I believe in…cafeteria Catholicism

st. peters at sunset

I am a cafeteria Catholic. Yes, I “pick and choose” what I am willing to believe, put on the back burner what I do not yet understand, and reject what I cannot accept.

For some, being a cafeteria Catholic is synonymous with being a bad Catholic or no Catholic. These folks demand an “all or nothing” acceptance of the doctrines and traditions of the church. “All or nothing” Catholicism is often willing to sacrifice numbers for a smaller, leaner, purer church.

I do not believe in all or nothing Catholicism. This does not mean that I am against conservative, traditionalist forms of Catholic belief and practice. I am against an “all or nothing” attitude that demands unquestioning obedience to each and every teaching and tradition of the church, regardless of its place on the hierarchy of truths, and quickly denounces the doubter or the questioner.

Questions should not be feared, by either the questioner or church leaders.

Questioning your faith means your faith is important to you.

Questioning your faith requires hard work, an intimate wrestling with sometimes deeply grounded beliefs. It calls you to challenge the voices of authority, past and present, that you were taught to never challenge.

Questioning your faith is an act of courage, for you do not know where it will lead you.

Over the years, I have often been disappointed, disillusioned and disgusted with my church. I watched as cradle Catholics headed for the doors never to return. I straddled the doorway myself many times, one foot in and one foot ready to bolt.

When faith in God is tied up so closely to faith in the church, doubt in one is bound to flow into the other. Questioning of the church and her dysfunctional leadership led to a dark night of the soul for me. As I questioned the role of the church in my life, I questioned other beliefs.

And, yet, I’m still here. Why? Yes, there were beliefs that I let go, but there were other beliefs that were strengthened by the questioning.

At this stage in life, as a Mama of five and Grammy of six, I need to answer the question for myself.

What do I believe in?

What do I want pass on to my children and grand-children?

What do I have to offer the church and the world from my own faith lens?

I hope that you will ponder with me, and explore your own beliefs without fear of judgment from yourself or others.


12 thoughts on “I believe in…cafeteria Catholicism

  1. Could it be age? Or maybe the feeling of helplessnes when faced with the political situation to the south?

    I am 57 and this year I have just been unable to sit still for what seems to be institutional injustice. I pick and choose from the cafeteria, but it gets harder and harder to find anything to eat as I discover just how much of the food was prepared by a minority who neither know nor care what I need to nourish me. So I go outside and get something from the feminist food truck and wander over to picnic with the Queer folk

    I believe abortion is a tragic and horrible thing, but I believe it ought to be legal and accessible.

    I believe contraception is a gift from God to human science right up there with electricity.

    I believe God created us male and female, but that gender (and certainly the idea of masculinity and femininity) is more a social construct.

    I believe the Bible contains the living Word of God – living because it can be interpreted to every time and generation.

    I no longer believe that the Catholic Church is the “best” or truest expression of Christianity. It’s been along time coming. And it makes me sad. But it is kind of liberating too. One Sunday I will get up the courage to go next door to the Anglicans and partake of the Eucharist at mass presided at by Father Jane.

    1. Hello and welcome Meg! I think you will find many kindred spirits here….me included.

      Looking forward to watching the dialogue grow. Your response is a great springboard for us. Thank you!

  2. “Cafeteria Catholic”. Counter intuitive as it might seem, I think that you would be hard-pressed to find anything but caf-caths anywhere in the church. For every view, teaching, priority, dogma, doctrine, practice, age, there are differing, alternate or variant views. That they get labeled as orthodox or otherwise is largely a matter of institutional politics, insecurity, or what I would term individual or institutional authoritarianism.
    A “Jesus institution” is not as, Maslov theorized (and our own fundamentalists of tradition), inevitably strurctured like government or military, because its mission is love defined by the best of civilization, e.g., Aristotle and further refined by Jesus (e.g., a la Paul in I Cor. 13).
    The critical difference that is/should be “church” is, of course the acknowledgment of “GOD” but its specific differences are: quest, good faith in relationship, in the security of building, community, world, creation.
    We have traded “good faith” for “faith”; seeking for being there; quest for answers; and possibly most sadly: the image and likeness of God in ourselves and each other for an ideology. If that’s what it’s all about then Jesus wasted His and our time by Incarnation.
    For me this has very practical, daily, personal relevance.

