Definition Barf: “Religion” – Why I Hate YouTube, But Love Jesus

It’s so easy to disseminate any information you want these days.  I mean, hey, look at me.  Some dude on the other side of the world could be reading this.  Every once in a while something  goes “viral”.  Something can be funny, disgusting, moving, or just plain stupid.  Who knows why people latch on to what they latch on to.  I bring this up because I’ve seen this video by a young man named Jeff Bethke pop up so many times now over the past couple of weeks.  I think Bethke has some very good things to say.  However, at the same time, after a great discussion on Facebook, I’ve come to the conclusion that, once again, I’m faced with a serious lack of definition (ala Tolerance I, II, III).  After thinking about this a bit, I guess I just want a place to put it down for myself.  In this case, we’re talking about “religion” (sticking to Christianity specifically in this case).

First, while I mostly just want to get to the bottom of what we mean when we say “religion”, there are a couple of things that absolutely make me cringe in this video.  First, please don’t ever say, “I’m not judging,” while dishing out your judgement.  It doesn’t make any sense and people do it all the time.  I’m not even saying don’t judge.  Certainly don’t judge from a position of hypocrisy, but everybody makes judgements.  If we didn’t there would be no justice system.  The Bible doesn’t say don’t judge.  It just says be careful how you do it because you’ll be judged the same way (Matt 7:2).

Second, the first thing out of Bethke’s mouth is politics.  Don’t bring politics into religion.  A religious worldview will inform our voting habits no doubt, so sometimes religion will creep into politics.  All worldviews inform the owner’s political views though.  There’s nothing special about that.  Unless your politics are your religion, it’s just not necessary to bring politics back the other way though, unless your real intention is to talk about politics, not religion.

Okay, so what is Bethke trying to say?  Did Jesus really hate religion and come to abolish it?  Should I hate religion?  That depends on what you mean.  I’ve always kind of thought religion should be despised, but recently I’ve been trying to be more thoughtful and trying to really understand what people mean when they say certain things.  We seem to be allowing culture to redefine terms on us, and then what they say may not be what I understand something to be, which leads to confusion.  Bethke seems to think I can do away with what he is calling “religion”, but he never clarifies what that means.  For that, let’s go to the number one definition on…

Religion: A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

I think I’ve always had an aversion to religion too, until I thought about it further.  I’m actually pretty religious by definition.  I have a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe that revolve around a supernatural being and an ancient text.  This often manifests itself with devotional and ritual (we’ll come back to that word) observances like reading the text, praying, and attending regular lectures on biblical topics.  This religion definitely informs my moral code and how I operate, and how I think humanity ought to operate for best results.

It’s not just me either.  Jesus was Jewish.  He was born into Judaism, and as such, he followed Jewish customs, frequented synagogues, prayed, and celebrated Jewish festivals.  Those seem like pretty religious things to me.  While he hated the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, I don’t recall him exhorting them to ignore the Jewish law althogether.  Even after Jesus’ death we find the apostles practicing Jewish customs in places like Acts 18:18 where Paul has shaved his head because of a vow he’s taken.  If Jesus hated religion and wanted it abolished, he must really have miscommunicated it even to those with whom he communicated directly.

Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it (Matt 5:17-20).  In other words, he came not to abolish religion, but to change it.  Old Testament law was meant to draw people closer to God.  When Jesus fulfilled the law on the cross, he became the better mechanism for that.  However, we’re still obligated to take what he taught to heart.  Simply believing in Jesus accomplishes nothing.  Satan himself believes in Jesus.  You must follow Jesus, which means sincerely putting your religious beliefs into practice in a meaningful way.

I think (hope) what Bethke is talking about in this video, is specifically the sterile practice of the “ritual observances” we see in the definition above.  It isn’t all religion that ought to be discarded, but all empty religion.  All the ritual with none of the heart.  Some people love to tell other people how they ought to live, without doing so themselves.  They want to put on the striped shirt and be God’s referee, but never step into the game themselves.  This is the sort of legalistic hypocrisy Jesus hated.  You can’t fool God by acting one way on Sunday, but then neglect to be the same person the other 6 days of the week.  This is what some people call “religion”, but I think that is a misuse of the term.

