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.