I Hate Religious People?


“I hate religious people.”

It’s one thing to hear this from an atheist. It’s another when I hear it from an evangelical Christian (who shouldn’t be hating anybody in the first place). The sentiment is a hallmark of a thinned-out and trendy pop-Christianity that wants a religion without the religion part.

I usually get the sense that what they are clumsily saying is that they are fine with Jesus, just not with having any set of beliefs about Him.

They want to “follow Jesus,” but want to remain completely open about who Jesus was, what He asked us to do and where He is leading us. Which, of course, renders the act of “following Jesus” completely meaningless and impossible. And to the extent that they do agree to a set belief about Jesus (or anything metaphysical really) – to that extent – they’ve become a religious person. There’s no getting around it.

Unfortunately, when left to themselves, they’ve simply created their own religion that is right where they are already right. And based upon beliefs that change at the convenience of their whim. This is not a denial of self, it’s an indulgence of it. They make Jesus in their own image instead of conforming themselves into His. Religion is what, first, tells us what that Divine Image looks like and then, second, gives us the means of conforming to it.

In truth, religion and Jesus (God) are all wrapped up together. If you want your religion to be fully true, you need Jesus. If you want to know Jesus, know the religion that he founded – his body and bride the Church. As soon as a person tries to have one without the other, they end up with neither.

22 comments Add comment

Sharon May 31, 2011 at 10:16 am

How is you asserting you know exactly what everyone who expresses that sentiment _really_ means any worse than what you assert?

Many people express that sentiment in one form or another, and they do so for all kinds of reasons: frustration in the moment, pain and anger resulting from abusive situations, general commentary on the state of one or another religious institutions.

Why not listen to the person, hear what’s really being said, encounter them as a brother or sister in Christ — encounter them as Christ would have done — rather than dehumanize them and reduce them to your assumptions?

Carol May 31, 2011 at 11:01 am

Pope Benedict XVI makes this same point in “Jesus of Nazareth” regarding so-called “repetitious prayer”. That if when we stray from the prayers given to us from reliable sources, starting with Jesus (the Our Father), and approved by the Church; we come in danger of creating God in our image. The given prayers help keep us on the safe path.

Richard May 31, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Matt, thanks for bringing this up. I hear this phrase or something like it from atheists too, but probably more so I hear it from people who say things like “I believe in Jesus but I’m not religious.” In my experience the ones who will go as far as openly saying that they “hate religion” or “hate religious people”(it’s becoming more common) are also openly attached to some sort of behaviour that directly contradicts Christian morality. It’s as if they wear the “Jesus is my bro, he’ll understand.” mentality on thier sleeve like it’s something to be proud of… you might even say it’s addictive behaviour and they are trying to paint our Lord into a corner as thier enabler?

Thoughts?? I encounter this a lot where I live in the Los Angeles area, and I’d appreciate suggestions about how to reach out to people who express this sort of attitude??

Sharon: I believe what Matt is talking about is groups of Christians where this type of shallow attitude is accepted and even promoted as Christian doctrine, this is an insult to God and his church, it’s a real threat to many souls, and it’s becoming common-place.

Matt F May 31, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I was once shocked when I was told by a chaplain, “I am very spiritual, but I’m not religious.” At first I laughed and thought she was joking. She is a very sincere and sweet person. I think there is confusion about the Gospel, and I hear a fair number of sermons that propose that many of the miracles or events recorded are metaphorical and not to be taken literally. Then who decides what the ultimate truth is?
Thanks Matt for bringing to light this interesting and important issue. I think in our Catholic small groups we should discuss the discipline of Catholicism, and the distinction between the tools of Science (rational thought, testing of null hypothesis etc) and the tools of religion (the faithful themselves, teaching by example, love, study of the Word).

Amber May 31, 2011 at 9:21 pm

This can be taken another way when heard from a christian. I sincerely feel saddened with people who are “religious” and forget about their relationship with Jesus. I think christians can become very legalistic and not be focused on the reason we are on this Earth and the purpose of our lives…winning souls for Jesus. Christians get so caught up in what other people are doing wrong and judging others they lose sight of what is important. For example, I grew up in a church that taught if you listen to non-christian music you are going to hell, among many other things that were rules made up by man. I have heard Christian groups totally slamming and judging other christian groups for not wearing the right kind of clothes. Seriously….anyway. Just my thoughts.

Steve S. May 31, 2011 at 9:38 pm

I typically find EV Christians say this because they see too many of us Catholics “going through the motions” and not really living out our faith with genuine love. From that perspective, I can totally agree with their sentiments. We are saved by the Person of Jesus Christ, not by His rule book. But yes, they do go too far thinking that a relationship with Our Lord does not have rules that define it!

Matthew Warner June 1, 2011 at 12:01 am

Amber and Steve – I totally agree in regard to the dangers of legalism. But I’m also not talking here about the “rules made up by man” that Amber references. I’m talking about the means (religion – Christianity) by which we can actually attain the deepest relationship with the true Jesus (as opposed to an arbitrary Jesus that we define ourselves). It is what defines for us what “winning souls for Jesus” actually looks like.

It’s not one or the other (religion or Jesus). They are all wrapped up together. If you want your religion to be fully true, you need Jesus. If you want to know Jesus, know the religion that he founded – his body and bride the Church. As soon as a person tries to have one without the other, they get neither.

Boris June 14, 2011 at 8:46 am

We atheists don’t hate religious people Matthew. Love the Christian hate the Christianity is what we always say.

