Jesus Loves Religious People Too

January 18, 2012 — 31 Comments

What’s the worst thing to accuse someone of?

Think carefully.  I’ll give you a hint.  It starts with the letter ‘R.’

Is “racist” the most serious accusation you can throw at someone?  What about “Republican?”

Keep thinking.  It’s even worse.  The worst thing a person can be encompasses all the evil of the entire human race, and sums it up all in one word.

If I were you, I wouldn’t want to be accused of being…


God, no, not that!  I think some people would rather have dinner with a rapist than a religious person.  And with Jeff Bethke’s video about hating religion, making the rounds, I don’t think religious people are going to be winning any popularity contests any time soon.

Jesus Loved Everyone…Except Religious People

No one’s debating that Jesus was a pretty loving and accepting guy.  He loved hookers, tax collectors, lepers, outcasts, betrayers, adulterers, and a slew of other ne’er-do-wells.

But no one ever says he loved religious people.

Jesus loved religious people?  You mean the fanatics who are racists and homophobes, who work for the subjugation of women, and are anti-civil-rights?  The people whose accomplishments can be summed up with “big buildings and war?”  The narrow-minded fools who probably have brain defects?  The people who represent everything wrong with the world?  Hell no, Jesus doesn’t love them!  They are guilty of a myriad of crimes against humanity.

Way to go, Mother Teresa, your religious dedication is responsible for the Holocaust.

See, religious people were the villains of the Bible, the Nazis or zombies of the New Testament.  They are a nameless, faceless horde of all-purpose bad guys.  No one wants to be accused of being religious.

The Worst Crime

But of all the perceived crimes of religious people, there is one that is the worst.

They are hypocrites.

Here’s how it works.

See, everyone knows that we all lie, cheat and steal.  We all have skeletons in our closets.  We all have secrets and shame.

Look at this room full of phonies "praying."

But fear not!  It’s okay if you are a liar and a cheat and you’re unfaithful to your spouse…as long as you don’t go to church and “pretend” that you don’t.  That’s what drives everyone nuts.  Everyone assumes that everyone in church is faking it.  We’re all a bunch of hypocrites.  We’re pretending to be better than everyone else.  Do all the bad stuff you want to, but don’t go to church and pretend you’re better than us.

The Reality of Religion

Here’s the reality of religion:

First, everyone is faking it.  Religious or not, we’re all pretending to be better than we are.  All of you who think the people in church are hypocrites, you are just as bad.  I don’t see you going around confessing to strangers on the street.  You keep your secrets to yourself just like everyone else.  It’s pretty preposterous to think that just because someone is in church, they must be a faking it.  It’s like saying that all the people in the gym are only pretending to be healthier than me.

Second, if you think religion gets most of the credit for war, then you are a dolt.  If religion is evil because it motivates war, then oil is evil too, along with just about every natural resource on the planet.

Third: everyone is religious.  Even the people who pride themselves on being anti-religion.  Our religion is in our routines and rituals.  It’s how we connect with what is important to us, soothe ourselves, or try to find significance.  The beefy guy who’s at the gym five nights a week is practicing his religion of self-improvement.  The other guy who’s self-medicating by overeating is in his religious routine.  The workaholic is worshiping, the super-coupon lady at the store is worshiping.  We’re all religious.  You just have a choice about how narcissistic your religion is going to be.

And last: Jesus loves you, not because of, but even if you are religious.

So what do you think?  We like to say that Christianity is a “relationship,” not a religion.  But is that really right?  Why do you think “religion” is such a poisoned word?

31 responses to Jesus Loves Religious People Too

  1. I think there are several words out there that have become passe in Christian circles. “Christian” is one of them. I know that I usually refer to a “Christian” as a “believer” since “Christian” can be cultural instead of belief-based in many cases. I know I cringe when someone says off-hand “you’re religious, aren’t you?” I don’t think that anyone has meant it as an insult, but it just makes me cringe. I think a lot of it, honestly, is the portrayal of “Christians” in the media, and especially movies. The movie “Contact” is a prime example of it. “Religious” people in movies come in one of two ilks – the ultra-liberal, act just like everyone else, but believe in “God” or have “faith” of some sort, and the ultra-conservative, back-stabbing, deceitful, mean person who claims belief in God because it will give him favor somehow. I’m not either of those, and I don’t want to be associated with those stereotypes.

