Hey, Jefferson Bethke, Let Me Tell You What Religion Is [VIDEO]

In the most over-hyped video of our young year, spoken word poet, Jefferson Bethke, tells us all how much better Jesus is than religion. Same song, new verse.

It’s cool to be pissed at “religion” when you’re 20. I get it (though I can’t say I ever went through this phase). And then, as you age, you realize something: Religion is simply the social and psychological framework by which human beings organize their experience of the Divine.

That is, most human beings experience the Divine Presence — what Schleiermacher called the “feeling of utter dependence.” It’s one of the few things beyond biology that unites people across cultures and through the ages.

It’s naïve to think that billions of people will experience the Divine, but they won’t try to organize and categorize that experience. We do, and we find that our experience overlaps with the experience of others. We join with those others, and we find patterns of speech, symbols, and behavior that help us articulate our experiences.

And it’s not bad that we do this. It is, Mr. Bethke, inevitable.

  • http://www.butnotyet.com JoelR

    Thank you. I’ve always felt the rejection of “religion” for “spirituality” was a bit of a cop out (and said so the other day on my blog). If you don’t like the way people are doing religion, work to change those things. Opting does nothing but make yourself feel better and there’s not a lot that’s Christian about that.

  • http://timsuttle.blogspot.com/ Tim Suttle

    Well said Tony – this video drove me nuts when I first saw it. I can’t believe it went viral. Especially when he led w/the Myth of religious violence, “I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?” That’s what we need the secular nation state for. To save us from violence, right? Jesus was Jewish, which I’m pretty sure is still a religion… that’s just the first 40 seconds.

  • M. Horn

    Aren’t we missing the point? This kid is contrasting the “Divine experience” with form and ritual that lacks experience. He’s calling for a return to a religion of “encounter”, which in our western culture is lacking. Of course its not an
    “either/or” proposition, we need both “knowledge about” and “experience of ” God’s divine presence, the one becoming the basis for the other. Young people need an experiential knowledge of God, not just “dry, boring, intellectualism”. You wanna talk about “irrelevant”?

  • James

    Why is everybody so blind to what Bethke is saying? It’s the religion for religious sake that he’s talking about here… The ones who are religious for duty, out of tradition, because they were told this was the way to heaven, the judgmental hate mongers. He’s not talking about those who are walking with the Lord and living the lifestyle of Jesus. There is a religion that is pure and undefiled that Jesus encourages… That is not the one to which he is referring.

    Does everything anyone does have to carry a disclaimer these days to avoid ridicule?

  • Jules

    “Does everything anyone does have to carry a disclaimer these days to avoid ridicule?”

    Or down right bullying. What I see is the old time religion, where the elder takes the teen or twenty something to correct them because they are wrong to think, speak, push, or dare be outside norm. I swear the more the elders bitch and moan about this kid the more I like him, cheer him on, and say, “you go kid. kick their old asses out of their place.” May it be so because the elders are so protecting their glass house.

  • http://tomcottar.org Tomcottar

    My perspective is that the poet’s use of ‘religion’ connotates ‘legalism’.

    Tony, I agree it’s an inevitable part of the human experience.

    Flawed. Broken. Saddening.
    But inevitable.

    Perhaps ‘tradition for the sake of tradition’ is merely the bastard children of a Jesus-experience.

  • http://mpzrd.blogspot.com Marshall

    I don’t know if the first title “JESUS > RELIGION” text reads for an average audience: the ‘>’ is mathspeak for “greater than” … Jesus is greater than Religion. True that, greater than all our works. What Jefferson wants to point to hypocrisy, which indeed Jesus is recorded as being against.

    Just reading Scott McKnight on the creeds, which he defends vigorously, but the preface is “considerable study and thought and prayer and resistance.” I think insisting on the creeds and other high-churchy stuff from Day 1 is likely counterproductive. When I was Jefferson’s apparent age, I said I believed in Jesus’ life but who is this blowhard Paul? Forty years later, I understand things differently, including the need for collective worship. I think this is a stage of development we might be somewhat tolerant of.

    Anyway it’s at least a counterweight to the Atheists who insist that because there is evil in the world, God (if any) must be blamed for it. And also to those who insist that slaughtering everybody in Jericho was a good thing.

    Considered as Art, hmmm well.

  • Frank

    What a great time youth is! Full of idealism and unmatured opinions. God bless them!

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  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    Great points Tony! Jefferson’s video slamming Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” (last April) showed us that he’s a probably a conservative Christian. But this new video of his let’s us know that he’s probably a fundamentalist. I’ve come to learn that he attends Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church. Here’s what I wrote about this a couple of days ago: “Poet Slams Religion but Preaches Jesus”: http://wp.me/pWVFb-17rf

  • Jules

    *gasp* he is a conservative Christian AND probably a fundamentalist????. Who goes to Mark’s church!!! Well, then let’s burn his ass. He SO deserves to be treated like crap and totally deserves to be treat like an idiot. TOTALLY!!!!

    *rolling eyes*

    • Sundown

      I wasn’t getting that from Roger’s comment at all. He’s just pointing out the perspective that Jefferson comes from. We can take from that whatever we will.

  • http://unpublishedforareason.blogspot.com Hannah M

    I never decided whether he made a good point or not because I was too distressed by the misuse of “literally” toward the end to focus on anything else. “I hate religion. In fact, I literally resent it.” Oh, really, dude? You don’t just figuratively resent it like everyone keeps saying about you?

  • Esther

    Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU!
    Theology once again saves us from the worship of the individual personal experience.
    (It’s also naive to think that one can ONLY be religious about religion.)

