Why I Love (True) Religion, Epilogue

The Smoking Gun

After well over 300 comments posted, and probably close to 200 ad hominem rants and attempts to get me to convert back to the Evangelicalism from whence I came deleted without being published, I’ve decided to close comments for my previous post, “Why I Love (True) Religion Because I Love Jesus.”

I thank those who had something new and useful to contribute—even those who came with criticism for my post—but it’s become clear that we’ve pretty much exhausted nearly every permutation of “But don’t you know Jesus came to save us from rules and religion?!” and “You big meanie!” and “You are clearly a terrible person who is leading others into spiritual destruction!” and of course lots of “How dare you be so judgmental?!”

I appreciate the several dozen of you who, discovering I did not publish your particular comment, invited me to debates and discussions via email. I’m afraid I have neither the energy nor inclination for that, and I have a general policy of not undertaking lengthy theological discussions via email except with my parishioners. Besides that, there is nothing that didn’t make it through here which I would likely be interested in engaging over email, either.

I’ve also decided to close comments because this curiously popular post has come right at the start of house blessing season for me (when I visit about 100 homes belonging to my parishioners in just a few weeks), and I honestly have enough other work to do that it’s just become a little much. I say this with absolutely no temerity or irony: I honestly had absolutely no idea that this post would get the level of attention it has. I am fully aware (and always expected) that my weblog is a small-time operation of interest perhaps only to a few dozen people, so it took me quite by surprise that suddenly I was getting deluged with comments, more than 150 per day.

Just for a sense of scale here, my previously most-commented post ever got a total of 17 comments, while the previous post received about 500 attempts to comment. My previously most popular post got a bit over 800 hits in the space of two years (another one has now surpassed it and come close to 1000). But the post in question has (as of this posting) gotten over 34,000 hits in the space of a little over three days. More than 40% of all the hits my weblog has ever gotten since I began it almost three years ago have come since this past Thursday afternoon.

I really cannot figure out why (no, really), and I keep telling my wife that over the past few days. I don’t regard it as even remotely my best piece of writing (not that I am any very great writer), certainly not dozens of times better than anything else on this weblog. But I suppose one never knows which tsunamis one will find oneself in the middle of. And of course my little piece of commentary is not remotely as popular as the video it critiqued, which has now received well over 12 million views on YouTube. No doubt the gentleman in question is at the beginning of a successful career (though, perhaps appropriately enough, he’s also disabled comments on his video).

I welcome the several dozen of you who chose to subscribe to this weblog over the past few days, as well as those with whom I have connected on Facebook and Google+. I hope you enjoy whatever comes next.

If any of you are interested in the more detailed critiques I’ve written of Evangelical theology (rather than the fairly short responses I wrote to the video), I recommend the “Comparative Theology” category (be sure to click “Older Entries” for, well, older entries) on this weblog. You are also welcome to listen to the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy podcast (I have a good many other podcasts, too). And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t also suggest my book of the same name.

And some of you out there are no doubt now wholly convinced I am a mercenary. I’ll be sure to invite you to my 8000 sq. ft. cabin on Martha’s Vineyard right after I get out of this rental house. (And why am I driving a Prius?!)


  1. Father, thank you very much for your blog.

    I have read your aforementioned post as soon as it was published as there were no comments yet. Now I don’t even want to go back as not to be sucked in the yet another “holy war” on the blogosphere.

    In Christ,

  2. Father Bless!
    An extraordinary task that you handled with patience and grace. I would not be surprised to learn that your answers, humour and scholarship resulted in more than a few evangelicals and protestants taking a closer look at Orthodoxy.

    Good job Father!

  3. I love Mason, Ohio, and the Cincinnati area in general, but there are times (like now) when I wish I lived in Emmaus, PA.

  4. This has raised many thoughts for me, Father. One basic issue being, is there any agreement on the terms of engagement in online discourse they days? Perhaps because of my lack of skill in rhetoric or lack of conviction, I don’t like situations where my words must stand on their own, as the final product of a reasoned argument and inviting refutation. “so, you don’t want to have to go through all that messy, hard work of thinking?” — no … not always; I want to think out loud, and have someone look for what’s good in it, and let me change my mind, say it more clearly, or take it all back. this is how talking something out with my wife happens. Is it possible online? even this now, I’m not sure what I’m trying to express, and I don’t think I’m alone in being untrained and unskilled in discourse… and lazy and irresponsible. I’m not trying to defend any commenters/bloggers/spoken-word artists here. just sometimes the internet looks like a trainwreck of an illiterate education system and ultra-low-context communication medium to me.

    And as part of the OCA faithful, I am glad for the wonderful podcasts and blogs available. Yours was the first I heard on AFR. But I find something unsettling both in clergy being forced to look for other income to survive and, let’s say, the culture of celebrity in the publishing/marketing world … a different ethos than Orthodoxy. but I spend the remainder of my time in a sinful, un-Orthodox environment, so that’s not a surprise either. just a comment.

