The phrase “cafeteria Catholic” refers to a baptized Catholic who doesn’t embrace everything the Church teaches—someone who picks and chooses, a la carte (hence “cafeteria”), from among the Church’s moral rules, rubrics, and spiritual norms.
Many “cafeteria Catholics” are the product of bad catechesis. They disobey certain Church teachings because they’re simply not aware of them. Others reject difficult rules because they’ve never heard them presented in a coherent, persuasive way, seeing them more as restrictive than keys to flourishing.
But this doesn’t describe Rea Nola Martin. If we’re to believe her account in the Huffington Post, she’s well aware of what the Church teaches and why. She has “studied the mystics and read the Summa by Thomas Aquinas just for fun." She has "read the entire Bible more than once and the Gnostic gospels too.”
This, according to her, explains the primary reason she’s a “cafeteria Catholic”: because of Jesus.
“Although I have studied and admired many a spiritual master, Christ is my go to. He's the one I look to for spiritual guidance, inspiration, counsel, and redemption. He's the inner voice I check-in with all day long. That's why I'm a cafeteria Catholic.”
No serious Catholic would disagree with her first three sentences. Christ is the beginning and end of everything the Church believes. However, it’s not immediately clear how one jumps from valuing Christ to ignoring what his Church teaches, since the two are a package deal (Jesus said to his apostles, “Whoever hears you hears me.”) Martin spends the rest of her article defending that leap.
Unfortunately, her reasons are so packed with misunderstandings and confused assumptions, it would be impossible to engage every point within this short post. I’ll attempt only to tackle her most pertinent comments.
Martin begins by claiming:
“If there's one thing Christ taught me, it's to challenge the status quo.”
Perhaps in her comprehensive journey through the Bible, Martin missed Jesus’ teachings on salvation, charity, prayer, enemy-love, marriage, sacrifice, church discipline, community, evangelization, and discipleship, and that explains why the one thing Jesus taught her is anti-establishment activism. And it also might explain what comes next:
“To that point, Christ redressed the corruptive socio-political norms of his own religion. He befriended the disenfranchised, worked on the Sabbath, and upended the tables of the moneychangers.
Christ was a cafeteria Jew.”
Her point seems to be, “Hey, Jesus ignored some religious teachings, so why can’t I?!” Before following that logic, however, we should keep two important facts in mind.
First, Jesus is the Son of God; Martin is not. As the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus had unique authority to fulfill, extend, or revamp any part of his own divine law. It’s his prerogative, and until Martin becomes the Fourth Person of the Holy Quadrinity, it is one she doesn’t share.
Also, Jesus was less a “cafeteria Jew” than a Jewish culinarian. He didn’t pick and choose what food to eat; he cooked the food, and chose which to serve. By placing him on the wrong side of the serving counter, Martin reduces Jesus to just one more religious patron among others.
After her weak defense of Christ as “a cafeteria Jew”, Martin then gets to the meat of her article. She lists four Catholic teachings she is happy to pass in the cafeteria line. Let’s examine each one:
“#1 -I find it impossible to swallow the Catholic Church's stance on women as unqualified or inappropriate for the deaconate or priesthood. Back in the day, women were suppressed and uneducated. Now they're not. In fact, the latest statistics in the United States show that women are more educated than men. Notwithstanding the superior education, I challenge a single parish to stay open without the women whose hard work and spirituality enable the communities to exist. And with the dwindling male priesthood, how will the Church possibly continue without opening its priesthood to over 50 percent of its population? And if they continue to dismiss them, how many women of succeeding generations will stay?”
There’s much to embrace here. For example, no Catholic would doubt the indispensable role that women have played and continue to play within the Church. Nobody is suggesting women stop working at parishes, dioceses, ministries, etc. The opening paragraphs of Pope John Paul’s Letter to Women offer a litany of praise and thanks for women, and he devoted another apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatum, to their dignity and vocation.
However, this section contains some major misunderstandings. The most serious is that education is the primary qualifier for the priesthood, as if the Church delineates candidates by IQ level. While it’s true priestly candidates must endure a rigorous formation program, priests are not judged and accepted by intellect alone.
A good priest is not one that simply “knows a lot of stuff.” A good priest images Jesus Christ, acting in his person—including his gender—to help parishioners encounter the true High Priest.
It’s also ironic that after earlier claiming “Christ is my go-to [whom] I look to for spiritual guidance” Martin rejects his lead on exclusively ordaining male disciples. That makes her less a “cafeteria Catholic” and more a “cafeteria follower of Christ.”
