Religion on the Cafeteria Plan

I’ve made mention of the book Living with Thorns in previous blogs, and I recently found another of its statments inconveniently, absolutely true: “We seek to know through Scripture what God’s purposes and secrets are. This understanding protects us from the tyranny of self-absorption.” That statement made me do a little self assessment, only to sit back and say “wow.”

I’ve heard it said many times that a majority of Catholics are branded “Cafeteria-style” Catholics. If you’ve never heard this, it’s not a complimentary moniker—nor do I subscribe that it is applicable only the Catholics. As hurried, self-aborbed, self-satisfying individuals sharing this earth, we all can succumb to this type of approach when it comes to religious and/or moral decision-making.

Picture a cafeteria. You’re going along selecting what you like, not necessarily what’s good for your nutritional health. You take the juicy burger. You add a heaping side of french fries. You select a biggie soda. You pick a slab of pie. Satisfying to the taste buds, but not really good choices for a balanced meal. But you’re in a hurry. You’ve got meetings to attend, appointments to be made, e-mails to answer, texts to return, internet apps to download, calls to make, TV to watch…so much to do. So it’s just easier to pick and choose what makes us immediately happy. And over time, it becomes habit-forming. It’s how we operate. If we don’t like it, we don’t take it. We sign up for the cafeteria plan and call it a day.

More and more, we do the same with religion, faith, and Scripture. We attend church when we want (or not); we listen to the psalms and readings that make us feel good; we choose which will be our favorites, worth noting, the ones that don’t make us uncomfortable or ask much of us. But those parts of the Bible (or Mass, or the Sacraments, or worship) that make us uncomfortable? Ask us to make sacrifices, use our gifts, embrace—submit to—God’s Word? No, thank you. That doesn’t satisfy.

A few years back, Al Gore had a book titled An Inconvenient Truth. Whether you read it, or not, doesn’t matter. But that statement certainly does, as it applies to so much about today’s world and how we make our choices in everything, and that includes God.

The bottom line to this post? There is responsibility to this life on earth, and it’s not meant to be convenient at all. That doesn’t mean that we are not supposed to enjoy it. But it does mean that there will always be choice, in both good and bad times. Picking and choosing your way through life, selecting only the easy, the quick, the self-validating will only deepen our self-absorption at the expense of understanding that the privilege of living this life is often inconvenient.


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