The self-righteous, relying on the many good works he imagines he has performed, seems to hold salvation in his own hand, and considers Heaven as a just reward of his merits. In the bitterness of his zeal he exclaims against all sinners, and represents the gates of mercy as barred against them, and Heaven as a place to which they have no claim. What need have such self-righteous persons of a Saviour? They are already burdened with the load of their own merits. Oh, how long they bear the flattering load, while sinners divested of everything, fly rapidly on the wings of faith and love into their Saviour’s arms, who freely bestows on them that which he has so freely promised! – Jeanne Guyon
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – James 1: 27
MIDDLE EAST, January 22, 2011—Raging on “You Tube” recently is a debate instigated by a young Jeff Bethke, who posted a video titled: “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” which has gone viral and attracted millions of hits.
For the most part, Bethke’s hecklers, and they are many, prefer to look at his choice of words rather than what is in his heart. He could have done without the word “hate” in the title of his video, but he probably used it intentionally to provoke response.
After studying all the good and bad feedback, maybe St. Francis of Assisi’s observation makes more sense to him: “Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary, use words.”
But use one wrong word and there are many sincerely religious people out there who will take you apart, as Bethke is discovering.
From my experience of observing many expatriates in the Middle East from various religions, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that Christians could be most difficult people to get along with anywhere. They seem to fall into three categories:
- Those who prefer to live in a Christian ghetto where preferably like minded folks are their friends.
- Those who follow Western Christian church models as their only preference, with a rigid theology that makes them quite religious and judgmental with those who innovate.
- Those who are certain they are in “full-time ministry,” convinced they are the true servants of the Most High while the ordinary 9-to-5 plebeians are lower on the spiritual totem pole. If they are white folks, one can’t help notice how many of them quickly learn to take advantage of their skin color in a part of the world that is still plagued with unchecked racism, despite tenets which forbid Muslims from such practice (Sura al-Hujurat, 49.13).
Once in a discussion on church prejudice with a South African expat, my fellow church-goer demanded, “What is the harm in preferring to stick with your own people?” A common, seemingly harmless sentiment, it is unfortunately incompatible with the all-encompassing teachings of Christ.
Am I saying I don’t know any genuine Christians? Of course not, but unbiased, humble, transparent folk are hard to find: those who are not so sure of themselves, only about the One who transformed their lives.
The folks wildly commenting on Bethke’s video cheerfully disregard Phillipians 4:8-9, which urges everyone to consider: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things … And the God of peace will be with you.”
In my column No 2 Religion, Yes 2 Faith, I would certainly go along with someone like Victor Hugo who admitted, “I’m religiously opposed to religion.” But to “hate” religion would make me no different from a fanatic – one would rather adopt Henry Louis Mencken’s view, “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”
However, what is most intriguing about the ongoing Jeff Bethke mêlée is to see the 22 year old’s heart vs. that of his learned Christian critics. It’s pretty obvious after his rebirth experience four years ago, Bethke’s love for Jesus comes shining through. His detractors and would-be censors, on the other hand, unmistakably demonstrate their enduring love affair with religion.
Two theologies are obvious. One packs pride from much religious knowledge, and it’s obviously not the seminary-unschooled Bethke.
For me, the issue of religion vs. faith was put into clear perspective by Mahatma Gandhi, who observed quite simply: “God has no religion.” It is challenging enough to exercise faith without adding bells and whistles; those of us for whom James 1: 27 is a clear enough definition of religion, anything else is extra – no matter how grand the theology.
When I first interviewed him in Dubai, author Philip Yancey differed with me over the issue of “Christ not Christianity.” He is nonetheless one of my favorite writers. In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, (Ch 4, Pg 72) Yancey shares an insight he obtained from the writings of Dostoevsky, who made the Temptation of Christ in the Bible the centrepiece of his great novel, The Brothers Karamazov.