The Church can always do more to ennoble women and promote their great dignity, but that doesn’t require ordaining them to the priesthood any more than ennobling men requires them getting pregnant.
“#2 -I also find it impossible to accept the position of the Catholic Church on gays and lesbians. That gays and lesbians are not only undeserving of the dignity of marriage, but of relationships period. That sticks in my throat. By accident of my birth and gender orientation I am granted a life of dignity and acceptance, while others are not? This kind of bias presupposes that homosexuality is a choice, which contemporary evidence shows it clearly is not. Anyone who knows gay people (most of us) understands that. I'm pretty sure Christ would pass on this item, too.”
While Martin claims to “find it impossible to accept the position of the Catholic Church on gays and lesbians,” it’s not clear that she actually understands that position. In other words, she’s rejecting a straw man that I and other Catholics would swiftly reject, too.
For instance, Martin insinuates that the Catholic Church teaches that gays and lesbians are “undeserving of … relationships period.” If this were true, I would just as vigorously protest. But it’s not. Perhaps in her comprehensive reading Martin missed the Catechism’s definitive section on homosexuality (CCC 2357-2359), but it does not condemn “relationships period” among people with same-sex attraction. In fact, it explicitly encourages chaste, life-giving friendships.
Martin also suggests that the Church doesn’t grant homosexual people “a life of dignity or choice”, a strange claim since, again, the Catechism expressly notes “[Homosexuals] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC 2358). The Catholic Church remains the greatest defender of the dignity of all people, regardless of gender, age, religion, or sexual orientation.
Finally and most seriously, Martin doesn’t distinguish between same-sex attraction and same-sex activity. For instance, she suggests “homosexuality” is not a choice, which may be true if she’s referring to same-sex attraction—the Catechism is quick to admit that the “psychological genesis [of homosexuality] remains largely unexplained”—but certainly false if she’s referring to same-sex activity. Yet even if she was right, and it was conclusively shown that same-sex attraction is genetically determined, that fact would be independent of whether same-sex actions are morally acceptable. Most of us are genetically predisposed to all sorts of immoral activities, but that doesn’t determine the intrinsic morality of those activities. Even if a man is genetically predisposed to gluttony, we wouldn’t praise him eating ten hamburgers in one sitting.
“#3-- I reject the Church's stance on divorced members of their own religion who wish to receive the Eucharist. Isn't the Eucharist the point? Isn't it the transformative food that strengthens the spirit? How can it be denied to parishioners just because they didn't have the connections or the money to secure an annulment and I did? To my knowledge, there were no second class citizens in Christ's following.”
Again, there’s much to applaud here. Martin is right that the “Eucharist is the point.” The Catechism describes it as “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). It’s undoubtedly the “transformative food that strengthens the spirit.” She’s also right that nobody should be excluded from communion simply because they don’t have enough money or connections. The Church regularly sings hymns based on Isaiah 55: "All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, buy grain and eat!" Finally, it’s true “there were no second class citizen’s in Christ’s following.” But behind all those agreeable facts hide two serious confusions.
First, Martin assumes that divorced Catholics are not able to receive communion. This is simply not true. The Church only withholds communion from those who have civilly divorced without an annulment and then have chosen to civilly remarry. This follows from Jesus’ clear command: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Since adultery is a mortal sin, and those living in mortal sin are not spiritually prepared to receive Christ in communion, they should refrain. Surely Martin agrees with her “go-to” source on this topic.
Second, the annulment process does not depend exclusively—or at all—on connections or money. This is a wild assertion, and since Martin offers no evidence for her claim, we should reserve paying it serious attention.
“#4-- I think statistics will bear me out when I say that population control is one of (if not the) greatest global dilemmas facing humanity today and for the foreseeable future with respect to food, water, disease, living space, and ecological repercussions. So, even if I didn't believe (which I do) that family planning is the only way to stay sane (I'm one of eight), I would still find it impossible to accept the Church's stance on birth control based on the above ethics.”
In Martin’s final point she questions the Church’s rejection of artificial birth control. Her main argument is that since overpopulation is one of the greatest threats today, this rejection seems “impossible” and unethical. Yet while Martin is right that we’re facing a serious population crisis, it’s not overpopulation—it’s underpopulation. As the Population Research Institute shows, the global population will peak in about thirty years but will then rapidly decline (since global birth rates have reached unprecedented lows.)
Overpopulation is a myth and therefore no good reason to accept artificial birth control.
