A Trip to the Cafeteria

Many Catholics (and Christians in general) are good people, as are many Mormons, and many Jews.  Since formally leaving the Catholic Church three years ago, and becoming an atheist earlier this year, I have observed that the “good” people of faith I encounter are often good despite their practice of this or that religion.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “I don’t believe in that, I just try to be a good person,” which usually indicates they’ve confronted some anachronistic teaching of their Church (like prohibitions against birth control and condoms for Catholics) and decided they can skip over that and still profess their faith.

I don't believe in that

I’m different.  As a former Catholic, I cannot separate the wheat from the chaff so easily, or the sheep from the goats, to use a biblical metaphor; nor can I, for the life of me, figure out why sheep are better than goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  I cannot ignore the great harm done to so many people by the Roman Church because of its stubborn insistence on male hegemony and heteronormativity.

I know Catholics, including a few priests, who balk at some of the more inane and insane beliefs of the Church they profess to belong to.  They like to point out that at its heart Catholicism is fundamentally “good” — they pick out this or that belief, a statement from Pope Francis, or that time Father from the parish comforted their family when grandma died.  They are called “Cafeteria Catholics” because they select what they like (or can stomach) from what’s on offer from the Roman buffet and just leave the rest.  If not for these Cafeteria Catholics, the absurdity and the banal evil of the Church’s more anachronistic beliefs would be much more obvious; but those beliefs are not as easy to identify as harmful when billions of people profess the same faith (by name) and revere the same Church (at least by association).  The result is that hardline Catholic beliefs are seen not as ridiculous and out-of-step with the modern world, but merely as outdated or incorrect interpretations of something widely regarded as correct on the whole.

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