Friday, January 13, 2012

A thought-provoking Catholic response to "Jesus>religion"

If you've seen the video "Jesus>religion" (aka "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus"), you probably nodded your head in agreement with some of the, thoughts... er, lyrics. It has a strong emotional appeal (not to mention great video editing). But is it all true?

Bad Catholic has a thought-provoking response to the video that's burning up the ether around the net:


It’s worth beginning with this: I agree with this guy on a lot of points. He reminds us Catholics of a striking truth; that without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, religion is a joke. He speaks the truth that Christ died for our sins, once and for all. I can’t help but think, in the midst of all this, that this hating-religion-loving-Jesus thing is the logical consequence of Protestantism. For a 21st-century Protestant looking at a thousand-something churches, I imagine there is an immense temptation to say “It’s all a wash. I will follow Christ, not a religion,” and be done with it. I empathize with him, knowing that if I were a Protestant I would be in full agreement: There is either one, true religion or there is no religion at all. 
But nevertheless, there are two main problems with this video. 1. Jesus Christ would strongly disagree with it. That is to say, the creator of this video is very, very wrong. 2. He’s very, very wrong with some great video editing, good background music, a strong emotional appeal, catchy rhyme, and all in relatively well-timed YouTube moment. He’s wrong in style. When a man gains immense popularity by making blanket statements stylistically, how likely is it that his followers will read a rebuttal making specific statements prosaically? I don’t know, but rebut I must, for it is the duty of the Catholic to resist fashion and fads, no matter how unfashionable he looks doing it.

Catholicism: Taking the long, boring route to Truth since 37 A.D.
So onto the first bit of silliness — the idea that Jesus came to abolish religion. Unforgivable. He literally said the opposite: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” What were the Law and the Prophets? Judaism. What is Judaism? A religion. What did Jesus specifically say he was NOT going to abolish? That’s right. A religion. (Aaand you just got Kris Kringled.)
This is made apparent not only in the words, but in the actions of Jesus Christ. Whether you believe in the sacraments or not, there is no doubt that Christ established ritual. It’s one thing to ignore Christ’s statement to “eat my body.” It’s another to ignore his command to “do this in memory of me.”

Christ commanded that we have ritual. The early church followed this ritual, they obeyed his command to “do this in memory of me.” We know this because Paul says: “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” Does the mere Christ-follower-religion-hater obey Christ’s command to eat his body and drink his blood, and to do it in memory of Him? I do not mean ask whether they believe in the True Presence of Christ in the bread and wine, I simply mean to ask whether they follow the ritual Christ established at all? If not, it would seem that to be a Christ-follower is to ignore the commands Christ bids you follow. And there’s more of this Christ guy being ridiculously religious. 
He established a priesthood in the Apostles. If that word freaks you out, I’ll rephrase: He gave certain men very distinct roles. 
Christ gave them the power to forgive sins: ”If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” (John 20:23)
He gave men power to make decisions concerning doctrine: ”I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) 
He built a Church: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
He called men to the sacrament of Baptism. These are not things available to the mere Christ-follower, unless he truly believes that whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and all the rest. So knowing that Christ so clearly established a Church, with rituals, with priests, and with sacraments, our man’s statement “What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?” can only be answered with, “What if He told you you were wrong?” 
“If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?” says he. And honestly, thisseems to be his only real charge against religion, all else is mere personal experience. While it is true that a war may be fought over an excess of hatred, it is equally true that a war may be fought for an excess love of freedom. A man may strike another man because he is filled to bursting with bitter, archaic beliefs. He may also strike a man to stop him from killing a baby. The fact that religion starts wars could equally be held as evidence that religion is good as evidence that it is bad. For men desire good and will fight for it far more often than they will fight for bad. Did Christ not say “I have not come to bring peace, but the Sword?” And of course this is true, I know it on a personal level: I would not be tempted to fight the man who slanders me. I would be tempted fight the man who slanders my God. Christ brings me the Sword. Would I be morally justified in my desire to fight? Probably not. The point is simply that it is Iwho am accountable the fight, not my religion. If it is a bad thing to fight, my religion is the good for which I would forget myself and be bad. That is no more reason for rejecting religion than for rejecting your wife, who — when threatened — might very well lead you to kill.

