Monday, June 8, 2009

'Cafeteria Catholics' and a Diverse Church

A word of caution: This post contains some vulgar language, necessary to faithfully copy comments in another blog.
The phrase "cafeteria Catholics" is used sometimes to describe people who say they're Catholic, but in fact pick those parts of Catholic beliefs and practices they like, and discard the rest.

I don't think it's a good idea. Aside from the effect it has on the person who's doing 'Catholicism My Way,' it encourages others to form ideas which are, well, interesting.

I was reminded of this today, while catching up on comments which visitors left on my blogs. A post from March of this year has collected a curious set of responses:
Comments from "Navy Petty Officer Mike Monsoor and the Trident Hoax," Another War-on-Terror Blog (March 11, 2009), starting with the second comment:

"Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

"Re. The previous comment:

"MI6 said...

hey buddy. i dont know what the fuck your talking about. so go die in a fire.

"April 18, 2009 3:02 PM

"This is a fairly good example of how politically incorrect ideas, and the people who express them, are treated.

"An example from last weekend: 'Miss USA Contestant Gives Wrong Answer: "Dumb B***" Booed by Audience' (A Catholic Citizen in America (April 20, 2009)).

"Although I try to accommodate reasonable requests, I will not willingly 'go die in a fire.' As a practicing Catholic, I'm not allowed to commit suicide.
April 20, 2009 2:26 PM

"Anonymous said...

"Having "once BEEN a Catholic" I KNOW that Catholics only follow the rules feel like following at the moment. I am a Physician and also KNOW how many Catholic women use birth control :) - another no no. So like they said:
"May 25, 2009 10:29 PM

"Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


"Your comment deserves more of a response than I have time for here.

"I think you may have an issue with what is called 'cafeteria Catholics.' I do not see that as an acceptable way to approach any faith.

"As to your professional advice, as a physician, to 'GO DIE IN A FIRE!' - I'm afraid I can't oblige you on that point.

"I am not a 'cafeteria Catholic,' and so am not allowed to commit suicide. More about that at 'The Catholic Church Won't Even Let People Kill Themselves.' A Catholic Citizen in America (January 28, 2009)."
I suspect that "MI6" and Anonymous were trying to "get my goat," as the expression was in my youth. And, I'll admit that I was somewhat annoyed.

And still am.

But, Anonymous did bring up an important point or two.

Cafeteria Catholics

"Cafeteria Catholics," or "cafeteria Christians," are phrases used to describe people who like some of what Catholicism, or some denomination, teach, but not the whole package. They feel, apparently, that they should be free to pick and choose what they do and don't believe - and still say that they're a Catholic, or Lutheran, or whatever.

That sounds very 'democratic,' and might actually work for some denominations. But it's not the way the Catholic Church works.

A person is free to not believe that Jesus made Peter the first pope, and that there's been an unbroken succession of popes, right up to Benedict XVI, each of whom passed that authority on to their successor. In America, you'll probably be thought of as intelligent and maybe even open-minded, if you also say that Jesus didn't really mean it when he said "Take and eat; this is my body."

The Catholic Church has a set of beliefs which are just that: a set. Catholics have a deposit of faith:
"The heritage of faith contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, handed on in the Church from the time of the Apostles, from which the Magisterium draws all that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed (84; cf. 1202)."
(Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Those numbers refer to paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There's something about the deposit of faith in Catechism, 97, too.

As I said, a person is free to not believe what the Catholic Church teaches, and not be a Catholic. I wouldn't recommend it, but that is an option.

But, if you're going to be Catholic, there are things to be believed.

Being Catholic: Nobody Said it Was Easy

I'm a convert to Catholicism, and had some idea of what I was letting myself in for. Which is one of the reasons it took me so many years to make the switch from a mainstream Protestant denomination.

Contraceptives: One of the Big Deals

Anonymous related that many women who say they are Catholic use contraceptives: "birth control" was the exact phrase. Anonymous is right.

I grew up in America, and so "knew" that contraceptives were perfectly okay. I was faced with this issue, when I decided to marry a Catholic woman. The matter of birth control came up, of course, and I was convinced that I'd find something wrong with Catholic teachings.

So, I read "Humanae Vitae," the English translation, of course, cover to cover. More than once.

Turns out, I was wrong.

One of the points that the encyclical letter made was that the union of man and woman is not generous, if one party isn't willing to share the complete marital embrace.
("...Married Love...It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself...." ("Humanae Vitae" (July 25, 1968))
I didn't like it at the time, but I accepted the fact that to reject the logic of the encyclical letter, I would have to reject some very basic beliefs I had about the nature of God: which I was unwilling to do. The Church doesn't insist that we play "Vatican roulette," by the way: but that's a whole different topic.

