Cafeteria Christians

hosp_foodFew people buy their faith as a total package.  Sure, there are a some who say, “I am Baptist” and they mean it.  They agree with whatever their pastor tells them about the bible and what it means.  But most of my Christian friends say, “I am Christian but I don’t believe everything my church tells me I should”.  I think most Christians are like this, even though they may not be able to admit it.  But I understand why some Christians buy the whole fixed dinner:  belonging with totally loyally to a clan does offer some measure of security.  It is like eating a fixed hospital diet where you trust the doctor knows exactly the food you need to eat.

smorgasbord_churchMost of my Christian friends, don’t feel I am going to hell.  They think their Church may feel that way, but they don’t.  I even have Evangelical friends who are Cafeteria Evangelicals — they are there for the culture but pick and choose what they eat.  They are not on the fixed menu plan.  Many of these Cafeteria Evangelicals feel I may not being going to Hell.  Mind you, if I start quoting the bible and interrogating them on their theology, they will be soon in an uncomfortable situation when they will realize that they hold many hugely conflicting religious beliefs.  But all of us hold conflicting beliefs, we just don’t realize it.  So I usually I don’t interrogate and am just happy that my friend does not look at me as hell-bound — for what kind of friendship is that!  Very few believers are theologians, they don’t get into the religion for its intellectual soteriological insights, for its ontological stances or for its meta-ethics.  They get into their faith because it is a community of like-purposed individuals — or so they hope.  Of course there are many other reasons for being religious, but I thought I’d mention one of the large non-theological reasons.

While many Atheists are encouraging each other to come out as Atheists.  I think Atheists, should also be encouraging their religious friends to come out as Cafeteria Believers — it is one step closer to being in agreement with each other.  For both Atheists and Cafeteria Believers feel that it is the individual’s responsibility to think and that buying into the whole package of someone else’s thoughts entails being a little less than human.  So instead of trying to shatter the faith of your believer friend, just try and encourage them to be a better versions of themselves– encourage them to be a Cafeteria believer.

Note: “Cafeteria Christian” has been a phrase I have used for a long time.  I commented on a liberal Christian’s blog about it, and he wrote a very poetic reply to my coined phrase “Cafeteria Christian” (without quoting me, sniffle).  So this is my formal version.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

8 responses to “Cafeteria Christians

  1. That’s actually an excellent term, “caferteria Christians.” It precisely describes how most theists handle their beliefs, they pick and choose what they want to believe on any given day and don’t stop to consider what they reject out of hand or why they should or shouldn’t do so. In the end, religion is about what makes them feel good emotionally, not what is actually true, it’s like the small child clutching the security blanket, never bothering to consider whether that blanket can actually protect them from the things they’re afraid of.

  2. Thank you ! I must say, however, that I think ALL of us engage in such mental belief swapping – atheist or theist. Take something like “Love” and “Sex” – we buy into notions of commitment and connection and then flip out to lust and desire–with appropriate supporting rationalizations–depending on what is most effective to obtain our objectives. Our brains lies to us and then we (unconsciously) lie to others to obtain our desires while believing fullheartedly that we are sincere–for nothing is more persuasive than sincerity. That is why our brains deceive us — to obtain their objectives.

    It is when Theists wrap their sanctification cloak around their swapping that I have strong objections.

  3. Pseudonym

    I guess my only problem with the phrase “Cafeteria Christian” is that it suggests that the decision on what to eat is made on a whim. Or maybe that’s just how I choose my lunch when I’m at a cafeteria.

    Whim and personal taste is no doubt a factor for everyone, but for people like me, solid research is important.

  4. Pseudonym

    Mind you, that’s a very minor complaint.

  5. The best of Hindu scholars, the best of Muslim scholars and the best of Christian scholars all felt they choose their religion after careful research. Of course, 90% of those were of that faith before their “research” began. That should tell you something right there.

    Funny how the word “research” is used. It has that scientific connotation, but the way most people use it, has nothing to do with testing of hypotheses, looking at statistics or reformulating hypotheses based on outcomes. They mean, “I read stuff !”. (Nothing wrong with that, of course. I am just trying to strip down connotations.)

  6. Pseudonym

    I think I wasn’t clear. When I say “research”, I mean to decide which bits of your religion are more important than others. Any sufficiently old sacred text is steeped in the culture in which it was written, and unpicking those culture-specific layers requires careful study.

    Of course, it could be (and in some cases has been) done in any religion. I’m extremely pleased to see that Islam is developing the early stages of a modernist movement right now. If I were a Muslim rather than a Christian, now would be an exciting time to be doing religious studies. For Christianity, all the basic groundwork has already been done in the last hundred or so years. It almost makes me want to convert, but I’m happy where I am.

    It’s interesting that you say that “research” has a scientific connotation. To me, I think of any scholarly activity including history, linguistics and mythological studies, all of which can be legitimately applied to the study of ancient texts, sacred or otherwise, or the origins of a movement, religious or otherwise.

  7. Thank you for clarifying — yeah, maybe it was your emphasis with “solid” research that took me to the scientific connotation. For though I have and continue to do the reading-stuff research you spoke of, my mind went into the meaning of the word used in medicine (my profession).

    I don’t know you personally, obviously, but I wager to say that though you feel you choose Christianity among all the other religions out there. But I feel such a perception is largely illusory. I challenge my friends to try different foods all the time. The religion choice issue would be similar to one of my average American friends claiming that they intentionally chose to eat apple pie even though they not only don’t know but have never tasted Jalabi, Gulab Jaman, Wagashi , or Baklawa. Wait, you say, I have had Baklawa. Yep, and that is what their “argument” would be too. But my list could be much, much longer. But they don’t even get the central argument — they settled one of the sweets of their own country. I don’t really call that choosing ! Now when it comes to sweets, this seems a silly hair to split, but when it comes to claims for morality & eternal life …

    Concerning “Islam”, I have indeed said what you have over the years. But I wonder if Star Trek hasn’t influence us. On Star Trek, the prime directive is to not interfere with cultures because they are all evolving and deserve their freedom. Indeed we all evolve, but like biological evolution, the pathways are hugely divergent. Islam may not go the way of Christianity at all — we can not expect it too hopefully. OK, maybe I will be hopeful, for when I look at all the militaristic, vengeful, tribal think in the OT and then most of the teachings of the NT, there is a big change. And even for Jews, the Rabbinic tradition slowly evolved to calm down their Zionistic side — but not for all sects.

    By the way, I very much enjoy the tone of your writing.

  8. I’m looking forward to the time when we get Cafeteria Atheists. You know, people coming and hanging with us at Atheist meetups not because they agree with us, but because we so goddamn cool and we do all the crazy fun stuff like muffin bakes and pot luck dinners.

    @Pseudonym: you bring up a really good point. Demarcation of what is ‘scientific’ has been and still is problematic. This is something more of us rationalists should think, read and write about.

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