Jesus I trust in you June 16, 2011 at 11:01 pm

The Catholic Church is built on the foundation”Solidarity – Love”and no earthly power can limit the-offensive-raiding-hostility against the Church

sage August 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I don’t hate christians (some of my good friends are …) but I do hate the way christians try to impose their beliefs on everyone. I do hate the fact that christians (and muslims) believe they have THE answer and that others who don’t believe as they do are bad people. I hate the way religion has kept humanity from advancing by opposing science, rational thought and freedom. I do hate the hypocrisy of so many christians.

Matthew Warner December 4, 2011 at 11:50 am

Sage – some religions have perhaps kept humanity from advancing. But Christianity (particularly the Catholic Church) has been one of the biggest forces in the history of mankind promoting rationality, intelligibility (scientific method), personal freedom, human rights, etc. Any view that says otherwise is simply refusing to look at all the evidence and lacks the historical perspective necessary to make such a judgment.

John Pigaga December 2, 2011 at 9:02 pm

Are you serious? Let me get this straight – if you live in a part of the world not indoctrinated in Christianity (a couple sparsly populated places like India, China, Japan) and you have never even heard of Jesus, you can’t have a religion? I agree whole heartedly with you regarding the bastardization of Christianity. The intellectual dishonesty – everything from changing the bible, quoting new testament in reference to an old testament character, unsubstantiated claims, and lack of references to Jesus is sad. How can one call themselves Christian if they don’t worship Christ?

However, it is very small minded and arrogant to think worship of Jesus is the only way. Do you know who started the “church” it wasn’t Jesus. He was a hippie with a fantastic message. More people should listen to the message, and dismiss the messenger. Paul, who even deeply indoctrinated religious scholars, refer to as a false prophet began the “church”. He lived 100 years after Jesus, never met a disciple, and was a power whore. His letters were threats to the Turks.

Spirituality is wonderful. Institions that dictate how and what we believe are evil. What color is god? What sex? Is he human? Why can’t everyone have their own perception? Think about it for even a minute – omnipotence – all powerful – yet there is only one “correct” way to worship him. Please stop the hate, follow the true message of Jesus – consider others before yourself!

Matthew Warner December 4, 2011 at 11:55 am

John, that’s silly. Jesus was not a hippie. And he most certainly started His Church. This is overwhelmingly documented in history, particularly in scripture.

And Jesus’ central claim was that he was GOD. He was either telling the truth or he was a very bad liar and evil man. There is simply no logical position that supports him just being a “hippie with a fantastic message.” Sorry.

Peter Smith December 30, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Matthew, these are great man! I have been looking for posts like this and the “Jesus and Me” and all those for quite a while. All my friends have come to those beliefs that they are sick of religion and we are all just “churched out”, its all about a personal relationship but with your “life/small group” and don’t dare call them Christians they are Christ-followers. I know I sound harsh taking digs at my best friends but I just can’t wrap my head around them being so in love with Christ but missing the big picture.

Anyway, this is something very prevalent right now, especially in my generation, and until now I was not able to find any Catholic responses to those ideas so I wanted to say thank you and ask if you know of any other blogs, books, etc that would have responses like yours to those ideas that are becoming more and more popular.

Matthew Warner January 1, 2012 at 2:45 am

Peter – G.K. Chesterton (Everlasting Man, Orthodoxy, etc.) and Peter Kreeft are two of my favs. Also, Pope Benedict XVI is amazingly clear and relevant in his writing in addressing many of these modern day challenges for the Church.

God bless ya!

Peter Smith January 1, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Imagine that the current Pope being relevant and clear while addressing these modern day challenges!

Haha thank you!

Eric E January 3, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I hear you. Whenever I hear people speak of religion disparagingly, I refer to James 1:26-27 which refers to it positively. Most of the people I hear this from are referring by it to the trappings of religion, usually observed empty. In other words, they see religion as what Catholics do (ritual and so forth) who have no spiritual life, no dynamic faith in Jesus who are just going through the motions out of a fire insurance attitude (“I might go to hell if I don’t go to church so I’ll go”). This of course is bad, Catholics should have a spiritual life and dynamic faith, but the religion as bad meme is part of the Evangelical culture.

Amber, the point of our life is not to win souls to Jesus. Show me where it says that in Scripture. The point of our life first involves our own sanctification (1 Peter 1:14-2:3, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 12:14). And evangelization means making disciples of all nations, not just quoting John 3:16 or shoving tracts in their faces.

Deb January 3, 2012 at 12:23 pm

I left the Catholic Church when I was 15. I returned when I was 51, after the Lord made it very clear to me that he existed and I was a serious sinner. Yes, God exists and I was a serious sinner. Prior to that, I hated religious people. That meant anyone who mentioned organized religion. I particularly despised the Catholic Church. From my perspective, that attitude was because I was raised in the Church and I knew right from wrong. When I chose to live my life on my terms and not God’s, I had to distance myself from religion and religious people. I believe many who have left the Church turn against it because it convicts them by its very presence. I believe those who are not Catholic, even more so now today than ever before, see the Church as one who will not yield to the sin and disgrace that is our society and that convicts them in their own religious choices and in their own sinful lives. I believe all of us are children of God and in the depths of our soul, we know that and we thirst for him, but we are to afraid to truly find him so we run and we pick and we want to believe a little bit, but not enough to truly give ourselves to God. Our lives of sin are so much more dear to us than seeking the truth and surrendering to it. I was blessed, the truth came to me. I pray it comes to everyone.

Number 9 March 20, 2013 at 8:42 am

In my world I encounter (in my AA meetings, which I love, btw) many people that are “spiritual but not religious.” And they usually follow it up with a disclaimer of having been raised with a punishing God. It seems to me they’re putting down religion and I always get a tinge of “ouch” because I consider myself spiritual AND religious. It’s all within my Catholic Faith. Great post and comments. One day I’m going to find this punishing God that they’re talking about because I’ve never known him.

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