Martin then wraps up her piece:
“Okay that's my list. (I could add married clergy, but that would exceed the word count.) What's yours? If you think you are not a cafeteria Catholic, consider Pope Francis' recent references to capitalism. Are you a capitalist? And what about war? Notwithstanding abject evil, are you in favor of killing people to protect the economic interests of your population? Such wars have been waged with and without our knowledge. Even the "holy" Crusades were acknowledged as a moral debacle centuries later.
The bottom line is, these are all complex issues deserving deep thought and consideration. To be a cafeteria Catholic is a good thing if it means you are putting your conscience first. As long as your conscience is in good shape and your ego is in check, it works. After all, history has proven that individuals, not institutions, lead the parade of evolutionary progress. Customs rooted in society must change; only truth is eternal.”
Martin can’t help adding a couple more jabs in her closing remarks. For example, she demands married clergy, apparently unaware that the Catholic Church already has millions of married clergy (deacons, Eastern rite priests, former-Anglican priests, etc.)
She sums up her entire position with these words: “To be a cafeteria Catholic is a good thing if it means you are putting your conscience first. As long as your conscience is in good shape and your ego is in check, it works.”
The question, of course, is how do you know if your conscience is in good shape? By what objective rule is it measured? For Martin, the answer seems to be, “I measure my conscience by my own beliefs”, the equivalent of painting a bullseye around your already-embedded arrow.
I hope one day Martin will discover the emptiness of “cafeteria Catholicism,” eschewing it instead for the entire banquet Jesus offers through his Church. The former might satisfy her appetite temporarily, but only the latter will fill her soul.
Originally published at Word on Fire.
"Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others." - St. Augustine
Since I've built up a large collection of extra books and resources, every week I give some away absolutely free, no strings attached.
Each giveaway lasts seven days with a new one beginning every Friday. You can enter any time during the week. Check out my past giveaways here.
Thanks to Paulist Press, today I'm giving away THREE copies of Stephen Bullivant's excellent new book on religion and atheism.
by Stephen Bullivant
Paulist Press, 176 pages, paperback
Released on March 1, 2014
Most Christian books on atheism set out to critique the writings of well-known figures such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who represent one, albeit very vocal, expression of a more pervasive, subtle and widespread phenomenon that exerts a powerful influence in many areas of public life.
This book is distinct in offering a rounded understanding of the development of atheism, its many faces, and a guide to the topics at the interface between the Christian faith and our modern-day culture of unbelief. It asks: Can a rational person still believe in God? What does the rise in atheism in Christian countries say about the church? Can unbelieving friends and family members be saved? How can Christians present the gospel in a world of unbelief?
In exploring the roots and reasons for atheism, and key questions of dialogue and evangelism, this will equip Christians for serious engagement with today s many forms of atheism.
I'm using Rafflecopter to help with the giveaway, which is great because it gives you multiple entries for commenting, posting on Facebook, sharing on Twitter, etc. Click below to enter:
(If you're reading this through email or RSS and don't see the giveaway widget, click here.)
The winner(s) will be randomly selected next Friday and the books will be sent out, free of charge, shortly thereafter.
(Since I'm covering the shipping costs, only residents within the continental United States are eligible to win.)
Big news out of Peoria, IL this morning as Bishop Daniel Jenky just received word that the seven-member board of medical experts who advise the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints at the Vatican unanimously approved a reported miracle attributed to the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
This paves the way for Sheen's beatification, which would make him "Blessed Fulton Sheen" and leave him just one step away from official sainthood.The miracle in question took place in September 2010 and involved a newborn boy named James Fulton Engstrom (son of Bonnie Engstrom, friend and fellow Catholic blogger.) James emerged showing no signs of life. Medical professionals scrambled to attempt every possible life saving procedure. Bonnie, her husband, and loved ones began immediately seeking the intercession of Fulton Sheen in prayer. Then, after 61 minutes with no pulse, James was miraculously restored to life and made a full recovery. He's now three years old and continues in good health.
Receiving approval for a miracle is typically the biggest hurdle in the beatification process. From here, the case will be reviewed by a board of theologians. With their approval the case will move on to a select number of cardinals and bishops, and then finally to Pope Francis who will, hopefully, affirm that God performed a miracle through the intercession of Fulton Sheen. There is no timeline as to when these next steps will take place but my guess is that they will happen within the year.
For more information about Fulton Sheen and the Cause for his canonization, visit ArchbishopSheenCause.org.
PS. For an inside look at the miracle vetting process, check out this article we posted yesterday at Strange Notions titled "Can an Atheist Scientist Believe in Miracles?" It's written by Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, a respected atheist hematologist who was asked by the Vatican to verify a miracle attributed to the intercession of St. Marie-Marguerite d'Youville.
