Buffet-style religion


As the latter half of Lent slowly progresses, and my willpower to avoid eating chips for the duration of the Catholic observance has me jonesing like an addict, I have been thinking a lot about religion.

I was raised in a very open household. While I studied the catechism for my first communion, my mother encouraged me to study up on a number of other religions in case I found one I preferred. In the end, I received my first communion, but only after terrifying my priest with questions about reincarnation and transubstantiation versus consubstantiation—questions the man was less than prepared to receive from a second grader.

The result of this whole religious contemplation is that I am what I affectionately refer to as a buffet-style Catholic. I have a certain reverence for Catholic observances, but I don’t by any means buy into everything that Catholicism preaches. I believe in reincarnation and a number of other typically Buddhist principles, and I recognize that there is no way I can possibly have all the answers. Instead, I just pick and choose what I hope is true about the God in which I have chosen to believe.

I recently found myself defending this self-made image of God to a friend, who told me point-blank, “Then you’re not a Catholic. You cannot follow a religion that you don’t believe in completely.” While I can see the point’s validity, I beg to differ. It seems too great an overgeneralization to say such a thing. On the minutest level, for instance, Leviticus says not to cut your beard, but many modern-day Christians do so and it seems not to affect their faith.

Sophomore Religion and History double major Jana Cary-Alvarez weighed in on the topic: “Picking and choosing different aspects from different religions, or practicing ‘watered-down’ versions of religions is neither good nor bad, it’s just something that happens.  Faith is a really important thing for most people—whether it’s faith in a god of some sorts or a faith in science—and if you find that faith in something that is half-Hindu-half-Shinto with Buddhist-sprinkles, that’s awesome.”

For me personally, there are certain aspects of different religions that I really appreciate, and other aspects that I think are not totally applicable to the modern world. Just like how someone can be Christian or Catholic without adhering to every single word of the Bible, someone can be a Christian who deeply respects certain aspects of, say, Buddhism for example.  It reminds me of the saying, “I believe in all roads to God,” used by some people to avoid pointing to any specific belief as being more ‘correct’ then another. Buffet-style religion is fairly similar to that stance on faith. People who go with a mix-and-match outlook are respecting and accepting the idea that no one really knows if any one religion has gotten it ‘right.’

I prefer to agree with Cary-Alvarez’s take on buffet-style religion: “It’s a natural part of religious exploration.” I believe that people should believe whatever they do. Just as I wouldn’t force my beliefs on someone else, I don’t think others should be able to dictate what values and opinions that I must adhere to in order to embody the modified category into which I’ve placed myself. With that said, only two more weeks until I can eat chips again.

One thought on “Buffet-style religion

  • While it’s true that “buffet-style religion” may be convenient, undemanding, and non-offensive, these characteristics often end up being the only value one can get out of this kind of faith. If we were given buffet-style questions on tests at UPS and then all given an A+ on the tests (because the profs did not want to value one answer as more correct over another), we may also be happy and affirmed in the short term. But have we really gained anything of real value? Are we any closer to understanding the deeper, more meaningful truths about life and our world?

    There’s a line between humility (“there’s no way I can possibly have all the answers”) and laziness (there may be truth out there but instead of pursuing it, I prefer just to affirm that “all roads” lead equally to God.). If we pursue the tough questions, we may end up discovering that this world was not created to fit into to the individual religious preferences of 7 billion individuals, with each person making their own equally true statement of faith. Some beliefs may be more “truthful” than others. I don’t need to affirm that Jim Jones and Joseph Di Mambro have valid paths to God; their beliefs contradict my own. We should be able to respectfully sharpen each other and assert our own beliefs with passion and humility without being accused of “forcing” beliefs on each other.

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