'Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus' Creator Surprised by Critical Response Videos

PHOTO: An image from Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus, a video by Jefferson Bethke that has provoked a strong reaction in the Christian community.
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"What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion? … And just because you call some people blind doesn't automatically give you vision? … I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor?"

These lines are from Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus, a slickly produced YouTube video that has gone viral in Biblical proportions.

The previously unknown creator of the video is a 22-year-old born-again Christian with a party boy past named Jefferson Bethke, of Puyallup, Wash. The controversial rap has been viewed more than 18 million times in just weeks, while singlehandedly igniting a modern debate of an age-old question: What does it mean to be Christian?

Asked if he saw a lot of hypocrisy in organized religion, Bethke told ABC News correspondent Neal Karlinsky, "I see a lot hypocrisy in the world."

"My generation desires authenticity," Bethke went on. "We want someone to tell the truth and live it out, because we're kind of sick of the typical person held up on a pedestal that then six months later has a sex scandal."

Bethke, who shares a bunk bed with his roommate and works a job helping disadvantaged kids, is suddenly a very big deal. He has found himself speaking for a jaded generation. Churches and universities across the country want him to speak and perform.

At a recent church service, young people swarmed him for autographs and pictures while talking about his video as if it were the latest Justin Bieber hit.

Not everyone's a fan. Critics have come to the defense of the church in a series of online raps that mimic Bethke's, countering his statements point by point.

"Now none of us perfect all sinners together but Christ and Religion man you can't really sever," says one. "You make some points, that I will give you – but to throw religion away is a slap to the one who made you," says another.

Bethke said he didn't expect the strong negative reactions.

"I've been called the Antichrist. I've been called a false teacher. I've been called of the devil … so yeah, very surprised by the reaction," he said.

Bethke, despite his video's attacks, spends every Sunday in church. And he now says that not every one of his verses should be taken literally.

"My intent is to not write a systematically theology that takes me three years," he said. "My intent is to write something with grace and Jesus at the middle that ruffles feathers and starts conversation."

People are talking all right. A New York Times opinion column engaged in the debate, along with newspapers and churches coast to coast. And in this election year, Bethke has become part of a new generation of Christians, who are more concerned with social justice than partisan politics.

"What if I told you voting Republican really wasn't His mission? What if I told you Republican doesn't automatically mean Christian?" Bethke says in the video.

The newest members of a demographic that as the "moral majority" helped elect Ronald Reagan and as the evangelical right did the same for George W. Bush, these young Christians want to be known for more than opposing gay marriage and abortion.

"The older generation … sometimes can get caught up in the legalistic rituals and rules," Bethke said. "But then my generation sometimes falls on the side of, We just don't think or preach about truth."

Bethke isn't done. His latest video, on marriage, has had more than 3 million hits in less than two weeks. And he said he wanted to have a church one day, where he would minister to his flock. A church that won't follow the mold.

Watch the full story on "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET/10:35 CT

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