"Cafeteria Christianity" is a derogatory term used by some Christians, and others, to accuse other Christian individuals or denominations of selecting which Christian doctrines they will follow, and which they will not.
First use in print
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...
— Third Way, September 2001
Cafeteria-style means picking and choosing, as if "sliding our food tray along a cafeteria's counter", referring to some Christians' making a personal selection of Christian teaching, "picking and choosing the stuff you want and discarding the rest". The term implies that an individual's professed religious belief is actually a proxy for their personal opinions rather than an acceptance of Christian doctrine. The selectivity implied may relate to the acceptance of Christian doctrines (such as the resurrection or the virgin birth of Jesus), or attitudes to moral and ethical issues (for example abortion, homosexuality, or idolatry) and is sometimes associated with discussions concerning the applicability of Old Testament laws to Christians and interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. "The idea is the moderates pick and choose the parts of the Bible they want to follow."
As the Christian version of "cherry-picking theology", it is seen as a result of postmodern reading of texts, where the reader goes beyond analysis of what requires interpretation, adopting an approach where "anything goes".
In The Marketplace of Christianity, economists Robert Ekelund, Robert Hébert and Robert Tollison equate Cafeteria Christianity with self-generated Christianity, i.e. the religion of many Christians which "matches their demand profile" and "may be Christian or based in other areas of thought." They conclude that "Christian religious individualists have existed in all times."
Since the cafeteria Christian may be someone who wants "to reject the parts of scripture they find objectionable and embrace only the parts they like", the term can be used ad hominem, either to disqualify a person's omission of a Christian precept, or to invalidate their advocacy of a different precept entirely.
The related term "cafeteria Catholicism" is a pejorative term applied to Catholics who dissent from Roman Catholic moral teaching on issues such as abortion, birth control, premarital sex, masturbation or homosexuality.
The term is less frequently applied to those who dissent from other Catholic moral teaching on issues such as social justice, capital punishment or just war; this is because these areas of Catholic teaching are much less clearly dogmatically defined by the Magisterium, and therefore open to debate. The term has been in use since the issuance of Humanae Vitae, an official document that propounded the Church's opposition to the use of artificial birth control and advocates natural family planning.
- Odermann, Valerian (February 2002). "Pass it on: Encouraging the heart". The American Monastic Newsletter (The American Benedictine Academy) 32 (1). "Yet a danger does still remain. It is the danger of "cafeteria Christianity," which lets people mix and match traditions any way they want, without discipline and without accountability. Unless we transcend cafeteria Christianity, our practices will be more sarabaite or gyrovague than Benedictine".
- "Archbishop calls on Costa Ricans to abandon "cafeteria Christianity" and defend life". San Jose: Catholic News Agency. 2005-03-29. "Archbishop Hugo Barrantes Urena of San Jose, Costa Rica, told Costa Ricans in his Easter message to embrace the faith without conditions or short-cuts and to defend the life of the unborn against efforts to legalize abortion. The archbishop warned that “based on a relativistic understanding of the Christian faith and a conditional adherence to the Church, some Catholics seek to construct a Christianity and, consequently, a Church to their own liking, unilateral and outside the identity and mission that Jesus Christ has fundamentally given us.”"
- Hamilton, Nancy (May 21, 2010). Marshmallows in the Sky: Twenty-Three Articles on Christianity Based on Life Experiences. WestBow Press. p. 30.
- Johnson, Troy. Family Outing: What Happened When I Found Out My Mother Was Gay. Skyhorse Publishing Inc.
- Jacobs, A. J. (2007). The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Simon & Schuster. p. 327. ISBN 0743291476.
- Kwak, Arie-Jan (2009). Holy Writ: Interpretation in Law and Religion. Ashgate Publishing. p. 76. ISBN 9780754678960.
- Ekelund, Robert; Hébert, Robert; Tollison, Robert (2006). The Marketplace of Christianity. MIT Press. p. 258. ISBN 9780262050821.
- D'Souza, Dinesh (2007). What's So Great About Christianity. Regnery Publishing. p. xii. ISBN 1596985178. "This is "cafeteria Christianity", and it is worse than literalism. ... The cafeteria Christian simply projects his or her prejudices onto the text."
- Balmer, Randall (2006). Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey Into the Evangelical Subculture in America. Oxford University Press. p. 324. ISBN 9780195300468.
- Winters, Michael Sean (2009-01-30). "The Crowded Catholic Cafeteria". Slate.com.
- Cafeteria Christianity: Pros and Cons
- Moralistic Therapeutic Deism - the New American Religion
- COG article on Cafeteria Christianity
- Pastor Russ Reese on Cafeteria Christianity
- Cafeteria Catholics
- Madison Catholic Herald: Cafeteria Christians
- St. Luke Orthodox Church: Sodomy and Cafeteria Christians
- Pope Benedict decries cafeteria Catholicism
- U.S. Catholic Magazine: Cafeteria Catholics
- Jewish Encyclopedia: New Testament: For and Against the Law
- Cafeteria Catholics don't need to get in line by Jack Rathschmidt, O.F.M. Cap.
- PBS NewsHour: Papal Visit Prompts Reflection on U.S. Catholic Identity
- Professor McGrath's blog on Cafeteria Christianity