    1. Hi Dennis,
      How true that we are all “caf-caths “. The church is large enough and diverse enough to suit most tastes. I wish both sides of the ideological divide would understand this. Perhaps the divide would shrink??

    1. I just reread the article and scanned the comments. Thank you. It seems to me that if we were as preoccupied with Jesus as we are with “institutional church” we would be in a much better place. Doesn’t that tell us something?

  3. Thanks for sharing the NCR article, Anthony. It is really resonant for me — as are all the comments from readers of this blog.

    I believe one of the important ways we become empowered in our spiritual development is to find a community of other soul-seekers with whom to explore. Both Isabella and the article from Anthony listed the importance of community in personal spiritual development.

    Until I “fessed up” to being a “caf-cath” I felt alienated and freakish within the Church, afraid I would be ostracized and rejected if I let other people know my true thoughts about some parts/pieces of the institutional Church. But I always believed that God is bigger than the Church. They are distinct from each other. And the Church only defines things from a narrow, human, and often “childish” perspective. But the God I believe in is bigger, greater, deeper, more complex than we humans could ever imagine or understand.

    So I have stopped trying to understand or interpret Him. I try to live a moral, loving life and choose the Eucharist as my preferred spiritual expression.

    And Meg, I’m right with you in these 2 beliefs:
    “I believe abortion is a tragic and horrible thing, but I believe it ought to be legal and accessible.”

    “I believe contraception is a gift from God to human science right up there with electricity.”

    What a great way to express them. I’m sharing these with my friends!

    1. Yes! To the Eucharist! I kind of like having an unexplainable mystery at the centre of my faith.

  4. Thank you, Anthony, for sharing the NCR article with us. It’s truly spot on!!! The need to be formed in an adult faith (which requires pondering, exploring, and questioning) is a vital need in our church. Gone are the days of “Father knows best” and “because the church says so”. This is one of my most frequent rants. (And, I have many! 😉 )

    Tom Smith’s four criteria for faith are interesting. They correspond to the four pillars of the Catholic faith, as outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It really is a holistic approach to faith and spirituality.

    1. Creed (belief)
    2. Prayer
    3. Sacraments (ritual)
    4. Action (morality)

    Reading through the discussion board following the NCR article, I wasn’t surprised to see the common “troll” response of “Why don’t you just join a Protestant church? Why remain a Catholic and be unhappy?” Just using the term “cafeteria Catholic” in an article will attract these internet trolls – the modern day heresy hunters. I’ve had a run in with a few myself over the years. I’ve also learned to ignore them. And, please be assured that they will have no place on this blog.

    While “catholic dialogue” is a public blog (available to all to read), the comment section is monitored by the author (me). The first time you comment, I have to approve you before your comment is posted. After this first comment, your response will be posted immediately.

    I will try my best to make this blog a safe place to share openly and honestly about our faith and spirituality. This is not a forum for apologetics or persuasive debate. Any and all hateful attacks or comments will be blocked and deleted.

    Now concludes the reading of the house rules!

    Blessings and peace to all….and thank you to all for getting the dialogue off to such a wonderful start!

  5. Ah…the four pillars. The justification for “institution”. You can’t have a relationship without acknowledged order. Unspoken at first because we share so much. Then time and numbers. That’s when the “rules” begin. As the relationship becomes a “community” the “house rules” multiply, become more complex and lead to “difference resolution” measures, processes and procedures, delegation of representation, books, buildings….preservation.
    We are so ingrained to believe that “church” was delivered full blown, as is, eternal, unchangeable, bigger and better than any of us. That we can’t even see the human beauty and frailty of it all. Yet, I think, as you are doing here Isabella and all herein, we need to perpetually begin all over again, at the starting point where the medium is the message. Respectful, cognizant, suspicious of the immense treasury of “church as institution”.
    (There can be no greater reminder of the danger of not doing so than the children)

    1. The four “pillars” simply acknowledge a need for a holistic faith/spirituality. What do we believe in? How do we celebrate that belief? How do we nourish our inner life? How do we transform our belief into action? I think these are relevant to any spiritual journey.

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