Wow! Father Andrew Stephen Damick sure
knows stumbled onto how to drive up blog traffic!
The Contemporary Christian Music equivalency tables probably say “If you like Eminem, you might like Jefferson Bethke.” Said Bethke perpetrated a YouTube rap/rant titled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” It seems that 12,000,000 people have consented to watching it. De gustibus non est disputandum.
But Father Andrew – who, be it noted, is much younger than I and (consequently?) more patient about such things – took many of the rhetorical questions as if they were serious (Oh, the kenosis!) and explained, point by point, why he loves true religion precisely because he loves Jesus. His response was irenic, but he firmly defended something that very much needs defense from barbarians young and old.
The rapper’s fans and fellow travelers were having none of it. They bombarded Fr. Andrew’s blog with a large share of 19,813 views and 500+ comments ranging from criticism of Father Andrew to ad hominem invitations to come-to-Jesus-and-say-The-Sinner’s-Prayer® and all that there.
In the comboxes on a followup blog, explaining why he has suspended comment on the original, Father Andrew summarized what earlier he addressed point-by-point:
Whenever I read these implorations for me to turn away from “religion” and “rules” to the “just me and Jesus” theology, here’s how it comes through to me:
Give up the Body of Christ; mystical communion with the one true God, growth in the knowledge of the Son of God; becoming a partaker of the divine nature; having actual physical contact with the Maker of the universe; communion with all the saints of the ages; timeless, otherworldly worship; perfectly balanced and thorough theology; an endless supply of Scriptural commentary woven into a single seamless tapestry of faith; and the surety that you stand in the same unchanging apostolic faith as the prophets, apostles, martyrs, fathers, confessors, ascetics and every righteous spirit made perfect in faith in exchange for pop songs with Jesus in them; “Christian” kitsch; a spiritual life whose whole fulfillment happens after saying one prayer; shallow theology; a historical sensibility that goes back roughly to last week; church communities designed according to marketing research; personality-cult leadership; doctrine that changes faster than you can blink; theological fads; and big crowds of arm-waving concert-goers.
I’m being a touch hyperbolic here, but that’s really how I experience such appeals. “Here, give up the Ultimate Thanksgiving Dinner King’s Banquet for a Tic-Tac.”
And all God’s people said “Amen!”
Now in defense of Bethke, I readily allow that there may be some spiritually sensitive souls who find some religion intolerable. He just doesn’t strike me as one of them. He struck me, rather, as a guy who kicked his porn addiction and stopped fornicating after some sort of encounter with what Evangelicals call “Jesus,” and is now grabbing limelight with a rap version of a favorite Evangelical testimonial: “I was the biggest sinner on the block, but then I met Jesus.”
But even the glimpses of personal biography may be an affectation or sheer invention by a young attention-seeking missile, who has an internet presence that says “professional pretending to be passionate amateur.”
Well, Father Andrew did it far more nicely than I, and caught a lot of grief for it, so I’ll shut up now and let you read his response (which conveniently imbeds Bethke’s video. The response is devastating without being withering or demeaning. I’m incredulous that so many people turned out to defend the video, or to flame Father Andrew.
UPDATE: Awakened early by an unusual midwinter thunderstorm, I revisited this, disturbed especially by the discovery, late in my writing of the main post, that Bethke’s biography (porn addict, sex fiend, extremely grateful to have found Jesus) may be a theatrical persona of a performance artist. I wonder now if the better comparison isn’t Chris Crocker instead of Eminem.