    More happily, I sensed a great excitement in the comments among those discovering a Orthodox priest relevant and engaged in the real world! The real world of viral facebook videos! In a public way.

    1. The Internet is, indeed, a wacked-out, crazy place. But here we are.

      I’ve been online for almost 20 years now, and I concluded long ago that, if I’m going to publish something, I am fully ready to deal with the fact that there will likely be a very low signal:noise ratio in the responses. So it goes. Be glad of a moderation queue, and keep it sharply managed.

      As for my income, I absolutely do not need the little bit I make off royalties in order to survive. My parish takes care of me and my family just fine. The book is really just an outgrowth of the podcasts, and the podcasts are really just a microphone turned on in front of me doing my job as a parish priest. So just about everything folks see online is really just a republication or extension of one guy just doing his regular job. Really.

      Wait. I just said “republication.” Are we supposed to vote for Republication?

      1. my apologies to the good people of St. Paul’s parish! I assumed too much. Though I am familiar with more than one clergy family who suffers financially.

        As a Canadian I was just glad to hear you say “Ron Paul”. Can I say his name out loud?

    1. 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.”

      1. Tic-Tac indeed. As someone struggling to get into that body even the scraps from the King’s table are far superior. In exchange for pop songs with Jesus in them, too funny!

        As for Tic-Tacs they are very sweet but just for a fleeting moment.

        And thank you Father for sharing your work with us out here on the net. I don’t live close to a parish and online resources, your podcasts & blog included, have been very helpful to me.

        1. God be with you.

          Mind you, I wouldn’t describe that world in such ways if I were asked simply to comment on it or if merely faced with someone who sincerely is part of it. Those are simply my feelings when presented with the appeal to leave Orthodoxy and return to that particular brand of pietism.

  5. Padre, Bless:

    Thank you for having the guts to post this, considering the rain of fire you got for it (well countered by the way). It is sometimes the first step to evangelization in saying waht is difficult for others to hear in order to re-examine and change, or attempt to solidify their points. Being from the heavily Prostestant/ Evangelical South, and being a convert to Orthodoxy myself, its sometimes hard to fine tune the points that one is trying to make. Your eloquent style and synthesis as welll as sarcastic ribbing (which I thoroughly enjoyed btw), make the post more enjoyable. If I’m ever in Pennsyvania, I’ll be sure to stop by. And I will get your book. 🙂

    God save you and yours, Father! Many years!

    Sbdc. Ian Lazarus, from Texas

  6. I couldn’t believe it. I had a response to Nnn and when I attempted to post the comment I was informed that all comments had been closed. Well, I suppose I can post my response over on your Fb page. Many thanks for hangin’ in there amidst the rants. 🙂 At some point though, the law of diminishing returns or some such thing kicks in.

  7. I feel the need to comment that I do not want to have to clean an 8000 square foot house, I hate the beach, and I won’t step on a boat. Invite them to our future yurt.

  8. Bless Father, Thanks for sharing this epilogue and I wish you a great new life in Martha’s Vineyard, or your yurt (much cooler idea) – although I am sure your 8000 square foot house would come with cleaners.

    I pray that an immense spike in booksales will accommodate a release from the prius though 8^)>

    We might have missed one of the bigger problems with the video. Rap. As Bruce Willis says in the Last Boy Scout in response to the demand – “Well just once, I would like to hear you scream, in pain.”

    “Play some rap music”

    Dcn Andrew

      1. If it brings any consolation to you as to the future of your Prius in secluded Yurt living…My mother in law drives 40+ miles from her ranch house to and from work in the city each day in her Prius. The city-based dealership knows her quite well as a true test of durability & country living for such a ‘city car’; she’s hit coyote, deer, countless rodents, and even recently gave a cow a nice rear boost. Certainly, the front end gets a little wonky, but with a little TLC from the dealer, she’s back on the road in no time!

  9. I’d like to address the claim that Bethke’s work should be unassailable because it’s poetry.

    It isn’t poetry.

    It’s a sermon. It’s propaganda.

    It’s not entirely devoid of metaphor and other literary devices. I counted six or seven. A couple of the better ones were restatements of Jesus’ remark about whitewashed tombs … although I guess we could disqualify his mummy metaphor because it’s inaccurate: the whole point of mummification is that the corpse DOESN’T “rot underneath.”

    I’ve heard various versions of the Laker-jersey and hospital-for-sinners metaphors throughout my life, so even if they are literary devices, they’re cliched and pretty tired. The specific reference to a Laker jersey might be original to Bethke … or it might not.

