This poet (whose name is apparently Jefferson Bethke) loves Jesus and hates religion. In fact, he literally resents it.
Okay, so how do you tell the two apart, Jesus and religion? That is a tricky question, all the more so because the terms normally seem to travel in each others’ company, so to speak.
Luckily, the poet offers the helpful suggestion that:
One is the work of God, the one is a man-made invention.
One is the cure, the other is the infection.
Religion says “do.” Jesus says “done.”
Religion says “slave.” Jesus says “son.”
Religion puts you in bondage, but Jesus sets you free.
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see.
And that is why religion and Jesus are two different clans.
Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man.
Listening to the poet rattle through these distinctions, one cannot help but think that a lot is riding on the matter. But of course all of these individual distinctions assume we already know the difference between the two; they comment on the difference as though it were already clear.
The poet is talking about things that seem to go together in the collective understanding of “religion.” One might, for example, describe as religious some of the arguments once made in favor of slavery as well as those advanced by Abolitionists against it, thus putting the “religion” of common parlance on both sides of the poets juxtaposition. Likewise, talk of Jesus is normally expected from those engaged in one particular religion.
But of course the poet here assures us that these are really two different things, even that talk of Jesus is (or at least should be) wholly different from religion. He divvies up a range of themes normally associated with religion, carefully placing them in different piles, so to speak. All the good themes that make us smile go in the “Jesus” pile and the bad ones end up in the “religion” pile. Yet, he provides no independent means of telling us which goes where. At the end of the day, the difference between the two is little more than the collective contents of the two piles.
To say that this is circular reasoning is putting it mildly. Who wouldn’t prefer the Jesus of this video to the religion?
Seriously, who would not prefer freedom to bondage, son to slave, sight to blindness, or a cure to an infection?
And if the answer is “no-one” or even “almost no-one,” then who keeps producing all the bad things, the ones that seem to go in the “religion” pile? Does the poet in this video imagine that it is people who have consciously chosen them?
Or is it just possible that it is people who thought they were actually choosing Jesus?
The internal logic of this kind of rhetoric always fascinates me. Some of the poets distinctions (such as that between man looking for God and God looking for man) are too fantastic to construe in terms of a specific moral choice. Others are downright intuitive. The notion for example that religion makes you blind whereas Jesus makes you see is wonderfully vivid.
On hearing the claim that religion makes you blind, one cannot help but to imagine some form of religiously motivated bigotry. We want to say, “Yes, I know exactly what you mean!” The second phrase must arouse similarly vivid thoughts for most believers. How easily might one imagine a moment when thoughts of Jesus could have inspired one to overcome a prejudice! That particular pair of options must arouse thoughts of a real difference.But of course the important question is whether or not there is anything about Jesus (or more importantly references to, thoughts about, belief or faith in…Jesus) that guarantee the one and precludes the other.
It’s a valiant effort.
It is tempting to go along with the poet on all of this. When I see him separating the good from the bad, I could almost choose to join in, to help sort everything into the right piles. It would be lovely to affirm the wisdom of this poet and all the others who assure us that “religion” is distinct from faith in God or a personal relationship with Jesus. I could almost stand with those who say they are “spiritual but not religious.” Hell, even without faith in God I can affirm the value of many things associated with Jesus’ name. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those good things really were of a wholly different order than those bad ones. …if the difference between Martin Luther King and Fred Phelps were as easy as telling the difference between which of two words to use, “religion” or any of its better dressed counter-parts.
And yet the question remains, when people talk of Jesus, what distinguishes the good from the bad?
This poet offers no answer to that question, though he seems to think otherwise. And in that respect, he has one foot firmly planted in the “religion” pile.
The thought comes to mind that many of the worst acts of men have been religiously motivated or intended to achieve some sort of purification of the human race. Indeed, too many to name. Which means that the evil-doers believe themselves to be bettering the human condition by acts from which others recoil in horror.
Interesting comment. I think we are at least partially on the same page as you are describing yet another way in which horrible things come bundled up with good intentions. The role of hope, or Utopian plans, would seem to be another twist. I can’t help but wonder how often such hopes might be bundled up with thoughts of Jesus.
Arlen Grossman said:
Religion, Jesus, Muhammad, whomever……you can’t reason with the unreasonable. Sadly, critical, independent thinking is in such short supply, it’s no wonder the world is in such a mess.
Of course you are correct that these distinctions aren’t perfectly clear, but nevertheless, they aren’t totally silly either.
A major part of Jesus’ ministry was in opposition to the Jewish religious leaders and their teachings and practices. So if there are similar practices among religious leaders today, or in churches today, we may consider whether they are also contrary to the teachings and ministry of Jesus.
I think this is the case, and thus we can see that Jesus may indeed sometimes be contrasted to religion.
Depends on your threshold of seriousness. I’m not suggesting one cannot draw serious distinctions of the kind you suggest. They can often be delineated in quite reasonable terms, but one has to actually do that. What I object to is the reduction of that process to the convenience of a mere word game.
OK. I think the video is quite an effective communication, but of course you can’t be as comprehensive in a rap as you could be in a PhD thesis. But more people will listen to the rap than read the thesis. So the communicator makes a choice. I like his choice. Best wishes.
What surprises me is the extent of today’s battles. On birth control, women’s rights, worker’s rights, – in fact, the attacks are too numerous to mention. But the ones behind that are the same ones who claim that abortion is murder, that birth control is a sin, and that America is a christian nation. Make no mistake about it, we are at war, and those who started it carry both bibles and the NRA membership cards.
