The fallacy of a 'cafeteria' faith


Archbishop John C. Favalora


Publised on the Archdiocese of Miami website

My dear friends,

You have heard the expression “cafeteria Catholics.” These are the ones who pick and choose what to believe in from among the Church’s teachings. They consider themselves good Catholics but opt out of following some of the Church’s teachings, such as birth control or attending Mass each Sunday.

It seems this phenomenon has now spread from particular religions — I am sure there are “cafeteria Baptists” and “cafeteria Methodists” — to religion itself. We now have “cafeteria believers”, according to the findings of the 2008 American religious identification survey. This survey found more people who call themselves “nondenominational Christians” and rising numbers who say they have no religion at all.

That does not mean they do not believe in God. In fact, people often say that they believe in God but not in any particular religion. So they practice a kind of personal spirituality, picking and choosing practices they like from this or that religion and eschewing what they see as archaic rules and rituals.

While this might be better than no faith at all, it often is a faith of convenience rather than conviction, a sort of “feel-good religion.” They do what “feels right” to them, often with a very superficial understanding of ethical or moral principles.

It is easy to believe in a God who makes no demands of us. But the God who revealed himself to Abraham and Moses does make demands. He gives us commandments to live by. He tells us how we should treat each other. He makes it quite clear that he seeks a relationship with his people; more than a relationship, a covenant. And anyone involved in relationships knows they require us to move beyond ourselves, to think of the other and to not always do what “feels good” to us.

It is clear from scripture that, for God, the relationship with humanity is of paramount importance. Like a parent, he seeks us out again and again. He continually reminds us of his love for us. He forgives our sinfulness over and over.

When, even then, we reject him, he sends his only Son to suffer and die for our sins, to show us the depth of his love for us. And to remind us that it is not enough for us to say we love God and believe in God. We have to demonstrate that faith through action, by abiding by certain principles, by following the commandments, by living the beatitudes.

Our faith does make demands on us. It demands deeds and not just words. And it is not always easy — as Jesus, the Son of God, demonstrated by dying on the cross.

The mission of the Church, of any particular religion, is to protect and to pass on the demands of the covenant between humanity and God, to constantly remind us, through scripture and worship, of what is good and right behavior in the eyes of the Lord.

True faith demands actions that, because of our human nature, we may not always be willing to perform. That is why we need a community of believers — and a body of dos and don’ts — to help us along the way.

Let us be wary of a self-made faith, a faith that is easy to practice, a faith that is more convenience than conviction, for it may turn out to be no faith at all.