Free Yourself

When someone with more orthodox views about religion calls me a “Cafeteria Christian” I don’t take it as an insult.  It’s supposed to be a put-down to suggest that I pick and choose what I like about Christianity and accept that, and don’t buy other parts of it.  I beg your pardon, true believers.  Religion and faith aren’t the same things, and God (whatever God is) made sure I would grow up with a taste for independent thought.  The opposite of a Cafeteria Christian is a School Lunch Christian.  They have to eat whatever is served to them, even if it’s garbage.

The life of Jesus as told in the Gospels is full of remarkable, inspiring acts.  The words reported to be his are wise, compassionate and useful in daily life.  The fact that the Bible has been interpreted differently through different periods of history indicates both that the text has great depth, and that it’s valuable enough for people to try and hijack the meaning to further their own agendas.  One of the most troubling things about the Bible is that it appears to find slavery to be an acceptable part of life, and if Jesus offered an opinion about it, nobody wrote it down.

The very idea that people could buy, sell, rape, beat, starve and kill other people without penalty because they were considered “property” is utterly horrible to me, far worse than the consideration for animals that has led me to stop eating meat.  But I live in one of the last “civilized” countries to ban the practice.  Many of those who founded this nation owned slaves.  Right up to the Civil War it was common practice to quote the Bible to justify slavery.

Slavery was regulated but also accepted in the cultures that produced the Old and New Testaments.  The first Christian leader to openly oppose it was St. Patrick, in no small part because he himself had been kidnapped and enslaved.  No one understands the importance of freedom quite like an ex-slave.

If I weren’t a Cafeteria Christian, I might have serious reservations about participating in a religion whose main holy text includes acceptance of slavery.  However, I’m human.  I exist as a being full of contradictions myself, and I grow and learn over time.  Unlike more fundamentalist believers, I don’t assume that every word of the Bible has to be true in a literal sense, or even equally informed by the Holy Spirit.  Whatever inspired it, it was still written down by men and women, and humans are fallible.

To me, the Bible is a record of an evolving relationship between humans and all sources of power and phenomena beyond our current comprehension.  That force is labeled in the text as God.  I don’t have to discard all the Bible has to offer about the power of love, forgiveness and compassion just because it gets other stuff wrong.  God gave me intelligence and free will.  I can choose for myself.

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34 Comments

Filed under Communications, Ethics and Morality, symbolism

34 responses to “Free Yourself

  1. You put em in their place , Mikey! I never heard the term Cafeteria Christian before but I like your comparison to a School Lunch Christian. I guess then, I am an All You Can Eat Buffet Jew. I take what I like and leave the rest. I don’t wrap anything up, like rolls in paper napkins the way a lot of old ladies do, though. I like to eat dessert first though. Wonder what that might mean in theological terms?

    • I married a “recovering Evangelical”. That branch of the religion has many amusing, colorful terms.

      My theological opinion is that you eat dessert first because the Spirit moves you to. That spirit might be hypoglycemia, but it would require further examination to know for sure.

    • What a beautiful read! Like Iris, I’m a “Buffet Jew.” Occasionally I find myself troubled by questions about sources and accuracy, but I always find my way back to an answer similar to–if less eloquent than!–yours.

      • I’m practically a Buffet Jew by temperament myself, since I’m so fond of both humor and American movies (that industry they invented). I’ve also spent considerable time in temple for a non-Jew. Here’s a little Shabbat hymn for the rest of you, from Psalm 133:

        .הִנֵּה מַה טוֹב = Hine mah tov
        Behold how good (masculine)

        וּמַה נָּעִים = uMah-Nayim
        and how pleasing (feminine)

        שֶׁבֶת אָחִים גַּם יַחַד = shevet achim gam yachad
        if brothers (people) could sit together in unity

  2. I will just go on doing it without examining it too much and interpreting my sugar rapture as communing with the Almighty, wherever and whoever He or She may be. I will also try to fit in extra exercise to make up for this bad habit, but you know what…? I hate being too full for dessert and as I age, want my cake and want to eat it too, more than I did when younger.

  3. Revealation is always good, as long as we don’t impose our own on other folks! My epiphany could be someone else’s undoing.

