January 19th, 2012
05:27 PM ET

'Hate religion, love Jesus' video goes viral

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - With so many atheists coming out of the closet, it’s not difficult to imagine a video decrying religion racking up millions of hits on YouTube.

But a video along those lines has been viewed 15 million times and liked more than a quarter-million times since it was posted on January 10, featuring an enthusiastic young Christian from Washington state.

[youtube= http://youtu.be/1IAhDGYlpqY]

“What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?” 22-year-old Jefferson Bethke says in the video, reciting a spoken word poem he wrote. “What if I told you getting you to vote Republican really wasn’t his mission?”

“I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?” he says later. “Why does it build huge churches but fail to feed the poor?”

Bethke's video is emerging as a symbol for many young evangelical Christians who are calling themselves “followers of Jesus” rather than overtly identifying with institutional Christianity. Many of the country's fastest-growing churches are nondenominational.

“Religion is man-centered,” Bethke writes in a post accompanying his YouTube video. “Jesus is God-centered.”

In the video, Bethke talks about what he calls his own spiritual rebirth, saying he went from being a self-righteous religious person to an admittedly deeply broken believer.

The video has provoked an avalanche of response, including other YouTube videos, like "Why I hate religion but love Jesus, Muslim Version" and "Why I Dislike Your Poem, But Love God," which includes these lines:

I see where you’re coming from but there’s insanity in your vision
You overlook the fact that Christianity is religion
You’re like the van who claims to hate diets
Or astrophysicists who reject laws of science.

That response video has itself been viewed 390,000 times. Not bad.

Many religious bloggers echoed that video’s criticism on Bethke, alleging he’s trumpeting tenets of Christianity while purporting to blast organized religion. Critics called Bethke’s take on religion overly simplistic and dangerous.

“Anyone who does just a little digging on Bethke's YouTube channel or on Google will quickly learn that this young poet is a conservative Christian and member of the Mars Hill Church led by controversial pastor Mark Driscoll,” writes Patheos blogger Brian Kirk, a Missouri-based pastor. “All this seems to me an odd résumé for one who lambastes organized religion.”

Yet Kirk marvels at the national conversation that Bethke has provoked around deep questions:

Certainly one can agree or disagree with Bethke's take on religion but it's difficult not to admire the way he has stirred up those of us who may have been slumbering comfortably in our own faith without really thinking about why we do what we do. Some times the best way to wake up a sleeping giant is to poke it with a stick and Bethke has done just that.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity

soundoff (3,716 Responses)
  1. Mike Johnston

    To be honest, the Muslim version of this is just awesome. I think the Muslim version makes this guy look like a complete liar.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  2. Art

    How odd that many of the atheists posting here sound so much like the types of people criticized in this video.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  3. markiejoe

    Bethke's right on one thing: Religion and religious belief has been a root cause, and more often THE root cause, of every war that has ever been fought on the planet Earth.

    Religion (not to be confused with spirituality) is the most negative, the most intolerant, the most destructive, and ultimately the most violent force on the planet.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  4. StuffUrMamaShudaToldYa

    CJ just settle it and admit you dont know anything. thats the closest to knowing something you will get in this lifetime. no one know if any religion is true or false. no one knows if aliens exist, no one knows how we exist. but we do know that "we dont know". so yes im ingorant, but so are you.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  5. ariel


    January 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  6. Steve O

    Imagine today you found out about a guy that claimed to be god who died in the 1930's. You find out because someone had heard the story told at his dinner table over the last 4 generations, and finally decided to write it down. In the story, he wrote down that the guy was obviously god because he rose from the dead.

    The author tells you that he has proof that the man was god, and when you ask for evidence, he points to the book he just wrote as the evidence.

    Would you believe him?

    Yeah, me neither.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Reasonably

      I thought Joseph Smith saw God in the 1820s?

      January 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • Laura

      Imagine I told you that "god" was a flying spaghetti monster! You can't prove it, but you can't disprove it either. Therefore it exists!

