THE BLOG
01/28/2014 01:09 pm ET | Updated Mar 30, 2014

Proud to Be a Cafeteria Catholic

I know, I know. Shame on me for ordering my doctrine off the a la carte menu when the prix fixe would buy me so much more salvation, right? If only my conscience weren't so lax, my lifestyle so self-serving, and my spiritual practice so undisciplined. If only I weren't so lazy, ignorant and uneducated about my religion, I might understand the benefits I'm missing when I refuse to order the items that stick in my throat.

But I just can't get there.

A little background -- I love the Catholic religion, and not just the ancient ritual, pomp and circumstance. I'm the product of (among other things) 16 years of Catholic schooling by highly educated, surprisingly open-minded, and inspiring priests, nuns and Catholic lay people. I have a pretty comprehensive grasp of the doctrines. I've studied the mystics and read the Summa by Thomas Aquinas just for fun. I've read the entire Bible more than once and the Gnostic gospels too. I've read every word Thomas Merton and Teilhard de Chardin ever published. I practice Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer. I was baptized and married in the Church and raised my children here. Although I have studied and admired many a spiritual master, Christ is my go to. He's the one I look to for spiritual guidance, inspiration, counsel, and redemption. He's the inner voice I check-in with all day long.

That's why I'm a cafeteria Catholic.

If there's one thing Christ taught me, it's to challenge the status quo. Why? Because the movement of massive institutions is glacial, while the evolution of humanity compounds with time and picks up speed. Massive, ancient institutions generally have at least one foot stuck in outdated socio-political customs at all times. The rigid customs and belief systems they perpetuate are sometimes not just outdated, but also false, destructive, and biased against at least one group of people. I think it's fair to say that every ancient institution needs a redress at least once a century. To that point, Christ redressed the corruptive socio-political norms of his own religion. He befriended the disenfranchised, worked on the Sabbath, and upended the tables of the moneychangers.

Christ was a cafeteria Jew.

So checking-in with Christ, here are the items I can't stomach. Yours may be different; I respect that. It's a conversation.

#1 -I find it impossible to swallow the Catholic Church's stance on women as unqualified or inappropriate for the deaconate or priesthood. Back in the day, women were suppressed and uneducated. Now they're not. In fact, the latest statistics in the United States show that women are more educated than men. Notwithstanding the superior education, I challenge a single parish to stay open without the women whose hard work and spirituality enable the communities to exist. And with the dwindling male priesthood, how will the Church possibly continue without opening its priesthood to over 50 percent of its population? And if they continue to dismiss them, how many women of succeeding generations will stay?

#2 -I also find it impossible to accept the position of the Catholic Church on gays and lesbians. That gays and lesbians are not only undeserving of the dignity of marriage, but of relationships period. That sticks in my throat. By accident of my birth and gender orientation I am granted a life of dignity and acceptance, while others are not? This kind of bias presupposes that homosexuality is a choice, which contemporary evidence shows it clearly is not. Anyone who knows gay people (most of us) understands that. I'm pretty sure Christ would pass on this item, too.

#3-- I reject the Church's stance on divorced members of their own religion who wish to receive the Eucharist. Isn't the Eucharist the point? Isn't it the transformative food that strengthens the spirit? How can it be denied to parishioners just because they didn't have the connections or the money to secure an annulment and I did? To my knowledge, there were no second class citizens in Christ's following.

#4-- I think statistics will bear me out when I say that population control is one of (if not the) greatest global dilemmas facing humanity today and for the foreseeable future with respect to food, water, disease, living space, and ecological repercussions. So, even if I didn't believe (which I do) that family planning is the only way to stay sane (I'm one of eight), I would still find it impossible to accept the Church's stance on birth control based on the above ethics.

Okay that's my list. (I could add married clergy, but that would exceed the word count.) What's yours? If you think you are not a cafeteria Catholic, consider Pope Francis' recent references to capitalism. Are you a capitalist? And what about war? Notwithstanding abject evil, are you in favor of killing people to protect the economic interests of your population? Such wars have been waged with and without our knowledge. Even the "holy" Crusades were acknowledged as a moral debacle centuries later.

The bottom line is, these are all complex issues deserving deep thought and consideration. To be a cafeteria Catholic is a good thing if it means you are putting your conscience first. As long as your conscience is in good shape and your ego is in check, it works. After all, history has proven that individuals, not institutions, lead the parade of evolutionary progress. Customs rooted in society must change; only truth is eternal.

Here is the truth Christ gave us:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." Mark 12:30-31