Watching YouTube “Religiously”

By now, anyone who has, or who works closely with teens has undoubtedly heard about the “Why I hate religion but love Jesus” video that has gone viral on YouTube. Forgive me for not linking to it… my Mom taught me to keep gasoline away from matches (after my brothers and I almost launched our riding mower into outer space in 1982). Incidentally, my mother also taught me not to use the word “hate,” but that’s a different story for another day.

Hundreds of blog responses (and countless comments) have been posted about this video “assault” on organized religion. My inbox, Facebook page, and Twitter feed were lighting up nonstop for a couple of days with both teens and Youth Ministers who either loved or “hated” the video. While anyone with a true comprehension of ecclesiology or etymology can easily dismiss the video for its evident holes, many of our teens cannot. Millions have watched it and perceived that something “wasn’t quite right” about it. They were reaching out asking for advice on how to articulate to their friends, peers, teachers and, even, parents (in three correspondences) what exactly was wrong with the young man’s assertions.

It’s for that reason that I felt compelled to take a couple minutes to compose a few talking points for our Youth Ministers and Core Members out there, in case this comes up on Sunday, or in the days to come. This is in no way a complete treatise. You probably have a dozen things you’ll use to explain where the (hopefully well-intentioned) video diatribe against religion goes askew. Here are just a few “short answer” concepts and insights to insure that the conversation is pastoral and rooted not only in truth, but in love.

1. Ask questions before you give answers.

Many of the teens you talk to might have already publicly “liked” and shared the video. If you come out of the gate with the Catechism blazing, you’ve not only commented on the video but – in their minds – on them, as well. Ask questions like, “What is the purpose of this video? Why did these people go to the trouble of making it?” Allow them to answer. Honor each response; validate their answers even if you don’t agree with them – there will be time for you to correct, as needed.

2. Take time to point back to their answers.

If the purpose was to educate, it falls short since much of the content is taken out of context (which we’ll deal with momentarily). Was it to jolt Christians out of slothfulness? That could work with some. Was it to insult religions? Mission accomplished, (and you might follow with a question like) but isn’t it dangerous to equate “all religions” as equal and, thus, equally evil? Was it to get people to think and exchange ideas? It’s doing that (though not always lovingly). Was it a commentary, or just one man’s take? If yes, then it’s rooted in personal opinion and not in truth. Was the purpose to get people to love better? Is that happening or is it causing more conflict and division?

3. Point out the difference between intention and execution.

Someone can have a pure intention.The young man who made this seems to have a pure intention – to shake Christians who are slothful or hypocritical. Yes, Jesus pointed out the deadliness of hypocrisy, and yes hypocrisy still exists. Is that the fault of religion, however, when people choose self over God or over their brothers and sisters? Talk about how unloving many of the responses have been to the young man in the video, too. Have they (and others) begun by praying for those who don’t share their beliefs? Have they responded to others in love? While some of what is expressed in the video is praiseworthy (intention), are not other parts of the video causing countless souls to love less than more (execution)? Remind the teens that we are called to love even if we feel persecuted, and we are called to love even when we are angry.

4. Discuss where the video goes wrong.

Without encouraging others to watch the video over again and without taking a line-by-line walk through its catechetical holes, discuss where the video goes wrong.

Here are a few examples:

  • It is a generalization about religion. Not every religion is equal and all religions cannot be underpinned as the same.
  • Religion comes from an ancient word, translated in the Latin to religare meaning “bound together” (as in a relationship). Another derivative, religgio shares the same root as “ligaments” which connect body parts and offer the body stability. Religion connects the greater body, offering it stability and strength.
  • It interchangeably uses the words “religion” and “church.” The rapper/poet is creating a false dichotomy, pitting two things against each other that simply aren’t. You can’t love the Church and hate religion. Religion is the lived expression of our Church’s beliefs. Christ perfected the Old Covenant in the New Covenant, which we live out in the Catholic faith (religion). It is through our “religion” (lived expression), that we encounter Christ most intimately and directly, particularly in the Sacraments.
  • It charges that religions start wars, build huge churches instead of feeding the poor, tells divorced women they have no place, etc. People start wars. No one cares for the poor, forsaken ,or abandoned like the Catholic Church does. No other ecclesial entity smashes the alabaster jar of oil for Christ in her artwork or architecture like the Catholic Church does. One need only a cursory knowledge of the Catholic Church teaching to not only refute all of those claims but joyfully share the truth of “our religion’s” mission of love.
  • It makes irresponsible assertions about Christ’s mission on earth and His general attitude toward religion, which not only lack proper context but also are anti-Scriptural.

