Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jesus vs. religion: a death match

I could become seriously frustrated and hyperbolic on this one, so feel free to bail right now. You have been warned.

Here goes, I'll keep it short.

Lots of people are re-posting a video that has gone viral on Youtube. It's about how Jesus is better than religion, and why the poet/rapper making the video hates religion but loves Jesus. If you really must watch it, here's the link:

And much like my previous post on whether to Tebow or not to Tebow, there's a great essay out there already that offers a solid theological critique. You really should go read it:

Here's my central point: People love this video not because it is true, but because it has high production values. It's a classic example of where the medium (a well made "music" video) convinces through the rhetorical force of the medium and accompanying soundtrack rather than the validity and coherence of the message. The medium, in fact, overrides and replaces the message. It swallows it.


In fact, an inversion occurs, to such an extent that the very thing the poet is declaiming (religion) becomes the thing he is celebrating, because his video is a classic example of what "religion" is. He says religion is about how you look on the outside rather than what is on the inside. Ipso facto, this video is all about presentation.

Religion makes high production value videos in front of cool buildings with guys in fancy clothes instead of feeding the poor. 

Religion needs really cute guys who can rap handsomely about their weakness in order to prove that Jesus is about weakness rather than strength. 

Religion needs bad rhymes to cover up inelegant prose. As one teen noted, "It's like he built the poem around a rhyme. Rhyme can ruin otherwise good poetry."

Religion takes an authentic and tried and true form (a faith testimonial) and turns it into a viral Youtube phenomenon requiring lots of expensive cameras and shots, and less authenticity, in order to get everyone excited about why in a death match between Jesus and religion, Jesus wins hands down.

This video is the height of religiosity, not a critique of it. This video IS religion.

And since we still have no idea what religion actually is, other than, using the same assumptions as the video, it must be a very, very, very bad thing, the rhetoric of my preceding sentences has convinced you, right?


  1. Very interesting. I'd like you to say more about what you feel religion is. In your post about the sad and untimely death of Christopher Hitchens you mentioned that, 'Lutherans tend towards a "religionless Christianity."' Could you explicate?

  2. Religionless = this worldly. So religionless Christianity could in fact embrace the "religion" he denigrates, at least on some levels. I also think the word religion is, in some ways, a vacuous word. People use it to mean all the aspects of Christian community they themselves dislike or disagree with.

    Jesus was "religious" after all. He went regularly to the synagogue, learned with the rabbis, visited the temple, and so on.

  3. Michael Tassler6:58 AM

    You don't sound too grumpy to me. Karl Barth famously assigned "religion," correctly in my view, to the realm of sin.

  4. Wesley Menke11:10 AM

    Hey Clint,

    I agree with your criticism of the video. The medium definitely betrays the message. My question lies more at the thought/strategy of even entering the fight for who or what is most truly religionless. Why must religion be relegated to the category of sin (Mr. Tassler's above comment)? For example, a colleague of mine describes herself as a secular humanist atheist. She pastors a church, and is quite open regarding who she is. She believes in the power of religion to bring people together, to work toward justice, i.e., a force for good in the world. One interesting trick of the video is when the speaker says religion is false but Christianity is true. He "hates" religion only insofar as it doesn't mesh with his particular interpretation of Christianity as the one true non-religion. It strikes me as religious exclusivism packaged in slick post-modern-ish language/sentiments.

    1. There is kind of an on-going debate around the word religion, and the function of religion in society. Videos like this I think lose sight of why 20th century theologians like Barth and Bonhoeffer criticized religion. Religion for them was what ended up blessing, for example, Nazism, etc. Some others want to talk about religion in a more general sense, as perhaps the phenomenological manifestation of what community looks like together in different faith traditions. Either way, this video misses the boat.

  5. Anonymous5:11 PM

    This video seems to redefine the word "religion" as "everything that's bad about the church". I've been seeing more and more of this lately. It's as if the church hired some marketing consultants who told them that the word "religion" has too many negative connotations and that they should run from it as fast as they can. The video attacks hypocrisy and self-righteousness, but I think its real target is the word "religion". It's all part of a re-branding effort.

    1. I think that is part of the issue. I don't know if it is concerted effort, but it does seem an attack on a specific word.

  6. I really liked this video but my takeaway of the message was quite different. Religion and its focus on human achievable works can lead to entrapment, guilt, and pride. Even in good churches that adhere to God's Word you can get caught up in the "doing Church" and a checklist mentality of being a "good Christian" all the while ignoring the focus of having a relationship with Christ.

    I'm trying to see your point concerning the production value but I still think the message rings true. Unfortunately I think his language would lend validity to someone looking to ignore the Church and that isn't good or glorifying.

  7. Anonymous5:56 AM

    What I found most bothersome was the church that produced the video --- the Mars Hill Church in Washington state. It goes far beyond religion by being a cult.