There seems to be a post-modern movement afoot to sanitize biblical teaching to make it more palatable in the name of not being “religious”, but I think it goes too far.  If I’m not careful, I’m convinced to give up my “religion” and allow myself to be molded in the world’s image, rather than God’s.  We’re gradually allowing our personality and politics to inform our religion, rather than vice versa.  It is dangerous to give up the framework of historical Christianity that keeps me on track.  To be certain, there is no religious rituals or words that will, in and of themselves, get us any closer to God.  However, Jesus gives many very clear instructions for living that are intended to be for my own happiness, so I won’t avoid them!  If I believe he was who he said he was, I’ll believe he spoke the truth and take it to heart.  My religion (see definition above) will be informed by his teaching.  Among many other things, I will (try to) do things like love my enemy (Matt 5:43-48), pray continually (1 Thess 5:16-18), avoid being a hypocrite (Matt 5:7), avoid false teaching (Rom 16:17), be patient (1 Thess 5:14), not worry (Matt 6:34), avoid things like sexual immorality, jealousy, hatred, and drunkenness (Gal 5:19-21), and love my wife (Eph 5:25).  This is a set of beliefs that informs my worldview and helps keep me on course.  Sure I fail miserably sometimes, but that ought not stop me from trying.  This is my religion, and I won’t be bullied out of it any more than I will try to bully people into it.

Hopefully you see my confusion.  I’ve often heard it said that Christianity is supposed to be a relationship, not a religion.  I think though, that we’ve allowed the word “religion” to be hijacked so that it is only allowed to be used in a derogatory fashion which can be misleading.  I would say that the key is to make the religion (the beliefs and actions) properly express the relationship.  I ought to practice what Jesus preached everywhere I go!  Moreover, my religion/relationship may not look exactly like somebody else’s even while being based on the same beliefs and moral codes.  We all have our own personalities and gifts that we bring to our religion.

It is 100% true that my religious beliefs or practices cannot save me, nor do they elevate me above anybody else (Eph 2:8-9, Rom 3:22).  However, if somebody accuses me of being “religious”, I think the next words I say to them ought to be, “what do you mean by that?”  Only then can I agree or disagree with their assessment of me.  I may not like the label, but it may be a correct assessment depending on their intended meaning!


“Tolerance” Makes Me Barf: Part III (the death of tolerance)

In Part 1 I established what “tolerance” seems to have become, which is the expectation that we should wholesalely agree with one another.  In part 2 I decided “tolerance” is worthless.  We can’t name call or legislate our way to agreement.  The idea of intolerance, that I am a bigot because I don’t agree with a particular idea, is ridiculous.  By calling me intolerant, you yourself are being intolerant.  It’s self-defeating nonsense.  What then should we really expect of each other?

In the beginning I said my daughter was given a tolerance award.  Based on what I think this is supposed to mean in the politically correct public school system, I don’t think I even want her to have a “tolerance” award.  She has my permission to be intolerant, and to reject the label outright if anybody ever tries to apply it to her using their own circular logic.  What kind of award should she get then?  I think it is a “lovingly put up with” award.  She puts up with behavior she disagrees with, while also remaining kind, because although she knows the action is bad, its ultimate source, the person, is to be loved.

You see, the flawed idea of tolerance needs to be replaced.  Rather than suggesting that I must agree with ideas and behaviors that I disagree with, and go so far as to encourage them, what I am willing to do, and teach my children to do, is to love people regardless of the way they perceive the world.  Personhood can be respected without accepting the worldview of the person.  We should exchange ideas, all the while remembering that people are broken.  Nobody is right, or wrong, 100% of the time.  We’re all right at times, and we’re all wrong at times.  Knowing that we’re wrong sometimes (more often than we’ll likely admit), we should take care to hear people’s ideas out with the same loving respect that we’d hope to get for ourselves.  We can disagree respectfully.