    “If grace is water, then the church should be an ocean” is actually a pretty good line, methinks … but by this point we have good reason to doubt that it’s original, and it isn’t enough to redeem the work as a whole, from an artistic standpoint.

    The rest of Bethke’s rant is on-the-nose, declarative claptrap. Perhaps it has a little rhythm and a little rhyme (but it doesn’t observe meter so strictly that Bethke couldn’t have said “false religion” or “hypocrisy” if those are the terms he really meant to use). I’m not averse to a verse, but this is merely verse, versus poetry. It’s artless, and therefore Bethke has no artistic license to hide behind.

  10. Congrats (I think) on your blog explosion! Your podcast has been on my list, but I finally just got around to listening this week. I’m looking forward to hearing/reading more.

  11. @ St. Ralph –
    In regards to the line about ‘the church should be an ocean’, not to nitpick, but it is an interesting metaphor to choose. In other ‘poetic’ works it is said that a multiheaded dragon and a great beast will arise from the ocean. In a lot of spiritual theology the ocean is the symbol of chaos and the disruptive, destructive power of sin, hence the beast and the dragon are associated with it.

    This is also a reason why baptism is done in fresh water. Jesus says that believers will be springs of living (fresh) water. Fresh water quenches thirst, cleans and heals the body and restores it. Salt water is actually poisonous and makes whoever drinks it even thirstier so that they will drink more, hence becoming more sick. In this way it is like sin – it does not quench the appetite for it, but rather increases it even as it makes us sick.

    Fr. Andrew could probably expound on it further/better or correct me if I’ve misstated the case.

    I’m sure our poet here was not thinking about these implications, but was rather simply reaching for a decent rhyme. However, it is still an interesting choice of words.

    @Fr. Andrew – where did you get that lovely quote from Tolkien at the top of the page?

  12. Thanks Grey Pilgrim … I think it’s a pretty safe bet that if, as he’s admitted in his own words, our rhymester thinks the word “religion” means “hypocrisy, legalism, self-righteousness, and self-justification,” he wasn’t thinking at all about the theological implications of terms like “dangling” and “ocean” in an Orthodox context.

    This video is a product of evangelical hipster subculture, but it’s managed to break out of that ghetto into the culture at large, where a good deal of its terminology takes on unintended meaning.

    1. One doesn’t have to be an Orthodox Christian to know that dangling and ocean carry with them certain denotative and connotative elements. One simply has to be someone who pays attention to the English language.

      It is advisable for English language poets to do so.

      1. Precisely. Which is another reason I say this isn’t a poem, and is unworthy of the “artistic license” defense.

        Thanks so much, Fr. Andrew, for the time you’ve spent on this. It might have seemed, to you and to others, that your time was better spent elsewhere, but I’ve found your remarks very enlightening.

        1. Well, FWIW, the fellow calls it “a poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion.” So I think I’m just going to say, yes, it’s a poem, but it’s just a bad poem.

          Some folks don’t seem to think that writing poetry is something worthy of training, study or criticism, which is why we seem to put up with so much bad poetry.

          As for “artistic license,” most of my detractors seem to understand that phrase to mean “I can use a word for any purpose whatsoever,” but that is not really what the phrase has traditionally meant. What they are arguing for is really libertine diction, not poetic diction.

  13. Well, someone who is so far off track with the meaning of the word “religion” probably shouldn’t be trusted with the meaning of the word “poem” either…

    I usually compare people like your detractors to the Humpty Dumpty character in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:

    ‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

    ‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

    ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

    1. In principle, I very much agree, and of course the Orwellian foreshadowing in Humpty’s final comment is not to be overlooked.

      That said, even with a degree in English literature on my wall, I must admit (with some reluctance, please understand) that Bethke’s offering is indeed a poem. After all, I do not think I can come up with a definition that would both exclude what he has written and also include everything I would like included. So I will affirm that it is a poem, but it is a bad poem (with worse theology).

  14. “Doggerel verse” does the trick for me, at least.

    Actually, it’s “slam poetry,” a subgenre that’s as much about the delivery as about the content … and which by nature lends itself to propaganda. The very best slam poets manage to actually use poetic language, but the majority of them settle for stuff like Bethke’s video.

    Poems by definition contain poetry; poetry by definition is composed of poetic language; poetic language by definition is not declarative propaganda. Ergo, Bethke’s work is not a poem. To quote T Bone Burnett:

    “And I heard him use the word ‘love,’
    But I never saw him show it.
    And he mentioned a solution,
    But I never heard him know it.
    And when he passed a judgment,
    No court would overthrow it.
    And his words were filled with power,
    But he wasn’t any poet.”

    1. When I first heard the phrase slam poetry, I must admit in my dinosauric manner, my first thought was, “Please! Poetry should not be ‘slammed’!”

      Or perhaps they are instead referring to the proper response to said verse with one’s head applied to a wall.

