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“”Have you ever sat down and read this thing? Technically, we're not allowed to go to the bathroom!
|—Reverend Lovejoy, The Simpsons|
The phrase "cafeteria Christian" is a snarl word that some Christians use to describe other Christians who do not take a sufficiently strict approach to following their faith. It implies that the person in question cherry-picks which of the principles of Christianity they intend to adhere to and assembles their beliefs from what makes sense for them, rather than letting leaders or a dogmatic or conservative reading of the Bible inform their conduct. The term implies a casual support of the faith, without any genuine identification with its principles.
It can be argued that cafeteria Christianity is not only commonplace, but actually required in order for the believer to remain a functional member of society, as opposed to fundamentalists like Jack Chick, who are obviously so paranoid and delirious that they cannot function in the real world. Even most "fundamentalists", though, might get into an uproar about some Bible-approved ways of having fun.
According to A. J. Jacobs, a writer for Esquire who wrote a book called The Year of Living Biblically about his attempt to follow every rule in the Bible (no matter how obscure or outlandish) to the letter, pretty much every religious person is a cafeteria Christian/Jew/Muslim of some kind no matter how fundamentalist they claim to be, and cafeteria faith is really the only tenable kind.
And yet, the accusation of hypocrisy contained in the term "cafeteria Christian" makes perfect sense on a theological level. As Penn Jillette points out, in reference to the divine authorship of the rules in the Bible:
If you believe it's your God, and your God is infallible, you can't throw out some of the rules, just because you don't like them.
C and E Christian
Another term used for "lightweight" adherents is "Christmas and Easter" (or simply C&E) Christians, or "Christers" (a portmanteau of the two holidays). That implies they only pay attention to their faith around Christmas and Easter, i.e. holidays that pay off in presents and chocolate bunnies.
Since "C of E" also refers to the Church of England, this fact gives people the chance to make humorous puns about supposed worldliness and lack of devoutness in some Episcopalians (in the US) and Anglicans (in the UK and Commonwealth of Nations).[note 1]
The original title of this article was "cafeteria Catholic," which makes the choice of following or abandoning doctrine clearer, since the Roman Catholic Church has clear-cut rules for its followers. "Cafeteria Catholics" are "Catholics in name only", and ignore any aspects of Church doctrine that they disagree with, such as proscriptions against abortion, birth control, divorce, gay marriage, marriage for priests, and ordination of women. Many cafeteria Catholics are devout Christians and ethical people who disagree with parts of Roman Catholic doctrine.
- Supporters see cafeteria Catholics as intelligent people who refuse to follow unreasonable dogma blindly.
- Opponents believe cafeteria Catholics ignore the church's directives in order to rationalize a sinful lifestyle.
An alternate, Catholic-specific term to "C and E Christians" is "Lily and Holly Catholics," where, again, the lily refers to Easter and the holly to Christmas.
Committed "cafeteria Christians"
“”You get cafeteria Christianity, a kind of shopping for ideas you approve of. They turned out to be right for the wrong reasons, because I think that once you admit that there are in scripture large sections that by our standards are not just inappropriate but scarcely moral — such as the justification of slavery.
People who are accused of being Cafeteria Christians may be quite committed to their faith, but are simply choosing to interpret its tenets through their own particular lens. They will focus on those parts of the Bible that support their interpretation while ignoring those that they find to be in conflict with their approach.
- Note that committed members of the Church of England in the UK tend to call themselves Anglicans rather than "C of E."