A few weeks ago, a reader commented on my post in which I expressed my support for the ordination of women:

One is either Catholic or he (purposely did not write “he/she” here) is not. One cannot be 99.9% Catholic. You either are or you are not. Obedience is better than sacrifice, and is best when it is a sacrifice.

In other words: the cafeteria is closed.

For those of you who don’t get the allusion: when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected to be Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, conservatives and ultra-traditionalists within Catholicism adopted the motto “the cafeteria is closed” as a way of expressing their belief that it is not okay for Catholics to differ with church doctrine on contentious issues, usually those involving gender or human sexuality. It refers to the pejorative label “cafeteria Catholic” which the purists use to denigrate those who have conscientious disagreements with the church.

“Cafeteria Catholic” and “the cafeteria is closed” are insults, typically used to imply that conscientious dissidents are traitors — disloyal to the church. I find it odd that the traditionalists would dare to accuse others of being traitorous, since Christ suggested that the one who calls another a traitor will answer for it in hell fire (Matthew 5:22).

Meanwhile, statements like “one cannot be 99.9% Catholic” are forms of judgment. So anyone who says something like this appears to be disobeying Christ’s command as laid out in Matthew 7:1.

Forgive my nitpicking; I merely wish to make a simple point. Those who take delight in attacking other Christians because they “pick and choose only what they want to believe” are, ironically, doing the very thing they are accusing others of doing.

The accusers are quick to obey what they consider to be the important purity laws (as they understand them), but appear to ignore the hospitality commandments, such as forgiving others, refraining from judging others, and even refraining from calling others names.

I’m not trying to suggest I’m better than people who would dismiss me for being a pick-and-choose Christian or a cafeteria Catholic. All I’m saying is that when it comes to being less than 100%, we’re all pretty much on a level playing field. None of us are pure. There are no pure Christians, no pure Catholics, no pure Bible-believers. I’m not saying that we should just be cavalier when it comes to religious authority, nor am I defending those who blow off church teaching for no other reason than they don’t like it. But there are times when committed people of faith recognize that their sincere and well-informed conscience simply calls them to disagree with religious authority. If we ideologically insist that external norms must always trump conscience, we become no better than the Pharisee who judged Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.

We’re all stumbling through this world, making mistakes left and right but pretty much just trying to do the best we can. I hope we can all learn how to be kind to each other as we’re stumbling along. To start, it would be good for us to refrain from calling each other names or passing judgment (of the “I’m pure and you’re not” variety, or, for that matter, “I’m committed to hospitality and you’re not” — the error I’m at risk of making with this post). I’m not saying that we should avoid talking about our disagreements and concerns. On the contrary, we should be honest with one another, even though it’s painful to do so. And it will be painful. It’s painful to disagree, and particularly painful to disagree about matters of faith. Faced with such painful division, it’s tempting to retreat into “I’m right and you’re wrong” thinking. But such a mindset merely undermines true community, so it ultimately creates great harm. It’s harmful because it is willing to destroy relationships in its zeal to hold on to a singular (and therefore, partial) understanding of truth. But truth, in its fullness, cannot be avoided. And the truth is, we don’t agree, often with both “sides” of a conflict sincerely convinced of the reasonableness and Godliness of its position.

The same person who told me that 99.9% isn’t good enough to be Catholic also sneered at the Anglican Communion for its deep internal struggle over questions of morality, faith and practice. These are perilous times for Anglicanism. But at least it’s a community of faith that is trying to be honest about its disagreements.

I think other churches — my own included — could learn a lot from the Anglicans.

Simplicity and Silence
Spiritual Orientation
Concerning Sheep, Goats, and the Unconditional Love of God
The Spirit of George and Jack


  1. Hi Carl,

    I repeat here my appreciation of your purity-vs-hospitality perspective, and your inclusiveness of those who have not “yet” agreed with you and maybe never will. You are right that this is difficult and painful. But I want to add one more word of support: in taking a stance like this, you are strongly and consistently favoring oneness, non-dualism, in a pragmatic application. Way to go! I highly commend this.


  2. Just found your blog through my good friend Mike at zoecarnate. Hope you don’t mind my adding you to my blog roll. I look forward to more posts!


  3. Thanks, A.T. A friend of Mike’s is a friend of mine (which means, therefore, I have a lot of friends).

  4. Carl, Carl, Carl…

    When you suggested a number of times that I get my own website, I took this as your wish that I not participate here, and I have respected that. But now, since you have quoted me…can I respond?

    First of all, my statement that “one cannot be 99% Catholic” was never meant to be interpreted as an attack or judgment on anyone, although it appears you have taken it that way. The next sentence is, “You either are or you are not.” Perhaps I should have wrote “one is” or “one is not” instead of “you”, since you seem to be personally offended.

