A YouTube video titled "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" has gone viral and gotten more than 17 million views in its first 17 days on the Web. It's been discussed all over America and also been rebutted and mocked by subsequently posted videos. Considering that years' worth of video is posted on YouTube every day and that the most popular clips are almost always, to put it nicely, lightweight, the fact that a serious one touched a national nerve says important things about our times.
The clip centers on 22-year-old Jefferson Bethke of Seattle delivering a poem he wrote, using strong, plain yet heady language to pronounce that Jesus and religion are on "opposite spectrums": Jesus freeing, churches enslaving. He particularly hates self-satisfied churchgoers who reject those they judge as wrong, saying of Christianity, "It's not a museum for good people; it's a hospital for the broken."
As literature, this poem isn't all that great - too overreaching and over-rhetorical - but it brings up some legitimate points in comparing today's churchgoers to the over-observant, spiritually deprived Pharisees whom Jesus clashed with, leading to his death. For instance, Mr. Bethke says, "Now let me clarify: I love the church, I love the Bible, and yes, I believe in sin. But if Jesus came to your church, would they actually let him in?"
For those piqued by this, there's a lot of great reading out there. It especially calls to mind the life and writings of the Rev. Clarence Jordan (pronounced JER-den in his native Georgia), author of the "Cotton Patch" gospel versions and founder of the interracial Koinonia Farm, which later spun off Habitat for Humanity. One might also check the library for Joseph F. Girzone, a retired Catholic priest from New York's Capital Region who wrote the "Joshua" novels and the autobiographical "My Struggle with Faith." Both writers imagine Jesus returning, this time in the United States, and being rejected and killed by fearful and pedantic religious authorities.
Of course, one could also simply reread the New Testament. The Revs. Jordan and Girzone only remind us of how radical Jesus' message is in calling people of all nations to step away from human institutions and toward God.
The amount of attention Mr. Bethke's video has gotten is fascinating. So, for that matter, was the controversial and sudden superstardom of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who reminded football watchers of his piety so much it became comical. It's puzzling, too, considering that Americans have become less religious at a rapid rate these last few decades. Perhaps it points out that people are recognizing a need to think seriously about the big issues religion deals with, such as creation, afterlife, personal accountability and social responsibility. Religious people are often fuzzy in their beliefs, seeking reassurance over challenge, but so are many of the non-religious: They don't want to deal with God and religion, and get uncomfortable when such things are brought up at all. True, the topics are often broached clumsily or unconvincingly, but is it the weaknesses of religious people that leads to these nonbelievers' avoidance?
These are big questions, and everyone would be wise to pursue them. It's good to see people doing so nationwide, whatever conclusions they come to.