Cafeteria Christianity

Cafeteria Christianity May 11, 2009

A comment on my previous post got me thinking about the image of “cafeteria Christianity” – the idea being of a smorgasbord from which one picks and chooses, which is not in and of itself necessarily a bad thing.

I’d like to explore the metaphor further. All who consider themselves Christians are in the cafeteria. The difference is that some of us enter delighting the buffet, eager to taste new things and help ourselves to a little of this and a little of that, aware that we are not eating absolutely everything that is on the menu. Others simply enter and say “I’ll have what he’s having” and believe that they are tasting everything, when in fact what their pastor, family, church or denomination is serving is never everything Christianity has to offer, never everything “the Bible says”, never everything that Christianity is, was or has been.

Going even further, none of us are eating precisely what – or as – the earliest Christians ate. That’s because even when one follows the same recipes, the cafeteria itself has changed. It is also because the claim to maintain earliest Christianity ignores the diversity evidenced in the New Testament. Some items on the menu seem to be mutually exclusive. Christianity’s cafeteria has never served only a small range of food items, much less only one.

The benefit of acknowledging the fact that we all are either picking and choosing ourselves, or allowing others to pick and choose for us, is that it allows us to make an informed choice. There is nothing that obligates someone who has been eating the same sort of food all their life to try something new. But for those of us who dare to do so, even (perhaps especially) when we find there are things served in the cafeteria that we do not like, that are not to our taste, we return to those recipes that we personally enjoy and appreciate them in a new way. And sometimes the unfamiliar tastes of that “other stuff” grows on us, and we find that as our lives go on, some foods we enjoyed as children begin to seem bland, while spicier fare that we found unpalatable as children we now relish.

Let me close by noting that the cafeteria is full of people debating the merits of this or that food. But the point of the cafeteria is not simply to stay there, but to feed there and then go forth with fresh strength and energy to do something more useful than simply debate food tastes.

Bon appetit!

[Addendum: I realized after posting this that I hadn’t even included the question of other religions in my treatment of this metaphor. Let me just add a few more points. First, being committed to a restaurant doesn’t mean you never eat food from anywhere else. Second, the fact that you are eating in a Chinese restaurant doesn’t necessarily mean you are eating Chinese food. Third, many recipes, even if genuinely traditionally associated with one particular culture or part of the world, may still be influenced by or require spices from elsewhere.]

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