The Nature of the Universe: Also a Big Deal

I can't remember a time when I had trouble with the idea that God created the universe. For that matter, I can't remember a time when I wasn't aware that there were entities more powerful than myself.

I did, however, cling to the 'clockwork universe' model: the idea that God set up the universe as a sort of machine, wound it up, set it going, and has been watching it tick, whir, and buzz along ever since. Isaac Newton is credited with helping to get the idea started, I think.

One of the appeals to the 'clockwork' model is that it let me feel better about the disgusting things that people did: and about phenomena like earthquakes and birth defects. I'm personally interested in the latter aspect of reality. I have been blessed with congenital hip dysplasia - and the after-effects of a doctor's covert research. Again, that's another topic.

As long as I thought of the universe as a hands-off clockwork affair, I didn't have to think about how a loving God could let things like me happen.

Turns out, I was wrong. Again.

The Church teaches that God made the world: and has kept on making it. The Catechism addresses one aspect of this:
"With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end. Recognizing this utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence:..." (Catechism, 301)
There's more to the nature of reality and Catholic teachings than that. Books could be written on the subject, and have been. Again, that's another topic.

I didn't like it, but I'm learning to accept realities that I don't like. The idea that God keeps the universe, and everything in it, in existence has forced me to think about free will and related matters: which helps keep life from being boring.

Catholic Beliefs and Practices: And Diversity?!

I get the idea, hearing and reading what 'open-minded' people have to say about the Catholic Church, that about the last terms they'd use to describe Catholic practices is "diverse."

But, the Catholic Church is literally the universal church. We're not bound to the culture of any country or region.

As an American, I speak a particular dialect of the English language. The parish church has reminders of the northwestern European origins of the regional culture. We have an evergreen tree mounted near the altar in the Christmas season, and other symbols from my ancestor's pagan past show up from time to time.

Which is okay.
"The diverse liturgical traditions have arisen by very reason of the Church's mission. Churches of the same geographical and cultural area came to celebrate the mystery of Christ through particular expressions characterized by the culture:..." (1202)
The Church's diversity can be a little startling, sometimes. One of the more recent popes, on a visit to a country in Africa, had an animal's skin on his back - a leopard, I think - on top of his standard-issue uniform. It wasn't a fashion statement. In that particular area, people with authority wore that particular sort of skin as symbol of that authority.

It's no more odd, when you think about it, than seeing a tannenbaum in the parish church, or holy and ivy.

"Cafeteria Catholics:" Not Necessarily Liberal

I've gotten the impression that "cafeteria Catholics" and "cafeteria Christians" are assumed to be liberal. Not so.

Researching this post, I ran into this:
"I am an Orthodox Catholic, not a (politically)conservative Catholic. Why do conservative Catholics in the USA, especially in the Southern parts of the country, allign [!] themselves to support only abortion and euthanasia ban pro-life issues in the Roman catholic Church and always have an argument against banning the death penalty, as it is being used by conservatives in the USA?..." ("The death penalty and Politically Conservative Pro Life Catholics," Question from Catholic Q & A, EWTN (September 5, 2004))
The answer begins:
"It is never a good idea to brand groups of people with politically-specific labels. It is not true that all "conservative" Catholics hold the same positions nor is it true that all "cafeteria" Catholics hold the same positions. When I write, as a non-Southerner, that I am pro-life, what I mean is that I defend the right to life of every innocent human being, from conception/fertilization/cloning without exception and without apology.

"The Church teaches specifically on both abortion and the death penalty. Abortion is an 'intrinsically evil act' and the death penalty has never been defined as such...."("The death penalty and Politically Conservative Pro Life Catholics," Question from Catholic Q & A, EWTN (September 5, 2004))
Which is not to say that the Church has an 'off with their heads!' attitude. There's more, about the Church's teachings on capital punishment and my take on it, in "Capital Punishment: Killing Those Who Deserve to Die" (October 2, 2008).

Finally, although the Catholic Church is rather intolerant of some activities, like killing babies, the 'anyone who doesn't agree with me on everything and likes my kind of music is going to Hell' attitude isn't a part of Catholic teaching. Some of this is reflected in how the Catholic Church approaches suicide. (More at "The Catholic Church Won't Even Let People Kill Themselves" (January 28, 2009))

Of course, someone who reads this will have encountered a Catholic who is a mass of seething hatred. There are over a billion of us, worldwide, and some of us are jerks.

Related posts: Background


Robin Myers said...

I agree. One of the things that brought me to the Church was "authoritative" teachings on matters of Faith and Morals. There is plenty of diversity, just look at all the religious orders and different expressions of Catholic spirituality. Submitting to the Church's authority is the same as submitting to God's authority and He rewards it as such.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

Robin Myers,

Well said. Thank you for the comment.

Stan Blackburn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stan Blackburn said...
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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.