Do not take away the ennoblement of the poor. 
He goes on: “Why does [religion] build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor.” I’m getting serious ‘by-religion-I-mean-Catholicism’ vibes from our man. First of all, religion does not fail to feed the poor. What — if you don’t mind me asking — is the number-one most charitable organization in the universe? The Red Cross? Nope. The Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort? Hahahahaha, but no. It’s the Roman Catholic Church. As for the building big churches bit, I could give an entire post on how silly of an attack that is, and how insulting it is to the poor man,but I already did. For now I’ll just say this: Go to a man in poverty who attends a beautiful church and offer to tear down the beauty that surrounds him, to melt down the gold so he can buy more food. You will never see a man more insulted. 
He then gives himself away. “[Religion] tells single Moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve had a divorce.” Alright. This is one of those few times I actually get annoyed. First of all, unless you’re the WBC, there is not a single Christian denomination that says that there is any possible way you could get God not to love you. This is a basic premise of Christianity. We are never unloved. We may reject God, but He never, ever, ever rejects us. So I’ll take his “God doesn’t love…” bit to actually mean religion is against divorce. But there is only one major Christian denomination that is opposed to divorce: The Roman Catholic Church. So when this man says ‘religion’ — in this case — he means The Roman Catholic Church. And it’s true, we have the terrible habit of believing Christ meant what he said: 
“They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”‘ 
So once again, I must ask, why is it that following Christ while disdaining religion leads to the direct contradiction of Christ’s teachings? It’s a silliness of modern Christianity, to love Christ partially — “Ah yes, he saved me, died for me, opened the gates of Heaven for me, and I accept him as my personal Lord and Savior, but not what he said about that whole no divorce thing. That was just whack and unloving.” 
A common theme throughout the video is our man’s complaint that religion is just behavior modification, a list of rules to follow, and thus doesn’t get to the core of the matter — the call to love Christ as a response to his sacrifice on the cross. First of all, this is an absolutely valid critique of what religion should not be. If it is just a set of rules and not a love affair, it is dead. You can’t have works without faith any more than you can have faith without works. But the idea that following rules is inherently contradictory to loving Christ flies in the face — yet again — not of religion, but of Christ. He says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Love of Christ requires obedience to his commands. You cannot have one without the other. 
Our man then clarifies — He loves the Bible. This is interesting. Did Christ hand out Bibles before he ascended into Heaven? No. The Bible is the product of a religion. A religion is called Catholicism.“If Jesus came to your church, would they let him in?”
Um, yes. We actually snagged a picture.


So this is awkward. 
But in all seriousness, the last part of the video is awesome. It’s a darn good explanation of how Christ died for our sins, how we are saved not by our own merits, but by his Grace. I’m not sure why it goes against Christ to be a religion that teaches exactly what our man is teaching in this video. 
“Because I believe that when Jesus said ‘It is Finished’, he meant it.” When Jesus said it is finished he died, and yes, without a doubt, his sacrifice was found acceptable to God. It truly is finished — nothing can take away the fact that we have been redeemed. But we can choose to reject this redemption. That’s why after the Resurrection, Christ appeared to Peter — upon whom he had said he would build His Church — and told him “feed my lambs.” Christ knew we would need instruction, guidance and example. Jesus established a Church to proclaim to the end’s of the earth that “It is Finished.” He established a religion to make known his salvation. I reject the video’s message, not simply because it wades in the shallows of theology, forever fearing to plunge into the depths of what Christ actually did here on Earth, but because it is lonely. It is a call to figure out the mysteries of God on one’s own, with nothing but a book one must deny was given to him by religion. No, this is silly. God gave us a Church to aid us on the journey, so that we might be one. To love Jesus and hate religion is equivalent to calling upon a doctor and smashing all his instruments when he arrives. 
This my basic critique. It is not a true defense of the concept of religion, which I defend not so much as something good or bad, but as an urge as primordial and wonderful as sex and song. It isn’t a small thing that we seek to understand, it is the framework of our universe, by which we understand everything else. But as usual, the Internet isn’t big enough for all that. Still, it’s only fair that if we started with a stylized, anti-religion video, we can end with a stylized pro-religion video: