Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus
—by Pastor George Van Alstine

That’s the name of a YouTube video that was first posted on January 10 and has since “gone viral,” being viewed by over 16 million people. Using a spoken word style (like rap, without the musical background), Jefferson Bethke, the 22-year-old author and performer of this lengthy poem, expresses his conflicted feelings about his faith and the religious tradition that delivered it to him. Jefferson’s verse begins with the provocative question: What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?

He continues to contrast the message and ministry of Jesus with what he sees expressed in churches:

See one’s the work of God, but one’s a man made invention
See one is the cure, but the other’s the infection
See because religion says do, Jesus says done
Religion says slave, Jesus says son
Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see
And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans
Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man

Well, Jefferson’s vivid challenge to the hypocrisy of “organized religion” has pushed a lot of people’s buttons! Numerous poetic answers have appeared on YouTube in the last few days, including:

“Why I Dislike Your Poem, but Love God” (by someone who believes that Moses, Buddha, Mohammed, are equally worthy of his love)

“Why I Kind of Disagree with Your Poem, but Love God,” “Why I Love Jesus Religiously,” and “Why I Love Religion and Jesus” (all, interestingly, by Roman Catholics)

“Why I Hate Religion and Jesus too” (by someone with a blog site called The Amazing Atheist)

Also, in the past couple of days Jefferson has appeared on several national interview shows, usually paired with a religious leader defending the institutions Jefferson seems to be attacking. He has been quite humble and conciliatory in these settings, admitting that “hate” may be too strong a word, chosen for dramatic contrast.

But I must say that I have strong sympathy with Jefferson’s poetic expression. Organized religion has been the channel through which God’s message of salvation has come down through the generations, so that young people in our day, like Jefferson Bethke, can receive it. But it’s amazing how continually and how easily that channel has become clogged with religious trash and impurities! It takes constant scraping and filtering to allow the truth to keep flowing. Occasionally, it’s important for a Martin Luther to post “Ninety-Five Theses” on a church door, or for a Jefferson Bethke to upload an in-your-face challenge, like “Why I hate Religion, but Love Jesus.”