      Throw the scientific method completely out the window, and suddenly you have this magical thing called "faith." Which apparently is something that people consider a virtue. Still confused why that is.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • augustghost


      January 20, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  7. Brad Kenville

    I like turtles

    January 20, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • ButtCrumb

      Me too!

      January 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  8. hilreal

    Why do we need a religion or God to tell us to feed and clothe the poor, help the sick, not start wars, be nice to each other?

    January 20, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • BoldGeorge

      ...because we are not doing it on our own volition. Haven't you noticed the world's and civilization's current status. If we were perfect like God, He wouldn't be commanding us to do anything, now would He?

      January 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • lulu

      Because people don't do it.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • chrism

      Why would anyone need to come to a religion blog if theyre convinced they don't need God?

      January 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  9. md2205

    "Except none of this happened. There's this thing called history. It proves or disproves past events." History is a record of what happened. It is not necessarily proven or disproven. Many things happened that cannot be proven, and so we have to be intellectually honest about what we choose to believe or not to believe. Why do you believe that Julius Caeser actually lived? Because people told you; you read about it. You never saw him. If you discount one account of history, you have to be cynical about all accounts and not believe anything. We have a premise that if many people say they saw something, we believe it, but it may depend on how many saw it. For example, if only one person said they saw something unusual, you might not believe him. But if 10,000 or 20,000 people told you they saw it, you might believe them, even if it is very unusual and you didn't see it. There are people alive today who believe what one person said, that he went to heaven on a donkey and G-d gave him a book, and follow what religion he promotes, even though that person admitted that no one else saw that happen to him. There are many others who believe what one other person said, that G-d told him certain things about religious belief and he made that into a religion, even though no one else saw that happen to him. There were 3 million Jews who saw G-d give the Torah to Moses at Mt. Sinai. This is written in the Torah 24 times. This is an historical account. There is something called intellectual honesty which would mean that you cannot discount the numbers involved in these examples. The same G-d that gave the Torah to 3 million Jews, which no believing Christian and Moslem disagrees with, also gave the seven laws to Noah, and told the Jews to transmit them to the world to do.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Interesting points. Wonder why he/she/it chooses to stay sequestered?

      January 20, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Also, if God choose to show itself to us and I then believed, would I be less Christian/Jewish than those that converted during your example?

      January 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Guest

      @md2205 – you wrote: "There were 3 million Jews who saw G-d give the Torah to Moses at Mt. Sinai. This is written in the Torah 24 times" I understand what you're saying about some having more faith in the accuracy of say... a high school history book than the Torah, when they're both written accounts from some schmoe. But you would, I hope, also see how quoting FROM the Torah to prove the legitimacy OF the Torah or God is nonsense. Some guy could have made up the line about 3 million Jews witnessing the event.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  10. jonborg

    I use to be a "love Jesus, hate religion" type. The thing is that once you invoke a deity, it becomes religion because you have a dogma, a doctrine, and so on. If an evangelical, as I imagine this young guy is, hate religion, but love Jesus, then they wouldn't attempt to convert anyone, but they will and they believe that a deity wants them to, so that's religion. Unless it becomes a completely individualized, personified idea, it won't be religion (not that I'm for individualization of religion).

    January 20, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Alison

      Religion can be anything. Football can be your religion. Beer can be your religion. Whatever you want your religion to be, it can be. There is a difference between the definition of religion and what this man is saying he doesn't like, which is organized religion. And I have to agree with him. You can have faith without having to be a member of a church. You can have faith without giving 10% of your paycheck to said church. I have faith to an extent, but I do not believe in church.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  11. PT

    I think the point of this video is to simplyto highlight that Christianity is about a relationship, not a set of religious rules. The Dogma of Christianity has a lot to do with what scares alot of young people away from the church and I think it is exciting that this video has a lot of people thinking about what it really means to be a Christian. I don't agree with everything he says, but I do beleive that he is on the right track.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  12. JoeSchmo2000

    This just in: believing in imaginary beings from a fictional book is still stupid, even if you don't identify with a specific religion. Tonight @ 11.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  13. Reasonably

    Our cult is better than your cult – just ask us!