As long as you hear me out, I’ll hear you out. Further, as long as you don’t try to force me (or my kids) to believe your ideas or be subject to your disagreeable behavior, then I’ll try to love you as a person, and “put up with” your differing opinions.  Real tolerance is respecting personhood.  We can thoughtfully attack ideas without attacking people.  People won’t always agree.  It’s a fact of life.  The key to civility isn’t to get everybody to agree, it’s to dispense with the name calling and get people to respectfully agree to disagree.

That being said, I’ve recently developed very strong feelings about the potential danger of avocados 🙂

“Tolerance” Makes Me Barf: Part II

The other day I went over the way tolerance is defined.  Essentially, it boils down to being “permissive” (ie accepting) of another person’s opinion or behavior with which I disagree.  I will do no such thing.  Therefore, because I refuse to accept that which I disagree with (see oxymoron), I am, by definition, a bigot (a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion).  I proudly claim the title, because I think it means nothing!

The best way to explain this ridiculous sense of “tolerance” is with an example.  An appropriate example is in the news in WA right now, as the state legislature and government sign a bill legalizing gay marriage.  It should come as no shock by now, that this is a position that I do not agree with.  There is plenty I might say against gay “marriage”, and every bit as much I might say about the way heterosexuals do “marriage”, but I won’t.  Instead, please let me tell you my own view of what real marriage is.

From my theistic worldview, in the beginning, God created mankind in his own image.  He made them male and female to be partners, because it was not good for them to be alone. (Gen 1:27, Gen 2:18).  That’s really all I need.  I could find other things in both biblical and natural revelation to speak in support of heterosexual unions as the ideal, but I look at creation (which I’ve already said I can’t accept as anything but created by a Creator because it doesn’t make sense to me) and acknowledge, as far as life partners go, that men and women were designed to be mates.  Even from a purely biological perspective, this just makes sense to me, so I let both the natural and the biblical inform my opinion the matter.  I believe it is clear that creating and raising children is also best done by both a mother and a father.  There are years of studies that go to this point.

That’s sort of the simple mechanics of what I think marriage ought to be, but what about the philosophical purpose of the partnership?  Is it to find one’s “soul mate” and live “happily ever after”, or at least until we can’t stand each other any more?  I think not.  Actually, I think I recently heard the best description as it was put by a gentleman named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German who stood up against the Nazi’s for their mistreatment of the Jewish people, and was ultimately hung by his captors.  In letters smuggled out of a Nazi prison by sympathetic guards, Bonhoeffer wrote to a young married couple that marriage is, “more than your love for each other”.  He said marriage, “has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time…It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.”

This is essentially my view of marriage.  It is not a government institution, it is a God ordained institution.  It is a union created by God for his purposes, not my merely my own pleasure, and not to be cast aside when our jr high idea of love subsides.  Certainly, like a lot of God’s creations there is much about marriage that is pleasing when the rule book is followed.  However, most people, including vast numbers of heterosexuals, throw out the rule book on marriage and make their own, which ultimately leads to untold strife for themselves and countless innocent children.  What Bonhoeffer understood is that proper marriage doesn’t take “soul mates” and legalize them, it takes two souls committed to fulfilling God’s purpose for the relationship, and ties them together to perpetuate the human race and the family unit as God intended it to be.  Marriage creates soul mates.  Soul mates are not found.  Anything less than a man and a woman committed to each other before God FOR LIFE doesn’t fit my requirement for marriage.  As a society, it is obvious that we fail miserably at this all around.

Now that you know my position on how marriage ought to be practiced, what say you?  Do you agree with my opinion?  If not, I told you I would call you an intolerant bigot.  We all disagree on something.  I even disagree with my own wife on some things, and we were made soul mates going on 15 years ago.  The problem is she’s an intolerant bigot.  I give her a break though, because we already found out that I am as well.  Luckily, she agreed to stick with me until I kick the bucket.  I agreed to do the same.  The “D” word isn’t even part of our working vocabulary.  I will love her and remain committed to her until the day that I die, knowing that she’s not the one that will ultimately hold me accountable, because the commitment wasn’t only to her.  We both said “til death” to our Creator and we meant it.  There’s no giving up, so we might as well make the best of it.  Since we both answer to a higher authority than the government, they have nothing meaningful to say about it, nor about any other real marriage.  Luckily we have a rule book that seems to work really well when applied properly.  I can’t imagine going through life with anybody else.  Happy Valentine’s Day, Babe!

