Why I Think Jesus Hates Religion
by Jefferson Bethke from Jesus > Religion
was that time of the year when you could feel a mixture of intense
emotions in the air — the joy of the semester almost being done, along
with the pressure of having to pass through final exams first. People
were stressed. The campus was fairly quiet as students were trying to
make up for all the studying they didn’t do the previous three and a
had come to expect a few breaks that included fun treats or programs
during finals week that the student life department at my previous
self-proclaimed Christian college make available. Sometimes there were
free massages in the student lounge. Sometimes there was free food or
though I had just transferred to a secular liberal arts university, I
expected the same. While I was in my room studying — most likely
Facebooking, but let’s not talk about that — I heard a knock at the
answered it to be greeted by my lovely RA (resident assistant) who was
holding a bucket of lollipops in one hand and a bucket of condoms in the
She cheerfully said, “Candies and condoms! Be safe and have a stress-free finals week!”
I remember thinking, Just what I needed to help me study for finals — high fructose corn syrup and latex birth control.
definitely wasn’t at a Christian college anymore! Later that year they
did something similar, where they taped “sex facts” and condoms to the
walls of the dorm. I think they used to use staples, but as you can
imagine, it wasn’t very effective.
about a quick change. It didn’t take me more than a few hours to see
the glaring difference between my strict Christian college in San Diego
and my new liberal arts university in Portland. Whatever comes to mind
when you think of Portland, that is exactly the essence of this school.
It was the mecca of gay rights. They banned bottled water because it
wasn’t environmentally friendly. Everyone had dreads, and none of the
girls shaved their armpit hair. Well, that last one is not completely
true. It was the type of university that had used books by Richard
Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as textbooks and dripped with a
granola-liberal-progressive spirit. But I loved it. Really. I absolutely
loved it. If I had to do it all over again, I would have gone there in
the first place.
what’s really funny is while I was at the Christian school, I wasn’t a
Christian. But while I was at the secular school, I was a Christian.
You’d think I would have wanted to go back to the Christian school, right? It was the opposite.
I found the Christian school to be stuffy, hypocritical, and judgmental. I
could no longer stand praying after baseball practice with thirty guys
who wore crosses around their necks, knowing a few hours later they’d
have a beer in one hand and a girl in the other (myself included).
Weirdly, my new university felt accepting and loving. There was no
guessing if someone was really a Christian or not. If you said you were a
Christian at that school, it wasn’t to gain you any points — in fact,
you probably lost some. There was something about that type of
atmosphere that drew me in.
senior year I was an RA — which pretty much means I was the dorm’s
“dad.” I was the guy who would let you in if you locked yourself out,
wrote you up if you broke the rules — there weren’t many — and would be
there if you were having emotional or academic problems.
Dealing with students daily, I got a pulse on the common conceptions they held toward God, Jesus, religion, and Christians.
What constantly surprised me was the ignorance of most college students regarding Jesus. I heard things such as, “I could never follow Jesus; I still want to drink beer.” Or,
“Why would I like Jesus? He hates gays.” I remember thinking, Huh?
still drink beer, and I don’t hate gays. My favorite was one of my
baseball teammate’s responses after I asked him what he thought about
Jesus: “Yeah, I love Jesus — and Buddha too. I’m a Christian Buddhist.” It took everything in me not to laugh. Christian Buddhist? That’s like saying you’re a lactose-intolerant cheese lover.
college campus is an interesting place. Students have little to no
responsibility, question everything they believe in, and live within one
hundred feet of all their friends. There’s also a huge dark side to
most colleges. As an RA I had a front row view of the pain in my
generation. Colleges these days are breeding grounds for poor decisions,
emotional brokenness, and sharp pain.
is all behind the scenes, of course, because the girl who was raped
freshman year and the guy who hates himself and struggles with
depression don’t seem broken when sitting in a lecture hall debate.
don’t flaunt their brokenness when trying to prove themselves. But in
their dorm rooms in the middle of the night after another disaster or
one-too-many shots, I got to see people become transparent over and over
again. They’d continually admit their lives weren’t working. They were
empty. Longing. Desiring. Searching.
friend’s sister had just admitted she was gay to the family, and it was
tearing them apart because their dad refused to “have a gay daughter.”
Another friend admitted she hated herself for losing her virginity to
her ex-boyfriend, whom she didn’t even speak to anymore. Another felt
the immense pressure of balancing school and child care because she was
caring for her little sister now that her dad had left and her mom had
saw some of my peers nearly drink themselves to death or try to kill
themselves — and without the ambulances showing up so fast, they just
I wondered, How am I any different? Just
two years before, I had struggled with depression. I had struggled with
suicidal thoughts. I had struggled with the guilt and shame that so
often come with recreational dating. I had spent the first year of
college shotgunning beers, messing around with girls, acting like the
world existed to cater to my needs, and never taking a second to pull
out the emotional, spiritual, and mental shrapnel that had been lodged
in my soul by the “me” lifestyle. Inside I was just a scared little boy
who had been deeply insecure his whole life and lived in hopes that
others would tell me I was good enough.
course, none of us would admit it so plainly, and for nineteen years of
my life, I wouldn’t have either, but isn’t it true? Why else do we do
most of the things we do?
generation is the most fatherless and insecure generation that’s ever
lived, and we are willing to sacrifice everything if we just can be told
we are loved.
If only we knew just how loved we really are.
being a follower of Jesus now, and knowing just how gracious He had
been to restore me, heal me, and pursue me, I longed so deeply to share
His love with these students. Over and over again, though, I’d get the
same response whenever I’d bring up Jesus. Literally, the overall
essence of Jesus to these students had been boiled down to whether or
not someone could say the F-word. Immediately, they’d bring up periphery
issues that Jesus barely mentions as their biggest opposition to him.
Ironically, the reasons they opposed Jesus were sometimes the reasons
Jesus opposed the religious people of his day.
Half the time, they weren’t even rejecting Jesus; they were rejecting what He rejected!
I sat in bed one night and wondered, When on earth did “hates gays, can’t drink beer, and no tattoos” become the essence of Christianity?
hit me that my friends weren’t the ones to blame for their confusion.
They had gotten this idea from people they grew up with, churches they
went to as kids, or preachers they saw on TV. It was the church’s fault
that they thought this was what real Christianity was all about. As I’ve
heard said, “Of 100 unsaved men, one might read the Bible, but the
other 99 will read the Christian.”
I’m sure we’d have a very different Bible if it were written simply by observing modern-day Christians.
peers couldn’t separate Jesus from religion because they weren’t
reading the Bible to learn about Jesus; they were looking to the
Christian religion to understand him. What they were rebelling against
People lamented that they had tried Christianity, and it didn’t work. But last time I checked, you don’t try Christianity; either your heart has been transformed by Jesus or it hasn’t.
But you can try religion.
You can try to follow the rules.
You can try to climb up to heaven.
But all you’ll do is white-knuckle your way to religious despair. It won’t work. It never does.
when I started to notice an interesting trend: When I juxtaposed
religion and Jesus in my conversations, they took a different turn. It
allowed people to pull back a little and see him in a different light.
They no longer were just brushing him off, but were actually pursuing,
thinking, and investigating the man named Jesus. And that’s when I
started to write the poem “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus.”
Watch Jefferson Bethke's Video: "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus" on our blog