This video has been making the rounds in the YouTube and Facebook universe this past week. "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" has provoked some pretty strong responses among "religious" people who disagree with the young man, as well as those who agree with him. It caught my eye in particular because I teach a class at St. Mary's Seminary on Catholicism and American culture, and our next class is actually covering the "Spiritual, not Religious" idea so prevalent in our culture today.
Now, one of the posts that has received a lot of attention is one man's rebuttal of the young man's claims in the video. It's a good argument, but an argument that has no resolution at this point. Another of my colleagues in priesthood here in Baltimore who has worked with a lot of youth as well noted that this young man's thoughts - very cleverly expressed - represent a very widespread attitude among young people, and it is worth dialoguing rather than defending or rebutting. He's right.
Today, many people - young and not-so-young alike - will say that they are "spiritual" but not "religious." This usually means that they pray but don't see a need to be engaged in any external or institutional expression of their faith. It's a common thought that a study by researchers at the University of North Carolina has identified as "Moral Therapeutic Deism." This "faith" has some tenets as well. Namely,
- A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
One of the dangers of this "faith" is that it tends to draw a person away from the community aspect of our religious life and into a more individualistic expression of faith, ultimately leaving one without the support of that community until there might be a crisis. However, it is innocuous enough to be the widespread "religion of choice" for many young people today.
Now, this young man's thoughts line up in part with what that study found, but he also leaves some clues as to how we can dialogue with him and his particular thought as well. Present in his words is a clear (at least to me) sense of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. While to some Catholics that might sound like evangelical salvation talk ("Accept Him as your personal Lord and Savior"), I think there is more to it. This guy found Christ - or rather, was found by Christ. Getting defensive about that in the face of a critique of overly legalistic religion can only underscore his argument. Would that more young people discover Jesus in their lives!
I disagree with this young man as to the opposition of Jesus and religion. I think that what a lot of folks may experience as "religion" could certain make his claim true. However, Christianity - which he clearly says he embraces - is not a collection of rules and institutions. It is a relationship with a Person.
So, thanks, dude, for getting this out there. The conversation has begun. It's not over just because we make a cute video, nor is it over because religious people throw rebuttals at him. Our young people deserve better than that. They deserve the truth. I think this guy is on track to eventually be open to the fullness of that truth, because with it offers is a real relationship.
And the relationship is what's most important.