blah blah how very hardcore jefferson bethke is
Reading Time: 11 minutes This is the face of someone preening about his own hardcore Jesus-ing. (Screenshot from his video; screenshot captured 8/19/2018.)
Reading Time: 11 minutes

A couple of years ago, a young Christian fellow named Jefferson Bethke uploaded a video onto his YouTube account called “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” In turn, Christians showed it much love. It quickly amassed–as of this writing–almost 28 million views. I noticed Jefferson Bethke’s video making the rounds again, so I wanted to talk about it today. I don’t think it’s nearly as impressive as he–and his many fans–think it is.

blah blah how very hardcore jefferson bethke is
This is the face of someone preening about his own hardcore Jesus-ing. (Screenshot from his video.)

More Hardcore Than Thou.

The video–and the ones that followed it–epitomized that more hardcore than thou mindset that infects fervent Christians.

In this way, little has changed over the years. Even when I was in the religion, everybody I knew competed and vied to be the most spiritual–the most Jesus-filled–the most “on fire”–the most sanctified–the most joyous–the most hardworking–the most prayerful–the most zealous–the most pious. I couldn’t even avoid that mindset myself.

English: George C. Tso Memorial Chapel has bee...
English: George C. Tso Memorial Chapel has been used by the Emmanuel Church for its regular religious service since 17 December 2006. The photo shows the first day of the service. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, none of us really had any idea what we were doing any more than Christians today do. All the same, we all learned how to put on a good show.

And nothing epitomized that facade more than claiming with earnest wide eyes and chirpy intonation that Christianity wasn’t a religion, it was a relationship.

This pious declaration was also a great comeback to those people who tried to get out of being witnessed at by saying they weren’t religious.

Oh, that’s fine, because you see, neither am I, we could say. Dishonesty was fine, if it was to evangelize!

Now, obviously and even on the face of it this assertion is untrue. Christianity is most definitely a religion. It fits every single part of the definition of the word. Humanity would know absolutely nothing about Christianity without a religion fostering and propagating those claims. Thus, disavowing the dogmatic, practice-oriented side of the religion seems rather self-serving.

I’m not the only ex-Christian who deconverted and immediately felt like an idiot when I finally realized that I’d made and built up this fake relationship with a fake person in my head like Jesus was my waifu. (Found a good band name!)

And so now we have Jefferson Bethke doing the same thing I did 20+ years ago. More embarrassingly for him, he thinks he’s discovered some brand-new way to Jesus harder.

Everyone, Say Hi to Jefferson Bethke.

If you’re wondering who he is, he’s a very earnest and–as if we needed to clarify this point–young fellow with a goofy, boyish Kirk Cameron grin and a burden for “teaching” people his view of Christianity.

If you want more than that, you are on your own. His biography page is a masterful bit of evasion. I don’t care about favorite cereal, his candle company, or his hard-on for the Narnia series. I don’t even care who he’s married to or what cre8ive name he gave his kid. I’d rather know how long he’s been a Christian and what his educational background is, especially as touching theology.

That he omits all of these details from his biography tells me that he is well aware that if he revealed them too widely, they would detract from his message. And if he weren’t trying to persuade people to adopt his ideology, I wouldn’t care about those glaring omissions quite so much.

If his educational background, age, and time spent in the religion might alienate potential book-buyers and fans, then it’s no wonder at all that he conceals this little bombshell: not only does he identify as a conservative Christian, but as of this link’s creation was apparently a member of Mars Hill–the church led by the disgraced Mark Driscoll!

Seriously, can we AVOID that guy for two frickin’ posts?!?

So, So Much Cognitive Dissonance.

The guy talking about hating religion belongs to one of the most very regimented, authoritarian churches around. The guy who asserts that Jesus would never tell single mothers that they’re worthless if they’ve been divorced attends a church run by a total misogynist. Worse, his church practices shunning. Mars Hills’ abusive, controlling disciplinary practices have shocked people all over America. The guy who insists that Jesus says “son” instead of “slave” and that grace is “addictive” to him goes to a church that preaches Calvinism–the most sociopathic, callous, and evil flavor of Christianity around.

It’s a glaring–and disturbing–omission to discover.

After his first video about hating religion went viral, he wrote a book that seems to have sold fairly well. The Christian reviews of it on Amazon indicate that they approve of its message. And why not? Bethke tells them exactly what they like to hear. Puff pieces abound online featuring softball “tough questions” for Mr. Bethke to answer. None of these live up to their billing.

