This is a myth that circulates more within the Church than without. The popular name for the phenomenon is “Cafeteria Catholicism“. These folks see the Church as some kind of spiritual buffet where they can choose what to pick up and what to leave alone.
Here’s what’s wrong with cafeteria Catholicism. First, it’s just not true. Our faith is an all-or-nothing thing. Either we’re Catholic or we’re not. We may not like something the Church teaches but chances are we just don’t understand it. Just the other day someone thanked me for something I had posted. He said he never knew why the Church taught this particular thing, but now that I had explained it, it made perfect sense. I don’t believe that most of the time, people who diss a particular teaching mean to be disobedient. I just think they don’t understand it. If anyone is to blame, it’s people like me who have the faculty to preach but haven’t done a good enough job explaining things.
The second problem with cafeteria Catholics is that they give the wrong impression of the Church to people seeking the truth. When children are baptized the parents promise to raise them in the faith. Then they proceed to stay in bed on Sunday morning, telling the kids that they really don’t have to go to mass every week. How can they expect Junior to believe anything the Church teaches when they choose to ignore this most important element of the faith. They’re going to go to Catholic school (or, hopefully, at least PSR) and the teacher is going to try to educate them in the faith. Kids being kids, they’re going to spot the differences between what the teacher tells them and the way Mom and Dad practice the faith and, at best, they’re going to be confused. Worst case is that they’re going to reject everything the teacher says.
Then we have the nominal (in name only) Catholics who love to go on line or write a letter to the editor explaining what’s wrong with the Church. I call these people “Catholic buts”. Actually, that’s what they call themselves. Their messages always start with, “I’m a loyal Catholic but” or “I’m a faithful Catholic but” or “I’m a practicing Catholic but.” Then they go on to explain why the Church is wrong on (fill in the blank). The problem here is that, one, these folks give an entirely false message to the public at large. They think, “Obviously the Church is wrong on this because Martha, in Marthasville, a “faithful Catholic but” says so.
Forget that Martha’s now 39 years old and her Catholic education ended when she was in eighth grade and 13 years old. These are the same people who skew the polls and give us headlines like “90% of Catholics have used artificial birth control!” Of course, Martha told the pollster that she’s a Catholic, after all, if she goes to church, she goes to a Catholic mass. And, even if it’s been months or years since she’s seen the inside of the Church, she happily marches herself up to receive communion.
Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would self-identify as a member of any organization, whether it be a church, or a neighborhood organization, that I don’t agree with. It doesn’t make sense. The Boy Scouts have a twelve-point law. It doesn’t say a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, OR kind. (Pick two). No, a scout must be all twelve things. You can’t be a disobedient scout.
There are more than 20,000 different Christian denominations in the world. There’s bound to be one that you agree with. If not, start your own. That’s how there got to be over 20,000 if them.
No, we don’t get to pick and choose. The Church is not a cafeteria. It has a very fixed menu developed over 2,000 years, created by Jesus himself.