I’m kind of tired of people saying that they like Jesus, but they don’t like religion. (This little rant is prompted by a recent Facebook/YouTube clip, saying, “I hate religion, but I love Jesus.”)
There’s a whole other subset of folks who opt for the “spiritual, but not religious” track. That’s a different deal. Today, it’s the “Love Jesus, Hate Religion” mindset that’s bothersome.
I get the surface points – Jesus was about treating other people with kindness, honesty, justice, grace, compassion and love. Religion (or what people say is bad or false religion) sometimes (maybe oftentimes) squelches those virtues. Fair enough – on the surface.
So, to get by the squelching, some people – with earnest, hipster-like angst – want to opt out of religion. I think that’s selfish.
Following Jesus is cool. Devoting oneself to kindness, honesty, justice, grace, compassion and love – that’s the point of life, whether you love Jesus, Buddha, Zoroaster, or Bugs Bunny.
But I don’t think you can do those things in vacuum. That is, you can’t be kind, honest, just, graceful, compassionate and loving and never interact with another person. And the minute you interact with another person, you’ve started in on “religion.”
Religion is the process of living out a values system or a faith system. Religion is two or more people trying to follow Jesus, Buddha, Zoroaster or Bugs Bunny. And the minute two people start to interact, there is conflict, or at least the potential for conflict.
“We should demonstrate our devotion to Bugs Bunny by dressing up in rabbit suits and passing out carrots,” says Adherent Number 1.
“Should they be organic carrots,” asks Adherent Number 2.
And that’s when the trouble starts. That’s religion.
The way to avoid it is for Adherent Number 1 to withdraw, to love Bugs but hate religion, to avoid Adherent Number 2.
Maybe that would work for followers of cartoon rabbits, I don’t know. But I don’t think it works to be an independent, religion-averse Jesus-lover. I think being kind, honest, just, graceful, compassionate and loving requires being religious – that is, it requires being in connection with, in cooperation with, in community with – maybe even in disagreement with – other people trying to live out those same values.
You don’t have to call your community a church or a congregation or a coven or a klatch. But you can’t act piously and sanctimoniously above the fray of religion either. It’s part and parcel of following Jesus.
Rather than “hate” religion, I think we are called to embrace it, to recognize its inconsistencies, to laugh at its foibles, to admit our own contributions to its shortfalls, to transform it as best we can.
See, “religion” (i.e., people) has done some terrible, horrible, inexcusable things. And along the way, “religion” has had a fine moment or two as well. But to “hate” religion seems to be rather sanctimonious. To take part in religion seems like hard work that keeps us humble.