Today, Bishop Paul S. Loverde (Arlington, VA) published an important, wide-ranging pastoral letter titled "Bought With a Price: Every Man's Duty to Protect Himself and His Family From a Pornographic Culture" (PDF). It's available free at www.arlingtondiocese.org/purity and will soon be available in Kindle format. Although the document can be read online beginning today, it's officially dated March 19, the feast of Saint Joseph, patron of fathers.
In his letter, Bishop Loverde calls pornography a widening plague of “pandemic scale” and calls upon all Catholics and “all those of good will” to search their hearts, reject pornography, and renew their sacred commitment to marriage and children.
The 15,000-word letter contains four substantial chapters:
- The Current Threat
- Four False Arguments
- What Can Be Done
- The Gift of Sight
Throughout the letter, Bishop Loverde warns how pornography “damages man’s ‘template’ for the supernatural." But he also offers hope and support:
“Sins against purity are discouraging and can lead to great frustration and self-hatred. You may feel a sense of helplessness and that these sins are impossible to overcome. But with God you need never despair. You will win. He loves you and wants you to be free.”
To that end the letter includes an array of practical resources designed to challenge men to be free of pornography and to protect their homes and children. These include simple suggestions, a “plan of life”, and study guide questions for groups, individuals, and families.
The letter also features an excellent Foreword by chastity expert Matt Fradd, who claims the document “could not have come at a more critical time.” Matt, who first encountered pornography at the age of 8 and subsequently overcame an addiction, writes that the average child today—against the backdrop of a $13 billion a year porn industry—first encounters pornography by age 11. Children today “are awash in a sea of smut, and our culture increasingly legitimizes, even glorifies it.”
In response to these dire statistics, Bishop Loverde issues a prophetic call:
"Today’s father must protect himself and his children from the relentless assault of an increasingly pornographic culture; moreover, mothers share this sacred task. I call on every man to search his heart and renew his commitment to purity. I call on every husband and father to renew his sacred commitment to his wife and children."
Bishop Loverde and the Diocese of Arlington have graciously allowed me to reprint an excerpt from the letter, which exposes one of the greatest myths about pornography:
Myth #1. There are no victims so no one is being harmed.
The justification of pornography often begins by viewing the activity as a private exchange between the viewers and those who produce and distribute the material. In this view, there is a “free” choice on the part of consenting adults to meet a “need” and to be compensated for meeting that “need.” The illusion inherent in this rationalization is that all the participating parties complete the exchange as the same persons, with no harm done, as when they entered. Like all rationalizations, this is an illusion.
The first illusion is that the viewing of men and women in intimate relations does no harm to them as persons. Often this is not true on even a physical plane. Preying on the vulnerable and the needy, the pornography industry often entices them into deeper and more dangerous behaviors until physical harm is inevitable.
Yet the very nature of pornography commits violence against the dignity of the human person. By taking an essential aspect of the person—human sexuality—and making it a commodity to be bartered and sold, to be used and discarded by unknown others, the pornography industry commits a most violent attack on the dignity of these victims.
"Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere."
— Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 5
Every year, thousands of men and women are lured into the pornography industry by the promise of easy money. The industry preys on the most vulnerable: the poor, the abused and marginalized, and even children. This exploitation of the weak is gravely sinful. Whether need, confusion, or alienation leads men and women to become pornographic objects, their choice to do so certainly cannot be seen as free. Those who produce and distribute pornography leave a wide path of broken and devalued men and women in their wake.
More and more of these victims are younger, even children. When these, the most vulnerable and innocent of our society, become victims of the dehumanizing demands of an industry willing to destroy innocence for profit, it is an unspeakable act of violence.
Dehumanizing the Viewer
“Jesus said in reply, ‘Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh.’”
— Matthew 19:4-6
The guilty within the industry are easy to identify, but they do not stand alone. The entire pornography industry exists to realize profit, and there can be no profit without customers. Those who seek out and use pornographic images are active participants in the victimization of others. Those who view pornographic materials cannot separate themselves from the moral responsibility associated with the victimization and degradation of the men, women and children those materials depict. And the viewers themselves are degraded.
It is a mistaken notion that the singular effect of sinful moral choices is the harm these choices cause to others. Certainly, the immediate effect of choosing to participate in pornographic viewing is the spiritual and emotional violence committed against those whose images are viewed. Yet, the personal and existential effect on the one choosing to view pornographic images lies at the heart of these sinful actions.
