Thursday, January 12, 2012

This is a video that has been appearing all over the place on the Web and on Facebook pages; it was uploaded two days ago and has over 2 million views (updated: on January 13, 2012 it is well over 6 million views). The author states, in part, that this is "a poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion. In the scriptures Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it's core Jesus' gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered. This poem highlights my journey to discover this truth. Religion either ends in pride or despair. Pride because you make a list and can do it and act better than everyone, or despair because you can't do your own list of rules and feel "not good enough" for God. With Jesus though you have humble confident joy because He represents you, you don't represent yourself and His sacrifice is perfect putting us in perfect standing with God!"

Now, though he states that he wants to differentiate between Jesus and "false religion" in his description, he tends to just condemn religion in the video, which is fairly inclusive. What is the definition of religion? Does this indicate that all religion is false, Christian and other?  He says in the video, however, that he loves the "Church and the Bible," so does this mean only non-Christian religions are false or that only certain types of Christianity are false? What does he mean by "the Church"? Does the Church count as "false religion" or only certain visions and realities of Church?

There a lot of serious questions to ask of this video, beyond the ones asked above, but one has to say that the video is fairly compelling if one keeps in mind the man's youthfulness and the category of "false religion," which I daresay you can find in every religion, and which he is correct to say that Jesus criticized in his own day. As one of my teachers at St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto would remind us, though, we need to be less concerned in Jesus' critiques of "false religion with 1st century A.D. Pharisees than with the manifestations of false and hypocritical religion in our own day in the Church, just as this video states. And since the Church is ever in need of reform, his critique always has some validity. The Decree on Ecumenism of the 2nd Vatican Council states,

Christ summons the Church to continual reformation as she sojourns here on earth. The Church is always in need of this, in so far as she is an institution of men here on earth. Thus if, in various times and circumstances, there have been deficiencies in moral conduct or in church discipline, or even in the way that church teaching has been formulated-to be carefully distinguished from the deposit of faith itself-these can and should be set right at the opportune moment. (6)
This video has provoked, however, strong Catholic responses, amongst others. The Anchoress, Elizabeth Scalia, is no apologist, indeed she is a gentle writer even when in disagreement, but she drew my attention to a rather vociferous Catholic "smackdown," his word not mine, at Bad Catholic. Interestingly, though I had never run across this site before, this is the second time in two days I have stopped by and been a little shocked.

It may be that, like Scalia, I have no apologetic bones in my body; the truth is the truth and it will draw people in without me hitting them over the head and screaming at them to acknowledge my superior intellect, knowledge, belief or grace only to drive them away. Marc Barnes, who I referred to only as Marc the other day, is the one who gives the "smackdown." My problem with the sort of response Marc gives, though I agree with much of what he says, is found in his title, "The Smackdown": the author and (some of) the respondents seem to revel in the victory of someone being slapped down, metaphorically. Especially when dealing with a young person, who has honest thoughts, and feelings, about what he sees as the errors of religion, what is the point of this smackdown and where is the victory? Is the goal to change his mind? Is it to convert him to another point of view? Or is it to mock him by showing off one's bona fides to the rest of the gang who already share your point of view? My sense is that the post is not writtten to respond to theological error primarily, but to flex one's theological muscles for those who are already on board with you. This is lowest common denominator theology and makes one question, ah, religion and sort of proves the point of the young man in the video, even if the many of the responses of Marc stand up.

It could just be that I am old, of course, and no longer understand young people, though I do spend most of my waking life with them, and that the need to smack each other down is the coin of the realm when it comes to Gen Xers arguing religion.  It could be that Catholic young people feel under attack and must respond as best they know: with apologetic salvos. It would be nice at least, when engaged in argument with someone who says they hate religion not to make them hate religion even more. The advice of the Apostle Paul is perennially valuable:  "Let your gentleness be known to everyone" (Philippians 4:5).

John W. Martens

Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens


  1. I appreciate how he engages economic justice in the video, in ways often not seen in evangelical/free church religions. I think you do have to "suspend disbelief" to appreciate the spoken word, and just accept his definition of "religion." I agree with you John that I don't intuit what my students feel, but here's my take on it: 1. They have a keen sense of the hypocrisy of the human-institutional side of religious institutions AND 2. they have not thought through enough or don't realize enough the need for community. I see both as very (US) American. Read James Madison for the same skepticism of religion and we all know the cult of individualism. At least this piece recognizes some interconnection with human life. I think it will be interesting to see how this generation redefines "church." I think if we give them room, they will do it.

  2. He is touching a number of religious nerves and I think it is a fair comment to "suspend disbelief" at some level and recognize that this is not theological treatise. Your two points make sense of this: "they have a keen sense of the hypocrisy of the human-institutional side of religious institutions AND 2. they have not thought through enough or don't realize enough the need for community." I agree, and since he does speak of the need for the Church and states that it is a critique of "false religion," the tools are there to move beyond to always necessary criticism of hypocrisy to a focus on community and Church.

  3. Thank you, Dr. Martens for this point of view. I found it to be rather eye-opening as I had already read the BC post previous to this one. God love you and all the work that you do.

  4. Thanks Matthew. I do understand defending one's position and clarifying truth, but the video is heartfelt and genuine and raises serious questions for all Christians. Never wrong to be gentle!