    January 20, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  14. John Stranger

    Oops, CNN forgot to forge the votes on the right column that shows Ron Paul winning on CNN's home page!

    January 20, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  15. ashrakay

    This new fantasy is more honest than the old fantasy at least.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  16. Philos

    I'm sorry but you shouldn't need God, religion, or Jesus in order to know how to live your life. Think for yourself, and you will end up an enlightened man. You do not need someone else to tell you how to live.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • John Stranger

      Philos, there are 6 billion people in the world. So, you want every one to think they are the best and do whatever they want. Stuff like this leads to gay rights, pedophilia etc. What is stoping atheists to make pedophilia leagal? Old people are human beings and they have rights too!!!! You see where this goes without religion my friend. Next time dont forget the passifier.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Alison

      John Stranger, I hope your comment was a joke. If not, wow.

      Atheism does not lead to gay rights. Nor does it lead to pedophilia. There are plenty of people out there, religious people, church going people, who are gay. If you think I'm wrong, I got news for you.

      If you think Atheism is the cause for pedophilia, how do you explain all of your precious priests raping altar boys? You can bet your a s s they aren't athiests...

      January 20, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • bill

      John is right. I can only imagine how awful the Jews were before god presented them with the 10 commandments. Wandering around the desert killin', stealin', and adulterin' each other without a care in the world. Did they really need god popping up behind a burning bush to tell them not to do those things? My guess is that they really didn't.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  17. StuffUrMamaShudaToldYa

    people are like lemmings. your no better. your born ignorant and die ignorant. no matter what you believe.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  18. razzlefrog

    I just don't understand why God needs flattery and prayer. And being worshiped. Two of these things are not qualities I look for in level-minded and modest individuals and the third is futile and illogical.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • waterman

      God is created in the image of man. That's why he always want what powerful men want.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • md2205

      Of course G-d doesn't need prayer and flattery. Prayer is for us; it helps us remember about G-d's involvement in our life, and helps to establish our relationship with Him. He gives us what we have and expects us to use it all for good; and as our physical desires tend to overcome our intellectual inclinations, we need the strong reminder of prayer to overcome that. It informs us, and at the same time expresses our love to G-d, our intentions to do what He wants of us and focuses us on what is important in life. It focuses our mind and emotions on what we are here to do in this world. Even when we are only asking G-d for what we want, that is a great prayer as it shows G-d that we know He exists, He cares about us and that we are dependent on Him for everything. It is the way we express our love for Him, just as we tell people how much we love them.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • kwirk

      Either God is really really insecure and needs to be told how great he / she / it is OR God sits there thinking "yeah I get it, I'm god. Enough already!" I hope that if there is a heaven folks don't just sit around going, Wow isn't God just super?. uhg.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  19. john

    This D* bag just wants to get paid. just like the "hide your kids...hide your wife..." guy. He will get some tv show to pay him just for the publicity. the video was just a tool to get some money and be on the Jay Leno show. but he made himself a target too. And, with fanatics that are out there. good luck kid.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • GAW

      I'm sure a book deal with a major Christian publisher will be in the works soon. But his moment of fame with be gone within a few months (Maybe less)