After that viral video, Bethke gained fluency in Christianese. For all his hatred of “religion,” by which he means organized Christianity, I didn’t have to hear him talk for more than 30 seconds before pegging him as a fundagelical, conservative Christian. His speech is filled with the usual memes and catchphrases that ultimately mean nothing and aren’t supported by the Bible, like his conceptualization of Jesus as a sweet, attentive boyfriend who wants his followers to have self-esteem and happiness.

(If  you want to play a fun (but potentially life-threatening) drinking game, take a shot every time he says the word “just” in any of his videos. It’s just so frequent how he just talks so much just like just that just just just just *FLOOR*)

Weirdly Enmeshed.

It’s weird how a guy who eschews “religion” could talk exactly like someone who is deeply enmeshed in his religion’s popular right-wing culture. His blog contains the usual talking points. He intersperses them with that peculiar fetishizing of true love in the dark-style sex that you really only see out of young fundagelical Christian men who haven’t been married very long but imagine they know exactly How to Marriage Properly. In his case, about a year as a husband is all it took for him to be able to declare definitively that sex outside of marriage is horrible and destructive and evil and nasty and ickie for everybody.

Indeed, this guy careens from asserting in one video that women have intrinsic value. Then he declares in the very next breath that masturbation is some great harmful thing for men, that pornography is responsible for sexual assaults (likely inaccurate), and that he thinks that a sexually permissive society will lead to us seeing more assaults on women.

Yeah, I saw a downright disturbing number of videos about sex on that channel for a guy who sees it as his cosmic purpose to “teach” people about how evil religion is. When it’s all said and done, he suffers from his indoctrination. Someone metaphorically takes away their fundie card if they don’t casually interject themselves into other people’s intimate lives, constantly judge other people, and carelessly assert that their view of sexuality is the only valid one at all.

Really, this guy isn’t different at all from all the other bright-eyed, ignorant Christians out there trying to sell a religious viewpoint. He simply labors under the delusion that he’s the first person to talk like this.

Now that we know all of that, let’s see if he’s learned anything from his childish early videos.

(Spoiler: He hasn’t.)

A Short Review of a Short Video.

Thankfully, it isn’t long!

YouTube video

This is what I mean when I talk about a Christian Jesus-ing as hard as he can. Also see: Jesus Smiles and Preacher Eyebrows.

The video depicts Bethke talking in a serious, earnest tone of voice as he writes what he’s saying on a big sheet of white paper with a black marker. After each page is filled he starts a new page. He’s got decent handwriting, at least.

The first bit is about how people tend to compete with each other and lord it over each other. I’m guessing he’s going to use that as a launching-pad to say that his version of Christianity doesn’t do that. And therefore his version is better than all other versions.

But I just demonstrated that his version does indeed do exactly the versions he claims he’s escaped. And it’s hard to escape the idea that Mr. Bethke himself is competing–just in a slightly different game whose rules he’s set up to benefit himself and help himself win. Every single time he makes a video, he’s asserting his superiority over all those other worldly, religious Christians. He, you see, has a relationship. All of those other Christians, they just have a religion, bless their little cotton socks.

Splitting Hairs.

About a minute in, he begins talking about doctrinal points that Christians use to divide themselves–“conservative vs. liberals,” “Calvinists vs. Arminians,” etc. Again, he is a conservative Calvinist. He correctly realizes that nobody but Christians care about these distinctions, but he phrases it thusly (capitals are his own): “As if the world DYING outside really CARES.”

(Sometime I’m going to have to ask The Apostate why Calvinists even bother caring about evangelism if everybody’s pre-ordained.)

Then he tears up that last page and begins trying to make a picture out the shreds. Finally he ends with a > sign and the words “Jesus” and “religion” appear on either side of it.

Haha! See? I get it! It’s the name of his book! Jesus > Religion! Soooo clever.

Then it ends with an admonishment about a date and a TV-streaming Christian website. As he says in his “about” blurb beneath the video, this was a teaser trailer.

That’s where it ends. Thank goodness.

A Total Lack of An Argument.

Okay, I am completely confuzzled here.