    But at the same time, the Gospel according to VeggieTales says “our God is a God of second chances!” Anything and everything can be redeemed! (Woohoo!) My hope is that there are others like me out there who are trying their hardest to live what we say we believe (but who fail sometimes, ask forgiveness, and try again) and who give “religious people” a _good_ name.

    • Actually, I thought the ending of “Contact” had a lot of parallels to religious faith, in my opinion.

      • Not denying that at the end Jodie Foster’s character came to an understanding about faith. I wasn’t talking about her character at all. I was talking about the two extremes of “Christian” that were portrayed by Matthew McConaughey (the “Reverend” who picked up Jodie Foster in a bar and had a one-night-stand with her, along with some very “happy” theology) and Tom Skerrit (the “God fearing” “Christian” sleezeball who was the other option for going in the machine). One is so “in the world” that there’s no difference between him and the world other than some warm fuzzies. The other didn’t even accurately portray a fundamentalist. He was just a sleeze in “Christian” clothing.

        I thank God for the Tebows and Duggars of the world. You or I may not agree with everything they believe, but they know what they believe, they know why they believe it, they live what they believe, and they have managed maintain their integrity, despite being public figures. They give Christianity a good name for once without sequestering themselves in a church.

        • I never read the book and I’m kind of curious as to how it differs from the movie. I get your point, though (although Tom Skerrit’s character reminded me of every politician I can remember from my adult life.)

          It’s one of the few sci-fi movies out there where the scientists are actually portrayed as the “good guys” and don’t end up accidentally blowing up the world or summoning evil aliens or something, so I’m a bit fond of it.

    • Oh, I’m with you – hate being labeled “religious” because of all the connotations. I think you make a good call on the “two types” of religious people.

  2. During my religious routine of reading blogs in the morning with my coffee, I enjoyed your post very much! :)

  3. I think those of us who are quicker to call ourselves hypocrites than we do others are the people worth talking to. Honestly, if I wasn’t hypocritical on some level I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning to try to do as much good as possible while using products manufactured by slave children. I’m aware of how ridiculous it all is, so I know I can’t be the hero and do it on my own. This is where “being religious” gives me a bit of hope.

    “Hypocrite” literally means actor, anyway, and most people with a facebook account fit that description. That’s why it drives me bonkers when the accusation gets leveled at Christians who don’t give enough to ___________ (the poor, etc.) No, they’re giving, just being obedient and following that “don’t let your right hand know what the left is doing” command. If FB was around at the time, I’m sure Jesus would have addressed it.

    • Do not let your Facebook know what your left hand is doing. Awesome point, Matt. The world is full of hypocrites and humble-braggers. (which by the way is a great twitter account to follow – full of “humble” people who try to cover their boasting with self depreciation.)

  4. I think the term “religious” has somewhat been replaced by “spiritual.” Through my master gardener connections, and because I volunteer with Audubon, I know a lot of spiritual people. They are aware of a non-physical realm, which is great, but they express their spirituality by communing with nature, reading spiritual (largely New Age) books, and dancing to the full (or new) moon. They often are the stereotypical liberalveganPETAmembertreehugger. But they have never really met God.
    God certainly loves them too!

  5. Matt, thank you for writing. I was hoping you would. I was told I was using the wrong definition of religion when I disagreed with Jeff’s rhyme. I was told the word religion now means shackles and chains and bigotry and hate. I was defining religion in a modernist definition (a Webster’s dictionary definition) and that’s SO OVER. The “real” christians are now post-modernist christians and have redefined christianity. Us modernist christians were keeping God in a box, post-modernists are letting God out of the box.
    I’m always surprised when I’m called a hypocrite because I go to church and I tithe to a church (I’m trusting the church to “do the right thing” with my money. I’m spending a lot of my time working and earning money. is this a sin?), I seek fellowship with other christians so when I go to my job (out in the world), I can stay grounded in my faith.
    Loved this post.