  • jun

    Tony, you’re just jealous you don’t have a viral video – you don’t have 10 mil watching you.

  • http://www.earlychurchstudies.com John Contabile

    Recall that the first Christians were called “atheists.” They were quite literally slamming the religion of the Empire and anything else that got in the way.

    Sure, by definition, you are right, Tony. But we all color outside the box of definitions on a regular basis.

    So, I see your point…and I see his point.

    I liked the video, but then again, I have no problem arguing that the Christian faith that we are called to has much more vitality than some sociologist’s definition and as a result, purposely calls us to reach beyond what most see as acceptable.

  • DanS

    It’s cool to be pissed at “religion” when you’re 20. I get it (though I can’t say I ever went through this phase).

    Tony, you’re still in that phase.

    • Frank

      I think it’s called immaturity.

    • Sundown

    • http://www.tomcottar.org Tomcottar

      Dan,
      Somewhat agree… As a 44yo pastor, I still have seasons in which I’m pissed at religion. Sometimes justified. Sometimes not. But I do recall Jesus’ anger at religion…straining a gnat, swallowing a camel…tithing out of your spice rack, dill and cummin…etc.

      Frank, I know I have immaturities…but to equate not supporting religion with immaturity as a blanket prognosis isn’t even intellectual integrity, much less scriptural accuracy.

      Just my $.02…

  • Tyler

    I don’t think he’s saying religion is wrong completely, more that the way we sometimes practice it isn’t the way it should be. In the video he poses the question “If Jesus came to your church, would they actually let Him in?” and this brings up a good point. We don’t know what He will look like when He returns, and I feel as if many churches would turn someone claiming to be Jesus Christ away. I believe he’s preaching for a modification of how we worship God, because the way we do now may not be the exact right way.

  • JasH

    If Bethke is Bible believing Christian, I think he should turn on the comment feature on his Youtube video, enter into debate, and use scripture to support his views. His personal infallible interpretation of scripture is unsupported by scripture. And, I’m sorry, but if “Jesus said done” then why attack anybody for their wrongdoing or worshiping God improperly (in his ‘humble’ opinion)? Why do this? People that are religious are not saved because of an action that they do? He talks about religion being a contradiction. He contradicts himself and what scripture actually says. It’s not even good poetry. 7th grade, tops.

  • Sam K.

    Holding “Jesus” in such strong opposition against “religion” is just cheap. I’ve seen the most legalistic and self-righteous people do it everyday, without seeing any kind of contradiction. Jeff says stuff “Voting Republican doesn’t equal being christian”, and people think “Yeah, you also gotta repent, and go to church everyday! Being republican alone won’t do the trick” This guy needs to specify which “Jesus” and which “religion” he’s talking about, otherwise most will just project their own crooked beliefs into what Jeff is saying, without any change happening at all.

  • David

    If this is a poem. Then it is his art. It’s his to give away. Let’s just leave it at that. Who cares what he meant.

  • http://frjonblog.org Jon Pedigo

    Jefferson brings up the usual criticisms that are frankly well-deserved; however, Christianity is about gathering and handing down the tradition of the communal encounter with Christ. Those of us from liturgical/sacramental traditions understand the power of the gathered community. Without community, Christianity is reduced to a private encounter or a spiritual “pick me up.” With all its faults and hypocricy, the church/Church has mobilized people for collective works of justice (e.g., ending apartheid and segregation, promoting immigration reform and economic justice, etc…) Jefferson’s video is powerful because it does resonate with many young persons who experience the wrath and judgment of over-zealous pastors and church folk. If we as Church (i.e., organized religion) are to be relevant into the 21st century for this new generation, we might want to consider Jefferson’s video and find a way to expand our scope of pastoral work and pulpit rhetoric to include justice and social change.

    • lauren hoover

      This video will only speak to the people that it is meant to speak to, just like all evangelism. Christains living off OPM will be hard pressed to get his messages.

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  • Nelson

    I agree with Jefferson Bethke all the way 110% percent. <PERIOD.

  • Richard

    “And then, as you age, you realize something: Religion is simply the social and psychological framework by which human beings organize their experience of the Divine.”

    Wrong. I’m 41. Let me restate for you: Religion is simply the social and psychological framework by which human beings replace their experience with the Divine.

    The point you and others miss is that Jefferson isn’t railing against the “church”, the abstract collection of believers who gather together to worship that we see in Acts. He (and I) are critical of the organization, the bureaucracy, the rules, creeds, catechisms, all which are man created (or, to be generous, man’s interpretation of God’s instruction). These all serve as barriers to a free relationship with God.

  • r martinez

    well said

  • r martinez

    Mr Jeff I like the video, people listen to it carefully and Jesus will open your ears and eyes. It is not reglion but HIM! HE is the way!!!!

  • Alan – Chattanooga, TN

    I think Tony’s blog above makes Jefferson’s point: “Religion is simply… framework by… human beings…” Jefferson is contrasting man’s framework and Jesus while warning against confusing religion with be a follower of Jesus Christ.

  • Jeff Rogers

    I think you, along with several others are missing the whole point of Jeff’s video. He was making that video in order to abolish religion. No. That would be ridiculous. He made it in order to say how he hates how religion has become more of a habit than a relationship. I agree with you that religion does have its importance–without it I wouldn’t be a Christian today. But people use religion as their crutch. This wasn’t how it was intended to be. Our crutch should be Christ and Christ only.

  • victor

    jeff is kingdom minded, it was never about religion, but God. The old parents do not like this poem, but lets face it a generation for creativity. oh and one other thing why should it bother you if you know whose your God?


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