I’m not sure this young man actually knows how to construct a compelling argument. This was a minute-and-a-half of catchphrases and emotional manipulation. The title is “Why Jesus Still Hates Religion (And You Should Too),” but Mr. Bethke neither explained why Jesus hates religion nor why anybody else should leap to that conclusion. He says he wanted it to “spark thought, emotion, and conversation,” but that’s just a copout. He makes a few generalized statements about how bad he thinks it is that people divide themselves up into tribes, seems to be declaring that all tribes are bad based on his own limited life experiences (no really, every sociological or cultural inference I’ve seen him make derives either from his time in high school or from those aforementioned fundagelical talking-points), and then declaring by fiat that Jesus is superior to shredded paper and religion.

I felt like he was making one of those “arguments from X” arguments: “My poorly-conceptualized idea of religion is bad because I say it is: therefore you should all start believing like I do!”

Unfortunately for Him, He’s Objectively In Error.

Jefferson Bethke never actually explains how he knows that Jesus hates religion. It’s the biggest problem in the whole video!

From what I remember, the character of Jesus didn’t like hypocrites much, but he said repeatedly that he wasn’t on Earth to repeal the Law, which of course means the religion of Judaism. Moreover, he established the Church itself before he died, according to the Gospels.

Things worsen the more we consider the Gospels.

If you use miracles as a barometer of divine approval, then in the Bible’s myths the earliest evangelists in the religion certainly got miracles aplenty to help them propagate it. They were very much propagating a religion, make no mistake of it. Their earliest arguments involved doctrinal points and rules, not how to best cuddle their boyfriend!Jesus.

Christianity Requires Stagnation.

Mr. Bethke’s theology is as childish and as overly-simplistic as it was two years ago. He’s convinced that if he just sounds earnest and Christian-y enough, that’s all he needs to do. If he sounds deep, then obviously he must actually be deep. Being a spark doesn’t carry any responsibility at all for proving one’s point. It’s irresponsible. If he thinks religion is bad because it introduces tribalism into groups, then it’s on him to make that case.

See, not all tribes are bad. Military forces are a type of tribe. So are charity groups like Doctors Without Borders. The ex-Christians I hang out with could be considered another, as could Bronies (those way-too-old-for-this-stuff folks who love that My Little Pony cartoon show). Just because he wants to set up his own tribe–that of “relationship-not-religion” believers like him versus those nasty evil ickie “religion-not-relationship” believers that apparently infest the religion–doesn’t mean his tribe is better. Rather, he’s saying the same things they are, just using different phrasing and words.

I don’t think he realizes that tribes can accomplish a lot that their members can’t really do by themselves. That’s an objective truth that he might be entirely too inexperienced to comprehend quite yet.

A Disturbing Quality, Displayed.

One thing that really disturbs me about the “relationship” Christians like him is that their vision of Christianity is entirely unfettered by anything even remotely objective.

They don’t know much theology and doctrine. If they did, they’d probably reject it anyway. That leaves a lot of leeway for abusive practices and beliefs to creep into their worldview.

That doesn’t mean that Mr. Bethke is a bad person at all–but it means that his context-free vision of Christianity is even more vulnerable to errors than the regular sort. We’re tribal creatures whether we like that fact or not, and we really do depend on each other to regulate ourselves and keep ourselves from straying too far from decency and goodness.

That exact error in thinking may well explain how a nice-if-paternalistic young man like him ended up at Mars Hill to begin with. He might not even realize just how bad that place and its leader really are or how beyond-antithetical they are to his vision of Christianity because he’s basically sailing an ocean without an astrolabe.

The Myth of Legalism.

I’d like to close with one final observation.

I noticed that comments about his videos and writing frequently include some reference to how overly-religious Christians drive people away from Christianity. I’d like to say that nothing could be further from the truth. That’s just something Christian leaders teach, and that Christians themselves adopt as a belief. They think if they can just get back to Jesus, then we’ll all come flocking back.

This comforting illusion, however, isn’t true.

Such Christians can preen about being as fake-relationship-oriented as they want. Unfortunately for them, this pretense won’t magically make their claims objectively true.

I spent quite some time trying to do exactly what Jefferson Bethke is doing. Eventually, I realized that my “relationship” was a figment of my imagination. The closer I drew to what I imagined was original Christianitythe more abuse I suffered and witnessed.

What Bethke warbles about is exactly the kind of thinking that starts cults.

NEXT UP: Nobody can correct modern-day Christian “prophets.” They convinced themselves long ago of something so subjective (even by religion’s loose standards) that it just can’t be tested. Or should I call these people “profits?” Either way, I hope you’ll join me. See you soon!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...