  15. A “poetry slam” is a competitive event: the contestants recite their works, the audience votes, somebody is named the “winner.” In such an environment, hack work often wins the day if it’s delivered with style. It can be entertaining, but it has about as much to do with actual poetry as, say, “The Bachelor” has to do with actual courtship.

    An analysis like yours separates the message from the medium, and that may be why you and other critics have been assailed so vehemently. Fans of the genre could, I fear, read Muggeridge and find nothing to be alarmed about.

    1. Whoops, by “Muggeridge” I obviously meant “McLuhan,” although the remark probably holds true for both of them.

  16. It’s pretty cool that you got all the traffic from your blog about that video. 🙂 I loved your reply, and found it by a link on another good rebuttal. It didn’t save me from a flogging, as those who disagree see me as a completely awful, mean person to disagree with all that sweetly sentimental bashing of religion. I am also a former evangelical, went to an evangelical college, studied religion, and of course, ended up following the path back across the ocean and Europe. In my case, I converted to Catholicism, but I am going to greatly enjoy savoring all of your older blog posts. I truly appreciate what you wrote, and it helped my understand more of my initial distaste when I began seeing that video pop up on my old friends’ walls. We are unusual in that our family converted… my husband and I, and 4 boys. No marriage precipitated it. And, so, we deal on a regular basis with the disgruntled (or even angry) relatives. Pax.

  17. There sure are a lot of “atta-boy”s here from church leaders, with very little or NO substance in the responses. After reading FrAndrew’s website, I understand the reluctance to something new or different. But the one truth is and always will be the Gospel message. Which is easy to see if you have your eyes open, and ears to hear it.

    1. What you likely do not realize is that, for many of those commenting, the “just me and Jesus” anti-religion which you have espoused in your many hostile remarks is precisely “old hat.” A good many of us have been there and done that (to use the popular expression) and found it wanting—both shallow and hollow.

      In any event, while it is not “new or different” to many of us personally, it is certainly “new or different” on the historical stage of Christian history, which is precisely one of the reasons it is dead wrong. The truth is always the truth, not some fad or fashion. Theology that is an innovation contrary to the apostolic faith is precisely the very definition of heresy. The only way to know if a teaching is true and certain is to see if it has lasted unbroken since the time of the apostles. Anything else is simply the ever-shifting opinions of man-made tradition, not the unchanging tradition of God.

      Which should someone choose: the timeless Christian faith as revealed by Christ to His Apostles and preserved unblemished for 2000 years without alteration, or the gnosticized innovations of 19th century revivalism and cults of personality ever driven by the latest winds and fads of popular culture?

      Given the choice between standing on the rock and standing on quicksand, I choose the rock. Quicksand is indeed “new or different,” but it’s also deadly. What you’re urging us toward is not the Gospel message, but rather a private, gnostic opinion.

  18. Father,

    Just for your information…I ended up reading your contributions/critique of the video because your blog post was linked at iMonk.com.

    I appreciate your piquant observations and articulate prose style. I’ve been listening to your podcast and find in them much useful information and inspiration.


    1. I believe this is the first time my writing has been called “piquant.” I’m honored, especially considering that piquant is related to pike.

  19. Thank you, Father. As another convert to Orthodoxy from Evangelicalism, I’ve appreciated your work here.

    My former Evangelical pastor, true to this mentality, is fond of pointing out that Christianity is unique in that it is the only faith that says you can’t do something to get saved–that doesn’t say you need works to get to God, but that God alone can save. I’m thinking that the real difference between true Christianity and other faiths/ideologies is rather in our understanding of Who God is (and obviously the Incarnation is part of this). The irony I also see is that the understanding of Who the God of Jesus Christ is created by popular representations (and maybe even more nuanced scholarly understandings) of Penal Substitution Atonement theory is really in basic motivation more like the angry and capricious god(s) of the animistic traditional tribal religions (and the “God” of Job’s comforters), except scarier because He is omnipotent and omniscient and his power is untempered by the presence of other gods. And he is ultimately even less just because he punishes the one Innocent in place of all the guilty, but then only arbitrarily lets some of the guilty off the hook, anyway (the “believers”), and not others (“unbelievers”)!

    1. My former Evangelical pastor, true to this mentality, is fond of pointing out that Christianity is unique in that it is the only faith that says you can’t do something to get saved…

      This makes little sense to me, because most religions actually aren’t particularly interested in “getting saved,” and the ones that are have rather different understandings of what that means.

      1. Yes. In fact, I have a wonderful little handbook for missionaries/evangelists that contains a synopsis of the differences between Christianity and the major other religions/world views in several major areas (including the meaning/nature of “salvation” in each of them) put out by Evangelicals. So, I wonder why so many Evangelical pastors/leaders still like to offer this little reductionist fallacy.

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