      January 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  20. Julie

    Well that's nice, he makes many good points. I'm a Christian who, sadly, has come to despise the organized church. I'm 53, not 22, and my journey to this point in my feelings about organized religion began many years ago when I allowed myself to be persuaded to enroll in a "Christian" college.
    (2 semesters were all I needed to realize that there was A Problem that wasn't me, looking back now, I'm so saddened by the downward spiral that the sweet church I saw as a child has taken. Some of this is certainly due to me growing up – but a lot of it is organized religion itself which is growing increasingly political and depraved in its exaltation of so much that Christ in fact, condemned)
    It isn't clear from this cute little rappy schtick what exactly this guy is about though. And I've grown very, very wary of those who cry Jesus, Jesus all the time. He almost sounds like one of those tiresome organized religion people who commit all sorts of "sin", acknowledge it, say it's all been forgiven and so that's that. No, they sure DON'T hide their sin. They flaunt it. And they never make any real attempt to NOT sin, to try to be Christlike. To not cause others to stumble, to not hurt. One does not help another by excusing their sin, or making it the norm. We must strive to be better,, to fight our sin and fault. Tolerance is important – so are standards – otherwise known as "rules".

    Good luck kiddo,I'd wish you a happy journey, but if you do what you need to do – which is look at yourself with wide open eyes and seek enlightenment that alters both thinking and behavior – it will be a hard and uncomfortable trip.

    January 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Fifi


      January 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Philos

      You didn't need God or Jesus to come to that conclusion did you? You came to it on your own. You have the ability to live an ethical and prosperous life under your own rule. There are much better reasons to treat people with respect and integrity than the word of one man. If you treat someone with respect because Jesus said so, you are a sheep. If you treat someone with respect because you understand ethics, rights, responsibilities, and honor, than you are a truly good person.Think for yourself about ethics, and how you should treat others, and you will live a fulfilled life.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • dubious inquisitor

      I agree. This "hate religion" thing is as old as the pharoah's grandpa. Jesus was a radical leader who used his mind to learn amazing methods of healing and used his image to uplift spirits and like he said "Your faith has healed you". The reason he was killed was because he wouldn't play along with their messianic games but he is as real as the hand in front of your face and we have enough evidence to build the kind of faith to die for. He chose to set the ultimate example as a good leader and face death. Christianity lives to this day because men are capable of emulating and learning from his story. How can there be only one permeating story of a man, so amazing, that even after years of hatred, he still hasn't been refuted and men grind their teeth at him as if they, deep-down, really KNOW that he is GOD and are furious that he judges them directly. Now is the time of reckoning, will we all be destroyed by our own bad leadership and stupid collegiate outlook on life? I believe so and it will happen as it is happening exactly like it was written, then who will be the fool and wish they were more organized.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • dadtryinghisbest

      well said Julie.One must be careful to not give the glory to the "sin" or sinners but to remain humble while striving in becoming a finished product by Him, through Him and with Him.Jesus did tell us all to go and sin no more.That road alone, is a tough one to navigate but He also told us He would help guide us by His holy spirit...is it possible never to sin again?!..not sure, nevertheless believers believe and non believers don't. So it's all in faith one way or another.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Doug

      Mirrors my own. I'm also 53, with a solid Christian background but wary of the "Church" for years. The Church is faulty because it is founded and run by man, not God. It makes political choices rather than faith based choices, and causes much harm to pursue earthly goals rather than heavenly goals.

      However, the Church, like man, should not need to be perfect to be "right" with God. Yes, they tend to sell you on things like "winning the lost at all costs" (ignoring that the ends do not justify the means), and that you have to do "this or that" or you are going to hell (putting themselves in the Judges chair to declare whether the spirit is in you). The logical conclusion to this chain of reasoning is that only one *very specific* religion is deserving, and such a small population is going to get God's blessings, OR, they are ALL wrong, because each declares the others wrong in their own context.

      Instead, we must allow our religions to represent the failures of our own understandings, and move past them like we must move past our own sins. Winning the lost at all costs is just a catch phrase, not an absolute command without consequences; and the differences between religions serve (primarily) the needs of fellowship, not an absolute path dictated by the Son of God for us all to follow.

      Still, my heart is filled with Faith while my body has long since seen the inside of a Church, and I'm at peace with others choosing their own path, rather than forcibly pushing my own views on them. And that (to me) makes me a better Christian than the Church-bred ones I've seen of late.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.