  6. I almost spit out my coffee when I read the “praying phonies” caption. Love your satire, as always! And I’ve been saying for years that everyone, no matter what your “religion,” is hypocritical. We all make mistakes and try to look better than we really are. It’s just in our DNA.

  7. The word religious is the simply embracing a philosophy or adherence to a perceived set of rules. Religious people add to the simplicity of faith in Christ by deciding which rules are important, and then they mindlessly lead others astray with their intellectual teaching and perceived requirements.

    That fact still remains that not every one that says they are a Christian is. We carelessly toss around terms like “walk by the Spirit” and “led of the Spirit” when so many have on a religious understanding of the mystery of faith. They can’t discern any better than the Pharisees, what God is really doing because of the perceived rules and paradigms.

    Knowing/walking/fallowing/having in Christ require knowing Him. This can only be done by a regenerate Spirit. Jesus said I do what I see the Father doing – if you can’t see what the Father is doing, yet you are acting like “Christian”, chances are you are religious.

    Great blog, Matt – a subject I am passionate about.

  8. Thanks for this post. I’m glad you wrote about this issue.

    I think it’s a shame that “religious” has come to mean what it has, because there’s a lot of beauty in the old traditions and prayers and heritage of our faith–and those things are usually classified as “religious”. It seems to be very en vogue today to want nothing to do with religion but everything to do with Jesus. The problem with that sentiment is that it just isn’t possible. What does it mean to “hate the church” or “hate religion” but love Christ? Nothing. Even Gandhi said that he likes this Jesus fellow …

    Jeff certainly has sparked a firestorm of debate, hasn’t he? I was encouraged by this post, however:

  9. Great post as usual. I like the way you think. The “hypocrite” argument is the simpletons excuse for avoiding God. There are hypocrites at Walmart and we keep going, in fact, Walmart just wants your money! People give everyone a break except the church.

  10. I think we shy away from the word “religion” because, frankly, it’s boring. Relationships, those are interesting and intriguing. Religion… that’s outdated and a borefest.

    Oh, and it causes wars.


  11. You addressed this aspect, but let me emphasize it. All people are religious by nature; it is simply a question of what is it we are religious about.

    In our society, though, the term is most frequently used as a perjorative, and most often it is applied to those who are overtly believers (to use John C’s term) in Jesus Christ as their redeemer.

    • I certainly don’t want to use adjectives to describe people that those people feel are offensive. When I talk or write about “religious people,” I mean “people who hold supernatural beliefs, whatever their particular creed”. I intend that in an emotionally neutral way. (If I were trying to say something critical of religion, I wouldn’t say “That’s so religious!” I’d say, “That’s so irrational!” or “You’re believing that without any evidence!” etc.) Is it typically not received as such? What should I be saying instead?

      I’m not aware of anyone using the word “religious” in a pejorative sense except for Christians who call Christians in different denominations “religious” (meaning “legalistic”).

      • I really think that people who aren’t “religious” (i.e., church-goers) see nothing wrong with it. I think it’s a connotation we have given to ourselves because we don’t want to seem ritualistic or fundamentalist or brainwashed – we want to seem like rational, cool people. I think for the non-religious, it’s just a way to say “you go to church, don’t you?” to someone without offending them because maybe they go to a mosque or temple or something else. I really think the negative connotation is at least mostly within the “religious” crowd. I’ve never had someone use that term in a derogatory fashion outside of church circles.

  12. Another post where I wanted to stand up and cheer.

    Being called “religious” is pretty bad, because it lumps me with Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, astrologists, and Green Bay Packer fans. However, I think being called a Pharisee is worse than being called “religious.” To me, a Pharisee = hypocrisy + pride. It is bad enough to be a hypocrite, but to think you are better than others because you are a Christian is worse, because the Bible claims that even the faith we have in God is a gift from Him and not something we earned (Ephesians 2:8-9).

