I wanted to avoid adding another commentary to the now ubiquitous “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” video. But it keeps being posted and reposted, despite a fairly obvious objection to it: only Christians of a certain kind think “religion” means what this guy says it means.
In the course of a facebook conversation on the video, I said,
This “critique” of “religion” and endorsement of (personal) faith in Jesus should be set within the longer discourse of Christian universalism and its articulation of religion/religions as failed approximations of itself. It is universalizing in scope, both in its account of religion and in its inability to see and accept its own historical contingency and particularity.
All I want to do is try to explain this terse statement.
For centuries (since the medieval understanding of the world, including religion, was shaken to the core by the discovery of new lands and peoples), Christians have been reflecting on the nature of religion (here’s a previous, related post). The conclusion was given at the outset: Christianity (as a civilization) was the highest, most authentically human, and divinely chosen form of life. All other forms of life were deviations, departures, failed approximations, or in some other way deficient manifestations of this universal Christian life. The category of “religion” explained Christian civilization’s superiority to all others (and numerous “definitions” of religion were offered to meet this demand throughout the centuries).
In this video, the poem defines religion as an antitype of Christianity (religion is -X but Christianity is X). Christianity stands, again, in a unique position of superiority. No longer the apex of religion, it is outside that field of human failure called religion altogether. Christianity overcomes the failures of religion and opens up the true form of human life all peoples desire (or should desire). The video thus stands in continuity with this longer Christian discourse of religion.
This account of religion is universalizing in two ways. It claims to give an account of religion, and hence all religions, and thus can claim to know in advance the true story of all people, itself and “others,” without any open discussion with them. Secondly, it is universalizing in that it has no sense of its own historical particularity. It takes its own peculiar definition of and distaste for religion as universal. It takes its own individualized account of faith (grace, moral striving accompanied by public confession of weakness, desire for authenticity, etc) as ahistorical, generic, ideal human norms.
The video is beset by numerous other problems (self-contradictory in its judgement against judgmental religious people; poor use of Scripture; random disconnected thoughts; hints of anti-semitism; etc). So why is it so popular now?
A partial answer is that it solves a current political dilemma for a certain evangelical-ish Christian population. It challenges the ideological use of Christianity by Republicans like Rick Perry while preserving and masking its own pretenses to universality. In other words, it jettisons the particular cultural forms of “Republican Christianity” (a good thing, no doubt) while allowing them to miss the fact that they are substituting one particular cultural formation for another (their own). Through the “abolition” of religion and endorsement of faith in Christ, adherents are able to wash their hands of the sin of religion (wars, social conservatism, etc) while still retaining their privileged place in the religious world Christians invented.