Last week, a youtube video went viral on Facebook about Jesus and religion. The video, aptly entitled "Why I hate religion, but love Jesus", is one man's poetic 'witness' of his negative experience with organized religion. Though there were certainly many lines that I would adamantly disagree with, there were many I'd have to admit were thoughtful and significant critiques of the way organized religion has perhaps lost its focus in many contexts. Check it out for yourself here!
I think one of his most poignant critiques questions priorities: why do Churches spend money building fancy churches when they fail to feed the poor? He asks a similar question in different forms, getting to the heart of faith and religion: do we practice what Jesus preached? Not do we practice what WE preach, but are we authentically faithful to the Gospel? The answer must always be no, because we are not perfect. However, are we moving in that direction? Do our choices and actions reflect right intention? In the recent announcement of plans to close and consolidate schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, I found great consolation and respect for our new Archbishop when he simultaneously announced the sale of the extravagant Bishop's residence in the city (complete with a three-hole putting green, in-ground pool, etc.) This shows our priorities and intention are consistent with what we preach.
The young man in this youtube video certainly had a difficult experience with one brand of religion, as he describes being a 'good church-going boy' on Sunday but partying, having sex and being addicted to pornography the rest of the week. Ultimately, his experience of religion was just something for show, a veneer that didn't cut to the core of its believers. This is inauthentic religion, certainly, but I do not think one can jump to the assumption that all religion has this affect on people. I look at people who have been martyrs for their faith, including some religious sisters who have died trying to bring justice to people such as Sister Dorothy Stang, SND. They were compelled to seek this justice based in their religion and authentic personal relationship with Jesus. Can religion help us to encounter Jesus on a personal level, lead us to truly live our beliefs instead of merely 'showing up' or saying what we think people want to hear? In my experience, the answer is a resounding yes. But it depends on many things, including your willingness to go 'deeper' and finding a faith community that both nurtures you and challenges you... and both of those are not easy things to do or find!