Interesting comment. How to kill a good idea in thirty seconds? get some one to back you. A disciple. Churches when got into the act have made Jesus into a dogma. They killed the soul as we see in the case the Church of Rome. If Jesus said something about children the Church has only abused them systematically and tried to cover it up. Followers, sects have similarly done great disservice to prophets and great reformers of old.
speaking as one of faith in Jesus, i think that the rap is enormously appealing because it does as you say. It separates out all the bad and piles up all the good and says “this is jesus” and who wouldn’t want that? But it is only an argument for those within the faith. it might make me feel better about my faith because it gives me an answer to the uncomfortable things about faith…the bad things…the injustices and exclusions and harsh laws and the fact that some are blind and despite trusting in Jesus they remain blind or Christians who take their own lives because they are lost and despite desperate prayers, never got found. So, it gives an answer of sorts. But it not a reasonable or logical answer. its a truthiness (colbert) answer and it will never wash with the “great unwashed”. I think that people of faith need to be a bit more honest and thoughtful than this.
Still, bits of the rap rhymed. Its gotta score some points there. Yeh?
Jesus said some ground breaking wonderfully radical stuff and he said some hard things that i still cant work out. But i’m not fooling anyone if i only present the “nice” half of the story.
This kind of church towards “Jesus” and away from “religion” reminds me of something I heard recently from Stefan Molyneaux..”Religion has changed more in the last one hundred years than in the previous one thousand years.” It makes me think that these christians are slowly moving away from the dogmatic, imperialistic beliefs that bore them through the centuries and into more peaceful and accepting beliefs as buddhists are now perceived.
Ultimately, christians will come to just believe in their god and possibly (and hopefully) shed themselves of the not so holy writ that ‘inspired’ them. Room for biblical barbarism diminishes (albeit slowly) in a modern world, and I can’t wait for it to die out completely.
Christianity has always been changing. Essential to christian belief is the teaching on the Holy Spirit, who continually updates us and leads us towards greater truth, if we will but listen. And it has happened, whether more recently I don’t know – but I hope so.
Charlotte's Design said:
Just got here and read the poem and your comment… They made me think about religion (which I don’t do often) as a phenomenon that touches all of us. What comes to my mind is that a lot of us need it, but life is much simpler/and easier without it…
Interesting point of view and personality. I enjoyed your blogs and will follow. Here is a little prayer.
As I lay me down to sleep
I don’t believe I have a soul to keep.
And if I should die before I wake
fond memories of me I hope you’ll take.
Don’t pray for me, for goodness sake,
because no difference will it make.
But if that’s what really pleases you,
don’t say just one, please say a few.
Interesting prayer, quite clever.
I am wondering what Bateson would have made of this conversation. I imagine he would have joined with Buber and Tillich in trying to find some words to give to the ineffable. They would all like point to the Great Mystery and insist that one’s experience of THAT cannot be addressed in rational terms. Very Native.
Anyway, thanks fir beginning this lively discussion.
The Cloud Chronicler said:
No harm believing in the man rather than religion. I think that sometimes organize religion adds a lot of dogma that the original founder did not intent.
oh? who was the original founder of Christianity? Jesus ? I don’t get that as a take-away from reading the Bible. At best he was an itinerant wandering Jew who taught against the established religions, promised he would return before any then alive would die, did a zombie tour of Jerusalem, then promptly disappeared – never to be seen again. Constantine was the founder of Christianity the religion. Everything before that was secretive cults and political dissidents.
A good reading of extensive histories of the time and before tells a story that is not far from a political war movie where the protagonist was a martyr, and the movie tells the tales of tortured emotions of those who mourn the martyr and how their plight is picked up by an emporer and then used to kill other mourners. Right after the opening credits the story line goes NC17 if not adult only. The history of Christianity is a sordid affair far removed from family fun. On the one hand you have fledgling cult groups struggling to make sense of the small scraps of guidance offered by Christian myth and on the other you have Paul trying to create his own religion. Through Paul’s efforts Constantine found something useful – religion, more specifically monotheism and the carte blanche it gives its adherents to use in destroying all opposition. This YHWH was like Mars, but better. The entire story has been whitewashed so often and by so many that only a fool can take it as ‘every word of truth’.
Even the beginning story sounds like a plagiarism of other cults and beliefs. Study some about Mithra and Horus and others and it is hard to say that the Jesus story is some special new thing. Its a rewrite, straight up. Even the risen from the dead thing. There is no reason to believe this Jesus myth any more than any other myth of that time. A book means nothing. Surely we don’t believe that big foot exists, do we? How about Moby Dick? or King Arthor?
Ok, that was a bit of a rant. The founder of Christianity could arguably be Paul (or the writer known as Paul) or Constantine. In either case neither disowned the old testament either in their own writing or in the story of Jesus’ words. The OT is used to justify slavery, bigotry, and all manner of bad behavior by humans. Constantine saw a tool in Christianity and that is all it has ever been since. It’s currently being used by US politicians and their ilk.
This poet? Well, Jesus was supposed to be the answer but he brought all of daddy’s baggage with him and left it for men to use and interpret as they see fit. Not much of a prophet really, nor a savior. Just an itinerant wandering desert preacher, doing mushrooms and plotting how to put it to the man. If you believe the stories at all.
You are saying what I say. I’m pleased I am not alone. There is Jesus of Nazareth. He did not found a Church. A Church was founded on Jesus.
I enjoyed the rap poem and admired its sincerity. Many Christians probably agree with its sentients.
In reality, Jesus is just one of the many reasons Christians join churches, and certainly not why Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are religious and join religious communities. Communal, family, social, and business considerations are compelling reasons for being part of a religious group.
Who was it that said “If Jesus were to return to the earth, he would not recognize the religion that bears his name”? Jefferson, Madison, or Adams?