  4. Amen! Seriously, though, by that definition we are all “Cafeteria Christians”. I am hardpressed to name someone who lives completely according to the Bible. I would like to think that Jesus wanted to to evolve, enjoy life and give thanks. For example, I am a Christian who believes Christ wanted us to love one another. Therefore, I would like to think that Jesus would want my gay family and friends to marry whomever they chose so long as they have love in their hearts, enjoy one another, and be thankful they found someone to spend the rest of their lives with.
    Sorry, Mikey. I hope I didn’t open an can of worms.

  5. LOL-In my circles, that can’s been open since the 1970s. I’ve gradually grown more comfortable with the contradictions that exist in religion. They mirror the ones in all of life. In the time of Paul, when most of the “clobber passages” were written, there was no well-understood concept of same-gender partners for life. Paul is really writing about lust without commitment. Also, the Greek words he used can only be applied to men, so I guess straight men didn’t find lesbians as objectionable even back then.

    I accept that church is half about socializing with neighbors. I attend my Mom’s church, not because it would be my first choice of where to go, but because it gives her great pleasure to have me and my wife there with her. However, I also love to sing traditional hymns, Latin chant and polyphony, and Spirituals. The choir director is Julliard-educated, a great pianist, and she’ll try anything. So I go to this church mainly full of folks way older than me.

    Jesus had a ministry. Others founded a religion after he was unjustly executed. I’m not entirely convinced Jesus would have wanted a religion. I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted wars to be fought in his name. But I’m still looking these things over. I’ll have more religious posts this week. It’s appropriate to the time of year. Thanks for commenting, DMTF.

  6. Jesus had a ministry. Others founded a religion.
    Im still new to your style of writing. Im begining to see a pattern here. Near the end of every post you always put in one sentence that packs a punch and says it all. Very nicely written. This post was a pleasure to read and I like what I read.

    • I’m happy you liked it, Sara. I like your writing too, and your choices of what to write about. My wife, the more experienced writer, said (with a raised eyebrow) that I usually end well. She’s good at understatement, and it’s possible she was using it as a double entendre applicable to spouses.

  7. Cool post and topical. I’ve noticed a lot of chatter about religion/God/spirituality in the forums lately. I don’t like to express my views on the topic, mostly because I’m still figuring them out. As such, I don’t want to get, accidentally of course, burned at the stake if you know what I mean. Judging from this post, you do.

    • It’s holy week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. This is the biggest week in the church calendar for Christians. There are services every day from Wednesday on. I would expect the blogosphere to reflect some of that. It’s hard to burn an invisible man. I’m not worried. I did this kind of post this week last year, and hardly anyone even read them.

  8. Oh Mikey,
    I have come across the type of people you describe here. I think all faiths and religions have those types…who think they know it all…and that we know nothing cause we aren’t doing it all just the right way or the way prescribed…in the tampered scriptures.
    The truth remains that most religious and spiritual doctrines have been tampered with by humans to fit their own ultimate agenda….
    As for our relationship with our Maker, oh thats completely a private affair altogether. Noone and nothing can come in between my feeling, my connection with my Maker…no rituals no tampered scriptures. What i feel in complete communion with the Almighty is so sacred….no amount of drab comments from the “know it alls” can tamper that…

  9. If we are lucky and have divine guidance….we will find the right scriptures, the right words, that will ultimately guide us….
    The key is to remain OPEN and keep looking for them….

  10. This is powerful and gives quite a lot of food for thought! I really appreciate how you celebrate all the goodness in the Bible.

    Contemplation, analysis, and examination are encouraged in my tradition (Buddhism)
    “Just as a goldsmith would test his gold
    By burning, cutting and rubbing it,
    So you must examine my words and accept them,
    But not merely out of reverence for me.”
    -the Buddha

    So your willingness to examine and contemplate sits well with me.
    So you

    • (I’m guessing those last two words were an unintended repeat?)
      Though we went to church from my infancy on, Socrates (courtesy of Plato) shaped my philosophic education from about age 10. For him, it was all about honest, courageous questioning. Interestingly, he was against writing, believing that it put too many artificial borders and confinements upon the forces of spirit. Considering the difficulties inherent in the translation of holy texts, I understand his objection even if I don’t share it.

      In my twenties I stopped going to church in objection to practices of unwelcoming behaviors toward my LGBT friends, and because of some attitudes I had seen opposing the coequal status of women. But all that was coming from unwise persons, not from any eternal force.

