Teens Admire Faith — But Despise Religion

The subject line of the email from my daughter read, “I shudder.”

The text said only, “You won’t believe this,” and included a link to a video that my 14-year-old freshman, Amy, wanted me to see.

The video that prompted her concern was an episode of “Teens React,” a YouTube series from Fine Brothers Productions, the award-winning creators of the Web-based “Kids React” series.

The premise of the “React” videos is to show young viewers a clip of news or entertainment while videotaping their reactions to what they see. Then, producers conduct short interviews to dig deeper about the viewers’ opinions.

Amy promised that there was a column in this particular episode, and she knows we columnists take help where we can find it, so I clicked to see what caused her such a visceral response.

The video was “Teens React to Rick Perry’s Strong,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s December Internet advertisement in which he decried the waning faith of our nation, warned about an encroaching gay agenda and said he wants to be president, in part, to end Barack Obama’s “war on religion.”

For those who follow politics, the content of Mr. Perry’s video was unsurprising. He is a conservative Christian, and the views he articulated were consistent with those of roughly half the nation who identify as conservatives, as well.

Yet to the teens reacting to his ad, Mr. Perry was positively villainous.

That the youths in the “Teens React” video were overwhelmingly liberal probably should go without saying. (In the end, they unanimously opposed Mr. Perry and said his advertisement should have been taken off YouTube because it was likely to be perceived as offensive.)

What’s more troubling was the teens’ reaction to the very idea of religion itself and its place in society. The notion that people of faith might feel our nation’s religious heritage is under attack struck the teens as absurd, at best.

Yet this is likely a reflection of the “religionless” theology of our youngest generation. Youths think it’s cool to have faith – even to be strongly Christian – but somehow “religion” now defines for them what is wrong.

Last week, a video epitomizing this view took YouTube by storm. Titled, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” the spoken-word poem by Jefferson Bethke has been viewed more than 13 million times since it was posted on Jan. 10. Here is a sample:

What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?

What if I told you voting Republican really wasn’t His mission?

What if I told you Republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian?

And just because you call some people blind doesn’t automatically give you vision.

I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?

Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor?

Tells single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce?

But in the Old Testament, God actually calls religious people whores.

See the problem with religion, is it never gets to the core.

It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores.

Like let’s dress up the outside, make look nice and neat,

But it’s funny that’s what they used to do to mummies while the corpse rots underneath.

Mr. Bethke’s simplistic theology resonates with America’s young people, themselves largely uneducated in biblical scholarship or history, so that the links provided on the artist’s website to so-called supporting evidence for his claims probably strike them as credible.

They’re not.

It should concern all Americans – faithful or not – that our nation’s young people are growing dismissive of religion as a framework for both morality and faithful expression.

Like Amy, I shudder to think what comes next.

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  • LarryW2LJ

    Marybeth,

    I have seen Mr. Bethke’s YouTube video. Here’s the definitive answer to it by a Catholic Priest.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ru_tC4fv6FE&feature=player_embedded

    I think Fr. Pontifex’s answer is inspired and wonderful.

  • lkeebler

    I think the youth of today (and many adults too) are discouraged with the “religion” of today because of the hypocrisy they see, because of the disconnect that is many times apparent from what they are reading in the Bible (and how Jesus clearly tells us to live) and what is really “practiced” in Church (organized religion). This is obvious from watching Mr. Bethke’s video and reading his poem. It is apparent the Mr. Bethke is on a journey for Truth and is seeking God and I can see that only as a good thing. He is not correct in everything he says patently about “religion” or “Republicans” etc., etc. Yes, he is correct about the hypocrisy of “religion” in the time of Christ and how Jesus hated it and spoke clearly about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and God still hates the hypocrisy of so many “religions” today.

    It is not so mystifying, so mysterious, why young people are disenchanted with “religion” after going to Church and (many times) finding those involved in Church act just like or worse than those outside of Church. To pretend like that is some sort of new revelation is not being very honest and truthfully we know some of the worst sinners (unrepentant) pass through those doors every Sunday only to go out and act twice as hateful and evil as soon as they are past the parking lot. But that being said, Jesus did die for those sinners too, and to not see that (and even when looking square into the eyes of some of the preachers/priests, deacons, choir, etc.) is to deny the Love and Power and all that Jesus came here for. So I would say to Mr. Bethke that yes, you will find plenty of hypocrisy, plenty that looks just like the rest of the world sitting right next to you in the pew or even in the pulpit. But that is why Christ is there too, sitting right next to you too, not for the sake of “religion” but for the sake of sinners (and we are all sinners in need of Jesus daily). And I would say if you look hard enough you will find some who are just like you in that they Love Jesus as much as you do. Don’t give up on “religion”, instead be a Light in the dark, be an example of Christ wherever you go, even when and especially when it is Church. That is what Jesus tells us when He says, “take up your cross and follow Me”, and we can follow Jesus Christ right into Church too (when He walked this earth it was the Synagogue and He went).

    Here is the rest of Mr. Bethke’s poem (continued from article above):

    Now I ain’t judging, I’m just saying quit putting on a fake look
    Cause there’s a problem if people only know you’re a Christian by your Facebook
    I mean in every other aspect of life, you know that logic’s unworthy
    It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey
    You see this was me too, but no one seemed to be on to me
    Acting like a church kid, while addicted to pornography
    See on Sunday I’d go to church, but Saturday getting faded
    Acting if I was simply created just to have sex and get wasted
    See I spent my whole life building this facade of neatness
    But now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness

    Because if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean
    It’s not a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken
    Which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin
    Because it doesn’t depend on me it depends on him
    See because when I was God’s enemy and certainly not a fan
    He looked down and said I want, that, man
    Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools
    Don’t you see so much better than just following some rules
    Now let me clarify, I love the church, I love the bible, and yes I believe in sin
    But if Jesus came to your church would they actually let him in
    See remember he was called a glutton, and a drunkard by religious men
    But the son of God never supports self righteousness not now, not then

    Now back to the point, one thing is vital to mention
    How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrum
    See one’s the work of God, but one’s a man made invention
    See one is the cure, but the other’s the infection
    See because religion says do, Jesus says done
    Religion says slave, Jesus says son
    Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free
    Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see
    And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans

    Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man
    Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own
    Not based on my merits but Jesus’s obedience alone
    Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face
    He took what we all deserved, I guess that’s why you call it grace
    And while being murdered he yelled
    “Father forgive them they know not what they do.”
    Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you
    And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb
    Which is why I’m kneeling at the cross, saying come on there’s room
    So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it
    Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it

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