    In any event, the point I was trying to make is that, being in communion with the Church is a state of being. To illustrate, one can be Catholic in belief, but if that person is in a state of mortal sin, he/she cannot be said to be “in communion.” Likewise, for example, one cannot only be 99% mystic. It is a state of being. One simply either is a mystic or one is not. Now if someone is offended by that, then so be it.

    As for your comment, “Those who take delight in attacking other Christians because they “pick and choose only what they want to believe” are, ironically, doing the very thing they are accusing others of doing.”…well, I am not take delight in attacking other Christians. Why do you think I am?

    Second, as a Catholic, you should know that the Church’s doctrines have their basis’ in scripture, tradition, and the teaching authority given to the Church by Christ. We cannot have one of these alone, without the other two. Now nowhere in scripture is there even mention of a “priestess.” Nowhere in the 2,000 year history of the Catholic Church has there ever been women priests. So what do you expect the Church to say on its teaching authority about the ordination of women? The Church has said, by its authority, that it doesn’t have the authority to ordain women priests. Using its own criteria, the Church would be conforming to the spirit of world or to the spirit of the times in ordaining women.

    If you wish to challenge this teaching or doctrine publicly, as you have, then the burden is upon you to refute it using scripture, tradition, or by pointing to a Church doctrine. Look, many people do not fully comprehend doctrine and may disagree privately in their personal consciouses. OK. Maybe if they dug a little deeper their personal conflict would be resolved. Otherwise your position, a superficial disagreement, is just that. Superficial, post-modernist thinking.

    To often people abuse or misuse this non-judging attitude of Christians – “Hey you are judging! You are judging me! You are judging this or that! You can’t do that! You are supposed to be a Christian!” Well -

    “Now the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone. For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 Are you saying then that the Church does not have the Spirit of God?

    Let me finish up here, lest I appear to be going on a rant.

    “The same person who told me that 99.9% isn’t good enough to be Catholic also sneered at the Anglican Communion for its deep internal struggle over questions of morality, faith and practice.”

    99% isn’t good enough to get to heaven either. Can anyone disagree with that? I in no way was “sneering” at the Anglican Communion. I simply was pointing out how divisive the issue of women’s ordination has been for them within their Church.

    Hopefully, everyone will read “ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS” to understand the Catholic position better and see that the Church is not anti-woman.

  5. If the church has the authority to change the primary day of worship from Saturday to Sunday and to divorce the celebration of the Holy Eucharist from an Agape meal, then certainly she has the authority to ordain women. I don’t know of any serious advocate of the ordination of women who recommends using the word “priestess” to describe women ordained to sacramental ministry. That is certainly not the custom in the Anglican Churches where women are ordained.

  6. Bob, Bob, Bob… It is thanks to the “99%” Catholics and the “mystics” that many of us have indeed dug deeper into Catholic history and doctrine and teaching to discover that the cafeteria has always been there and always will be, and is indeed, always open. How odd, indeed, that the metaphor chosen is that of a meal… reminds me of something scriptural… you too?
    Another curiosity worth noting, is the mystics, these “states of being”, have a dismal record when if comes to experiencing hospitality or passing purity standards in their life time by the Church so infallibly (?) guided by scripture and tradition. Perhaps humility, too, should be a part of the recovered tradition.

  7. Carl, is there any point in arguing with a human being who worships a projection of his/her own ego? Every religionist I have ever met in my life is doing that without knowing it. Personally I have given up and started letting go — people usually don’t change until they have suffered enough and it becomes obvious that their beliefs need updating.

  8. I just replied to Bob’s reply on your previous post.

    Religionists are terrified by postmodern relativism. Well, here’s the thing: postmodern relativism is only *cognitive* relativism. What postmodernism is trying to show is that the human mind and human cognition are inherently perspectival and can never see the whole picture. This is not a new point; mystics both Eastern and Western have known for centuries that the human mind is too limited to ever grasp Absolute Truth. The convergence of mystical traditions and postmodern philosophy on this point is an astounding development.

    What the postmodernists do, however, is contradict themselves by using the very thing that they consider limited — i.e. the human mind — to then proclaim that there is NO Absolute Truth. Obviously this is wrong, and is a performative contradiction as Ken Wilber has so frequently pointed out.

    So if the human mind can’t possibly know Absolute Truth, what do we do? Go within, find the soul, draw it out, make it the rule of our being, and let the Divine Grace work through us. To unite with the only thing that has real, independent, objective existence — namely the Supreme Reality — and see things as it sees it, that is true objectivity, that is the only way of doing the right thing at every moment (and the truth is, every moment has its own law — the freezing of laws at one point in time and space has nothing whatsoever to do with a dynamic relationship with a living Divine Presence).

    This spiritual psychology, succinctly described by Sri Aurobindo as “a soul within and a Grace above” (which I think is resonant with the Christian account of the spiritual journey) is the core message of every major spiritual path in the world.

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