A recent New York Times commentator reminded me recently of the “cafeteria” approach as applied to religion, a not uncommon behavior by which sincere “True Believers” select which parts of their religious precepts they will adhere to and which parts they will deliberately overlook.
The Times commentator was sadly distressed specifically by the number of her co-religionists who supported a certain presidential candidate, abandoning in the process their faith’s bedrock beliefs concerning “welcoming the stranger” and the charitable caring for the least of us.
As with all institutional erosions, it appears that religions inevitably develop a “cafeteria” component so as to remain sufficiently meaningful to the lives of their constituents. My earliest personal example was encountering Jews of my acquaintance proclaiming,
“We only eat pork out.”
Thus parsing, although I am unaware it is written anywhere that doing so is permissible, strict Jewish dietary proscriptions on the basis of whether you eat “the other white meat” as it was once promoted at home – strictly forbidden – or whether it is brought to your restaurant table by a waiter – which is apparently okay. Though they might prefer, if at all possible, a Jewish waiter.
“Cafeteria” religious people: “All” was not working for them; “nothing” was spiritually unacceptable, as the “cafeteria” contingent remained substantially true to of their religious beliefs, setting aside the beliefs they had decided to ignore.
I totally get it. (Although, theoretically, I favor the crystal clarity of consistency. But, as many Great Thinkers before me have said, “Who cares?”)
I myself, who in my later years, chose to eschew eating bread during the Eight Days of Passover found myself recently partaking of gluten-free matza (the bread substitute) here it says right on the box “Not Appropriate for Passover” but I ate it anyway, valuing medical prescription over liturgical rigorosity.
“Let him who is without sin cast the first cracker crumb.”
… is what I say.
Bringing me seamlessly to the next rung in my logical ladder:
When science (arguably) surpassed religion.
In recent times – by which I mean the last five hundred or so years – science has replaced religion the way football in America has replaced baseball. People still follow baseball, but football has supplanted it as the defining ethos of the day.
If that’s not too confusing an analogy.
This preferential determination is hardly an either/or situation – you can accommodate both – football/baseball, religion/science, and many folks do. But undeniably, advancing into modernity it became increasingly popular to ground your faith in observable reality rather than grounding your faith in… just faith. Although I will quickly include a current resonating quotation,
“The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.”
Still, today is not about that.
Today is, finally, about this.
Contemporary society has developed an unwavering belief that “The Scientific Method” is the path to unshakable certainty – not right way away, maybe, but through assiduous self-correction until the ultimate answer is verifiably achieved – the triumphant cure for polio, for example. However, even some of the most ardent adherents to the scientific philosophy…
as with the distinguishing restaurant pork-eaters, there are certain scientifically certain beliefs that otherwise overwhelming supporters of the scientific slide vociferously dismiss.
Childhood immunization, for example.
“Sorry, not for us.”
The New Yorker’s Jerome Groopman reviewing a book entitled, “The Case Against Sugar”, concluding, after serious investigation involving expert consultation,
“Eat and exercise in moderation; maintain a diet consisting of balanced amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; make sure you get plenty of fruits and vegetables. And enjoy an occasional slice of chocolate cake.”
“‘No, thanks. We’re sticking with our diets.”
The scientific determination that, due to the effect of testosterone during the prenatal period, men’s and women’s brains develop detectably differently.
“Yeah, our money’s on everything’s the same; the differences are all cultural.”
And perhaps the most disturbing example, wherein, I was recently informed, highly reputable medical journal recently announced that
Getting cancer is random.
Cancer is random? That means anyone can get it. And by the way, there is no way of avoiding “Random.”
“We are definitely passing on that one.”
But it’s verifiable science.
“We don’t care!”
Okay, getting cancer’s not random.
“Thank you. I mean, what the hell were they thinking!”
We all like freedom, don’t we? Well that’s all that this is. We don’t like what we don’t like, be it in the religious arena or the scientific, so we independently picks and chooses and that’s just the way it’s going to be!
Until we peer curiously behind the curtain to discover that “The All Knowing Wizard of Certainty”…
… is us.
And perhaps quietly wonder if that will ultimately suffice.