“Tolerance” is a myth.  Nobody can be expected to accept the opinions or behaviors that they disagree with.  Nor should they.  I’m intolerant. You’re intolerant. We’re all intolerant!  I would never expect you to agree with me on or support me in something you don’t agree with.  That’s just stupid.  It’s an oxymoron.  Ideas will always be in opposition.  Applying labels to people who don’t agree with you is just name calling.  It isn’t productive.  It has just become a way for people to attack other people, rather than their ideas.  If you ask me, the word “tolerance” should be thrown out of the dictionary and political arena because it has been hijacked by ne’er-do-wells.  Further, the word “bigot” should be reserved for real cases of bigotry that need labeling.  What are the real cases?  I think that’s for part 3, when I throw out “tolerance” for opinions and behaviors and replace it with “love and respect” for people.  I guess I still also need to get back and replace my daughter’s tolerance award with something more suitable, like a tolerate award.

“Tolerance” Makes Me Barf: Part I

Image: Stuart Miles /

Image: Stuart Miles /

A few weeks ago my daughter came home with a certificate from school.  She had apparently got an award for being tolerant.  Getting her to explain why she received this award was a bit of a trick.  She didn’t even really know.  My guess would be the school has some number of these “tolerance” awards they need to give out to be politically correct.  As best as we can tell, we believe it was because my daughter, who is in 2nd grade, was placed at the same table with a girl in class who is a bit hyperactive.  This other girl is very distracting.  The teacher has said how impressive it is that my daughter can sit next to her and continue to work.  My daughter has told us that the situation isn’t ideal.  She shares space with another kid who she wishes wouldn’t act like that.  It bothers her, but she puts up with it.  I guess that seems “tolerant”, but something doesn’t seem quite right.  It doesn’t seem like “tolerant” is quite the right word based on the way people are throwing it around these days. What do people really mean when they say I should be tolerant?

When tackling anything sensitive to people, I think it is important to define terms, so let’s start there.   According to, the number one definition of “tolerant” is, “inclined or disposed to tolerate, showing tolerance.  Fair enough, but what is tolerance?  “Tolerance” is defined as, “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc,. differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.  Now here’s where it seems to get tricky.

In the unpacking of what tolerance is, consider the following definitions:

objective: not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased
permissive: habitually or characteristically accepting or tolerant of something, as social behavior or linguistic usage, that others might disapprove or forbid.
bigotry: stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.

Now that we have some definitions, there’s some interesting things to note.  In order to be “tolerant” according to the definition of the word I must

  •  (objective) Have an attitude not based on my personal feelings.
  •  (objective) Have an attitude based on facts.
  •  (fair) Remain unbiased (ie objective).
  • (permissive) Accept something (like a social behavior) that I disapprove of.

So the way I see it, if I take my personal feelings into account and don’t remain unbiased toward your creed, belief, or opinion then I’m intolerant.  If I don’t accept your social behavior, even though I disapprove of it, I’m intolerant.  I’m not even sure what I am if my personal feelings are based on facts.  If I have personal feelings about a matter that influence my position because of that facts, does that make me intolerant, or do my facts cancel out my personal feelings?  Further, because of the circular definition of the words bigotry (which is intolerance) and intolerance (which is not allowing you to be free from bigotry), you have clearance to call me a bigot if you’ve determined you can apply the label “intolerant” to me.  It seems that, in the end, all you’ve done is made up some harsh sounding names to call me because I don’t agree with you.

At this point I’d like to grant you license.  Please feel free to call me a “bigot” or “intolerant”, because I clearly am in many regards.  What is that saying we used to say when were kids?  I am rubber, you are glue…etc, etc?  Please come back for part two where I’ll call you the intolerant bigot!  I’ll also lobby to have my daughter’s “tolerance” award revoked, and then barf up a “tolerate” award for her!