    -If all that is necessary for our redemption was for Christ to die, He could have been slaughtered for our sins in Bethlehem as a child.

    -Why the three-year public mission?

    -Why the clear creation of the Prime Minister, Simon Peter? (Isiah 22, Matthew 16)

    -Why the apostolic charge, empowerment, training, and commissioning?

    -Anyone who says Christ didn’t come to create a Church has not read the same New Testament I have (see Acts of the Apostles for starters).

For Catholics, our “religion” is the living expression of how we interact with Christ through the Church He established.

5. Talk about the enormous popularity of the video and how many more people like it than dislike it.

But be sure to explain that it’s not because the video is saying something new; it’s not. This video is a micro example of macro problem, not “religion versus faith” but, rather, “opinion versus truth.” It’s another expression of the “I’m spiritual but not religious” vibe so blissfully shared but rarely researched. People fail to understand what religion really is (relationship), what it offers (intimacy), how that relationship should be measured (faith and works) and shared (invitation not condemnation). Someone saying they are “spiritual but not religious” is akin to saying “I like oxygen just not breathing.”

6. Study Philosophy First

This is a good example of why for centuries people were encouraged to study philosophy first. Philosophy doesn’t just teach us how to think, but also how to discern truth (from opinion). When personal opinion serves as the foundation, true theology cannot build upon it. In a YouTube video there is no accountability, no opportunity for a commentary or dialogue to point out the holes in the argument. It is not a summary of belief but a commentary on it. How many people watching, though, have enough philosophy, theology, or even history to adequately discern is the difference between truth, opinion, and emotion? That’s yet another way that the Church helps her children – sharing and safeguarding the truth that is rooted in Christ—not opinion rooted in the world.

7. Scripture and the Bible

Using Scripture to defend belief in Christ but not in His Church is like using Hamlet to say that Shakespeare doesn’t exist. The Church didn’t come out of the Bible; the Bible came out of the Church. It was the Catholic Church (a religion, by the way) that gave the Bible to the world. The Church existed long before the Bible and using the text to disprove the author doesn’t work. The Bible is at odds with sin not with religion.

8. Summarize Your Points

Summarizing your points is probably the most important part when discussing this hot topic. Are the points you make being made with love? Are you encouraging charitable dialogue or fueling angry debates by reactive or offhanded comments in person or online? Are you prepared to share your faith with joy (1 Peter 3:15) or bashfully avoiding the conversation, afraid to share your love for your religion and for Christ’s Church?

9. Evangelization is about Relationship

Pose the question, “What will win more souls for Christ? Taking a wide-scale swing at all religions and religious people or inviting a weary soul into that religion (relationship)?” History clearly demonstrates which is a more effective tool of evangelization.

In the end the video and any media, for that matter, are just tools. They are hammer and nails. Any Christian knows how much devastation and destruction a hammer and nails can rend in the wrong hands. Let us not forget, though, that a hammer and nails can also be used to build bridges… and, since we’re talking about words and their meanings, how beautifully ironic that the French word for bridge is “Pontiff.”

Perhaps what this generation needs is to stop watching YouTube so “religiously” and, instead, spend that time in Scripture (as the video suggests). After the Gospels, I’d suggest the Acts of the Apostles. It teaches followers how to live as a Church…as they work out their new religion and religious practices, known – in the early Church – as Christianity…Catholic Christianity, if you want to get specific.

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