      It was the study of sutras, meditation and centering that expanded my capacity for patience and compassion. Zen retreats returned me to stasis, and I became more of an empty glass. It resolved much of my anger and pain. I decided to take that to familiar ground. Buddha led me back to Jesus. And by that occurence I came to better understand the turning of the Great Wheel, and the illusion of our separateness.

      You always give me good things to think about, Sandra. I value that.

  11. Very insightful, Mikey. I believe you know my thoughts, so I’ll not repeat them here (that may take me all of holy week). Suffice to say I abhor hypocrisy and I see a lot of it around in real life.

    • It’s a pleasure for me to open this space for any kind of substantial sharing others need, aside from the selling of products. I understand what you mean though. Your situation is so challenging. I doubt I would have the strength to endure it as well as you do, Robyn. I admire you for it, but I also have prayed for it to be resolved.

  12. Well, all I can say is that reading your post and the comments has made me very hungry–so many references to food! Oh, yes, and food for the spirit, too!

  13. Mikey,
    Thanks for a great post. As usual you avoid platitudes and offer fresh perspective. As you might expect, this topic is right up my alley. But much has already been bravely expressed here. I would only add one thought. I used to live in the Bible, was pretty familiar with it, and even in my most fundamentalist days I never thought the text suggested that God approved of slavery. In encouraging slaves to obey their masters, Paul was speaking about the ability we have either to harbor resentment and poisonous hatred, which only hurt ourselves, and acceptance and humility, which offer us freedom of a very real kind even if we are in bonds. The message is only meant for those who can hear and understand it, but as usual with messages of that sort, it is seized upon by those who would justify their own wrongdoing. It is important to note that Paul also encouraged slaves to be free if it was possible. Also, I am under the impression — possibly incorrect — that slavery in many ancient cultures was not so much the brutal and ugly thing it was in 18th and 19th century America. More like a job you couldn’t get out of. I’m not saying there weren’t horrible abuses, and I’m not attempting an apology for an inhumane and hateful institution, but I see this pattern over and over again with ideas that are meant to be illuminations for the personal journey. For example, I might determine, just by comparing my momentary emotional dispostion (anger) with my deeper “God-given” heart (forgiveness, honesty), that I have something there that I might like to change, something that some might call “sin”, but that’s different from someone ELSE who cannot see into MY heart telling me that I’m a sinner. You get the idea.

    • In my orientation, everything begins with the simplest word. The word “sin” means “without”. It’s a break in the wire connecting us to God and our best selves, and to each other. The Baha’i view the human heart like a mirror. If it is turned away, it can’t reflect the light of love. I see a bigger distinction between sins and crimes than some do. Sin is more like a soul infection, requiring treatment, so I especially like the use of the phrase “remission of sins”. Crimes are what’s dealt with through law. Thanks for contributing, Matt.

  14. Sir Mikey, you’re one herbal tincture and a tree hug away from flipping to the dark side! ;)
    My Tradition would welcome you with open arms.
    You’ve been called a cafeteria Christian, and I’ve been called a “Jesus Lover”. With the same implications, derogatory insults.
    Before the post-Yule crash of my modem, I had been planning to continue my explanatory posts with a “How Jesus Fits In” article. It would have elaborated on how my Tradition views the Bible, and the part that JC plays. But, you already get it.

    • You and I have long been in agreement that all the different circles are also one circle, haven’t we, J? I think you’ll have fun with the other two religious-themed posts. Sorry about the modem!

  15. midaevalmaiden

    I used the term ‘cafateria christian’ on my recent post. Ide like to link it back to this post. Yeah you didnt invent the term, but I heard it first from you, and I like this post anyway for its merrit. But I wanted to ask permission first. Just because religion and spirituality can be a sensitive subject. I don’t know. So would you mind…. may I?

    • Sure! Hey, I don’t care if people link, copy or even re-post my stuff and put their own names on it. I do this for fun, for free and for practice. It’s not my profession, so I don’t go all nutzoid over intellectual property issues. (Me me ME mine mine mine down down down! – Seen that Daffy Duck cartoon?) Nice of you to ask, though.

  16. Pingback: The Jade Dragon Ship « The Midaeval Maiden

  17. (Thanks for the *pingggg* It came to me courtesy of a good story!)

  18. have I told you lately… that I ♥ you…
    seriously. same wave length. it’s awesome

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