Yancey writes: “The agnostic brother Ivan Karamazov writes a poem called, ‘The Grand Inquisitor,’ set in sixteenth-century Seville at the height of the Inquisition. In the poem, a disguised Jesus visits the city at a time when heretics are daily being burned at the stake. The Grand Inquisitor, a cardinal, ‘an old man, almost ninety, tall and erect with a withered face and sunken eyes,’ recognizes Jesus and has him thrown into prison. There, the two visit in a scene intentionally reminiscent of the Temptation in the desert.
“The Inquisitor has an accusation to make: By turning down the three temptations, Jesus forfeited the three greatest powers at his disposal, ‘miracle, mystery, and authority.’ He should have followed Satan’s advice and performed the miracles on demand in order to increase his fame among the people. He should have welcomed the offer of authority and power. Did Jesus not realise that people want more than anything else to worship what is established beyond dispute? ‘Instead of taking possession of men’s freedom, you increased it and burdened the spiritual kingdom of mankind with its sufferings forever. You desired man’s free love, that he should follow you freely, enticed and taken captive by you.’
“By resisting Satan’s temptations to override human freedom, The Inquisitor maintains, Jesus made himself far too easy to reject. He surrendered his greatest advantage: the power to compel belief. Fortunately, continues the sly Inquisitor, the church recognised the error and corrected it, and has been relying on miracle, mystery and authority ever since. For this reason, the Inquisitor must execute Jesus one more time, lest he hinder the church’s work.”
The implications for Jeff Bethke’s pharisaic detractors are hopefully obvious in Yancey’s narrative, though I wonder if Yancey, who is one of the editors at Christianity Today, would agree with the insinuation. Bethke’s poem actually asks: “But if Jesus came to your church would they actually let Him in?”
Rather than continue the discussion in prose, I conclude with what may well be termed, “lame poetry” to convey my own heart on the Bethke video, with due respect to a certain Jonathan D. Fitzgerald who made the observation about Bethke’s limericks.
BEING RELIGIOUS OR BEING FREE
By Frank Raj
How do we enter this world designed to challenge you and me?
Why do we know risk, pain and blood before we can even see?
First we are dependent, then we are weaned, meant to be free!
For our perilous journey of life, a truly amazing gift is given
Complete freedom of thought for our minds to enliven
Overcomers are not engineered to be controlled or driven
But soon we discover the risk-free cocoon of man-made religion
Taught various rituals, indoctrinated by family, clergy or tradition
To secure our free minds, others make it their own mission
Before we know it, our thinking capacity is diminished
A closed mentality ensures our source of wisdom cannot be replenished
Deep, spiritual cravings can keep us in a religion by its makeup blemished
What is the one great longing that pervades man’s heart?
The promise of eternity is the Creator’s best bargain we’ve got
When it’s free, why strive, isn’t that what false religion is about?
What is freedom of thought if we must follow the religious herd?
The Truth that sets us free is clearly meant by all to be heard
Ten Commandments and Jesus’ atoning love the Spirit teaches in God’s Word
If learned theologians in a Magisterium the Church required
Why weren’t eminent High Priests of Jesus’ day then hired?
Why were crude, ignorant fishermen first chosen and inspired?
Love and humility, can help us manage our conflicts in society
When we see that being religious is not the same as being free
Knowing Christ is not about following something called Christianity
“I Am The Way, The Truth And The Life,” is the essential key
Was Jesus’ paradigm a flawed religious edifice, or a networking genuine family?
God’s Word, not proud theology is real freedom for you and me.
Frank Raj is based in India and the Middle East where he has lived for over three decades. He is the founding editor & publisher of ‘The International Indian’ (www.theinternationalindian.com) the oldest magazine of Gulf-Indian society and history since 1992. Frank is co-author of the upcoming publication ‘Universal Book of the Scriptures,’ and author of ‘Desh Aur Diaspora.’ He blogs at: www.no2christianity.wordpress.com
Read more of Frank’s work in No 2 Religion, Yes 2 Faith in the Communities at the Washington Times.
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