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.