Just four weeks ago, on January 10th, a young man called Jefferson Bethke posted a video on YouTube. Within three days the video had been viewed more than 4 million times. Within three weeks, it had been viewed 18 million times.
The video had the title “Why I hate Religion but love Jesus”. It lasts about 4 minutes, and is presented in the form of a monologue, with Jefferson standing in a red-bricked courtyard speaking as a rapper with rhyming verse.
Bethke keeps contrasting Jesus and Religion, with Jesus for freedom and sharing, and religion for rules and restrictions. I think he is mistaken when he states that Jesus hated religion, but he would be correct in stating that Jesus was critical of religion as it was taught and practiced in his time.
Jesus was clearly critical of religion and the religious authorities when he drove the merchants and the money changers from the Temple (Matthew 21, 12-13) He was critical of religion when he accused the religious authorities of locking the kingdom of heaven and preventing people from entering. (Matthew 23,13) He was critical of the religious authorities when he accused them of concentrating on trivialities like tithes on various herbs, while neglecting major issues like justice and mercy. (Matthew 23,23) He was critical of them again when he said that they broke the word of God in order to preserve their human tradition. (Matthew 15,3)
There are already a number of videos analyzing Bethke’s video, and pointing out the flaws. There are inaccuracies in Bethke’s video, like when he says that Jesus came to abolish religion. And there are other inaccuracies when he seems more intent on getting the rhyme right than on getting the facts straight.
But I think that the extraordinary popularity of the video is due to the fact that it expresses what so many young people are experiencing today. They are attracted to the person of Jesus, but they are put off by religious authority which seems overly concerned about control and micro-managing the lives of the faithful.
Jefferson Bethke may be accused of inaccuracies in his Jesus versus Religion video. But I think he has done a great service by highlighting the interest of young people in the person of Jesus, and their criticism of religious authority for giving control higher priority than service.