuck. Thinking that Jesus' coming was paradoxical considering our consumer culture.

It still is.

Perhaps the challenge of the 'postmodern' age is the rediscovery of poverty, chastity, and obedience with greater visibility of the religious.

Perhaps it is the challenge of being misunderstood, of being faithful, and of letting His Spirit overtake us again in the public square as it did at Pentecost.


Dan said...

Also, a note concerning relativism.

The fallout of post-scholasticism may have us reeling from intellectual obstacles in the public square.

Trusting your namesake, St. Paul, is it enough to say that "I only boast of the name of Christ?"

Considering that from His Spirit all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge come forth, the Church is providentially blessed, in Her Tradition, to encounter the square with all her blessings to date, while encouraging new blessings to sprout forth.

I can't help but point to the thinking of JP2. Jacques Maritain, anyone?

Dan said...

I am having a moment here. Holy Spirit moment. :D

I believe it is easy in our current culture to not realize the glory of the cross, if we do not work directly with the poor.

To me, that is where the cross comes alive.

tagnes said...

"It seems that there is a profound grace of realizing the Church's universality" - I wholeheartedly agree Dan. That is why I believe that when we see a concerning trend in the Christian church, even if it is outside of the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church, we should be worried because it affects us all. We are the Body of Christ, the universal Body of Christ!

OneTimothyThreeFifteen said...

Hi Tagnes.

I wasn't expecting a positive response, but 'stunningly negative'? You suddenly showed your true colours!

I was trying to balance your lack of realism.

Do you work with real kids - like out there in the real world - and not just the ones you deal with in your religious work? Remember their relation to you will be conditioned by your position, too.

Secondly, have you read any serious research on the matter?

I would point you to two books by Christian Smith:

Christian Smith is a highly respected Sociologist and expert on Teenagers and Religion. He was notable Evangelical, but converted to Catholicism recently.

tagnes said...


I did not mean for you to feel attacked in any way, I was simply sharing my reaction to your comments, (specifically your comments about teenagers).

I like to write (and try my best to live) by the principle -

“A spoon full of honey gets more flies than a barrel full of vinegar.” St. Francis de Sales

(I think that kind of attitude attracts more people to the Church and it is how I believe Christ would act)

I will certainly look at the resources you pointed me to, thanks for the suggestions!

God bless,