The human person, the only creature with a moral sense, progressively builds or destroys his or her character by each and every moral choice. Thus one becomes virtuous by the very act of practicing virtue, and one becomes depraved by practicing acts of vice. When one chooses to view pornography, even if at first reluctantly, one becomes the kind of person who is willing to use others as mere objects of pleasure, disregarding their inherent dignity as a man or woman created in God’s image. As the habit of pornography becomes more fixed, the characteristics of a person who debases and objectifies others and wills violence against their dignity become more pronounced.
It is in this sometimes gradual, sometimes sudden, transformation of the human character that sin exerts its strongest influence on individuals and the culture. The young more readily manipulate and abandon friends to meet their temporary and often selfish desires. Spouses begin to gauge their partner on a scale of what they receive from the relationship rather than to self-giving marital fidelity. Young adults approach marriage as merely a non-binding contract that may be abrogated if the benefits of the married state no longer meet their increasingly unrealistic or even perverse desires and expectations. Priests and religious judge their ministry on personal satisfaction and advancement rather than sacrifice. The widespread use of pornography naturally leads to a degradation of human society because it degrades the persons who submit to it.
Pornography makes a lie of intimacy. Distorting that very human characteristic that promises an end to isolation, pornography leads the user not to intimacy, but to even deeper isolation. The divine purpose of human sexuality is to assuage the longing for communion with another and to bring the person into a bond of life-nurturing, and life-giving, love. In this human experience of intimacy with another, man’s eternal destiny of perfect communion with his Creator is prefigured.
The false promise of intimacy offered by pornography leads instead to an ever-deeper alienation that cripples the user’s ability to experience truly intimate human contact. The user of pornography, while longing for intimacy, turns ever more surely back into himself, becoming ever more isolated and alone.
Erosion of the Family
The most tragic and frightening victim of the scourge of pornography is the family. Although the “intimacy” promised by this vice is illusory and the happiness sought in its practice is transitory and destructive, the damage to the human relationships so necessary for the flourishing of the family is even more shockingly real and, in many cases, permanent.
The flourishing of the family is dependent upon the growth of family members in holiness and true human love. This is a love whose primary concern is for the good of the other. It is in this experience of human love that children grow in grace and wisdom and become integrated and virtuous members of human society. True human love does not arise from selfish desire but rather from self-giving. It is in the example of self-giving expressed by loving parents that children develop the potential to commit to intimacy with another and to intimacy with God.
When family members turn to pornography in a distorted thirst for intimacy, they turn against and in some measure reject their commitment to their family. By doing this, they commit violence against the relationships which define their own vocation.
"If the person is not master of self—through the virtues and, in a concrete way, through chastity—he or she lacks that selfpossession which makes self-giving possible. Chastity is the spiritual power that frees love from selfishness and aggression. To the degree that a person weakens chastity, his or her love becomes more and more selfish, that is, satisfying a desire for pleasure and no longer self-giving."
— Pontifical Council for the Family, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality (1995), 16
Once given over to this vice, the family member makes great efforts to keep this betrayal secret. Ultimately, however, it is vain to expect that a secret that distorts the core of human sexuality can fully remain a secret from those to whom we have pledged our love and our lives. The betrayal, even if not made completely known, will communicate itself through changes in the character of the betrayer. In the isolation and alienation of the person, the other members of the family feel the inevitable consequences of the alienation of intimacy inherent in the secret of pornography.
The first to feel the violence of pornographic use is the spouse. If pornography is a sin against the human dignity of those whose images are used, how much more so is it a sin against the human dignity of the one who was promised the exclusivity of affection? The use of pornography is a violation of the commitment of marriage. Even if tolerated by the spouse, how can one possibly not feel rejection and betrayal when one’s committed partner turns to illusion and fleeting happiness in pornographic images? This rejection, if left unhealed, will often lead to the permanent destruction of the marital commitment.
As is the nature of all sin, the ones who suffer the most are the innocent. Children who naturally strive to imitate and integrate the self-giving love of their parents instead find themselves faced with tension, betrayal and selfishness. It is understandable then that they may come to believe that true love, a sacrificial and selfgiving love, is an illusion.
Just as it is a vain hope for a spouse using pornography to keep this sin a secret, it is also a vain hope to think that the material itself can be kept a secret. Children encounter the very material that has caused damage to their family and are introduced to an understanding of sexuality not intended by their parents. Instead of learning and experiencing the nobility of the human person created in the image and likeness of God, they experience the degradation of the human person reduced to a commodity, to an object.