    My memory verse for last week was 2 Corinthians 12:8-9–”And the Lord told me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, will I boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ will live in me.” (which is probably a mixture of NIV and NLT translations, so please be gracious). Maybe, if more if us had this “crazy pride”, like Paul, non-Christians would see a difference. Then again, maybe not. People will see what they want to see and believe what they want to believe.

  13. Matt, spot on post unveiling the religious fakery that ALL of us exhibit. Awesome! Also liked your piece over on Provoketive Magazine -> – great stuff bro!!!

  14. See, I’ve always understood “religion” to mean

    (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

    So it just seems funny to me when people try to say, “I’m not religious” and then go on to claim they worship Jesus or some other supernatural entity.

    I think tandemingtroll was being a bit facetious, but I actually think this cuts to the heart of the matter for most people:

    Being called “religious” is pretty bad, because it lumps me with Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, astrologists, and Green Bay Packer fans.

    It’s a bit like Mel Brooks’ famous line about tragedy vs. comedy – reserving the term “religion” for other people’s supernatural beliefs, and claiming one’s own as somehow distinct and superior.

  15. Call me cynical, but I sometimes feel that people only describe themselves as “religious” (or, my favorite, “deeply religious”) when they’re running for office.

  16. The word itself is fine it’s the baggage associated with it. The negative connotation given to religion is magnified when Christian people use it as a tool or weapon as well. It’s confusing for someone “religious” to belittle someone else “religious” by pointing to their religion. That doesn’t help anyone.

  17. ‘Religion’, if looked at as what ‘we do’ to ascend to God…is rightly viewed as a bad thing (because of Christ and His finished work for us).

    But to denigrate ‘tradional worship’ that many churches have been engaged in for thousands of years may not be very helpful.
    There is much that can be criticized in the church, but being overly pious and throwing out formal, traditional worship, just because you happen not to like it, well…enough said.

  18. Everyone is faking it…well said! I appreciate this article maybe more than any other. It will be on my facebook page immediately!

  19. Good conversation..there’s so much you could say! After being heavily involved in church life for many years, I’m afraid I too cringe at the word “religious.” It has come to mean someone who often has a narrow set of beliefs and feels compelled to judge those who do not share those beliefs. Because of the “Great Commission,” many Christians feel obligated to try to spread the “Good News” when among friends, and often do so clumsily. The people I know who are uncomfortable with me being “religious” are usually afraid of censure and judgement. No one wants to be around someone who ultimately feels they are “doing things wrong.” I am drifting away from church because how hateful people can be for this reason. If you want to attract people to the faith, you must love those around you with an unconditional love first.
    Another problem I find in the church is that many people, because they have practiced an extreme version of “in the world but not of it,” do not have the life experience to help them understand the challenges and perceptions of those that have had a different experience. This is how prejudices remain intact. Once you have interacted with a gay person or a homeless person, you come to a much greater understanding of that person, and judgement doesn’t come nearly so quickly!
    I know these things well, because I’ve “been there, done that.” I’m not really sure where I stand in my faith right now, but unfortunately, I feel I need to find the answers outside of a “church.”
    Of course, there’s always the “Church of No People” to help! :) !

  20. Thanks for posting this, really. This idea is liberating for me. For a long time I’ve hated my own religiousness and been disappointed always when I sat down to pray or read the bible because I felt like I was just doing it for the sake of religion. I thought that I was just a fake, and I was beginning to get angry at God because I thought religious was all I could ever be. I started to avoid “religious” activities because I thought that that somehow they were instigating my failure to be what I thought “sincere” was . But this article has brought me back to my senses. I am a sinner. Of course I’m going to be religious, and I shouldn’t avoid it because then ill avoid God all together and find other “religions” anyway, like schoolwork or my music or healthiness.

  21. Great post! This covers something that I have dealt with recently: the fact that I am a judgmental hypocrite. I used to pride myself in being accepting and non-judgemental, but the one people group that seriously ticked me off was the ‘judgers’. Of course, by saying that, I was judging. It’s a destructive cycle.

    Thank you for writing this, Matt!

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