In the last month or two, I’ve come across a couple of people who have referred to my approach to religion as “cafeteria style” or “belief buffet.” Whenever I hear these kinds of comments, I scratch my head in befuddlement.
I tend to think that we LDS all pick and choose which religious tenets we want to emphasize and which we want to downplay. Is there a human alive that truly is able to incorporate into their lives all the ideas and commandments present in the scriptures? All the (sometimes conflicting) statements and ideals that have been presented in General Conference over the last 150 years? Over the last 25 years?
Take, for instance, D&C 89. Active Mormons are generally great at abstaining from alcohol and tobacco. But there is that pesky part about abstaining from meat, unless it’s a time of cold or famine. While some Mormons are very thoughtful about their meat consumption, many Mormons I know do not pay attention to that particular God-given word of wisdom. This is simply one uniquely LDS scripture that most upstanding Mormons have chosen to ignore.
Or how about President Kimball’s General Conference talk in which he condemns hunting for sport? I love that part of the talk. But I understand that hunting is still a popular past time in Utah, even among upstanding LDS. These are good Mormons who have chosen to believe President Kimball’s admonition does not apply to them.
There is also the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a grayish area to me – an area in which devout Mormons, despite some pretty clear cut admonitions from the General Conference pulpit, pick and choose which activities and abstentions work best for themselves and their individual situations.
There are so many other uniquely Mormon beliefs and practices – caffeinated drinks, R rated movies, tight clothing, facial hair, white shirts, family size – that I see many devout Church members picking and choosing how – and if – to incorporate into their lives.
After years of self-doubt and angst about certain Church issues, I now find great inspiration and power in picking and choosing which religious tenets to emphasize in my own life. I feel like it is my right and my responsibility to embrace and revel in those principles and practices which uplift, empower, and inspire me to become a more Christian person. And likewise it is my right and responsibility to discard, ignore, or shelve those ideas that don’t.
While I know that some LDS are uncomfortable with this approach (although, as I stated above, I feel like we all do it to a greater or lesser extent) I feel liberated by it. By carefully discarding those few ideas that I have found hurtful and false, I am now at liberty to fully embrace those that I find wonderful and true. I am a far more enthusiastic Christian now than I was in my period of angst, when I thought that Mormonism was an all or nothing proposition.
I recognize, however, that beliefs and practices are always fluid, and that things I reject now I may later accept. I’m sure that I’ll make mistakes in this negotiation process, but ultimately, I have hope and faith in a forgiving God who will see the sincerity of my quest and understand the ideals that motivate me in my spiritual journey.