For some reason, the YouTube video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” has been a sensation, even though the guy on that video essentially says things that have been said before: that religion is about us doing things for God, whereas Jesus is about what God has done for us; that religion makes us slaves, whereas Jesus says that we are sons; that religion is rote and empty ritual; that religion does not feed the poor, etc.
What has amazed me has been the unexpected responses to this video, from people I would expect to agree with it. Christians whom I would expect to parrot the banal line of “It’s not a religion, but a relationship”—-and this includes both people who fit into evangelicalism and also people who have become disenchanted with it—-have rushed to critique the video. They say that religion is not a bad thing—-that Jesus was religious as an observant Jew, that religion provides a concrete way for people to express their love for God, and that religious institutions actually have helped the poor. And then there is one lady who has become disenchanted with both religion and the Christian conception of Jesus, and she remarked, “Saying Jesus isn’t a religion is like saying weed isn’t a drug.”
Who’s right? In my opinion, they all are, in a sense. They’re speaking from their own experiences, and they’re appealing to elements of reality. Some of the critics of the video are so hung up by whether or not the guy is defining “religion” correctly, that they don’t pause to consider that he may have some valid criticisms somewhere in there. But they do well to point out that religious institutions can be good: they can be a tool for spiritual enhancement, they can at least make people conscious of the need to help others, etc. Religion can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. It’s good to have different voices that can highlight the positive, while warning about pitfalls.